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R-MA’s Rongjian “Cassie” Tang leads international team to Gold at iGEM



Rongjian “Cassie” Tang ‘20 returned to the iGEM Giant Jamboree in Boston for the second year, this time as a team leader. Photo courtesy of R-MA.

The annual iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) Giant Jamboree is the synthetic biology industry’s largest innovation event hosted by the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation. The Giant Jamboree is the culminating event of iGEM’s annual, worldwide, synthetic biology competition for students to use genetic engineering to solve local problems all around the world. Each year, the competition brings together more than 6,000 participants from across the globe to explore and create unique applications of synthetic biology with the mission to bring positive contributions to their communities and society at large. Beyond the technology, participants are evaluated on teamwork, responsibility, entrepreneurship, sharing, safety and more.

This year, Cassie and her team, “ASTWS_China 2019,” worked on a method to decrease pollution caused by livestock excrement. Cassie explained, “Livestock is deliberately overfed and overmilked for if it’s not done this way, the bacteria hiding deep inside the animals will not be eliminated completely. Those bacteria will come back sooner and stronger, which is why we call them super bacteria or superbugs. So, the purpose of overfeeding is actually good, to protect animals from super bacteria.”

However, to keep the livestock healthy, she explained, they are pumped full of antibiotics, but a great many pass through their system without being absorbed, resulting in environmental pollution. The presence of those antibiotics in the environment contributes to the development of “super bacteria” that are resistant to antibiotics. Cassie and her team worked on a solution to this issue.

“We genetically engineered E.coli to secrete a kind of protein called CMY-10 to biodegrade antibiotics,” she said. “In our project’s focus, the antibiotics we are focusing on is the family of B-lactamase, which includes penicillin, and all those medical use antibiotics.” They chose to focus on the b-lactamase family in part because it has such a high excretion rate (80%).

The project earned Cassie a second consecutive Gold Medal at iGem, amidst even more competitors at iGEM than last year. Cassie found that leading her team was fun, but challenging. “It was a lot more work and a lot more tiring,” she said. “After the first day, I collapsed on the bed exhausted.”

Cassie wasn’t allowed to rest, however, as her teammates had organized a birthday party for her. “I celebrated my birthday with people I didn’t even know,” she said with a laugh.

Cassie’s two gold medal teams at consecutive iGEM jamborees have caught the attention of others. Next year she’ll return as an advisor to a younger team, much to her excitement. In addition to getting paid for the position, she will be able to join Jamboree as it crosses the ocean and takes place in Paris next year.

For more on this year’s iGEM Giant Jamboree, visit:

About iGEM: iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization that pioneered the synthetic biology industry and continues to advance the field through education, competition, and industry collaboration. iGEM’s annual student competition is the largest synthetic biology innovation program and a launchpad for the industry’s most successful leaders and companies. The competition empowers thousands of local people to solve local problems around the world by engineering biology for safe and responsible solutions. The After iGEM program supports the competition’s 40,000+ participants in their future endeavors to continue leading and setting the standards for synthetic biology on an international level. iGEM’s community is comprised of students, leaders, investors, influencers and policymakers who continue to work toward a strong, responsible and visionary synthetic biology industry. For more information, visit

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Traffic pattern changes, overnight ramp closure at Route 123/I-66 Interchange starting February 21st



Drivers from I-66 East will use the new ramp and traffic signal to reach Route 123 North

Drivers exiting from I-66 East to Route 123 (Chain Bridge Road) North toward Oakton will use a new ramp and traffic signal beginning on or about Friday night, Feb. 21.

Traffic heading to Route 123 North will use the current exit from I-66 East to Route 123 South, then stay to the left to use two signal-controlled turn lanes to turn left onto northbound Route 123. Traffic on I-66 East heading to Route 123 South will stay to the right using the existing exit ramp.

Beginning on or about Feb. 21, drivers exiting I-66 East to Route 123 North will use a new exit ramp and two left-turn lanes at a temporary traffic signal.

