Vanessa D. Alphonse, PhD candidate, Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. She earned bachelor’s degrees in Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering and a master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering. 

Diversity Scholars Project: Vanessa plans to create and moderate an online blog.  Posts to the blog will report current world events affecting higher education and promote/follow up on inclusion and diversity events on campus.  A growing list of resources will provide information regarding campus-wide initiatives and policies.  Visitors to the site are invited to add their own comments and discussion to posts.  The short-term goals of this project are to present inclusion and diversity topics, and to moderate discussion regarding these topics.  The long-term goal of this project is to help create a more inclusive, diverse, and active Virginia Tech community.

Abhijeet Bidwai, master’s degree student, Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from University of Mumbai, India.

Diversity Scholars Project: Although Virginia Tech has a very diverse student population, often students tend to interact with the people from their own countries. Abhijeet intends to promote the dialogue among the students from different countries including the American students through formation of common interest groups comprising of students from various nationalities/national origins, where common interests, hobbies, etc. are expected to facilitate the dialogue among people from diverse backgrounds. He also intends to initiate a better dialogue among the organizations for students from different countries. He believes in using media that promote spontaneous participation to address cultural barriers, stereotypes and prejudices and their subsequent obliteration.

Sarah Halvorson-Fried, master's degree student, School of Public and International Affairs’ Urban and Regional Planning program.

Diversity Scholars Project: Sarah is undertaking an impact evaluation of the community-planned Islamic Worlds Festival taking place in April 2015. This qualitative research project will assess the effects of the festival on a wide range of undergraduate students, as well as the impact of the planning process on those involved in the year of pre-festival preparation.

Nada Heddane, master’s degree student, Department of Political Science. She earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations and political science from the School of Governance and Economics of Rabat (EGE-Rabat) in Morocco.

Diversity Scholar Project: For Nada’s project, she plans to make a short video that would feature some of VT’s international students talking about their cultures. The purpose of this project is to give the international students a chance to correct some misconceptions about where they are from, share an aspect that is not known about their country/culture, or talk about a feature they view as important. It is also an opportunity to bring people to the discussion on diversity and inclusion, or at least make them question the pre-conceived ideas they might have about certain cultures.

Claudia Howell, doctoral student, Counselor Education and Supervision. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. 

Diversity Scholars Project: Claudia is partnering with the Athletic Department to conduct a series of workshops that will generate awareness around the LGBT student-athlete population.  These workshops will be conducted by an NCAA recognized speaker and will target the various audiences within the Athletics Department, including senior administration, coaches and student-athletes.  The short-term goals of this project are to bring awareness to and promote greater inclusivity for LGBT student-athletes. For the long-term goals, Claudia hopes that this initiative will create movement toward decreasing homophobia and heterosexism in collegiate sports.

Whitley M. Johnson, a native of Petersburg, Virginia, master’s degree student, Higher Education and Student Affairs program. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies.

Diversity Scholar project: A continuation of The Future Forward Mentoring Program, a project developed by previous Diversity Scholars. The program was designed by Jackie Thomas and Brielle Wright as a Student Affairs-based mentoring program that uses the Virginia Tech Aspirations for Student Learning and Principles of Community to contribute to the care and holistic development of student participants. The program’s target population was underrepresented students. The program continued during the 2013-2014 academic year and focused on promoting resourcefulness and efficiency. During fall 2014, Whitley continued the program by focusing specifically on the Aspirations of Student Learning and designing programs that correlate to the five Aspirations and various aspects of student development. Whitley along with Brian Armstrong, Jr., a fellow Higher Education cohort member and Future Forward Mentor, designed the 2015 spring semester to focus on building community and professionalism. Hence, the mentors and mentees will engage in planned social events to continue to strengthen this year’s mentoring community and also engage in sessions that will allow students to learn how to maximize their personal and professional strengths to capitalize on interviews.

Gordon Jones, of Chester County, PA, doctoral student, Department of Crop and Soil Environmental. Gordon earned his bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from Warren Wilson College and his master’s degree in Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences from Virginia Tech.

Diversity Project: Gordon is working to develop a support group for Virginia Tech students with dyslexia – reading disability.  Gordon’s goal is to have a group on campus where students can interact with others with similar learning differences, learn about best practices and available resources, and share tips and coping mechanisms to deal with the challenges of reading disability while in school and beyond.

Cynthia Karlsson, Ph.D. student, Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise, and master’s degree student, Department of Population Health Sciences. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington.

Diversity Scholar Project: (collaboration with Jonathan's project) To enhance the climate of diversity and inclusion within the classroom. This project will look at departmentally driven programs that provide examples of classroom materials to facilitate an ongoing conversation on inclusion and diversity. Further, the project will develop a mentor-mentee program (senior level professor working with junior faculty members) for students to have a person they can address inclusion efforts with in their departments.

Shabnam Kavousi, Ph.D. candidate, Architecture and Design Research Program in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. She earned a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and a master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Putra Malaysia.

Diversity Scholars Project: Shabnam’s diversity project is to organize an exhibition to embrace diversity and improve the interaction between domestic and international students. By enhancing the informal interactions among students through multicultural events, students become conscious learners and critical thinkers. Therefore, she proposes an event in the School of Architecture + Design that can be held periodically where graduate and undergraduate students from various countries and from different parts of the United States are invited to bring their creative works or objects demonstrating the art and craftsmanship of their respective countries (e.g.,  art works, photography, calligraphy, and so on).  This invitation would be sent throughout the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and to other colleges.  Students from across campus will be able to benefit from the broad range of intellectual and social perspectives on display at the exhibition. The process of collecting the artifacts would be communicated through different international student organizations, each one responsible for a specific nationality or culture. The purpose of this project focuses mainly on educational value of an event where students can learn from each other with different cultures and different backgrounds.

