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Diversity Scholars past and present

Current and past graduate students who have participated in the program

Graduate Life Center cupola; sunset

Graduate School sunset

Michelle Choi Ausman is a Ph.D. student in the Engineering Education Department in the College of Engineering. Ausman earned a bachelor’s degree from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and master’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. “My research looks at the intersections of Asian American and multiracial identity with engineering identity,” Ausman said. The project aims to look at the intersection of Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American (APIDA) cultural identity and engineering identity. “I aim to understand the intersections of engineering and APIDA identity by exploring how APIDA engineering students' experiences vary depending on participation in the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers,” Ausman said.

Catherine Cotrupi is a Ph.D. candidate in the Higher Education program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Cotrupi earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from East Tennessee State University. “My research focuses on the topics of Whiteness and the Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture in service learning and university-community engagement work,” Cotrupi said. “Engaging with these topics is imperative for advancing antiracism and decolonization efforts in academia.” Coltrupi’s project involved facilitating a personal and professional development session for graduate students exploring the topics Whiteness and the characteristics of white supremacy culture in their lives and work. Attendees were introduced to those two topics and then participated in individual reflective practice. “This reflection time will assist them in deconstructing their own experiences with these concepts,” Cotrupi said.

Sharon Dorsey is a master’s degree student in the Fish and Wildlife Sciences program in the College of Natural Resources and Conservation. She holds a bachelor’s degree from George Mason University. She investigates the nesting behavior of the piping plover, an endangered shorebird, to better understand the types of nesting locations they prefer. “My research provides new insight into what the most suitable landscape for these endangered shorebirds looks like, which will help inform land management decisions,” she said. For her project, she produced a short film that documents the story of a young, Black biologist paving her way in the conservation field by studying an endangered shorebird on the beaches of Long Island, New York. “There are many aspects of fieldwork that are new to her—learning survey techniques, driving a UTV along the beach, driving a boat to access the field site, and handling wildlife,” she said of the film. “As a native of Baltimore, Maryland, she demonstrates how no matter where you come from, a career in wildlife conservation is attainable for you.”

C. Meranda Flachs-Surmanek is earning master’s degrees in the Urban and Regional Planning program and in the Theater Department in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. They earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from New York University. Their project, We Shape This City, is a workshop that explores themes of belonging, displacement, and spatial justice. They developed the workshop with Andreza Jorge, a Ph.D. candidate in the Alliance of Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought program, and with Hiromi Okumura, an instructor in the School of Visual Arts. The workshop “connects integrative themes of cultivating creative expression to create just, joyful, and prosperous societies and improve community health,” They said. “Through the practice of aesthetic expression including dance, visual art, and theater practices, we'll build connections between these ideas and our stories.”

Gia Ha is earning master’s degrees in the Urban and Regional Planning program and the Sustainable Land Development program in the colleges of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and Engineering. She earned a bachelor’s degree from George Mason University. She will join the Engineering Education Ph.D. program in fall 2023. “I am interested in learning how behavioral science and systems thinking can promote sustainable policy and empower marginalized communities,” she said. Her project focuses on the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) community at Virginia Tech and the New River Valley area. “In collaboration with the APIDA Caucus, and the Graduate APIDA Association (GAPIDAA), and the Asian Cultural Engagement Center (ACEC) at Virginia Tech, I am creating an APIDA State of the Union Report to explore and highlight the trends, contributions, and needs of the APIDA community,” Ha said. The project goal is to enhance overall diversity, equity, and inclusion at Virginia Tech.

Jasmine Lewis is a Ph.D. student in the Psychology Department in the College of Science. She earned a bachelor’s degree from UNC-Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences. “The history of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) scientists and their contributions to the field of science is a rich and often overlooked narrative,” Lewis said, noting that these communities of scientists remain underrepresented. “My proposed project would develop and pilot a book club for graduate students across the sciences to convene and discuss diversity, equity and inclusion in science.”

Justice Madden is a master’s degree student in the Agricultural, Leadership, Community Education program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Madden earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia. “My research interests include food systems thinking, the Black radical imagination, and the storytelling/ oral traditions of Black seed-keepers in the Mid-Atlantic region,” Madden said. “Our seeds tell a story about home, reminding us it is wherever we’re grounded. Moreover, seeds show us what it takes to grow together. This program seeks to engage the Virginia Tech community with a unique opportunity to connect with seeds and our stories for a dynamic exchange.”

Clayton Markham is a Ph.D. student in the Environmental Engineering Department in the College of Engineering. Markham earned a bachelor’s degree from the University at Buffalo. “I work at the intersection of environmental microbiology and engineering, focusing specifically on combating the spread of antimicrobial resistance in the environment,” Markham said. Antimicrobial resistance is the process by which microbes develop the ability to protect themselves from antimicrobial agents such as antibiotics or disinfectants.” Markham worked with Masias and Rivera on a project that focused on the Kids’ Tech University (KTU), a program during which children and their parents learn about STEM topics through presentations and hands-on activities with university professors and students. “However, families with lingual barriers are left out of this amazing program that allows parent and child to engage in STEM together, fortifying their mutual investment in the child’s future career in STEM,” Markham said. “That is why we are providing real-time English-to-Spanish translations of each aspect of the program at the April KTU… en Español.”