Implementing the traffic shift will require lane closures and stoppages on Friday night, Feb. 21. A single lane on Route 123 North and South will be closed between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. The ramp from I-66 East to Route 123 will be closed between midnight and 5 a.m. Traffic will be detoured farther east to Route 243 (Nutley Street) North, stay to the right for I-66 West, then follow signs to Route 123 North or South.

The old loop ramp from I-66 East to Route 123 North will be demolished to allow construction of Express Lanes ramps and a shared-use path at the redesigned Route 123 Interchange as part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway Project. Drivers should be alert for changing traffic patterns and the new traffic signal. Drivers are reminded to slow down and pay attention as construction-related detours and traffic pattern changes will continue through 2022 when the new Express Lanes open.

Learn more about the I-66 Outside the Beltway Project and sign up for project updates and lane closure alerts at

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Proposed WCPS budget funds pay raises, new buses, more instructors



Pay raises, additional instructors and specialists, as well as five new school buses, are part of the proposed fiscal year (FY) 2020-21 operating budget for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS).

The Warren County School Board this week presented the proposed budget to the Warren County Board of Supervisors (BOS) during a joint February 18 meeting and reviewed it again during a School Board work session on February 19 following its regular meeting.

WCPS Interim Superintendent Melody Sheppard told the supervisors on Tuesday evening she projected additional funds available from the State of Virginia and staff turnover total more than $2.95 million.3

“Our goal this year is to focus on the areas which will have a positive impact on our students,” WCPS Interim Superintendent Melody Sheppard told the supervisors on Tuesday evening. “So, anything you see that we are recommending for our budget next year will have a direct impact on students.”

Goals for the school year 2020-21 are to use roughly $2.85 million of those funds to fully implement salary scales for teachers, instructional assistants (IAs) and nurses, as well as a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment and step for all WCPS employees.

WCPS also would use $120,000 of the more than $2.95 million to buy five new school buses through a lease-to-own agreement and would allocate $150,000 to a fund for new textbooks, which would be purchased in a deal providing both online and hard-copy editions.

Another goal, Sheppard added, is for all Warren County schools to be accredited.

Toward that goal, WCPS wants to add 4.5 teaching positions — to include one half-time Patient Care Tech teacher for its Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, two English language teachers, and two special education instructional coaches — and would hire two instructional resource team specialists, one social worker, and four IAs, according to the proposed budget summary Sheppard provided to the supervisors.

The cost to cover the additional teachers and specialists would total almost $3.83 million, with $231,833 targeted to the social worker and IAs, who would work in a to-be-created Behavior
Support Program for the school district, said Sheppard, adding that $4,760 would be used to increase the CTE budget for the EMT and Trades Academy, which has seen increased enrollment.

The nearly $3.83 million proposed for the additional instructors and specialists exceeds the roughly $2.95 million in projected additional funds by $868,858, according to the proposed WCPS FY 2020-21 operating budget that Sheppard handed out during the School Board’s work session on Wednesday.

Overall, WCPS expects approximately $61.59 million in total projected revenue for the upcoming fiscal year based on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed budget. The total required expenditures for the current WCPS budget are just more than $58.63 million.

During the joint School Board and BOS meeting on Tuesday evening, Warren County Administrator Doug Stanley shared a variety of data, including WCPS budget increases during the last decade (see graph below), and how much funding WCPS has been allocated as part of Warren County’s total budget over the years.

Source: Doug Stanley, Warren County Administrator.

For example, in the school year 2003-04, the local school appropriation from Warren County totaled just more than 25 percent of the County’s total budget. Comparatively, it was approximately 32 percent of the County’s total budget for the current school year, according to Stanley’s data.

Much of the increase, he said, has been to cover capital needs, such as construction and/or renovations to schools such as E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, A.S. Rhodes Elementary School, and Warren County High School.

