The Graduate School at Virginia Tech has recognized Kevin J. Buffardi from Burke, Va., a doctoral candidate in computer science in the College of Engineering, with its 2013 Graduate Teaching Assistant Excellence Award, and Dr. Zenithson Ng from Rockaway, N.J., a third-year clinical resident master’s student at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, with its 2013 Graduate Student Service Excellence Award.

Each award signifies outstanding achievements made by the recipient during his or her course of graduate study at Virginia Tech. Each winner receives $1,000, funded by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association.

Buffardi is a doctoral student working in computer science education and has assisted in teaching several courses, including software design and data structures and introduction to programming in C. His research topic explores what study and work behaviors help students be successful in their courses as well as which behaviors hinder success. He presented his research in two doctoral consortia and at several conferences.

“Kevin is very eager to help his students and has the ability to distill complex and abstract programming concepts and software design problems into simple terms that make those topics far more approachable for beginners,” said Anthony Allevato, assistant professor of computer science.

Buffardi’s scores for teaching averaged 4.7 out of a possible 5.0 on the Student Perception of Teaching evaluation. One student said, “We did a lot of hands-on work as opposed to just looking at a Powerpoint. Lots of activities we did were helpful.”

Buffardi also has taken on the role of instructor of several introductory programming classes.

“It is a testament to Kevin’s talent and his ability to communicate well with students that the department has allowed him to have this level of control and autonomy in some of our most fundamental courses,” Allevato said.

Ng’s master’s degree is focused on human-animal bond studies, a collaborative program unique to the vet school. During his residency, Ng pioneered the animal-assisted activities program as part of the school’s Center for Animal Human Relationships. In 2011, he founded Paws for a Cause and the Books to Barks reading program at the Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library in Blacksburg in which he read to groups of children alongside his certified therapy dog. This later developed into the PAWS to Read program in which children with delayed reading skills read books to his dog in a therapeutic setting.

Also of great impact was Ng’s creation of the Virginia Tech Helping P.A.W.S. (pet-assisted wellness service) program he developed with the help of veterinary students and a grant from VT Engage. The program allows certified teams of students, staff, and faculty and their pets to bring companionship and stress relief to local facilities that benefit from human-animal interaction.

Ng developed the entire program, from training and certifying therapy teams to scheduling and conducting visitations to the community. In order to facilitate this, he took the steps to become a certifying official for the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizenship test and also certified his own dog through Pet Partners, the largest therapy dog organization in the United States.

The program has grown to 14 therapy teams that provide regular weekly visits locations on campus as well as the local community.

“Dr. Ng is that rare individual who not only has the gift of vision but also the exceptional talent, work ethic, and dedication to actually create and grow his projects,” said Bess Pierce, associate professor at the school. “His programs are tangible products of his passion and commitment to promote, celebrate, and nurture the human animal bond.”

Ng said he plans to continue his work in human-animal interaction in the future.

Honorable mention for the Graduate Teaching Assistant Award was Brandon Bear of Hellam, Pa., who is a doctoral candidate in physics in the College of Science. Shane McCarty of Arlington, Va., who is earning a doctoral degree in psychology in the College of Science, received honorable mention for the Graduate Student Service Excellence Award.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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