Fiorella Mazzini Masias is a Ph.D. student in the Sustainable Biomaterials program in the College of Natural Resources and Conservation and earned a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech, as well. Masias said, “The goal of my research is to find sustainable replacements for commodity plastics.” Masias worked with Rivera and Markham on the Kids’ Tech University project.

Gabriel Maldonado Rivera is a master’s student in the Environmental Engineering Department in the College of Engineering. Rivera earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico in Arecibo. “My research interests lie in studying antibiotic resistance microorganisms and genes in wastewater environments,” said Rivera. “Ultimately, my goal is to mitigate the spread of antibiotic resistance and promote public health.” Rivera worked with Markham and Masias on the project aiming to add a bilingual component to the Kids’ Tech University event.

Rebecca Steele is a Ph.D. student in the Higher Education program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Steele earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from East Tennessee State University. “I'm interested in studying when and why pre-med students choose to no longer pursue medicine in an effort to support students and increase diversity in medical schools,” Steele said. Describing the project, Steele said, “Many people feel uncomfortable in traditional gyms.” Steele’s project focuses on highlighting the need for a more inclusive space on campus for physical exercise.

Carey Ann Stewart is a Ph.D. student in Curriculum and Instruction focusing on elementary education and teacher education at the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. She earned a bachelor's degree from Oswego State University and a master's degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. "My research looks at using diverse children's literature in elementary classrooms to serve as a method, model, or mentor text for including culturally relevant pedagogies," Stewart said. The project focuses on improving access to diverse children's literature representing various backgrounds and abilities from historically underrepresented and underserved groups. "I aim to understand the development of culturally relevant practices in preservice teachers and increase equity for students to access diverse books to promote an inclusive learning environment," she said.

Alaa Abdalla, a Ph.D. student in the engineering education program, earned her bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University at Qatar. Abdalla calls Alexandria, Egypt, and Doha, Qatar home. She is interested in why people attend universities and the purpose of higher education.

Her project, “Home Loan,” invites individuals who grew up in different cultures from their parents to think about home and belonging through cinema. Participants are asked to choose one movie to represent part of that place, experience, occasion, or a feeling that represents home to them. The end of the project will be a movie festival showing some of these films.

Isil Anakok, a Ph.D. student in the engineering education program, is from Turkey. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Kocaeli University in Turkey and her master’s degree from Virginia Tech. Her research examines engineering ethics education in design courses, and she is interested in applications of natural language processing and text analysis in engineering education.

Her project aims to enhance new international students’ sense of belonging by having more experienced international graduate students share their academic and social experiences, challenges and successes. 

Francesca Battista, a Ph.D. student in the science and technology studies program, calls Argentina and Italy home. She earned master’s degrees from Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia in Italy; the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Virginia Tech; and a doctoral degree from Lund University in Sweden. Her research explores practices of inclusion and diversity “during the process of knowledge production.”

Her project is a workshop series open to the Virginia Tech community “to help faculty and graduate students expand their pedagogical toolkit with an explicit goal of unsettling hegemonic ways of teaching that re-create unequal sociocultural dynamics.”

Stephanie Ann Bontell, a master’s degree student in the natural resources conservation and sustainability studies program, is from Orlando, Florida, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Southeastern University. Her research intersects environmental, gender and literary studies and

explores the subject of environmental memory and how place-making is a gendered process impacted by patriarchal forms of nostalgia that adversely impact socioecological justice and the representation of marginalized perspectives.

Her project is a virtual one-day symposium featuring panels of students, faculty and alumni involved in the field of environmental justice to increase awareness of the importance of environmental justice as both a discipline and a form of diversity activism to combat social discrimination.

Caitlin Cridland, a Ph.D. candidate in the biochemistry program, is from Perth, Australia. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Winthrop University. Her research focuses on understanding how plants sense and respond to changing nutrient levels.

She and Kelsey Reed plan to quantify the effectiveness of mentorship workshops in the Translational Plant Sciences Center (TPSC). They want to report a quantifiable success to present to departments across the university.

Amilia Evans, a third year Ph.D. candidate in the rhetoric and writing program, is from Damascus, Maryland. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech and her master’s degree from Texas Tech. Her research explores how predominantly white institutions (PWIs) use diversity discourse and the effects of this language on their marginalized communities.

Her project examines how predominantly white institutions use climate surveys to collect student demographics and capture students’ insights into their experiences. Evans argues that these surveys can perpetuate what she calls data violence, which the University of Santa Cruz’s Center for Public Philosophy defines as encoded biases that can sustain discrimination and lead to harmful outcomes. She is researching climate surveys to “reimagine an inclusive data collection and response process that will hold institutions accountable to multiply-marginalized and underrepresented communities' experiences.”