Jordan Laney, of McDowell County, NC, doctoral student, ASPECT. She earned her master’s degree in Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University, a bachelor of fine arts degree from Goddard College, and is a graduate of the International Bluegrass Music Associations Leadership Bluegrass program. W

Diversity Scholars Project: Jordan is working to identify and address the specific needs of first generation, Appalachian identifying graduate students. Using the sample set provided by the Graduate School, Jordan will gain a more focused sample of graduate students who identify as first generation and Appalachian. From there, using 2 types of survey’s it is the goal of this project to assess the distresses, discomforts, and feelings of exclusion, specific to this group. Through focus groups, qualitative evaluations of the campus climate for first generation Appalachian students will be documented. The outcomes will be used to create awareness and inclusive initiatives for first generation, Appalachian identifying graduate students.

Devon Lee, doctoral student, Department of Sociology, specializing in Africana Studies. He earned a master’s degree from the University of Kansas and a dual bachelor’s degree in Sociology and African and African-American Studies from the University of California, Davis.

Diversity Scholar’s Project: Devon plans to engage a hybrid “each one reach one” mentorship model. Rather than peer mentorship being the focus, this mentorship program calls on faculty to be resources in the academic, professional and social development of black graduate students. While recognizing that traditional values held by predominantly white faculty members along with a lack of faculty engagement with diversity training and inclusive pedagogical practices, mentorship seeks to bridge that gap of exclusion by matching black graduate students with faculty who have been identified as allies to social justice and the matriculation and success of black students.

Darren Maczka, Ph.D. student, Engineering Education program, master’s degree student, Electrical Engineering.  He completed his bachelor’s degree in Computer Systems Engineering at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Diversity Scholars Project: Darren and Martina Svyantek will collaborate to create a series of workshops that will help graduate students create an inclusive and accessibly classroom environment. Darren's focus will be bringing reflective practices and gaining self-awareness of implicit biases and privilege that GTAs may bring to their classroom.  Through greater personal-awareness graduate students would be better positioned to avoid practices and behaviors that may unintentionally make some students feel isolated and excluded from the classroom.

Miguel Angel Martinez, of Nevada, master’s degree student, Higher Education and Student Affairs program. He earned a bachelor’s degree from University of Nevada, Reno.

Diversity Scholars Project: Miguel’s project aims to foster organic mentoring relationships between students and faculty. Throughout spring semester, he proposes to hold at least 3 presentation opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students at Virginia Tech. During these time slots anywhere from 2 to 4 students will present research papers or other scholarly work describing issues affecting the Latino community in a myriad of subjects. The event will conclude with time for interaction between participants and observers. Through these interactions he hopes that mentoring relationships will flourish.

Miguel Angel Martinez, of Nevada, master’s degree student, Higher Education and Student Affairs program. He earned a bachelor’s degree from University of Nevada, Reno.

Diversity Scholars Project: Miguel’s project aims to foster organic mentoring relationships between students and faculty. Throughout spring semester, he proposes to hold at least 3 presentation opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students at Virginia Tech. During these time slots anywhere from 2 to 4 students will present research papers or other scholarly work describing issues affecting the Latino community in a myriad of subjects. The event will conclude with time for interaction between participants and observers. Through these interactions he hopes that mentoring relationships will flourish.

Yun Qian, doctoral student, Macromolecular Science and Engineering Program. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Light Industrial Science and Engineering from China.

Diversity Scholars Project: Yun wants to bridge the gaps and build relationship between international students and American students. Yun’s project is focus on international students, and the aim is to help them build relationship with American students. It is a part of a collaboration with other current diversity scholar projects.  This project studies the international students’ problems in building friendship with American students. Finding the common issues of international students related to friendship, and the cultural gaps in communication, will be the key to help international students build good relationship with American students, and live more comfortably in the US.

Ashley Robinson, Ph.D. candidate, Computer Science.  She earned her master’s degree in Computer Science and a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at Norfolk State University. 

Diversity Scholars Project: The lack of diversity in computing leaves underrepresented populations without a voice and with little to no influence on the design of the computer technologies that they often use and depend on.  Ashley will like to educate computer science students about the importance of designing computer technology for everyone, and make them aware of the consequences of only designing and building systems for a small sector of the population.   This information will be presented to students in computer science classes through presentations and activities that encourage students to consider alternative designs that are inclusive of diverse populations.

Sarah Steelman, PhD student, Marriage and Family Therapy program in the Human Development department.  She earned her master’s degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. 

Diversity Scholars Project: For Sarah’s project, she plans to work with the LGBT+ community at Virginia Tech to create “ready-made” panels to have available for programs and departments that generally offer less curriculum in diversity issues.  The panels will allow for sexual and gender diversity to be visible and represented in as many places on campus as possible in order to help lessen the invisibility and lack of awareness to these communities.  Sarah seeks to collect data on the process from faculty, panelists, and students in order to gain more insight into ways in which this project can be strengthened and potentially institutionalized.

Martina Svyantek, Ph.D. student, Department of Engineering Education. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from Auburn University.

Diversity Scholars Project: Martina plans to work with fellow Diversity Scholar Darren Maczka to create a seminar series aimed at introducing graduate students to classroom inclusivity and accessibility topics. This seminar would meet throughout the semester and draw on actual classroom experiences (instead of hypotheticals) to enhance both teaching and learning within those classrooms. Graduate students would be able to interact with their peers to develop inclusive measures for their own classroom settings via active participation in facilitated discussions and reflections.

Anthony Szczurek is a second year Ph.D. student in the ASPECT (Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought) program.  He received his B.A. in Psychology from Eugene Lang College, The New School and his M.A. in International Affairs from the Graduate Program in International Affairs, The New School.  His research interests include international relations theory, comparative/Indian political thought, and how to understand the Anthropocene politically.

Diversity Scholars Project: Anthony is interested in looking at the different meanings of being a student around the world.   He seeks to set up conversations and events that will give international students a platform to speak to their personal experiences of being in higher education in their home countries as well as place the American student experience within a varied and dynamic global context.

