"It is still sinking in that I went to the White House, shook hands with the president and presented my science fair project to him," said McClure.
The visit to Washington, D.C. from Sunday, Feb. 5 through Wednesday, Feb. 8 capped a whirlwind week for McClure who was given less than a week's notice that she would be leaving for our nation's capital. Accompanied by her parents, Mickey and Pollyanna, McClure joined 30 other students in Washington and interacted with some of our country's bright young minds and winners of various science fairs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
McClure's project titled, "Natural Color or White, the Genes Will Decide," is based on her breeding and developing colors and fleece types in her Cotswold sheep. McClure explained that with only 2,500 Cotswold sheep registered in the United States and the natural color (meaning anything but white) being extremely rare, people are willing to pay just about anything for natural-color wool because it is so rare. Not only is the natural color rare, but it creates a beautiful blend of colors rather than one solid color according to McClure, increasing its value with fabric makers.
The project began as part of her accelerated biology class with Deborah Gatlin during her junior year. McClure was required to participate in DHS' science fair last year, and since she had purchased Cotswold sheep three years earlier to begin reintroducing natural color, she thought it would make a good project.
"My sheep were already bred, so all I had to do was the genetic research portion of the project so I decided to do it on my sheep," said McClure.
"The project did not fare well at all," recollected McClure.
However, the poor showing at the DHS science fair allowed McClure to regroup with FFA advisor Chris Cummins on ways to improve the project. McClure presented the project at the National Agriscience Fair after winning at the state level. She was shocked to win. The presentation at the National Agriscience Fair included an interview with a panel of judges that McClure says were very tough because they had strong science backgrounds and asked difficult questions. McClure scored a 195 out of a possible 200 for her presentation.
"It was really exciting to win," said McClure. "I couldn't believe I had won and I thought that was it."
But upon her return from winning at the national level, Cummins received an application to submit McClure's project for consideration to enter the annual White House science fair. McClure says she didn't think anything of it until Cummins received the email that McClure's project was selected to participate.
McClure's sheep joined a variety of projects in the White House's State Dining Room from robots that could Skype to a very sensitive system that could detect nuclear threats and small quantities of nuclear material. President Obama listed to McClure's presentation last and she said he was amused by the fact that she had a variety of farm animals including goats. President Obama also touched some sample wool from her project and according to McClure was very curious about all the projects.
The coolest thing about her experience?
"I got to stand on George Washington's rug in the State Room when I was setting up my display," said McClure. "Oh and I met Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and took a picture with him."
After the students presented their projects to the president there was a two-hour media session that McClure says she was not expecting.
"It was overwhelming to have microphone after microphone pointed at me asking me questions about my project for two hours straight," said McClure. "But at the same time it was such a good experience. I learned a lot of life skills."
Looking back on her experience, McClure says she would not change a thing. However, if she did have the opportunity to do one thing different she says she would have made it a larger-scale project because the more sheep you add the more accurate your data becomes.
McClure, who plans to attend Tennessee Technological University beginning in the fall and will major in agricultural education and animal science, says it is her desire to become an agricultural teacher. More specifically, McClure says she would love to start FFA chapters in schools that do not currently have one.
"I knew since I was little that I wanted to be a part of FFA," said McClure. "I have learned so much from FFA. This is the largest industry in our county and what our country was founded on. I have learned public speaking skills, parliamentary procedures and so much about the agriculture business. I want others to have that same opportunity."