Brandon Ganjineh, a second-year medical student at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, calls Los Angeles home. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. His research considers the factors that make LGBTQ+ adolescents comfortable with disclosing their sexuality to their pediatricians.

His project involves a survey of 50 LGBTQ+ identifying adolescents in Roanoke that asks about their visits to their pediatricians, and whether they discuss their sexual health or disclose their sexuality to their physician. He hopes to draw attention to the issue and improve health outcomes for such adolescents in southwest Virginia.

Gia Ha, a master’s student in the sustainable land development and urban and regional planning programs, is from Falls Church. She earned her bachelor’s degrees from George Mason University. Her research examines using technology and behavioral sciences to promote more sustainable choices for International development.

Her project is the creation of the Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi-American (APIDA) Grad Mentoring Program to create connections among graduate students and faculty members within the APIDA community, with the goal of developing environments for students to seek guidance and support.

Kelsey Jennings, a master’s student in the fish and wildlife conservation department, calls Saint Paul, Minnesota home. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and her research focuses on understanding the factors that encourage people to engage with the outdoors.

For her project, she worked with an undergraduate student to explore the literature focused on LGBTQ+ people in the outdoors to understand what had been studied and to recommend future research directions.

Shaghayegh Navabpour, a Ph.D. student in the translational biology, medicine, and health program, is from Tehran, Iran. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tehran. Her research focuses on memory formation.

Her project focuses on the experiences of international graduate students at Virginia Tech, many of whom have dependents, such as their spouses or kids. There are many issues this community is facing after coming to Virginia Tech, such as financial issues, health care, child care, social isolation. She hopes to provide recommendations for the university targeted towards dependents.

Kelsey Reed, a Ph.D. student in the horticulture program, is from Castle Rock, Colorado. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Her research involves enhancing crops to be environmentally sustainable and resilient to the changing climate.

She and Caitlin Cridland are working together to quantify the effectiveness of the TPSC mentorship programs.

Zuleka Woods, a Ph.D. candidate in the planning governance, and globalization program, and a master’s student in the public health program, is from Liberia. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Liberia and a master’s degree from Northeastern University. Her research explores race and power structures in international programs in sub-Saharan Africa.

Her project combined a photo display and a panel of women focused on the history, experiences and scholarship on black hair. The work examined Black women’s hair textures, styles, and types as learning opportunities and spoke to inclusion of hair as an element of identity for Black women.

Mohammed Baaoum, a Ph.D. student in the Industrial and Systems Engineering program in the College of Engineering, shared the following about his project: “Racial discrimination is often complicated by religious discrimination (i.e., the stigmatization of religions most commonly practiced by individuals with minoritized racial identities). I intend to design an Art Exhibit focused on interfaith solidarity and racial equity. The goal of my project is to highlight stories, discourses, and images that show solidarity among people from various secular and religious backgrounds and to contribute to the advancement of an inclusive environment and pluralism in our campus.”

Katrina Colucci-Chang, a Ph.D. student in the Biomedical Engineering program in the College of Engineering, at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute in Roanoke, said of her project: “In STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, people with disabilities often face myriad stereotypes and barriers in their pursuit of personal or professional goals. Due to prejudice and the lack of resources, students with disabilities may feel inhibited and abandon their dreams of pursuing STEM careers. By recognizing and understanding the individual educational needs that students protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act require, an effective mentorship and workshop series can be structured to encourage the inclusion of everyone in STEM. Through the implementation of well-established guidelines, appropriate methods, and effective tools specified to assist those with disabilities, mentors can successfully guide high school students with disabilities towards success in STEM and fulfillment of those students’ career or educational goals.”

Jamie M. Dellinger, A Ph.D. student in the Marriage and Family Therapy program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, describes her project as: “This project aims to create a systematic tutorial that will guide members of the Virginia Tech community in creating more gender affirming course content. The program will suggest language guidelines, which will promote inclusivity.”

Jing Ju, a Ph.D. student in the Biomedical and Veterinary Science program in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, wrote: “I aim to form an AdvantageVT student committee comprised of international graduate and undergraduate students. I want to hold at least four online group meetings with international students from the AdvantageVT Pathway Program. The goal is for the AdvantageVT student committee to build a good relationship with the pre-admitted students in this program and to help them take advantage of opportunities and to efficiently use university resources, and at the same time raising awareness and improving their study experiences across Virginia Tech.”

Malia Pownall, a master’s degree student in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, offered the following description of her project: “This project involves participatory, community-engaged art. The outcome of this project will be a visual collection of thoughts, feelings, ideas, reflections, and dreams from community members who participate. I hope that this project will encourage participants and observers to reflect on how they feel included in Blacksburg or at Virginia Tech, and to recognize how others may experience these collective spaces differently.”

Jessica Resor, a Ph.D. student in the Human Development and Family Science program in the College of Liberal Arts and Family Science, wrote: “This project extends anti-racist efforts in the Department of Human Development and Family Science (HDFS) with a graduate student book club discussion on anti-racism and oppression. HDFS graduate students will select a book of interest together, meet throughout the semester to discuss the book, and work towards actionable steps for the department to improve the quality of anti-racist discussion and create individual and structural change. As a field, HDFS is concerned with issues of racism and oppression, particularly as they impact one’s life course development and outcomes.”

