2018 Scholars

Nada Berrada 

Nada is a native of Morocco and a Ph.D. student in the ASPECT program (Alliance for Social Political, Ethical and Cultural Thought). She previously earned an M.A. in Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech and a B.A in Political Science and Economics from Ecole de Gouvernance et d’Economie de Rabat (EGE) in Morocco. She currently teaches for the Political Science Department and serves as a board member of the International Student Advisory Board (ISAB). Her research interest is grounded in the field of critical youth studies. For her Diversity Scholars project, Nada intends to disseminate a survey that would collect international students' perceptions and experiences of inclusion and diversity at Virginia Tech. She will then discuss the survey findings with interested international students, members of the Graduate School administration, Cranwell International Center and the Office of Recruitment, Diversity, and Inclusion.  Her project overall aim is to identify the needs of the international students' community through the survey and bridge the latter by ensuing recommendations to organizations at Virginia Tech dedicated to making all students feel included and thrive in our community.

Chelsea Corkins

Chelsea is a first year master’s degree student in the Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education department. Originally from Hutchinson, Kansas, Chelsea earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from Kansas State University in Biological and Agricultural Engineering with an emphasis in soil and water conservation. She moved to Blacksburg in 2013 to pursue a Ph.D. in Biological Systems Engineering, but (slowly) realized that her true passion was in education. She decided to change her education goals and joined her current program after being involved in the Graduate Teaching Scholars program at Virginia Tech and President of the Graduate Student Assembly, and a brief stint as an extension programming specialist. Chelsea researches interdisciplinary curriculum development in formal and informal settings while serving as the Program Coordinator to the VALOR program - a premier agriculture leadership program in Virginia. Diversity Scholars Project: Chelsea plans to spearhead the sustainable establishment of an LGBTQ+ organization,  Students for Cultivating Change, at Virginia Tech. This group strives to value and elevate LGBTQ+ agriculturists and naturalists through advocacy, education, and community. Initially developed by a group of gay men in California, the Cultivating Change Foundation now serves as the national campaign, but has established only one university level organization: Students for Cultivating Change at Penn State. Chelsea will serve as the key contact between the national foundation and current SCC Penn State chapter as Virginia Tech launches mentorship, socials, and joint advocacy opportunities advancing LGBTQ+ voices throughout agriculture and natural resources.

Will Culver III

Will Culver III, of Christiansburg, is a doctor of veterinary medicine candidate and a student in the master of public health program at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine (VMCVM), and is a Cherokee Nation tribal citizen. He completed his bachelor's degree at Humboldt State University. His interests include clinical medicine, public health, one health (the intersection of the environment, animals, and people), and emerging infectious diseases. After receiving support from Native American science-based organizations during his undergraduate career, he wishes to build upon their mission to increase capacity for Native Americans in science. Diversity project: To enhance equity, inclusion, and diversity at Virginia Tech, Culver is working to expand the VMCVM’s Vet Training and mentorship, Realistic experiences, Active and hands-on learning, and Career exploration (VetTRAC) summer program to include a Native pre-veterinary pathway program that fully funds two Native American students in need. The populations that benefit from this project and the expected outcomes of this project are closely intertwined. Culver hopes that removing basic barriers to potential pre-veterinary Native applicants will spark a great interest in the VetTRAC program and expand Native students’ exposure to veterinary medicine.

Angela Dahiya-Singh 

Angela Dahiya-Singh is a Ph.D candidate in the Clinical Psychology program and is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from UC Davis in 2014 where she developed an interest in the autism field. After spending some time working as an ABA therapist, she pursued her Master’s degree in Psychology from Pepperdine University in Los Angeles, CA, where she also gained some clinical and research experience at UCLA. Her research interests include parenting & family stress and its impact on treatment outcomes of children with ASD. She also is interested in examining mental health disparities among families of diverse and rural/low-income communities and hopes to focus on implementing new interventions for this population. Diversity Project: Angela aims to assess the prospects for improving the delivery of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) services in rural communities using a hybrid telehealth technology-supplemented approach via a mobile autism clinic. Currently she is working to evaluate the strengths and barriers among local rural, underserved communties of Southwest Virginia to inform the design of this intervention and target rural needs. 

