Robert “Jess” McDaniel - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Robert “Jess” McDaniel

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County: Kanawha

High School: George Washington High School

GPA: 4.7254

Plans after graduation: McDaniel plans to attend a small college to study geology.

Rock Star

Curiosity Drives Student to Study How Things Form

Jess McDaniel's earliest memories of his first interest in geology are kind of vague, which is mainly because they are from so long ago.

"When I was in first grade, my parents gave me an egg carton to collect rocks in. I still have it," said McDaniel, a senior at George Washington High School in Charleston.

Rocks and geology are a passion for the 17-year-old.

"I've just always been interested, for most of my life, in not just rocks but the entire earth and how things are formed," he said. "It's always been there. It's something I've been interested in since I was a kid."

In a narrative he wrote about himself, McDaniel said, "For their senior trips, most of my high school peers want to go on a tropical getaway. I want to go to Alberta. Although it may seem strange that the cold peaks of the Canadian Rockies are on my travel wish list, I want to travel to the outdoors and enjoy nature. Also, I have pondered devoting time after school to volunteer in a foreign country."

A family vacation trip to Italy when McDaniel was about 12 years old brought him a treasure. He so impressed a salesman with his knowledge of the volcanic jewelry on display that he walked out with a chunk of Mount Etna.

Both his parents are attorneys. His father, Harry, works for the Environmental Protection Agency. His mother, Nan, works for Social Security. Both have been supportive of his interests, "and I'm glad that I have that," he said.

"I'm not interested in going into the mining business. I'm an environmental lawyer's son," McDaniel said. "I'd like to work in the field. I can study sediments or volcanoes or earthquakes or glaciers."

Don't get the idea that rocks and geology and earth-forming processes are all that interest McDaniel. He is a National Merit semifinalist. He attended the Governor's Honors Academy. He is an officer on his Quiz Bowl team, and he placed in the State Geography Bowl.

He volunteers at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences, where he monitors the galleries, assists with activities and explains science to visitors.

He attends Christ Church United Methodist Church. One day he came to a Bible study class reciting a rap he had written about the lesson from the previous class.

Through a youth group, he has been part of the 30-hour famine, has worked in a soup kitchen and participated in various mission trips.

Barbara W. Carpenter, youth director at Christ Church United Methodist, said in her nomination letter about McDaniel that she has watched him grow up in the church.

"He once did a solo in the children's choir that I found out later helped assist with his speech therapy," she wrote. "He had been diagnosed as having a moderate to severe speech impediment and had to continue therapy through elementary school. 

"Jess worked hard and (was) determined, so that by middle school there was no evidence of the problem."

Carpenter also wrote, "You can't be with him long before he mentions a fact or statistic that he has learned about almost anything we talk about. He is well read and very informed."

As for McDaniel's work with the youth group, Carpenter wrote, "I observed him to be a capable and willing servant. He was eager to help those less fortunate. … He does things for the right reasons."

McDaniel knows he wants to attend a small college. He's been on the campus of West Virginia University, and he's not sure he would like it as much as a smaller school because of the sheer number of people on campus.

"I like how they're more personal, you can interact with your teacher, and they're not more overwhelming," he said.

After that comes graduate school, and perhaps after that comes a couple of years overseas in volunteer work such as through the Peace Corps, he said.