Members of the Atholton High School Grace Club were sitting stiffly and formally in a circle, telling Gov. William Donald Schaefer and other officials about their club, when Andrew Britten broke the ice.
Asked why he joined the Grace Club, Andrew, a junior from Clarksville, explained, "I figured it had to deal with science and math and my parents would be awfully happy if I joined something like that."
The governor and State Superintendent of Schools Joseph L. Shilling laughed, and the group became more relaxed.
The governor learned about the Grace Club, named for the school's partnership with the Columbia-based research division of chemical manufacturer W.R. Grace & Co., and about students' science research projects during a visit to the school Monday.
The governor's visit to Atholton was part of a day-long politicking tour in Howard County that took him from lunch at the Florence Bain Senior Center to the high school, then on to Owen Brown Place senior residence, followed by a ribbon cutting at Democratic Party headquarters in Chatham Mall.
The governor received the thanks of Citizens Against the Truck Stop for quelling plans for an expansion of the truck stop along Interstate 95, then joined Citizens Against Spousal Assault for a dinner meeting at the Columbia Hilton.
At Atholton, Schaefer attended the school's annual convocation assembly, a kickoff event for the school year.
He told students about the contrast between his high school days and theirs. When he graduated from City College, business and industrial competition was primarily national. Today, it is international, he noted.
English alone was good enough for the high school graduates of his day, the governor said. Now, he said, students need a second language to compete.
The governor, school officials, Grace company executives, science research students and Grace Club members met for a reception in the school's media center lounge after the convocation.
Andrew told the governor that although he plans to go into agriculture, he has enjoyed Grace Club activities and meeting other students.
The club coordinates visits of Grace executives to the school and takes on projects unrelated to the partnership, such as serving dinners to residents of Grassroots, a shelter for the homeless.
Other students described their science research projects. Senior Jason Nunnermacker of Columbia said he hadn't been aware of the opportunity for independent research, but he was interested in the environment.
With the help of his teacher, Jason was able to arrange an environmental impact study on undeveloped land and a pond owned by Grace. The study will be his science research project for this school year.
Junior Michelle Zewari said if she had the opportunity to say just one thing to the governor, it would be this: "I really appreciate him going out of his way to come and speak to us. I thought it was very inspirational."