Lehi Dowell

Lehi Dowell, is a first year Ph.D. student in Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) at the Pamplin College of Business.  He earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from the University of La Verne and a master’s degree in Hospitality & Tourism Management from Florida International University.  Dowell has extensive industry knowledge and expert mastery of the subject matter at hand. Diversity Project:  Hospitality is one of the most diverse and inclusive industries in the world. Not only do these companies employ a diverse workforce but they also service a dynamic range of consumer groups.  One area that hasn’t been discussed during seminars in the HTM department thus far is the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBTQ+) customer market segment, estimated to have a $65 billion impact in the United States alone. The project includes a half-day symposium in April 2018 which entails: a 30-minute presentation to the HTM Graduate Seminar covering LGBTQ+ representation in academic research; an hour seminar by Thomas Roth (CEO and Founder, Community Marketing Insight Inc (CMI)) covering their 2016 survey analysis, including future research needs; and a round table discussion on the topic.  

Matthew Ferby

Matthew Ferby is a first year master's degree student in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, focusing on Environmental Engineering.  He is originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, and received his B.S. in Civil Engineering from North Carolina A&T State University.  His current research focuses on nutrient recovery from wastewater using coupled microbial fuel cell and forward osmosis systems.  After obtaining his master’s degree, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. to research water sustainable practices.  He also supports efforts that empower underrepresented groups to pursue STEM. Diversity Scholar Project:  Matthew plans to develop a program (We’re Our Community – WOC) that will allow students to strengthen interpersonal skills that contribute to the productivity of team-based work.  The WOC program will use focused sessions, such as family dynamics, cultural customs and internal versus external perceptions of self, to establish foundational connections between people from different backgrounds.  Ultimately, Matthew hopes that the program will help dismantle academic presumptions associated with certain groups that promote better, more engaging work environments and produce professionals suitable for diversifying teams across all fields.

Mohammad Habibi 

Mohammad Habibi is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics. He received his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Isfahan University of Technology in 2010, and master's degree in Mechanical Engineering from Wichita State University in 2013. His research interests include understanding and modeling the wet traction of tires. He is also passionate about Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning. For his diversity project, Mohammad plans to introduce Arbaeen walk to the Virginia Tech community. Arbaeen marks the 40th day after the martyrdom of Hussain ibn Ali, a leader revered for his bravery, free-mindedness, and valor. Hussain was a 7th-century revolutionary and spiritual leader. The Arbaeen Walk has become a tradition that involves pilgrims walking (many barefoot) for about 80 km from Najaf, where Hussain’s father Ali is buried, to Hussain’s shrine in Karbala. Pilgrims come from various countries (Asia, Africa, Europe, and America) and faiths (including: Shia/Sunni Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Zoroastrians, Sabians, etc.). In a span of three days, he will introduce the Arbaeen Walk to the Virginia Tech community through an exhibition of photographs. With 11 photographs, he will portray the diverse demographics of pilgrims who walk shoulder to shoulder despite their economic status, race, etc. The exhibition aims to spur discussion in form of casual talk amongst the audience regarding their take on the photographs.

Erin Heller

Erin Heller, of Richmond, Virginia, completed her bachelor’s degree in Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech in 2011 and her master’s degree in Biology from Old Dominion University in 2015. Currently, Erin is a third year Ph.D. student in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. Due to her keen interest in avian conservation, Erin is studying the effects of climate change on the federally threatened red knot (Calidris canutus rufa). For her Diversity Scholar’s project, Erin aims to increase awareness about academic bullying and to discuss what methods students can use to both prevent and combat academic bullying within her department. To do this, she will host workshops over the course of the spring 2018 semester, with the hope that these workshops will continue to run beyond the scope of her time at Virginia Tech. Erin’s ultimate goal is to help ensure that graduate students receive not only an excellent education but also a positive and welcoming work environment. Diversity Project: I propose to create and implement workshops/forums focused on academic bullying. While academic bullying transcends beyond mentee-mentor relationships, as faculty and staff can also experience academic bullying, this project will be geared towards graduate students within Virginia Tech’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. It is my hope that these workshops will be well-received and can become a program that FiWGSA offers each semester. Ultimately, I aspire working with others to create a workshop specifically geared towards faculty, to help include them in our efforts of eliminating academic bullying within the department. 