“We’ve made significant progress in the last 15 plus years on meeting capital needs,” Stanley told the supervisors, “and now we agree that the focus should shift to addressing the school system’s operational needs over the next five years until the need for the next elementary school arises.”

During the Warren County School Board’s February 19 work session, Sheppard gave members some good news and announced that health insurance rates came back a few days ago and they’ve been decreased by 5.9 percent.

“So, we have an excellent rate decrease,” she said. “If you remember two years ago, we had an increase of almost 20 percent and last year we had a decrease of around 3 percent.”

Sheppard said with the savings from the insurance rate decrease, WCPS, in turn, would like to decrease the employees’ portion of their health insurance. “When we know more information, we’ll be able to make some recommendations” about what to do with the savings, Sheppard told School Board members.

She also set an additional work session for March 4 that will follow the School Board’s regular meeting and a special meeting on March 11 to approve the WCPS final budget.

“The reason to do that,” said Sheppard, “is because we expect to get some additional information from the state about how much money we’re going to get from them.”

 “The devil is in the details and we haven’t got the details yet,” Robert Ballentine, WCPS Director of Finance said that the State Department of Education has about 10 days until it releases related budget information to school districts.

Robert Ballentine, WCPS Director of Finance, said there are three state competing budgets currently under consideration by legislators in Richmond.

The Virginia General Assembly is slated to adjourn on March 7, according to Ballentine, putting WCPS in “good shape” to know what to expect in its forthcoming budget so that the district can move forward.

“We’re almost in a state of hold right now,” Ballentine said. “We’ve talked about the [budget] priorities we’d like to do… but until we get a little better picture of our revenue from the state, it’s difficult for us to do anything more.”

Sheppard said Stanley agreed to accept the final WCPS FY 2020-21 budget on March 12. He said on Tuesday that he expects the supervisors to approve the final WCPS budget at their April 21 meeting.

The School Board members present on February 19 were James Wells, Ralph Rinaldi, Catherine Bower, and Kristen Pence. School Board Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr. was absent for the regular meeting and work session, but he did attend the joint meeting on Tuesday with the BOS.

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Lord Fairfax Community College staff members win national award



LFCC instructional technologist Gannon Nordberg and instructional designer Erin Mills recently received the 2019 Award for Outstanding Support for Faculty or Students from the Instructional Technology Council (ITC). The award was presented during the ITC’s 2020 Annual Conference – eLearning.

Congratulations to Gannon Nordberg and Erin Mills as they receive the 2019 Award for Outstanding Support for Faculty or Students. Photo courtesy of LFCC

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Community Events

United States Navy Country Current plays concert February 21, 2020



US Navy Country Current plays at R-MA on February 21st at 7:30 pm in Boggs Chapel.

The 44th Annual Military School Band and Choir Festival will be held at Randolph-Macon Academy on February 21-23, bringing with it several events that are open to the public. After a full day of clinics and band auditions, the students will enjoy a concert performed by the U.S. Navy Band Country Current in Boggs Chapel. This concert, which takes place at 7:30 pm, is free and open to the public.

The United States Navy Band Country Current is the Navy’s premier country-bluegrass ensemble. The group is nationally renowned for its versatility and “eye-popping” musicianship, performing a blend of modern country music and cutting-edge bluegrass. This seven-member ensemble employs musicians from diverse backgrounds with extensive high-profile recording and touring experience in the music scenes of Nashville, Tenn., New York, New Orleans and more. In the tradition of country music, each member is a skilled performer on multiple instruments. The band utilizes banjo, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, fiddle, electric bass, upright bass, dobro, pedal steel guitar and drum set.

Formed in 1973, the band has a rich legacy of notable alumni including Bill Emerson, Wayne Taylor, Jerry Gilmore, and Frank Sollivan. They have performed at the Grand Ole Opry, for Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and overseas in Stockholm, Nova Scotia, and Beijing. With a fun-filled and family-friendly stage show, Country Current has been delighting its fans for over 40 years with their musical virtuosity and humor.