Muhammed Shah Shajahan, a Ph.D. student in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, describes his project in this way: “My project thematically focuses on intercultural and cross-cultural understanding and attention to power dynamics. The program specifically aims to help make students aware of the racial configuration in American society; to familiarize students with how caste-based hierarchy works in the non-south Asian contexts (i.e., diasporic); to discuss with students how to create a politically sensitive atmosphere of democratic interactions on campus; and to create an awareness of the democratic togetherness on campus through rigorously developing the idea of social hybridism.”

Courtney Swanson, a Ph.D. student in Psychology in the College of Science, said of her project: “Rainbow Road is a graduate student organization for individuals who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. This group helps graduate students find others within their community who are closer to their age and are experiencing similar life troubles, provides a resource list for places that are LGBTQ+ friendly in the area, and provides research talks that highlight both research on the community and researchers who are part of the community.”

Sara Wenger, a Ph.D. student in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, offered the following description: “My project intends to assess how students, faculty, and staff are feeling in the wake of remote learning for nearly two semesters, comparing the social impacts of remote learning to those of in-person learning. I will create an online survey for this project, the results of which will be analyzed and presented as a report to the Office of Recruitment, Diversity, and Inclusion. I plan to include in my online survey questions regarding how students, faculty, and staff see themselves on Zoom, and will ask them to self-identify their gender, race, ethnicity, class status, and ability to help gauge attitudes towards identity and body image issues across diverse populations at Virginia Tech.”

Jordan Westcott, a Ph.D. student in the Counselor Education program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, said of her Diversity Scholar work: “My project is focused on advancing social science research with LGBTQ+ participants. By identifying best practices for reducing risk in collecting demographic information related to LGBTQ+ identity, I hope to support greater inclusion for LGBTQ+ participants in important research.”

Venice Adams is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the Higher Education program. She earned her master’s degree in Organization Development from the University of San Francisco and her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Denver. Her research focuses on educational policies that promote college access and success for underrepresented groups.

Her project, “I Ask” for Consent, is a campaign created by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) to raise public awareness about sexual violence and educate communities on how to prevent it. The campaign theme, “I Ask”, champions the message that asking for consent is a healthy, normal, and necessary part of everyday interactions. The campaign's goals are to raise awareness about sexual violence, promote community engagement on how to change social/community norms and prevention as part of an ongoing process to educate members about consent, and share valuable information about resources and services.

Hana Chan (she/her/hers) is a third year doctoral candidate in biomedical engineering from Fairfax, Virginia. She previously a bachelor’s of science in engineering degree in biomedical engineering from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Her graduate research is focused on automotive safety and crash injury biomechanics. She is currently studying the effects of muscle activation on the human occupant response of mid-size males and small-size females during sled tests that simulate frontal and frontal-oblique autonomous braking events and low-severity crashes.

Hana is passionate about advocating for and serving the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) community at Virginia Tech and in Blacksburg. Through an online survey, her project examines the mentoring relationships between graduate students at Virginia Tech who self-identify as APIDA and their faculty advisors, and particularly how these graduate students may have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic during a time of increased anti-Asian discrimination in the United States. The results and feedback from this project will be used to pilot an APIDA faculty-APIDA graduate student mentoring program next semester through the Virginia Tech Asian Cultural Engagement Center.

Aakash Gautam is a Ph.D. candidate in the Computer Science department. His dissertation research focuses on leveraging socio-technical systems to support agency and collective action among a vulnerable population. The goal of his Diversity Scholar project, "Highlighting felt frictions," is to elicit reflection and discussion on moments when people may have felt included and excluded. In the ongoing work, he has elicited what inclusion means to people and what they think inclusion looks like for others in the community.  He hopes to achieve a more equal, inclusive, and just society with projects like this and his own research and teaching.

Vaishakhi is a Master of Engineering student in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech. She specializes in Human Factors Engineering and Ergonomics, with the aim of redesigning workspaces to reduce accidents and occupational illnesses and improve the overall quality of life of workers. Born in Oman and having lived in the Middle East for over 18 years, she moved to India where she is originally from to complete her Bachelors in Technology (Chemical Engineering) from the National Institute of Technology.

Johnny C. Woods, Jr., from Liberia, West Africa, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Higher Education Administration. Johnny earned his master’s degree in Educational Foundations and Management from Makerere University, Uganda, and his bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the A.M.E. Zion University, Liberia. His research focuses on the experiences of foreign-born students in the STEM fields, specifically Sub-Saharan African-born graduate students at PWIs. Johnny’s project consists of a panel discussion to enhance and validate the experience of African graduate international students, personified by the experience of panelists who graduated from Virginia Tech as a mechanism to facilitate a sense of belonging for academic success.

