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Wheeling Park High School junior Kyra Ricker has already decided her educational and career paths.

Ricker is only 16 years old, but she knows that she will attend West Virginia University where she will pursue a degree in engineering. From there, she’s determined to become an aerospace engineer.

“It’s going to take a lot of work and dedication, but I can do it,” Ricker said. “I can see myself making it happen… I want to go to WVU because their engineering program is great, so I know that’s where I want to go. I’m going to become an aerospace engineer.”

Ricker is a standout student at Wheeling Park High School where she maintains a 3.5 grade-point average. She said she found her true calling through the school’s Career and Technical Education Department in the Machine Tool Technology Class of 2019-2020 Ohio County Schools “Teacher of the Year” Aaron Fedorke.

“I absolutely love it,” Ricker said. “Machine tools is my passion.”

Fedorke said it has been a pleasure to have Ricker in the classroom. He said students like her make good teachers even better.

“She is an outstanding student, and she is amazingly creative with ideas,” Fedorke said. “She brings her ideas to life, and, for a teacher, that’s like putting fuel in your tank. Her engagement and enthusiasm are phenomenal. To watch her excel has been phenomenal. You can tell when students have a passion. It shows in their actions, and it shows in Kyra’s actions. She’s a powerhouse.”

Ricker already has work experience in the field she plans to pursue. In 2019, she began interning at the Touchstone Research Laboratory in Wheeling, which is a 
broad-based product development research facility. For more than 25 years, Touchstone has worked with more than a thousand companies to improve their products and develop new products. Ricker said her time at the Touchstone Research Laboratory has been exciting.

“We work a lot with NASA,” she said. “It really caught my attention, and it’s been a great experience.”

Touchstone Research Laboratory is also special to Ricker because it allows her to work with people important to her. Her grandfather, Bill Cook, and her father, Nevan Cook, both work there, as does her cousin, Chris Cox. She has also enjoyed  working with Touchstone President and CEO Brian Joseph.

“Being able to work with members of my family has been great because it’s comfortable,” Ricker said. “I usually come to work with my dad, and I work on a lathe and on composites. I talk to Brian, and he’s taught me so much. I’ve learned so much from my family members here, so it’s been a great experience.”

Joseph said it has been a pleasure having Ricker intern at Touchstone for the past nine months. In that time, he’s seen her cut composite fabric to produce molds for fiber carbon composite parts of a fighter jet and collect technical data for engineers and scientists.

“We really enjoy having her here, and I am impressed with all she is learning at Wheeling Park High School,” Joseph said. “She especially talks about the engineering principals she’s learned in Mr. Fedorke’s class.”

Ricker said she is also looking forward to getting back to work at Wheeling Park High School. She said she misses the career and tech department, her classmates and her teachers.

“I’m so excited to get back to Park,” Ricker said. “My whole family went there. The teachers are the best. They have been motivators. They push me to become what I want to become.”

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