 Amy Vu is currently a second year graduate student pursuing her Masters Degree in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education. She completed her BS from Kansas State University in Agronomy with an emphasis on Soils and Environmental Science with a minor in International Agriculture. Amy’s thesis focuses on learning garden programs and their impacts on low-income, food insecure communities in Southeast Raleigh, North Carolina. She hopes to use her graduate experience to help food insecure areas become more self-sufficient by learning how to grow their own fruits and vegetables, specifically in developing countries. She has also assisted with an undergraduate service learning course in the Dominican Republic during the summer of 2014. Traveling and immersing herself many cultures is one of her greatest passions.

Diversity Scholars Project: Amy is creating a “CALS SafeSpace” for the faculty and staff in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to help create a climate reflecting diversity in all the departments within the college, as well as help align and acknowledge the college’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. This will involve an open dialogue for individuals, groups, and organizations to speak to the faculty and stuff about their experiences, bring awareness, and answer questions that many may not feel comfortable discussing elsewhere.

Jonathan Waldron is currently a Ph.D. student in the Clinical Science area in the Psychology Department. His research examines the social psychophysiological factors associated with victimization and violence perpetration. He is currently investigating associations between physiology, empathy, and psychopathy. Jonathan previously served as a graduate student representative on the Psychology Department’s Diversity and Recruitment Committee.

Diversity Scholar Project: (collaboration with Cynthia's project) To enhance the climate of diversity and inclusion within the classroom. This project will look at departmentally driven programs that provide examples of classroom materials to facilitate an ongoing conversation on inclusion and diversity. Further, the project will develop a mentor-mentee program (senior level professor working with junior faculty members) for students to have a person they can address inclusion efforts with in their departments.

Marjorie R. Willner is a third year Ph. D. student in The Virginia Tech Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology.  Housed within The Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Marjorie’s research utilizes nanotechnology for the development of rapid pathogen detection mechanisms. Her work in nanotechnology extends outside the classroom and includes outreach to elementary school children and the public, and science blogging and tweeting. Marjorie is also actively engaged in diversity initiatives across the Virginia Tech campus and is currently serving her second term as the President of Queer Graduate Students, Professionals, and Allies (QGPA).

Diversity Scholar Project:  Marjorie’s project is focused on connecting diverse LGBTQ+ resources and champions from across Virginia Tech and the greater Blacksburg community. The LGBTQ+ Steering Committee will be an active forum through which to disseminate LGBTQ+ related information and to coordinate programming and policy initiatives at an institution-wide level.

Ramine Alexander earned a BS in Exercise Science from Winston-Salem State University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 2011 and joined Virginia Tech as 2011-2012 VT-PREP (Post Baccalaureate Research and Education Program) Scholar. Ramine is pursuing both a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise and a Masters of Public Health in the Department of Population Health Sciences.

Diversity Scholars Project: Ramine would like to use Photovoice to continue the enhancement of diversity and inclusion on the campus of Virginia Tech. Photovoice is a process in which people use video and/or photo images to capture aspects of their environment and experiences to share with others. The pictures taken are usually paired with captions composed by the photographers to bring the realities of the photographers’ lives to the public and policy makers to elicit change. Ramine would like to work with graduate students and undergraduate students in capturing diversity in a visual representation and understanding how diverse populations feel they fit into the Virginia Tech community. At the completion of this project, Ramine would like to display the photographs and captions at a photography exhibition on campus.

Nasibeh Azadeh-Fard is a PhD student in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. She received a Master of Science in Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech (2013), and a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology Engineering from Iran University of Science and Technology (2009).

Diversity Scholar Project: Nasibeh ’s project aims to include a diversity workshop for graduate students in engineering through the Diversity Development Institute.  She hopes that the course will be a seminar-type, one hour credit course for first year graduate engineers. The main topics will focus on intercultural communication and cultures and how to improve the climate of diversity on campus.

Adwoa Baah-Dwomoh received her BS in Materials Science and Engineering at Virginia Tech, her MS in Materials Science and Engineering at The University of Florida, and is currently working on her PhD. Her research is on an interdisciplinary project where she is creating a bioengineered scaffold using the technique irreversible electroporation.

Diversity Scholars Project: For Adwoa’s project, she is developing a mentorship program in the College of engineering for new and incoming minority and underrepresented graduate students. Students would be placed in groups with one peer mentor and one faculty mentor to help navigate the difficulties of starting a new graduate program.

Nayesdi Badillo-Delgado received her B.A. in Spanish and Criminal Justice from the University of Nevada, Reno. She is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Higher Education at Virginia Tech.

Diversity Scholars Project: Nayesdi intends to establish a library of resources dedicated to topics concerning the Latino culture. The collection will be housed in the Squires Multicultural Center’s library. She hopes to work with the Hispanic/Latino Coordinator in Multicultural Programs and Services, the Latino student organizations, and the Hispanic/Latino Faculty and Staff Caucus to provide this growing cultural center. The overall goal of this initiative is to help Virginia Tech create an infrastructure that supports the social and academic development of the growing number of Latino college students.

Matthew Bennett Jr. is a first-year graduate student working toward his M.F.A. in creative writing. Bennett received his B.A. in English and Psychology from Syracuse University.

Diversity Scholars Project:  For Bennett's project, he plans to initiate diverse campus publications that allow for marginalized identities to express their creativity and voice their often unheard opinions. Bennett is currently starting an LGBT print journal publication, The Interloper, which aims to open up discussion regarding queer issues, present progressive content through a queer lens, and provide a reflection of the diverse queer community at Virginia Tech and beyond.

C.L. Bohannon is (now a faculty member) in the Architecture Design Research Program in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. C.L. holds a Bachelors of Landscape Architecture from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He also holds a Masters in Landscape Architecture with an emphasis in community and urban design.

Diversity Scholars Project: C.L.’s project aims to develop and implement a Designers of Difference Recruitment Survey (DDRS) that will help identify minority students who are in undergraduate design programs (Landscape Architecture/Architecture). The purpose of this survey is to first, identify minority design students and second provide a means for programs in CAUS to actively recruit under represented students into our graduate programs here at Virginia Tech.