Trichia is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in Arts Leadership from St. Lucia. She previously earned a bachelor's of arts degree in Theatre Arts from Grambling State University. Her focus area is Community Engagement in the Arts, using creative arts as a tool for shifting cultures and diffusing tensions by bringing people together. She is creating a public art project, which will bring students of different backgrounds together in a workshop to create a mural design. Once the the design is complete, students will be invited to paint the mural on a wall in Squires Student Center.

Lehi Dowell is a second year doctoral student in Policy, Planning, and Governance in the School of Public and International Affairs. Originally from Sutherlin, Oregon, Lehi earned his master's degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Florida International University in Miami and his bachelor's degree in Spanish from the University of La Verne, in California. Having worked 10 years in hospitality operations management and several years in nonprofit administration, Lehi said he has been exposed to issues concerning economic growth, sustainable development, and community engagement on both local and international levels. This firsthand knowledge is instrumental in supplementing research endeavors and bridging the gap between the real world (applied science) and academia (theoretical science). The proposal includes a symposium on April 2, 2019, which entails an hour-long story circle featuring speakers who have been personally impacted by gun violence, followed by a 30-minute round table discussion led by a qualified facilitator. The primary purpose of the symposium is to give space for stories from differing vantage points to be heard, and to allow the audience to feel and hear the passion embodied by each speaker’s experience.  

Mahtot Gebresselassie, of Toronto, Canada, is a Ph.D. student in Planning, Governance, and Globalization studying at the university's Alexandria, Virginia campus. She earned her master's degree in Urban Planning at the University of Waterloo in Canada, and her bachelor's degree in architecture at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. She also holds a graduate diploma in Media Studies from the Sheridan Institute in Oakville, Canada. Her research interest focuses on the intersection of information and communications technologies (ICTs) and transport for persons with disabilities. Mahtot's project looks at how inclusive, hospitable, and welcoming Virginia Tech's Alexandria campus buildings are for persons with disabilities. 

Syeed Md Iskander is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department. Originally from Bangladesh, he earned his master of science degree in Environmental Engineering from Washington State University and his bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. His research focuses on innovative technologies for resource recovery and contaminants removal from wastewater. His project aims to determine international graduate students' perception of Virginia Tech Graduate School. This project is based on a questionnaire survey to better understand diversity, equity, and inclusion at Virginia Tech graduate school. 

Devin Koch, from Eustis, Nebraska, is a Master of Fine Arts degree student in Creative Writing. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska. His work explores topics of gender and queerness. Devin created Q*Creatives, a program dedicated to showcasing queer artistry within the Virginia Tech community. Panel discussions and interactive workshops led by LGBTQ+ faculty members, students, and VT employees from multiple art disciplines allow them to talk about their work and its importance and role in society. Q*Creatives paves way for collaboration and establishes visibility of queer artists.

Taylor Lightner, of Columbia, South Carolina, is a Ph.D. student in Engineering Education. She earned her bachelor's degree in Industrial Engineering from Clemson University. Taylor is interested in the intersection of engineering practice and society in rural communities. The goal of her project, “It's not you, it's me,” is to encourage intergroup dialogue among graduate students about implicit bias present within common interactions at Virginia Tech.  The goal of these sessions is to provide an opportunity for participants to express their frustrations, identify their own personal contributions to conflict and create strategies towards a more inclusive environment. 

Sarah Plummer is a doctoral student in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) program. Originally from Ripplemead, Virginia, she earned a bachelor's degree in Theater from Berea College and a master's degree in English from Virginia Tech. Her research focuses on critiques of "form" as they pertain to aesthetics, ritual, radical ecology, performance, and daily life at Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont.

Her project, "Fat at Virginia Tech,” aims to introduce the interdisciplinary academic field of fat studies to the campus and to spark conversations about the ways in which fat people are discriminated against and marginalized. Through a survey, this project will assess Virginia Tech's cultural climate toward fatness at the interpersonal and structural levels, how fat people are treated by other people, and their experiences within campus spaces.

Patrick Salmons, originally from Bassett, Virginia, is a Ph.D. student in the ASPECT program. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in Political Science from Virginia Tech. His research explores the impact music and religion⸻particularly hip-hop and bluegrass music, and Christianity⸻have on unlike groups in terms of creating a social movement. He examines how hip-hop and bluegrass operate as a place of solidarity and resistance for different groups of people with similar constraints. He is working on an Appalachian Awareness group. The project's ultimate goal is an outreach program to make students from Appalachia aware of the opportunities at Virginia Tech. Other objectives include discussing potential problems at the university and providing a proposal to help students and others from the Appalachian region.

Senam Tamakloe, from Palmdale, California, is a master's degree student in Materials Science and Engineering. She earned a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Merced. Her work concentrates on the processing and the characterization of aluminum matrix composites using a newly synthesized carbon material as the strengthening reinforcement. Her project, “Inclusion series,” will serve to enhance the graduate student experience and stimulate discussions and cross-cultural connections. The series will foster a conversation amongst 25 College of Engineering graduate students to highlight marginalized voices and perspectives.

