Willie Caldwell is a MFA student in arts leadership with a secondary focus higher education administration. He is a graduate of the American Music and Dramatic Academy and Berklee College of Music with degrees in theatre, performance, and music business and management. Willie is committed to the arts integration and transdisciplinary arts and design research within higher education. He explores these areas as a graduate fellow with the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech. Willie has worked as a professional actor and musician in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Nashville. Select credits include: Emcee – TEDx at Virginia Tech, Lancelot –Spamalot, Sebastian – Suddenly Last Summer, Lord Farquaad – Shrek the Musical, Zoser – Aida, Britt Craig – Parade, Roy – A Light in the Piazza, Matt – The Fantasticks, and appeared as a vulture demon on the WB’s Charmed. Willie has recorded and released four solo EPs and provided vocal talent and effects for Disney MGM. Willie has also worked as the Director of Student Services for the School of Audio Engineering Los Angeles, the Assistant Registrar for Berkleemusic online, and as the Business Manager for the Office of Undergraduate Education at Virginia Tech. He currently holds memberships with Americans for the Arts and the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

Ben Chambers is a Ph.D. student in Environmental Design and Planning, an MS student in Entomology, and part of the BioBuild Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program (IGEP). He also holds an MS in Civil Infrastructure Engineering from Virginia Tech. Prior to graduate school, he worked for several years assessing potential sites for utility scale wind power.

Ben is interested in the built environment as a context for biological systems. His current research is an examination of the behavior of overwintering brown marmorated stink bugs as they respond to structural features and environmental conditions in single-family homes. In the last twenty years, these invasive insects have become significant nuisances in homes, and a major agricultural pest. Ben hopes that the outcomes of his research can be used to help control them. Mostly, though, he’s just happy that he gets to play with bugs.

Natalie Cook is a first-generation American as well as a first-generation college graduate. She is a doctoral student studying cultural responsiveness in the context of community education and program evaluation. She hopes to engage in applied research that can translate into the planning, implementation, and evaluation of culturally-competent social programs for low-income or marginalized children, families, and communities. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and lived in Ithaca, New York for four years while attending Cornell University, and in Newark, Delaware for two while attending graduate school at the University of Delaware. I currently reside in Blacksburg, Virginia, where I am a doctoral student at Virginia Tech.

As a scholar, she values research and theory, but also other forms of knowledge, such as cultural beliefs, traditions and lived experiences. Thus, as a future applied researcher and professor, she hopes to incorporate phenomenological and participatory research in her work, as she explores how to engage youth, families, and communities in co-creating resilience-promoting programs. As a future professor, she hopes to promote innovation, inspiration, and inclusion in higher education and serve as a bridge between the university and local community.


Chelsea Corkins is a Ph.D. candidate in the Biological Systems Engineering department. Prior to joining the Virginia Tech community, Chelsea received her Bachelors and Masters degrees from Kansas State University, both in Biological and Agricultural Engineering with an emphasis in water resources. Her master’s degree research focused on gully soil erosion on military training bases and initiated her ongoing interested in soil erosion processes caused by water.

At Virginia Tech, her research involves streambank erosion and how root structures and microbial communities affect the overall erosion rate. This research has required an interdisciplinary team including faculty from engineering mechanics, horticulture, and forestry. This research has also required Chelsea to improve her knowledge regarding stream systems as much of the water in her homeland of the Midwest is hidden underground!

Chelsea studied for one semester at Czech Technical University in Prague, Czech Republic, and traveled to Bangladesh, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic to work on water-related research efforts during her undergraduate career. During these trips, Chelsea worked with locals to assess water sanitation issues, water quality improvements, resource allocation, and community engagement. These short-term interactions inspired Chelsea to take a summer internship at the International Water Management Institute in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia after completing her first year at Virginia Tech. This culmination of water ideas and projects have influenced Chelsea’s decision to pursue a career in academics with a strong emphasis on global water relations.

When not focused on schoolwork, Chelsea is involved with the Graduate Student Assembly as this year’s Director of Programs. Chelsea’s role involves planning social and academic events for graduate students, as well as providing research and travel funding to fellow VT graduate students. Outside of Virginia Tech, Chelsea is the Co-founder of the Blacksburg Beer Enthusiasts and actively promotes interest and involvement from women in the heavily male dominated world of craft beer.

Emily Garner is a Ph.D. student in the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering with an emphasis on Environmental and Water Resources Engineering. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from West Virginia University. Emily is passionate about studying microbiological aspects of water, particularly as they relate to public health. For her graduate work, Emily is studying the presence of emerging microbial contaminants in recycled water systems. Specifically, she is investigating the presence of opportunistic pathogens, such as Legionella and Naegleria fowleri (commonly known as the “brain eating amoeba”), and antibiotic resistant bacteria in recycled water systems and seeking to identify approaches to prevent growth of these organisms during pipeline transport from the treatment plant to consumers.