Nicole J. Johnson is a third year doctoral student in the Higher Education program in the Education Leadership & Policy Studies department. Nicole has a BA in African American World Studies from The University of Iowa and a MS in College Student Personnel from Arkansas Tech University. 

Diversity Scholars Project: Nicole is forming a group called PhocuseD to PhinisheD... an academic and social support group to help doctoral students of color navigate the dissertation process and academia. There will be dissertation writing group and workshops that focus on issues that face this population in graduate school.

Komal Keck is a fourth year PhD student in the interdisciplinary program, ASPECT (the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical and Cultural Thought) at Virginia Tech.  She teaches in the Religion and Culture/Women and Gender Studies department.  Komal completed her BA at Virginia Tech in political science, with a minor in philosophy and her MBA from Averett University. 

Diversity Scholars Project: Komal would like to implement a program comprised of a series of workshops, symposiums and discussions specifically addressing the ways in which media portrays group identities (even in a seemingly “positive” manner such as Asians as model minorities) and the implications of these often accepted stereotypes.  Komal’s goal is to provide a forum for students that encourages an open discussion of these issues using a participatory model that helps with recognizing stereotypes (through actual media examples, personal narratives and scholarship), their ramifications and ways to dismantle them.

Nina Lauharatanahirun is a doctoral student studying decision neuroscience in the Biological Psychology program at Virginia Tech. She received her M.S. in Psychology from Virginia Tech in 2013 for her thesis work examining the behavioral and neural mechanisms of social and non-social risky decision-making.

Diversity Project: For her diversity project, Nina proposes to promote science education to young learners interested in neuroscience by creating a registry of Virginia Tech mentors comprised of graduate students, postdoctoral associates, and faculty members.  These mentors would supervise and work with students aged 8-15 while they serve as reviewers for the Frontier for Young Minds journal. In addition, Nina proposes to share information regarding this interactive science education opportunity to local schools in the area, and to pass on registry information to educators and administrators.

Homero Murzi Escobar is a doctoral student and graduate research assistant in the Engineering Education department at Virginia Tech. He has a Master and Bachelor degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Tachira State in Venezuela. In 2011 was awarded with a Fulbright Scholarship to attend Temple University in Philadelphia. In 2013 he received his Master in Business Administration degree.

Diversity Scholars Project: Homero is proposing a project called “A day on the life of…” The initiative consists in creating posters with a picture and a description of a typical day on the life of a person that is member of a minority. The typical day will be a very detailed description of all the activities someone can do on a random day, with a focus on time spent with the family, hobbies, projects at work or school, food, method of transportation, dress code, and any other activity that the protagonist would like to share. Then the posters are published in strategic locations in the University to create awareness of how different cultures and persons can be.

Ehsan Rashedi received a Master of Science in Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech and currently he is working through his PhD.  His current and past research covers several aspects within the fields of biomechanics, work physiology, rehabilitation, robotics, safety, and ergonomics. 

Diversity Scholars Project: Students from different countries and their organizations generally opt to communicate with the people from their own countries.  Lack of communication between students/organizations from different cultures is a current issue that can lessen the potential diversity impact on campus.  Ehsan’s project aims to enhance the communication between different cultures on campus using a multi-directional approach.  Improving the flow of information between organizations on campus is a key factor that can be achieved by providing relevant information in different languages, also more efficiently advertising the key organizational/cultural events on campus.  Second approach is to establish few positions (within CISO) with the responsibility of monitoring and promoting communication between different organizations.  CISO can encourage student organizations to have at least one position in this regard, also organize few annual meetings to assess and promote the progress toward the end goal of better inter-cultural communication.

Jamie Sanchez is a 2nd Year PhD student in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought Program (ASPECT) at Virginia Tech.  

Diversity Scholars Project: Jamie intends to host two focus groups with undergraduate students to discuss ways to improve how diversity issues are handled in the classroom and to gain a better understanding of what diversity issues undergraduates at Virginia Tech currently face.

Andrea Sharpe-Robinson is a second year doctoral student in Curriculum and Instruction in the School of Education. She is focusing her research in special education. Andrea is a graduate assistant in the Department of Teaching and Learning in the School of Education in CLAHS. In 2010, she received her M.S. in Education from Virginia Tech. 

Diversity Scholars Project: Andrea intends to host a series of brown-bag discussions for teaching faculty with an interest in persons with disabilities.  She has a commitment to “Hands On. Minds On.” learning styles.   She will collaborate with the office of Services for Students with Disabilities, Human Resources ADA Services, the School of Education, and the Diversity Development Institute to offer these sessions. Andrea hopes after faculty attends these sessions that they will have an augmented understanding of what it means to have a disability in college and what they can do to create and foster a universal learning environment.

Tere Williams began as an undergraduate at Virginia Tech in the Fall of 1997.  After graduating in May 2012, she was accepted into the VT-PREP program for her interests in biomedical science.

Diversity Scholars Project: Tere’s involvement in the VTForward Program, with 2013 Diversity Scholar Brielle Wright, focuses on supporting undergraduate mentees by assisting in their transition to a college by promoting resourcefulness and efficiency. Each mentee will identify which type of leader they are and work as a group to design and implement a fundraising campaign benefiting Ecole Philadelphia de Mirebalais http://www.ecolephiladelphia.org/, a school in Haiti, as an added element of giving back that embodies the Virginia Tech motto ‘Ut Prosim’.    

Nasrin Afzal, PhD student, earned a Master of Science in Physics at Virginia Tech and currently she is working through her PhD. Her research is on an interdisciplinary project where she is studying aging and non-equilibrium properties of cytoskeleton. In her PhD, she is involved in many activities to help graduate students and bringing awareness to the community. She is co-founding member of interdisciplinary research honor society and co-founding member of graduate physics student society. She serves as the Virginia Tech Graduate Student Assembly delegate and graduate physics representative for physics department.