Ashley Taylor is a doctoral candidate in Engineering Education from Fort Chiswell, Virginia. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in Mechanical Engineering, and a master of public health degree, all from Virginia Tech. Ashley's (she/her/hers) work stems from a passion for reducing educational inequities fueled by years of fervent listening to her home community in rural Appalachia. Her work advocates for listening to communities, particularly underrepresented and underserved student communities, to reduce educational inequities in engineering and education systems.

Her project, FEAT (First Generation Engineers Advocating for Transformation) aims to create a community of support for undergraduate engineering students who are the first in their families to go to college. Through creating a peer network and edifying the voices and experiences of first-generation engineering students, this project is working with the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity to collaboratively identify areas where the College of Engineering can better support first generation students, both in pre-college outreach and undergraduate programs.

Nada Berrada 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 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, 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 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, 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 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 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, 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 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, 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 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, 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 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 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, 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 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 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 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. 

Sreyoshi Bhaduri, of Pune, Maharashtra, India, is a Ph.D. candidate in Engineering Education. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Mechatronics Engineering from Manipal Institute of Technology, India and a Diploma in Human Rights from the Indian Institute of Human Rights, New Delhi, India. She earned her Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech. For her doctoral dissertation, she is exploring ways in which machine learning algorithms can be used by instructors in engineering classrooms. She believes that access is an important step in promoting critical thinking and diversity, and that technology may be effective if used as a tool to increase access of resources for more individuals. Sreyoshi is an advocate for Open Education and Open Access, and was selected to represent Virginia Tech for OpenCon 2015. She is a Fellow of the Virginia Tech Academy for Graduate Teaching Excellence and a Global Perspectives Programs scholar. She has previously served as the Chair of the Council for Minority Engineering Organization (CAMEO) in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, and has been the Graduate Student Liaison for the Society of Women Engineering (SWE) at Tech. Diversity Scholar project: (with Tara Reel and Teneil Sivells) Incorporate the history of Virginia Tech into the classrooms, and make it part of conversations at dorms, corridors, and dining centers. Our Diversity Scholars team is interested in working with Professor Peter Wallenstein in the History department at Tech, and tell his tale about Virginia Tech through conversations about stories regarding the buildings and the people, and introduce these to current students, teachers, researchers and faculty across campus.

Karis Boyd-Sinkler, of Hampton, Virginia, is a first year Ph.D. student in Engineering Education. Her research interests includes outreach, recruitment, and retention efforts for underserved and underrepresented populations in STEM. In particular, she is interested in looking at formal and informal forms of engineering student support.  She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Science with a concentration in Nanomedicine Engineering and minors in Biomedical Engineering and Materials Science Engineering from the University of Virginia in 2014. Her Diversity Scholars project is to create a support group for female African-American engineering graduate students.

Melissa Faircloth, of Goldsboro, North Carolina, is a Ph.D. student in Sociology. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business and her master’s degree in sociology from East Carolina University before joining the Virginia Tech Community. Additionally she serves as co-advisor for Native at VT, a Native and Indigenous student organization.  With the help of the student organization and many other campus constituents, she plans to bring the first Intertribal powwow to Tech’s campus. Her Diversity Scholars project aims to organize a powwow on Tech’s campus to create visibility for underrepresented groups on campus, increase cultural education and competencies throughout campus and the greater Blacksburg community, and to provide a point of interest that might assist with indigenous student recruitment. 

Amanda Halliburton, of Yorktown, Virginia, is a sixth-year Ph.D. candidate in the psychology department, with a concentration in clinical science. Her research focuses on adapting cognitive-behavioral interventions for developmentally appropriate use with youth, as well as investigating key mechanisms of change in these programs. Amanda has been recognized as a Founding Fellow in the Virginia Tech Academy for Graduate Teaching Excellence and a Bouchet Honor Society member, in addition to serving as a student representative on her departmental committee of diversity and inclusion and clinical science subcommittee for recruitment and diversity. Amanda infuses diversity and inclusion topics into her curricula, and her work as a therapist focuses on meeting the needs of underserved populations using evidence-based treatment. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology, University of Mary Washington, 2011 and a Master of Science degree in Psychology, Virginia Tech, 2013. Her Diversity Scholars project, “Home Away From Home,” is a gathering space for first-generation Appalachian undergraduate and graduate students at Virginia Tech. Its purpose is to provide a space to discuss issues that concern Appalachian students, allow opportunities for mentorship and social support, and increase awareness and appreciation of Appalachian culture at Virginia Tech and beyond.  

Soo Jeong Jo is a second-year Ph.D. student in Architecture and Design Research program, and her hometown is Seoul, South Korea. She received her Bachelor of Science in Architecture from Ewha Womans University, Master of Architecture from Ecole d'Architecture de Paris La Villette. After her professional experiences in Paris, New York City and Seoul, she returned to Master of Science program at Georgia Institute of Technology and Ph.D. program at Virginia Tech to extend her background in building science. Her Diversity Scholar project is organizing international cooking classes for graduate students. Those classes are led by student instructors providing opportunities to introduce the culture of their own countries by the students, also to connect international students and local students.