Erika Hernandez 

Erika Hernandez is a doctoral candidate in developmental psychology. She received her M.S. in psychology from Virginia Tech in 2016 and her B.A. in Psychology and Neuroscience from Baylor University in 2014. Her research focuses on familial conversations about emotion and children’s social competence from early childhood to adolescence, with a focus on race/ethnicity and culture as contexts for development. Diversity Scholars Project: Erika plans to create a mentorship program to pair underrepresented undergraduate students in psychology with underrepresented graduate students to help combat stereotype threat.

Cherice Hughes-Oliver

Cherice Hughes-Oliver, of Cary, North Carolina, is currently a second year MS/PhD student in Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics studying human biomechanics. Cherice aims to further her contributions to the field of biomechanics by becoming a full faculty member at a research institution. Cherice is also passionate about reaching out to underrepresented populations and making science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields accessible to and representative of diverse populations. As a Diversity Graduate Scholar, she will be forming a graduate and faculty book club to investigate the “third shift” that is often faced by women of color. The “third shift” is described as the additional burden faced by women of color to explain their often differing points of view, experiences, and opinions to others. Having to not only be exceptionally functional in their main role but also inform and educate others around them is a common experience shared by women of color. Despite its commonality, this struggle is rarely defined or discussed. Cherice will be creating a space to understand and discuss this experience in a book club setting, using Shifting: The Double LIves of Black Women in America, as a guide. This space will allow both graduate studetns and faculty members to grow and form community around this issue.

Audra Jenson

Audra Jenson is a second year Masters student in Philosophy at Virginia Tech. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Northwest Nazarene University in 2016. Her research focuses on moral and political philosophy and metaphysics, especially as they intersect with social and feminist philosophy. She is particularly interested in questions about autonomy, exploitation, and the construction of identity. Diversity Scholars Project: Philosophy is one of the most homogeneous disciplines in academia. Through this project, Audra hopes to promote an atmosphere in which the participation of women and gender minorities is encouraged at all levels of philosophy at Virginia Tech. In particular, the project hopes to build mentorship relationships between philosophers at different stages in their careers as well as engage a broader audience in discussion about the particular plight of women and gender minorities in Philosophy. As such, it will serve a two-fold purpose of both encouraging individuals in their philosophical careers and fostering an inclusive atmosphere.

Mark Marinoble 

Mark Marinoble, of Prince William County, is a Ph.D. student in the Education Leadership Policy Studies on the Falls Church campus. He has been a proud elementary principal in Prince William County Public Schools since 2002. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech in 1995, most of his career has been working in Title I Schools as both a teacher and an administrator. Mark is passionate about reaching the needs of all learners. For his Diversity Scholars Project, Mark wants to do more to ensure there is equity in STEM education by giving all students the opportunity to learn about STEM careers and further develop their creative thinking skills. When launching this project, Mark will be partnering with Virginia Tech and Qualcomm to build a unique makerspace lab called the Tech Lab. The Tech Lab will be designed to reach underrepresented and underserved students and promote engineering and STEM related careers to all visitors. Students who visit the Tech Lab will be given opportunities to code and experience the engineering design process by creating their own robocraft. The Tech Lab will be one of the first Inspired by Qualcomm makerspace labs on the East Coast in an elementary school setting.

Ezgi Seref 

Ezgi Seref is a first year Ph.D Student in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) Program at Virginia Tech. She earned a B=bachelor’s degree in Law from Marmara University, Istanbul, Turkey and two master’s degrees from the Conflict Analysis and Resolution Program and from the Cultural Studies Program at Sabanci University. Her research interests include legal politics, globalization, professional identity, legal policy, and legal culture. Diversity project: This project will focus on how the Virginia Tech students conceive the concept of security and how their perceived security conception reflect on their everyday encounters within campus space. Given that the recent changes in the U.S. political atmosphere and international policies, the international student population has experienced difficulties raised a new set of questions regarding security as part of everyday lives of these students. In addition, the political atmosphere also brought forward concerns regarding historically underrepresented and under privileged student populations. Finally, this study will provide an understanding of how much student concerns are addressed by the campus policies and the physical changes in the campus space.

