Investing in our youth

Kelli Beilharz, Administrative Assistant, Kingsport Mill

Employees from the Kingsport Mill recently lent their expertise to the Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee, a new school of excellence which opened its doors August 6, 2012. A key partner to the academy, Domtar supports and sponsors its STEM program, which promotes an academic curriculum that focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

The Innovation Academy is a joint venture between Kingsport City Schools and Sullivan County Schools. In addition to a traditional academic curriculum, it offers 6th and 7th grade students access to scientists, engineers and other technical professionals from the area. These experts are invited to design and present projects that help develop problem-solving skills and provide hands-on learning that addresses real life situations and challenges.

Being involved in the education of our youth and community is a great opportunity for our local businesses.   Jack Rhoton, Executive Director of the Center of Excellence in Mathematics and Science at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) explained that, “Students can gain those skills that businesses want. We need to align our education with the needs of business.”

The school of Domtar

During the opening week of the Innovation Academy, a group of eight professionals from the Kingsport Mill – Bonnie Depew, Daniel Brooks, Tammy Frese, Selina Hall, Shawn Hunt, Kyle Hutcheson, Rhonda Smith and Koren Winters – presented three STEM projects.

The first was to test water quality, in which students collected water samples from a local stream and compared it to the water from a fountain at school. They used the different samples in a variety of tasks while learning about pH, alkalinity and how to use a microscope. Further explanation gave a glimpse into the paper-making process, with discussions about measuring acidity, pH and using different retention aids and additives.

Another project involved making ice cream and allowed the students to learn and understand a simple electrical circuit while measuring the temperature of various ice and salt mixtures with different amounts of mixing and over different periods of time.

Yet another experiment focused on the practical uses of geometry and figuring out the volume of different containers – such as the storage tanks used at Domtar. The students then experimented with building a helicopter and other designs. This led to a discussion of different blades and their functions, for example, the generator blades turned by a steam turbine to make electricity and pump propeller blades that move fluids or create a vacuum.

The students enjoyed the different projects and sent thank you notes, like this one, to some of our staff.

Dear Ms. Rhonda Smith and Ms. Bonnie Depew,

We really appreciate everything you did! Plus, you supplied the supplies for us to be able to try the experiments. We learned a lot of new things in your class. Thanks for taking the time to visit Innovation Academy.    

Your friend,


Domtar is proud to support the Innovation Academy and the STEM project, and we plan to continue our involvement in advancing the education and promoting future opportunities for our community and its youth.