Nissan, Microsoft, MTSU conduct coeds' program for STEM subjects

Friday, March 8, 2013

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

A Forrest School sophomore wants to find a substitute for gasoline. Last week she took a step toward that goal.

"I'm into recycling, so I'd like to come up with a renewable fuel for cars," 15-year-old Alyssa Elliott said while reflecting on her experience in Franklin.

Elliott was one of at least two Marshall County students at Nissan North America headquarters in Franklin on Saturday for an event with the Japanese auto manufacturer, Microsoft and Middle Tennessee State University to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

Forrest School senior Caitlin Marino, 18, learned Nissan's electric car, the Leaf, "has a safety feature on it so that if somebody starts to go off the road, the car automatically puts it back on the road."

What if the driver wants to go off the road?

"I don't know," Marino replied. "The car thinks it's a bad thing to go off the road.

"It was really cool to learn about it, but I wouldn't want to go into the field," she said. "I'm pretty set on biology."

Marino, daughter of Cathy and Gary Marino of Chapel Hill, completed a biology course in July at Dauphin Island Sea Lab near Mobile, Ala.

While she's "more of a marine biologist, focused more on the sea," as she put it, Marino has some interest in off shore oil drilling.

"That's probably so they don't contaminate the water with oil," she said referring to British Petroleum's work in the gulf since its April 2010 oil spill that released nearly four million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

"They're still trying to fix that," Marino said. "I want to go out on the ocean and learn about different species and how they live down there."

She went to Nissan's headquarters "to learn more about Microsoft programs and see how they work," Marino said.

She and Elliott reacted positively when asked about a Tennessee Agriculture Department program encouraging switch grass farming so grass may be crushed and fermented into ethanol, a renewable fuel used in cars.

"I'm pretty sure if she finds the right materials, she'd be able to do it," said Marino, confident in Elliott's ability to study and make switch grass work.

"That's really cool," Elliott said of switch grass. "I might have to look that up."

Elliott is the daughter of Chapel Hill Alderman Pam Elliott, a tool and die maker at General Motors' plant in Spring Hill. GM has a program like the event in Franklin and the alderman said, "I'll put Alyssa in that program, too."

The alderwoman drives a Corvette.

Her daughter knows about competition in the car business; "Nissan seems to be a great company, but I've grown up with GM."

Nissan spokeswoman Paige Presley said Saturday's event -- it was called Digi Girlz -- was held to expose girls to career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math. The girls' mothers were pleased their daughters could see role models in those fields.