Jyotsana Sharma 

Jyotsana Sharma is a doctoral candidate in the Counselor Education program at Virginia Tech. She graduated with her Masters in Psychology from India and Master of Education in Counseling from Boston University, MA. Jyotsana is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) in the state of New Hampshire and a National Certified Counselor (NCC) as well. She has more than seven years of experience in the mental health field. She also has experience teaching in a college prep school. Her research interests lie in the area of trauma recovery and adversarial growth. She has been involved in advocacy efforts related to spreading the word regarding recognizing unconscious bias and facilitating cultural humility over the last couple of years. Her Diversity Scholars project called Bridging the gap between curiosity and ignorance: Asking effective questions for equity, inclusion, and diversity, involved creating and facilitating workshops where emerging educators, graduate teaching assistants, and graduate students could engage in discussions covering a range of topics related to diversity, inclusion, and equity. These workshops were geared towards providing a space, an opportunity and access for individuals to ask questions, engage in dialogue, and learn from each other. 

Faith Skiles

Faith Skiles, of Pilot, Virginia, is a second year Ph.D. student in ASPECT. She earned a master's degree in History from Virginia Tech and a bachelor's degree from Mary Baldwin College. Her research interests include: Cross-Cultural Studies, Gender Studies, Feminist theories of Space/Place, Korean and East Asian History, American Religious History. Diversity Scholars project: Faith’s project will attempt to address concerns and wishes voiced by international students. From reading present and past diversity projects written by students from abroad, there seems to be a desire for more interaction and connection with local students, many of their projects attempt/attempted to do this. This project will attempt to facilitate deliberate action on the part of local students to form an outreach to international students.

Lindsay Whittaker 

Lindsay Whittaker is an M.A. student in philosophy at Virginia Tech. Lindsay specializes in ethics, epistemology, and philosophy of liberation with concentrations in food ethics, pet food, epistemic injustice, and feminism. In addition to being a facilitator for the Safe Zone program, Lindsay is also a facilitator with Diversity Development Institute. Prior to Virginia Tech, Lindsay earned bachelor’s degrees in Greek, Latin, and philosophy along with a minor in sexuality and gender identity studies from the University of Vermont. Diversity Scholars Project: Lindsay’s project is geared towards fostering an institutional memory that will reduce the necessity of bootstrapping for future graduate students in philosophy. It includes: a series of unofficial guides that consolidate information on resources and inclusive practices; pedagogy sessions that discuss differences in culture, context, power distance, and modes of communication; and, finally, the design of a survey that will allow for a needs assessment in future years.

Marjorie Willner 

Marjorie R. Willner, of Briarcliff Manor, NY is a fifth year Ph. D. candidate in the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. With broad interests in the environment and innovation, her research is focused on the development of a nanotechnology enabled microfluidic platform for the detection and study of pathogens. Marjorie has participated in three technology transfer competitions focused on moving her bench scale research closer to a viable product and has been involved in the startup space at Virginia Tech.  Additionally, she has spent much of her time in Blacksburg advocating for the LGBTQ+ community through service as President of Queer Graduate Students & Professionals and Allies (QGPA), President of out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (oSTEM), a delegate to the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) and a previous diversity scholar project focused on connecting LGBTQ+ resources on campus (2014).  Marjorie’s project is entitled “Self-Advocacy Through Scientific Entrepreneurship.” Combining her interest in innovation and support of underserved communities, she plans to host a one day event for first and second year undergraduate students where they will learn entrepreneurial skills, get connected to on-campus projects and activities, discuss barriers they face on campus at the intersection of identity and entrepreneurship and hear from underrepresented founders in the local area. Marjorie has received seed funding for her event through NanoEarth at Virginia Tech and hopes to start the critical conversation on campus of who has access to innovation at Virginia Tech.

Lane Woodward

Lane Woodward is a third year Ph.D. student in the Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education department. She received both her master's degree in Agricultural Education and Leadership in 2011 and her bachelor's degree in Agricultural Education in 2005 from the University of Georgia. Lane’s passions encompass many areas of agriculture. This includes teaching and learning with an emphasis in teaching practices that yield student success. She taught Agricultural Education and advised a Local FFA chapter for 10 years prior to relocating to Blacksburg, Virginia. Her current research interest lies in creativity, and more specifically the relationship with a teacher’s creativity and a student’s achievement. Diversity Scholars Project: Lane plans to develop a self-assessment instrument to be used to identify an individual’s tendency to be complacent with the actions or behavior of an academic bully. After development, the measure will be accessible online as part of Virginia Tech’s materials regarding academic bullying. The hope is this measure can be used to help start a conversation focused on academic bullying and what behaviors are indicative specifically to this type of bullying. 

Diversity Spotlight: Featuring the 2018 Diversity Scholars

May 3, 2018


GLC Multipurpose Room

Lunch provided, RSVP required