Diversity Project: Nasrin’s project aims to develop a website with resources for current graduate students, with a focus on international students, to become better connected with campus offerings and services that can enhance student success. She will work with several departments to accumulate an exhaustive list of resources to include areas such as Faculty Development Institute, Career Services and the Graduate School.

Elsa Camargo, doctoral student in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program and a graduate assistant at AdvanceVT in the Provost’s Office where she creates seminars to help prepare graduate students and post doctoral fellows for careers in academe.  In 2009, she received a M.A. in Hispanic Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Prior to coming to Virginia Tech, she worked for the Council on Teacher Education at UIC, an office that serves as a liaison between the university and the State of Illinois, where she analyzed national and state statutes and policies that affected the certification of teacher candidates. Additionally, Elsa has served on the selection committee for Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Scholarship Program.

 

Diversity Project: Elsa is proposing that the university institutionalizes a speaker series program. The series will consist of Virginia Tech bringing in Latino faculty members from other institutions throughout the nation to present on their paths to becoming faculty or on any research topics that speak to Latinos in higher education.

Mike Ekoniak completed his BS in Computer Engineering at Kettering University in 2003.  After graduation Mike worked as an embedded software engineer at Visteon and John Deere.  Later, Mike returned to grad school at Virginia Tech to pursue his masters degree in Computer Engineering.  While pursuing his masters degree Mike also developed a passion for studying the language and culture of his Slovak ancestors, leading him to attend the Summer Language Institute at the University of Pittsburgh. Mike's experiences in studying a foreign language, an area far outside his comfort zone at the time, made him interested in studying education and the experiences of students within the context of engineering.  Mike is now a third-year PhD student in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech.  His interests include engineering identity, writing in engineering courses, and engineering diversity.  His dissertation research focuses on the experiences of LGBTQ engineering students, faculty, and practitioners in engineering cultures with an emphasis on identity, recruitment, and retention.

Diversity Project: For Mike’s project, he is developing a panel and round table discussion session for engineering faculty and graduate students.  Many engineering educators aren’t aware of the relevance of student and faculty sexual identity to our practice, so the goal of this session is to bring engineering faculty and graduate students together for informative presentations and engaging discussions surrounding sexual identity in engineering.

Holly Jordan, Ph.D. student in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT), focusing in political and cultural theory.  Her work is primarily in Middle Eastern Studies and her proposed dissertation looks at changing marriage practices in Israel and Palestine.

 

Diversity Project:  Holly wants to create a venue for students who conduct research or travel abroad to bring back what they have learned about other countries, whether it be traditions, educational systems, political situations, religious practices, to the VT and greater NRV communities.

 

Jaser Mahasneh, EDP, PhD student at Virginia Tech; department of building construction. He has a solid experience in Design development, supervision and execution for construction project as well as training and teaching in related topics

 

Diversity Project: Jaser’s project wants to promote multicultural awareness by providing a Global Salon for graduate students. These Salons will be thematic and allow for students to educate each other on their cultural foods, clothing, language, and music.

Christian Matheis, doctoral student at Virginia Tech studying ethics and political philosophy in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical and Cultural Thought (ASPECT). He holds a B.S. in Psychology and an M.A. in Applied Ethics with minors in Ethnic Studies and Sociology, both from Oregon State University. His professional history includes work as a community organizer, human relations facilitator, university faculty, consultant, and travel agent.

Diversity Project: Christian wants to offer a series of open presentations and workshops on four topics: Human Relations Facilitation skills, Social Justice Will Not Entertain You, understanding Oral Culture and Print Culture differences in meeting the academic, professional, and community needs of people who have lived in poverty, and Political Identity that are used in fostering horizontal hostilities among people from various underrepresented backgrounds.

Sara McDonough, Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology, specializing in American Indian/Indigenous Studies and Africana Studies. She received her M.S. in Sociology from Virginia Tech in 2009, and a B.A. from William&Mary with High Honors for her undergraduate thesis on the racial identity development of multiracial individuals. Her research interests include Indigenous studies, biocolonialism, decolonization, Black feminisms, Indigenous methodologies, and mixed-race individuals and identities. Her recent publications have appeared in journals such as Teaching Sociology and Collaborative Anthropologies.

 

Diversity Project: Sara’s project focuses on making Virginia Tech a more inclusive and welcoming community for Native/-American/ American Indian students and persons. In addition to increasing awareness about (Virginia’s) Indigenous communities, she hopes to use this project as an opportunity to bring more Native voices to the table; and to facilitate and promote sustained dialogues between Native communities and university officials. Sara plans to talk to current VT students, faculty, staff, and administrators, who are Native, and/or, are closely affiliated with the AINS academic programs, and outreach and support offices, at the university. She believes that developing a more effective means of identifying and incorporating both community and university insights into how academic initiatives for Native students are envisioned, could inform new ways to serve Native students, thus allowing Virginia Tech to not only uphold its mission as a land-grant institution, but its responsibilities to the nearby Native communities, indigenous to this land.

 

Monica Motley, , Doctor of Philosophy Degree in the Department of Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences and a Masters of Public Health Degree in the Department of Population Health Sciences. Monica is a Point Scholar, which is funded by the Point Foundation- the nation's largest scholarship-granting organization for LGBTQ students of merit. She is the first Point Scholar to represent Virginia Tech.

 

Diversity Project: Monica’s project aims to develop a strategic plan that uses collective input to identify prioritized problems, areas of interest, and potential initiatives to improve campus climate and environment for LGBTQ students, faculty, staff, and community members. She will host a 2 day workshop that collaboratively leverages participant input, responsibility, empowerment, and commitment to find explanations and solutions executed through university and community partnership.

 Brittany Ralph is a Master of Public Health Student with a concentration in Infectious Diseases. Her hometown is Hampton, VA and she joined Virginia Tech as an undergraduate studying Biological Sciences. She has served Virginia Tech as a Student Conduct Committee and Student Conduct Intern (Office of Student Conduct) and she has a passion for minority women’s health and STDs/HIV.