Emily is a member of the Water INTERface Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program (IGEP) at Virginia Tech. The program provides opportunities for education in developing skills for effective collaboration across disciplines and research opportunities which foster interdisciplinary projects at the nexus of water quality and public health. Emily has also completed the Preparing the Future Professoriate Certificate at Virginia Tech and hopes to pursue a faculty position after graduation where she can apply the pedagogical philosophies and techniques learned to better engage her future students in their education. In her free time, Emily enjoys hiking, gardening, and playing board games.

Amy Hermundstad is a Ph.D. student in Engineering Education and a master’s degree student in Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado State University, and worked as a software consultant for several years before returning to graduate school. While pursuing her degree in Engineering Education, Amy has taught the first year Foundations of Engineering course at Virginia Tech, which covers topics such as engineering design, problem solving, programming, and computer-aided design.

She currently works for the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED). CEED provides engineering students, primarily underrepresented populations, support and encouragement as they pursue their engineering degrees. One mission of CEED is to increase the diversity of students who apply to and graduate from the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. Amy’s current research interests include diversity and inclusion in engineering, with a focus on underrepresented engineering students’ participation in engineering support programs and activities. Specifically, she is interested in understanding why students chose to participate, or choose not to participate, in engineering living learning communities (where students live together in communities designed to promote learning). After graduating, Amy hopes to work either in a first year engineering program or in an engineering academic support program.


Jeena Rachel Jayamon is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech. Her area of focus in in Structural Engineering and Materials with a focus on Structural Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering. Jeena earned her bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from National Institute of Technology Calicut in India. She earned a master’s degree in Structural Engineering from Virginia Tech.

As part of her research, Jeena is developing a novel framework to predict the structural response of wood buildings (specifically with a shear wall structural system) to earthquakes through accurate computational modeling and analysis. Wood buildings are widely used for many commercial and residential applications and these buildings has a unique response to earthquakes. The research evaluates the seismic performance of different configurations and designs of wood buildings in terms of strength and repair / replacement cost for a minor level of building damage to all the way up to the collapse level. This research helps to identify the best practice of developing analytical model of wood building so as to predict the building response close to a real behavior.

Jeena was Vice President of Structural Engineering Institute chapter, secretary of Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, and a delegate to Graduate Student Assembly. She completed the graduate certification program on Preparing the Future Professoriate and also worked as Instructor of Record for Theory of Structures course at Virginia Tech. She hopes to become a university faculty member significantly contributing to reduce seismic hazard effects on building systems.

Jordan Laney, of Marion, North Carolina, is a doctoral student in the interdisciplinary Alliance for Social Political Ethical and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) program, studying cultural and social theory. Her current work focuses on bluegrass festivals as sites of identity construction. Before coming to Virginia Tech, Jordan earned her master’s degree in Appalachian Studies with a concentration in music from Appalachian State University and a bachelor of fine arts degree in creative writing from Goddard College. She also graduated from the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Leadership Bluegrass Program.

At Virginia Tech, Jordan serves as the co-editor of SPECTRA, teaches for the Department of Religion and Culture, and is a member of the GTA Academy for Excellence. Jordan serves as the co-chair of Young Appalachian Leaders and Learners (Y’ALL), a sub-committee of the Appalachian Studies Association Steering Committee. She also works to represent Appalachian-identifying and first generation students as a Diversity Scholar (2015).

Jordan’s research has been presented to the Appalachian Studies Association, the International Country Music Association, the South Atlantic Modern Language Association, and many other regional groups. After graduation, she hopes to continue serving the region through educational initiatives and community based learning. She also hopes to spend more time learning banjo tunes, farming, and hiking with her two dogs, Lady and Cowboy.

Liz Liguori works in photography, lighting, sculpture, installation and performance. A transplant from Brooklyn, New York, Liz is currently an MFA student in Virginia Tech’s Creative Technology program. She earned her bachelor’s degree in studio art from Drew University in 2001.

Her participation in the “Transformative Graduate Education” certificate program, “Preparing the Future Professoriate” has greatly influenced and informed her thesis research in Creative Technologies. In particular, she is interested in how the technological evolution of arts education will affect traditional art programs in the future.

Gary Nave is a Ph.D. student in Engineering Mechanics at Virginia Tech. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Engineering Science and Mechanics and his master’s degree at Virginia Tech.

When he began pursuing his doctoral degree, he accepted an offer to join the MultiSTEPS Interdisciplinary Research program. He is interested in bio-inspired research questions in the realm of fluid dynamics and dynamical systems. His current research focuses on understanding how objects interact with their wakes as they move through fluids.

Gary said the main reason he is a graduate student is to be able to teach at the college level and mentor college students. He said the Preparing the Future Professoriate and Contemporary Pedagogy classes have afforded him the opportunity to spend time learning about higher education as a part of his graduate coursework.