A staple of the bluegrass scene, Country Current has shared the stage with music luminaries Rhonda Vincent, Dailey and Vincent, Mountain Heart, Little Roy Lewis, Third Time Out, The Lonesome River Band, Josh Williams, The Seldom Scene, J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson, Ned Luberecki, Chris Jones and many others. Country Current routinely performs at bluegrass festivals such as Darrington, Windgap, Gettysburg, Lake Havasu, and Grass Valley. In 2011, Country Current became the first military band to perform at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.

Country Current performs regularly for the president, vice-president, the secretary of the Navy, the chief of naval operations, the chairman and vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff, the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy and numerous other dignitaries. Reaching out to communities both locally and nationally, they regularly perform for veterans, elementary schools, and in support of our active-duty Sailors.

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Open air fire causes wildfire, occupant charged



Photo / Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services

Just after 2:00 pm on Tuesday, February 18, 2020, Warren County Fire and Rescue units were dispatched to the 1800 block of Oregon Hollow Road for a reported brush fire which was threatening multiple structures.

Units quickly arrived on the scene to find approximately 3/4 of an acre of wooded area involved in fire with the fire spreading away from any structures. Firefighters were able to quickly control the blaze before any structures were damaged. It was determined that the fire was caused by an open air fire spreading to the wooded area when winds increased.

The occupant of the home where the fire started was issued a summons by the Virginia Department of Forestry for violation of VA Code 10.1-1142. The occupant faces being guilty of a class 3 misdemeanor and may be liable for the full amount of all expenses incurred in suppressing the fire.

This incident should serve as a reminder as to why the 4pm Burn Law is in effect between February 15th and April 30th.

Briefly, the 4pm Burn Law regulates the open air burning before 4pm and after midnight. This law was adopted to reduce the number of wildfires during this period of risk associated with weather conditions that include elevated winds, lower relative humidity, and dryer forest floor fuels.

For more information on the 4pm Burn Law, visit

Units on the call:

  • Engine 1
  • Brush 8
  • Brush 9
  • Brush 10
  • Tanker 3
  • Tanker 8
  • Tanker 9
  • Ambulance 4
  • Fire Marshal 1
  • Forest Warden 1 (Department of Forestry)
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The National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution recognizes local volunteer Fire Department President



Bronze Fire Safety Commendation Medal awarded to Suzi Shiley, President of the Linden Volunteer Fire Department.

In December 2019, Dale Corey, of the Colonel James Wood II Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, presented Bronze Fire Safety Commendation Medal to Suzann (Suzi) Shiley, President of the Linden Volunteer Fire Department. Ms. Shiley was honored for her commitment to public service.

Ms. Shiley began as a volunteer with the department several years ago, as a way to give back to her community after her last child went away to college. The fire department quickly became a passion, and a commitment for excellence.

Over the past 18 months as President, she has addressed staffing requirements, and been fortunate to add 10 new members, fostered improved communications with the county, addressed financial, equipment, and building needs. She has trimmed down expenses whenever possible to maximize donation dollars.

Ms. Shiley has enhanced community outreach events such as the Santa Runs, Breakfast with Santa, Easter Bunny Breakfast, just a few that the community looks forward to each holiday season. Under her guidance, the department completed long standing projects, and is in the process of developing new ones to better serve the public. She acquired a lighted sign board, located at the front of the station to keep the community informed of upcoming needs and events.

Ms. Shiley has made a significant difference in a faltering unhappy organization, turning it into a growing positive environment in which all efforts by staff and volunteers are welcomed and recognized.

Upon receipt of the award, Ms. Shiley shared, “I am extremely proud of the progress of our department. Each volunteer has supported our goals, and has contributed many hours to reach them. It is truly a team effort. Their dedication, commitment, support and contributions make us a strong team. I am grateful for all we have achieved in 2019, and I look forward to all we will accomplish in 2020! On behalf of our organization, and all our volunteers, I wish to express my gratitude to the Colonel James Wood II Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution for this honor”.