 

Diversity Project: Brittany’s project proposes a recruitment initiative to other colleges and universities, alongside her own department. She would want to target colleges that are flourishing with diversity and display inclusion openly. She would travel to institutions and talk with pre-health professions advisors about her program and the initiative to increase diversity within the field of public health through the MPH program.

 

Nicole Rishel, Ph.D. candidate at the Center for Public Administration and Policy (CPAP) and will graduate this semester. She earned her MPA from CPAP and her certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies at Virginia Tech. Her research and teaching interests focus on U.S. governance and institutions, public administration theory, diversity, and public representation and participation. Recent works authored by Nicole appear in Administrative Theory & Praxis and Public Administration Review.   

Diversity Project: Nicole wants to collect and document “This is What Diversity Looks Like” by reaching out to students to better understand their perspective on diversity. Taking photos of students wearing T-shirts that read, “This is What Diversity Looks Like, etc., and put together a collection of these visual representations in a hardcopy book or be posted to a website.

 

Carling Sitterley is a 2014 dual-degree candidate in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Master of Public Health programs, both part of the VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM).  Upon coming to Blacksburg in 2010, she founded the VMRCVM Chapter of Veterinary Students as One In Culture and Ethnicity (VOICE), a national veterinary student organization that focuses on diversity promotion and education, with the hope of increasing the diversity awareness of her fellow students.  Currently, she serves VOICE as Chapter Co-President and National Communication Chair. 

 

Diversity Project:  Carling wants to address the need for diversity education for veterinary faculty, by instituting a diversity education workshop created specifically for veterinary faculty, with the potential for developing a veterinary faculty diversity workshop series and a similar parallel workshop series for veterinary staff in the future. The workshop is titled, "Fostering a More Inclusive Learning Environment."

 

Brielle Wright, earned her B.S in Agriculture Business at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro North Carolina. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Agriculture Extension Education (AEE) and my concentration is in Leadership. She is also a delegate for the Graduate Student Assembly for CALS, Vice President of Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS), and secretary for the Graduate Student Association in the AEE department

 

Diversity Project: Brielle proposes to help redefine the Teach One Reach One program with Jackie Thomas. The components of the program that she will focus on will be the mentor component. Brielle hope to develop opportunities for African American graduate and undergraduate students to define and maintain their social and cultural identity through fellowship and a series of programs that are based on the tenants of Kwanza and the aspirations for student learning at Virginia Tech. Helping the mentors and the mentees develop their personal leadership philosophy and ensuring that they not only earn a degree but thrive in the environment in which they are now immersed.   

Javiera Summary: Provide more effective communication avenues with Virginia Tech veterinary students in order to enhance the experience and increase the annual retention of veterinary students from the Universidad Austral de Chile.

 

Bianca Summary: An open forum discussion entitled “The State of the Campus Climate Address”. The purpose of this forum will be to get a consensus of the climate issues on campus and discuss ways for student organizations to work together eliminate these problems. These open forum sessions will include “eye opening” activities to create an environment will a level playing field, to promote creative solutions.

 

Zhe Summary: A series of one-on-one interviews with foreign graduate students. The purpose of these interviews is to pinpoint qualitative reasons as to why students from other countries tend to shy away from social activities on campus. Her proposal also calls for American students to be interviewed in order to reflect on their views of low participation of foreign students. Using this information she plans to create effective way to increase interaction amongst all ethnicities of graduate students.

 

Anibal Summary: Create a “Let’s Go Hokies” video in different languages.

 

Natasha Summary: To implement a program entitled H.O.K.I.E to provide a safe environment where faculty and staff, and students can engage in open discussions around issues of race, sexual orientation, gender, and religion on Virginia Tech’s campus.

 

Andrew Summary: A program that addresses the issues behind the lack of male and multicultural graduate student teachers. His research dives into the reasons behind this problem and possible solutions. Using the diversity scholars program as a base, it will be able to provide research data as to whether these methods are effective in recruiting teachers that are more representative of the aforementioned groups.

 

Heba Summary: To eliminate the lack of understanding of Arabs, Middle Eastern, and Muslim students on campus. The proposal calls for a series of round-table discussions with Middle Eastern students at Virginia Tech. Moderated by skilled professional speakers--the Idea is to provide a safe open environment for non-Middle Eastern students and Virginia Tech to learn about the culture away from stereotypes and stigmas.

 

Shernita Summary: In spite of the number initiatives to recruit a diverse population of graduate students, on Virginia Tech’s Campus retention is still low. Shernita plans to hold approximately 50 one-on-one interviews with students of varying age, race, and gender to discuss their reasoning behind the lower than desirable retention rates. This study will be done in hope that the results will lead to more effective recruitment initiatives.

 

Marc Summary: A program that instructs professors on better ways to relate to and mentor minority students. From this training a mentoring program will be set up to give some minority students professional mentors. The aim of this program is to increase retention of minority students by creating a more welcoming campus climate.

Ana-Christina Acosta Gaspar de Alba is a second year MFA in Creative Writing through the

Virginia Tech English Department. A dual citizen of the US and Mexico, she received her BA in English and Latino Studies from Indiana University in 2013. As a fiction writer, she is interested in the craftsmanship of interconnected short stories, family epics, and cultural testaments.

Diversity Scholars Project: Ana-Christina plans to coordinate an art showcase to promote the creative work that is being produced by graduate students at Virginia Tech and the neighboring universities, Radford and Hollins. Graduate students from all fields, not just the humanities, will be encouraged to submit work and to participate in the showcase. The goals of such an event would be for budding artists from all graduate disciplines to have a place to showcase work, for all members of the Virginia Tech community to have an opportunity to immerse themselves in varied arts, and for artists and attendees alike to network and build community through common interests.