Kasey Richardson is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Educational Psychology program, and he has also completed Graduate Certificates in Educational Research and Women’s and Gender Studies. His research interests lie primarily at the intersections of gender, sexuality, and learning processes. He is largely focused on how formal, public sex education can differ drastically from the ways in which youth learn and teach one another about sex and sexuality in informal contexts such as peer-to-peer interactions, pseudonymous digital spaces, and the media.

Kasey is also involved in student governance and leadership at Virginia Tech through the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA), formerly serving as a Departmental Delegate as well as Chair of the university’s student Travel Fund Program. Currently, he is the Administrative Director of the organization, providing support for the Executive Council as well as acting as a liaison between the organization, the Graduate School, and the Division of Student Affairs. Each year, he directs the annual Graduate and Professional School Fair, the organization’s largest fundraiser, and the only annual opportunity of its size and caliber for undergraduate students to be recruited into graduate and professional studies by Departments at Virginia Tech and other institutions around the globe.

Kasey has always had an interest in international travel and studies. This passion was sparked by several undergraduate experiences in Spain and Mexico. He believes that the Global Perspectives Program ’16 will afford him opportunities to network with potential colleagues internationally who are also interested in education.

Micah D. Roediger is a Ph.D. candidate in the Psychology department concentrating in industrial and organizational psychology. He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Ohio University in 2013 and a master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology in 2015. An interest in improving the workforce by optimizing the corporate safety culture, training programs, and employee development practices inspired Micah to pursue an advanced degree.

Micah plans to follow his passion for teaching after graduation, pursuing a tenure-track faculty position. Although a heavy emphasis on teaching is important, Micah plans to continue to conduct research to improve organizations, with a strong focus on improving employee well-being through training and development.
In his free time Micah enjoys playing and watching various sports. Despite a love for many diverse sports, his favorite is football (soccer). In addition, Micah enjoys hiking the many beautiful trails around Blacksburg and hanging out with his friends. Even with all the time spent outside Micah can occasionally be found inside perfecting his gourmet grilled cheese recipe.

Mohammed Seyam is a Computer Science doctoral student in the College of Engineering. Seyam received his bachelor’s degree in Information Systems from Mansoura University and his master’s degree in Information Systems from Cairo University, both in Egypt.

Among his activities on campus, Seyam served as a Global Ambassador, helping welcome new international students to the Virginia Tech community. He was a member of the Computer Science Graduate Council as well as the Center for the Arts international advisory board. In 2014, he represented Virginia Tech at Hokie Day at the Virginia state capitol in Richmond. He took part in OpenCon 2014, a conference for researchers on open access, open data, and open educational resources. He also attended the 2015 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing in Boston.

In 2015-16, he served as the 2015-16 Graduate Student Representative to the Board of Visitors, where he worked as a liaison between the graduate student population at Virginia Tech and the governing authority of the university. He also served as member of the University Council, Commission on Student Affairs, and Commission on Graduate Studies and Policies. He’s also a member of Graduate Students Assembly Executive Board, Virginia Tech Order of the Gavel, President’s advisory group, and other student groups and organizations. He is interested in learning about different governance structures for universities both inside and outside USA, how students’ voices are heard, and whether students have effective roles in the different types of governance structures. He’s also working on developing more inclusive environments for international students, where they not only feel welcomed, but also thrive as active community members and student leaders.


Michele Waters is a PhD student in the Biomedical Engineering department at Virginia Tech. Originally from New York, Michele attended SUNY Stony Brook and CUNY City College (Grove School of Engineering) for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Biomedical Engineering. Michele is currently investigating the role of inflammation (macrophage differentiation) in traumatic brain injury; she is also evaluating the potential of human hair-derived keratin biomaterials to promote an anti-inflammatory environment, thereby improving clinical outcomes for patients.

Michele is a member of the New Horizons Graduate Scholar program and has served on the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development Selection Committee at Virginia Tech for the past year. As part of the committee, Michele has had the opportunity to find deserving young people from diverse backgrounds, with latent potential, and provide them with the agency to pursue bright futures in science and research. In the future, Michele hopes to continue recruiting women and minorities into STEM fields and to find new opportunities to mentor students. She hopes to continue in her current field as a primary investigator at a university or government research facility, investigating the role of inflammation and cell signaling in human disease and developing potential drug, biomaterial, or tissue engineering treatment alternatives.

Ayesha Yousafzai is a PhD Candidate in Higher Education at Virginia Tech. She was born and raised in Pakistan and has been living in the U.S. for the past 16 years. She received her undergraduate degree in Communications and Information Systems from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and completed her Master’s in Student Affairs and Higher Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She pursued her passions for working/helping students and worked for seven years at Duke University as a Residence Coordinator and Academic Advisor.

Her graduate assistantship is at the Student Success Center at Virginia Tech. Some of her tasks include working with Presidential Scholarship Initiative students and teaching a Student Success Strategies class to undergraduate students. Ayesha is passionate about student development and is exploring multiple dimensions of identity of Muslim women pursuing their graduate studies at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) in the U.S. In her free time she enjoys baking, cooking and traveling.

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