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Front Royal
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Upcoming Events

9:00 am Entrepreneurship Workshop @ Luray-Page County Center
Entrepreneurship Workshop @ Luray-Page County Center
Feb 21 @ 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
Entrepreneurship Workshop @ Luray-Page County Center
Are you considering independent, corporate, or social entrepreneurship, or being groomed to take over a family business? Then, this workshop is for you! Topics to be covered: Characteristics of a Successful Entrepreneur The Importance of[...]
10:00 am Beginner Crochet: Dishcloths @ Strokes of Creativity
Beginner Crochet: Dishcloths @ Strokes of Creativity
Feb 22 @ 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Beginner Crochet: Dishcloths @ Strokes of Creativity
Beginner Crochet: Dishcloths In this beginner level class, you will learn some basic crochet stitches and pattern reading to make pretty dishcloths for your home. Instruction will be for right-handed crochet. Please pre-register!
11:00 am Art Stars @ Samuels Public Library
Art Stars @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 22 @ 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Art Stars @ Samuels Public Library
Art Stars is a special needs art discovery program. This program is for ages 8 and up. Registration begins January 22. Participants should have a caregiver or attendant present in the program.
12:30 pm Crochet Workshop @ Strokes of Creativity
Crochet Workshop @ Strokes of Creativity
Feb 22 @ 12:30 pm – 2:30 pm
Crochet Workshop @ Strokes of Creativity
Crochet Workshop Do you have a crochet project you need a little help with? Already bought the supplies, but need help reading the pattern? All skill levels are invited to this Bring Your Own Project[...]
1:00 pm Discover love, adopt at Petco @ Petco
Discover love, adopt at Petco @ Petco
Feb 22 @ 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Discover love, adopt at Petco @ Petco
Stop by Petco located at 2580 S Pleasant Valley Rd. on Saturday, February 22, between 1 and 4 PM. Meet the amazing Petco adoption team from the SPCA of Winchester, Frederick, and Clarke, learn more about[...]
1:00 pm Moving Mindfully: Finding and ke... @ Ruby Yoga
Moving Mindfully: Finding and ke... @ Ruby Yoga
Feb 22 @ 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Moving Mindfully: Finding and keeping your footing @ Ruby Yoga
Join Ruby Yoga and Deborah Romero of Optimal Posture LLC for a series of workshops on moving more mindfully through life using the principles of yoga and the Alexander Technique. Slated for Saturday, Jan. 25,[...]
2:00 pm Magic Show @ Samuels Public Library
Magic Show @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 22 @ 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Magic Show @ Samuels Public Library
Local magician Kevin Owens will entertain the whole family with his amazing magic show, which always includes audience participation and lots of laughter!
2:00 pm Paint a Wine Bottle @ Strokes of Creativity
Paint a Wine Bottle @ Strokes of Creativity
Feb 22 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Paint a Wine Bottle @ Strokes of Creativity
Come paint a wine bottle with Dottie Knob. Dottie will guide you step by step as you create a wonderful up-cycled piece for your home, office, or to give as a gift! This is an[...]
1:00 pm Free Women’s Self Defense Class @ Linden Volunteer Fire Department
Free Women’s Self Defense Class @ Linden Volunteer Fire Department
Feb 23 @ 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Free Women's Self Defense Class @ Linden Volunteer Fire Department
Instructed by Sgt Winner of the Front Royal Police Department, in collaboration with the Warren Co Victim Witness Program, hosted by Linden Volunteer Fire Department. Space limited to 20 participants. Reserve your spot by visiting[...]
5:00 pm Sunday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Fire Department
Sunday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Fire Department
Feb 23 @ 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Sunday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Fire Department
Divinum Auxilium Academy’s Bingo Night! Games, Fun, and Prizes! 6 cards per round of Bingo/15 rounds. Purchase tickets at or contact Kristin at Food & drinks, including beer & wine, available for purchase beginning[...]