Ashish Agrawal is a PhD student in the Department of Engineering Education. He is from a small town called Dalsinghsarai in the state of Bihar in India. He received his Bachelor of Technology in Electrical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee (IIT Roorkee) in 2010, and Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Tech in 2015. Passionate about teaching, he tries to implement liberative and culturally-inclusive pedagogies in the first year engineering classes he teaches at Virginia Tech. His research interests include exploring and understanding the experiences of international faculty, teaching assistants, and students in the US universities.

Diversity Scholar Projects: Ashish is working with Yen Nong and other students to facilitate and run AcrossBorders@VT, a group of international LGBTQ+ students/faculty/affiliates of Virginia Tech. The aim of the group is to support one another by providing a friendly space for the international LGBTQ+ population at Tech to discuss concerns about their sexuality, gender identity, and coming out.

He also plans to design a workshop for Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) to help them become aware of the unique needs of international students in their classes and design instruction in a way that addresses the needs of international students.

 

Rebecca Elias is a third year Ph.D. candidate in the department of Clinical Psychology.  She received her Masters of Science from Virginia Tech in 2015 and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley in 2012.  Her doctoral research focuses on the assessment of challenges, needs, and strengths of postsecondary students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Diversity Scholars Project: Rebecca is co-implementing her diversity scholars project with Amber Turner.  Online content will be developed to educate the campus community about disabilities in postsecondary students.  Additionally, didactics will be offered to help campus educators deliver content to a diverse student body with different learning styles.

Alexandra Hyler is a PhD candidate in the VT-WFU School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. She received a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering with a minor in German from the University of Kansas in 2013. Her doctoral research focuses on combining cancer biology, biomedical engineering, and biophysics of fluids to understand the progression of ovarian cancer. Her work aims to identify key signaling molecules for earlier detection of disease.

Diversity Scholars Project: Alex plans to bring the program Sustained Dialogue to the VT campus.  Amidst current domestic and international tensions especially heightened on college campuses, Sustained Dialogue confronts tensions in an intimate setting discussion of current global, national, local and campus issues. The short-term goals of this project will be to train a pioneer cohort of dialogue leaders that can facilitate discussions regarding these dimensions of identity: ethnicity, socioeconomic status/class, sex and gender, race and color, religion, sexual orientation, and ability status. The long-term goal of this project is to implement weekly conversations among diverse groups to build a more cohesive, collaborative and respectful atmosphere at VT and beyond.

Kevin Krost is a first-year Ph.D. student in Educational Research and Evaluation with an emphasis on educational measurement. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Arkansas Tech University and a Master of Arts in Research Methodology from University of Pittsburgh. He was born and raised in a medium-sized town called Russellville, Arkansas where he got his bachelor’s degree. His research currently focuses on cognitive diagnostic models, differential item functioning, and the intersection of both. This will provide much-needed research on the new topic of cognitive diagnostic models and provide a better understanding of the presence of differential item functioning when present in data analyzed with cognitive diagnostic models.

Diversity Scholars Project: Kevin plans to create a more inclusive environment on campus by providing more information and resources to graduate students about mental health issues that graduate students can be affected by like anxiety and depression. A hope is that this will bring to light a problem that is prevalent in American universities but remains ignored. By doing this, more graduate students will have a better understanding of the mental health issues that can affect them and be more likely to seek support, thus making them feel less excluded on campus.

Erin S. Lavender-Stott is a third year PhD candidate in the department of Human Development with a Family Studies concentration. She is from Blacksburg, VA. She received her bachelor’s in psychology from Hollins University in 2010 and her master’s in psychology from University of North Carolina Wilmington in 2013. Her research focuses on gender and sexuality within the family context.

Diversity Scholars Project: Erin plans to gain a better understanding of the current climate and needs of sexual and gender minority graduate students through online questions. As sexual orientation and gender identity are integral parts of individual’s identities, knowing about students’ needs and interests can be integral in developing supports to allow for success. Through learning more of people who are currently engaged in conversations revolving around this aspect of their identity, as well as those who are not, and the unique vantage point of graduate students, the information received from this project can help the university as a whole to understand where things currently stand and areas for growth to continue on the path of making the institution more inclusive to all to build success.

Corey Miles, a graduate of Morgan State University, is a second year graduate student pursuing a PhD in Sociology with a concentration in Africana Studies. Corey’s research interest broadly centers on the African diaspora and popular culture. Specifically he focuses on the ways in which Hip-Hop culture challenges notions of modernity. Corey’s most recent publication is Critical Race Film Review: The Hunger Games alluding to his interest in black representations and participation in popular culture.

Diversity Scholars Project: Corey is teaming up with researchers from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to conduct an exploratory research project on the college experiences of underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities. Rather than going into the research project with preset assumptions about this populations experiences, this project will conduct an array of focus groups with general questions to allow these students to “speak their own truth”.  After allowing underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities the opportunity to “bear witness” to their college experience recommendations for future projects can be constructed.

Alexandria M. Noble is a third year PhD student from Newark, Delaware, focusing on Transportation Engineering in the Via Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering. She received her MS in Civil Engineering in 2014 from Virginia Tech, and her BS in Civil Engineering in 2012 from West Virginia University. Her doctoral research focuses on the development and assessment of an Advanced Traveler Information System that will eventually allow for substantial components of connected vehicle technology to be experienced by the masses without the cost of purchasing a new vehicle.

Diversity Scholars Project: Alex plans to create a mobile application designed to educate students, faculty, and staff about privilege and racism. The application leverages the existing architecture, monuments, and landscape of Virginia Tech and its immediate local surroundings to educate people about the past, and the repercussions of that past in today’s present climate, assumptions, and our future. In addition to exposure local history, discussions of privilege and racism will be connected to international and national perspectives. The short-term goal of this project is to present topics that create an opportunity for constructive dialogue that otherwise would not take place, edifying the framework of an open and inclusive environment at Virginia Tech. The long-term goal of this project is to provide students, faculty, and staff with lessons that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives so that we may create a more inclusive global society.