Jameson Jones, of Tazewell, Virginia, is a middle school Spanish teacher by trade, earning a Ph.D. in Education Curriculum and Instruction.  As a young boy, he developed a passion for his home region of Appalachia and its people.  He is committed to community advocacy and development, as well as engaging in dialogue that bridges cross-cultural differences. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish from Roanoke College and his Master of Arts in Appalachian Studies from Appalachian State University. His Diversity Project seeks to provide members of the Virginia Tech community a forum to share and learn from experiences related to Appalachian culture on campus and in our community.  Through self-recorded videos, participants will discuss their Appalachian heritage and/or interactions with Appalachia, especially as it pertains to life on campus.  Natives and non-natives of the region are invited to participate to provide a holistic glimpse into life on a campus located in Appalachia. 

Darren Maczka, of Leverett, Massachusetts, is a third year Ph.D. candidate in Engineering Education. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Systems Engineering from University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Committed to inclusion within engineering, he is interest in the ways technology used in engineering courses impacts students' sense of belonging to the field. He continues to co-facilitate an inclusive classroom Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) workshop he developed for his 2015 Diversity Scholars project with Martina Svyantek. Diversity Scholar Project: Though the work that engineers do has political and social impact, the way we educate engineers has situated technical engineering work as a self-contained, objective body of knowledge. To make matters worse, rigorous content requirements make it difficult for engineering educators to integrate the social and political connections of engineering into their courses. For his project, Darren will facilitate a series of activities and discussions with people from diverse backgrounds to co-construct a resource that engineering educators might easily integrate into their teaching practices that would help students to think critically about how their profession is tightly coupled with society.

Elizabeth Leigh McKagen, of Riner, Virginia, is a second year Ph.D. student in the ASPECT (the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought) program. She received her Master of Arts degree in English and her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and History from Virginia Tech. Her research interests include cultural studies, media studies, critical theory, popular culture, and science fiction studies. Diversity Scholars Project: Leigh plans to develop an event series that screens examples of popular science fiction television shows and create a space for discussion on diversity in popular culture and our academic environment. Issues of diversity are frequently present in popular television shows, although the representation is often problematic. This project creates a space for students to engage with issues of diversity and representation they frequently encounter outside of academia and explore what this media might be teaching us and how we can better understand the diversity presented in typical forms of mass media.

Thomas Murray, of Chicago, Illinois, is a second year M.F.A. candidate in Directing and Public Dialogue in the School of Performing Arts. Prior to coming to Virginia Tech, he served five years as founding artistic director of Waltzing Mechanics, where he created and directed seven original documentary plays. Thomas is currently writing The Right of Way, a docudrama about the conflict between motorists and bicyclists on shared city streets. The play will workshop this spring with arts partners in Atlanta, Georgia and Washington, D.C. before premiering at Virginia Tech in 2018. Thomas is a member of the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab and a recipient of the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award from Ball State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre Production. He will partner with Alpha Psi Omega, the undergraduate theatre honorary society, to lead a forum on queer and gender-based theatre. Workshop topics will include dramatic literature, representation in season planning, community engagement, and casting issues.

Meagan O’Neill, of Tonawanda, New York, is a fifth year Ph.D. candidate in the department of Psychology with a concentration in Biological Psychology. She earned a Master’s of Science degree from Virginia Tech, a Master’s of Arts degree from Medaille College, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She is a member of the Psychology Diversity Committee. Her doctoral research focus is the neural comparison of false memory paradigms. Her Diversity Scholar project involves follow-up on a Department Diversity Survey that has been conducted. Specifically, She will work with Andrew Valdespino and the Psychology Diversity Committee to create focus groups to better understand the diversity and inclusion needs of students, staff, and faculty.

Tara Reel, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, is a master’s degree student in both the urban and regional planning (MURP) and public administration (MPA) in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA). A native of West Virginia, Reel received an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Davis and Elkins College. Prior to attending Virginia Tech, she worked in local government for the City of Virginia Beach, serving as the assistant to the legislative liaison for intergovernmental relations working with government at the local, state and federal levels. At Virginia Tech, she has served as vice president of the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA), president and founder of the Virginia Tech student chapter of Women in Transportation Seminar (WTS) International, a field reporter for the award-winning “Save Our Towns” video series, and a research assistant at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). Diversity Scholar project: (with Sreyoshi Bhaduri and Teneil Sivells) Develop a brief history of diversity milestones at Virginia Tech to be converted into a curriculum for a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) workshop. The hope is to create meaningful dialogue with students regarding diversity and inclusion in all fields of study.

Teneil Sivells, a native of Prince George’s County, Maryland, is pursuing a Master of Science degree in Biological Systems Engineering. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Engineering with a concentration in Natural Resources, along with a certificate in Waste Management from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Diversity Scholars project: (with Sreyoshi Bhaduri and Tara Reel) The group aims to develop an interactive platform that encourages dialogue amongst the Hokie community in relation to the unique history of Virginia Tech. The project emphasizes the integral role of the university’s history to understand the historical legacy of diversity and inclusion and its impacts on the current campus climate.    

Emma Stamm is a writer and Ph.D. student in the ASPECT program. She was born and raised in New York's Hudson Valley and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Literature from Bard College and an Master of Science degree in Management from The New School. Her research deploys continental philosophy and media theory to critique emerging Internet technologies.  In her free time, she likes to pet cats and play piano. Her Diversity Scholars project brings attention to female and non-binary digital and electronic artists at Virginia Tech. Emma is organizing an art exhibition alongside a one-night panel and reception at which select students will have the opportunity to present, discuss, and build a conversation about their art, academic work and career trajectory. 

Manasia Sturdivant, of Greensboro, North Carolina is a second year Ph.D. student in the Industrial/Organizational Psychology program. She received Bachelor of Arts degrees in Psychology and Sociology at Wake Forest University in 2014. Her research interests are in discrimination and stigma in the workplace, diversity and its influence on motivation and productivity, as well as psychological testing and other forms of personnel selection. Through her work she hopes to increase others’ awareness and knowledge of diversity related matters in general, but especially in the workplace. Her Diversity Scholars project involves analyzing internal data that was previously gathered at/about Virginia Tech. She will look into any outcomes that SAT scores have on performance once a student is admitted to the university. The purpose of the project is to make a case for deemphasizing SAT scores in the admittance process.

Andrew Valdespino, of Miami, Florida, is a doctoral candidate in psychology, within the clinical science area. Andrew was raised in the United States, England, and Belgium. He has very much enjoyed learning from the diverse and wonderful people along the way. Andrew is very honored to be able to continue exploring, celebrating, and actively engaging diversity issues as a Diversity Scholar. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Ekerd College in 2006, a Master’s degree in Philosophy from Virginia Tech in 2011, and a Master’s degree in Psychology, also from Virginia Tech, in 2014. Andrew will work in collaboration with fellow Diversity Scholar, Meagan O’Neill, to develop and implement a series of diversity focus groups within the psychology department community. These focus groups will explore diversity opinions and experiences, with the goal of improving and promoting diversity practices to reduce discrimination and prejudice, as well as to inform and improve instructorship, teaching mentorship, and curriculum development.

Michele Waters, a New York native, is a Ph.D. student in Biomedical Engineering and works in the Nanostructure Biopolymer Engineering Lab, Center for Injury Biomechanics.  She attended State University of New York (SUNY) Stony Brook and City University of New York (CUNY) City College for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Biomedical Engineering. She is investigating the role of inflammation (macrophage differentiation) in traumatic brain injury, and also evaluating the potential of human hair-derived keratin biomaterials to promote an anti-inflammatory environment, thereby improving clinical outcomes for patients. Her Diversity Scholars project: Host program for underrepresented undergraduates to shadow graduate students in STEM labs. 

Ana-Christina Acosta Gaspar de Alba is a second year MFA in Creative Writing. A dual citizen of the United States and Mexico, she received her bachelor’s degree 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 Ph.D. 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 scholar 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 Ph.D. candidate in the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. She received a bachelor’s degree 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 Ph.D. 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 Ph.D. student 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 Ph.D. student from Newark, Delaware, focusing on Transportation Engineering in the Via Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering. She received her master’s degree in Civil Engineering in 2014 from Virginia Tech, and her bachelor’s degree 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 Ph.D. 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 master’s degree in Public Service from Marquette University and her bachelor’s degree 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 Ph.D. 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 Ph.D. 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 master’s degree in teaching 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.

Vanessa D. Alphonse, Ph.D. 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. 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 master’s 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 bachelor’s dgree 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 bachelor’s degree in African American World Studies from The University of Iowa and a master’s degree 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: 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’s project is 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 Fall 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, a school in Haiti, as an added element of giving back that embodies the Virginia Tech motto ‘Ut Prosim’.    

Nasrin Afzal, Ph.D. student, earned a Master of Science in Physics at Virginia Tech and currently she is working through her Ph.D. 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. 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 master’s degree 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. 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, a third year Ph.D. student in Engineering, completed his bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering at Kettering University in 2003.  After graduation Mike worked as an embedded software engineer at Visteon and John Deere and later earned a master’s degree in Computer Engineering from Virginia Tech.  While pursuing his master’s degree, Mike 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.  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. Mike’s project 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. 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. 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. 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 the College of William and 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. 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. 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. 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 semesterShe 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.  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. 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. 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 Bahamonde-Azcuy, Biomedical Sciences and Pathology. 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 Baker, Biological Sciences. 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 Buo, Biological Sciences. 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 Concha-Meyer, Food Science and Technology. Summary: Create a “Let’s Go Hokies” video in different languages.

Natasha Cox, Human Development. 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 Creamer, Teaching and Learning. 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 El-Shazli, ASPECT. 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 Lee, Biological Sciences. 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.

Mark Anthony Thomas, ASPECT. 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.