Yen V. Nong is a first year Masters student in Interior Design, School of Architecture + Design. She received a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design at Seminole State College, Florida in 2014.  She moved from Orlando, Florida to Virginia Tech to continue her education as a graduate student in Fall 2015.

Diversity Scholar Project:  Yen and her co-applicant, Ashish Agrawal, a Ph.D. student in Department of Engineering Education, want to create a support group and a safe space for international LGBTQ+ students of Virginia Tech. LGBTQ+ students at Virginia Tech consist of diverse groups of students from different countries with different cultural backgrounds. There are issues that international LGBTQ+ people face at a U.S university due to different cultures’ conceptions of LGBTQ+ people; hence, they need a space where they can comfortably share their stories and experiences with fellow students, who face similar issues without the fear of disclosing their gender or sexual identities. Also, they plan to create coming out resources by translating resources from English in different languages including Mandarin, Taiwanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Hindi. Given that the parents and family members of many international students are not well-versed in English, having resources in their native language can help international students come out to their friends and family back home.

Andrea Rolong is a fourth year PhD student in the department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics. She was born and raised in Barranquilla, Colombia before moving to Miami, FL where she received her Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering from Florida International University. Her doctoral research focuses on studying the biophysical properties of cells and tissues to advance the use of pulsed electric fields to treat cancer. Her work involves the use of three dimensional scaffolds to recreate the tumor microenvironment for in vitro testing, ex-vivo tissue testing, and electro-thermal computational modeling.  

Diversity Scholars Project: Andrea developed a college-wide initiative where each engineering department would devote one graduate seminar per semester, or at least one seminar per academic year, to topics that align with goals of diversity and inclusion. Ideally, these would be embedded in mandatory seminars already established for each department thus reaching the maximum number of graduate students and faculty. These efforts could provide a pathway to open discussion and mutual understanding, and address some of the issues with underrepresentation of minorities in engineering fields. The aim is to highlight the importance of diversity and create a more inclusive environment in academia and all professional settings.

Mary K. Ryan is a first year Ph.D. student in ASPECT (the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought). She received her M.A. in Public Service from Marquette University and her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her research interests include racism and white privilege, civic studies, moral philosophy, and popular culture.

Diversity Scholars Project: Mary plans to develop a new undergraduate course which addresses issues of forgiveness and revenge in contemporary U.S. social movements. This project creates a space for undergraduate activists to struggle with issues central to challenges in cultivating inclusion and diversity, as well as provides tools, scholarly history, philosophical approaches, and real-world examples of how movements and change-makers have dealt with similar struggles. In turn, this course improves the campus climate by helping forge stronger relationships as students work on complex issues of inclusion and diversity while cultivating social change, both here at Virginia Tech and in their future endeavors.

Mariana Sierra-Santana is in her second year in the MFA in Creative Writing program at Virginia Tech, specializing in poetry. Originally from Bayamón, Puerto Rico, she received her BA in English Education at the University of Puerto Rico before settling temporarily in New Jersey, where she worked as an ESL teacher and obtained her MA in English from Monmouth University. Her creative and academic work is often geared towards gender roles and expectations, especially within sociocultural constructs, and she is currently working towards a graduate certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies.

As a Diversity Scholar, Mariana plans to establish a new tradition at Virginia Tech by coordinating (with the help of other MFA students and Diversity Scholars) an open mic series, called The New River Revival, to build a supportive community that offers a platform for diverse creative voices.

Amber Turner is a fifth year PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology from Oak Ridge, Tennessee. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and completed a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. Following her undergraduate degree, she conducted research at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and at the University of Kentucky. Amber then pursued graduate level education at Virginia Tech, where she earned a Master of Science in Clinical Psychology in 2013. Her dissertation research involves developing an emotion regulation intervention for children with disruptive behaviors.

Diversity Scholars Project: Along with fellow Scholar Rebecca Elias, Amber plans to develop training for faculty and graduate teachers providing information about student disabilities. This training will include education about common disabilities encountered by teachers, how accommodations work and how teachers should implement them, and tips for creating a more inclusive classroom. They hope to develop and post online training modules covering these topics so that these resources can be made available and easily accessible for both current and future instructors at Virginia Tech.

Whitney Wright is a former secondary educator and she is from Roanoke, Virginia. She is also a second year PhD student in the School of Education’s Educational Leadership Program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History with a concentration in African American Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University. She received a Masters of Arts in Teaching degree with a concentration in History from Mary Baldwin College. Whitney’s doctoral research focuses on the professional development of educators who instruct predominantly underserved students. Whitney’s research interest also includes educational law and policy. 

Diversity Scholars Project: Whitney is designing a pilot study with the intentions of facilitating a workshop to provide departments with the tools and frameworks to design and implement their own professional learning communities. The goal is to establish a sustainable and meaningfully approach to disseminate knowledge regarding best practices to faculty and administration to create culturally competent students and create racially and culturally affirming classrooms.

Zeynep Ondin is a Ph.D. candidate in Instructional Design and Technology. She also received Human Centered Design graduate certificate. She is from Istanbul, Turkey. She earned a BS degree in Computer Education and Educational Technology from Bogazici University. She holds two master degrees: a MA degree in Interactive Media Design from Yildiz Technical University and a MS degree in Computer-aided Art and Design from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University. Her doctoral research focuses on exploring the design process of professionals from different design disciplines.

Diversity Scholars Project: Zeynep plans to evaluate accessibility of the VT IT Service Catalog and report the results to the project team so the service catalog would be improved in terms of accessibility. The VT IT Service Catalog aims to provide a single, easy-to-use, structured online catalog for all external and internal services provided by VT IT departments. The VT IT Service Catalog also aims to give users (VT faculty, staff, students and alumni) the power to address their problems and to serve their own needs. In order to evaluate accessibility, she will conduct expert reviews, user testing, and utilize online web accessibility tools. The results will be reported in the form of comprehensive user requirements that gives insights about behaviors, needs and motivations of users with disabilities.

 

 

Dannette Gomez Beane
Director
Office of Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives
540/231-6529