The Virginia Tech College of Science earlier this month inducted six new members into its Hall of Distinction, bringing the total number of honored alumni and friends of the college to 24.

Each year the College of Science Hall of Distinction honors alumni and friends who have made a significant contribution to the varied fields of science and established a unique record in their work and life. In addition, the hall honors those who serve as mentors, advisors, and future employers of students, supporters of faculty and students, and help in the development of the university’s science community, as well as the overall mission of the college to educate scientist, doctors, policy makers, and future world leaders.

At the third annual event, held Nov. 5 at the Inn at Virginia Tech, College of Science Dean Lay Nam Chang called the honorees “alumni and friends who are the backbone of our college, and who are instrumental in contributing to our legacy, our history, and our future here at Virginia Tech. They do so not only in their career successes and honors, but in the myriad ways each member serves our local community, our state, and our nation.… They hold a constant hunger for learning, scientific exploration, and Hokie Pride.”

This year’s honorees include five alumni and a friend of the college who did not attend Virginia Tech, but has been a longtime supporter of the college’s work in research and development. They are:

  • Robert Allen, Ph.D., chemistry, 1985. A distinguished research staff member and the senior manager of the polymer science and technology department at IBM Almaden Research Center, Allen is credited with helping launch the tech giant’s Smarter Planet initiative, emphasizing the areas of water, the environment, health, and energy. Research projects under Allen’s watch include membranes for improved separations, antimicrobial surfaces to battle against infectious diseases, and materials for the encapsulation and delivery of medicine. A member of the National Academy of Engineering, his awards include the American Chemical Society’s Industrial Polymer Scientist Award in 2014 and the distinction of Master Inventor at IBM.
  • John Bartko, master’s degree and Ph.D., statistics, 1961 and 1962. During a 33-year career at the National Institute of Mental Health as well as serving as a consultant to the World Health Organization in Geneva, Bartko focused his research and expertise on multivariate statistics and biostatistical tools, and the reliability and reproducibility of data. He retired from the United States Public Health Service with the rank of captain. Among his many awards are the Distinguished Service Medal, the Surgeon General’s Exemplary Service Medal, election to the Fellow of the American Statistical Association. At Virginia Tech, he established the John J. Bartko Ph.D. Prize in Statistics, which is awarded annually and recognizes excellence in statistical collaboration, communication, and consulting by a graduate student within the department.
  • John Engel. He is founder and managing partner of EngelNovitt PLLC, an internationally-recognized boutique law firm specializing in food and drug, public health, and administrative law, and health information technology and science policy, and legislation impacting the life sciences, health care, and biopharmaceutical industries. A longtime friend of Virginia Tech, his relationship with the university dates back to work in the 1990s in connection with a pioneering collaborative research-and-development agreement at the university that led to the development of a semisynthetic process to produce a lifesaving drug that fights cancer. Engel serves on the College of Science Dean’s Roundtable Advisory Board and is a member of the university’s Ut Prosim Society.
  • Leonard Harris, bachelor’s degree, geological sciences, 1957. Founder and chairman of Southeastern Computer Consultants Inc., Harris also helped found, along with fellow Virginia Tech alumni, Techulon, a life sciences company that is growing in prominence in the world of innovative investment and entrepreneurship. His other companies, formed and sold, involve ventures with oil wells in Kazakhstan to computers as early as the late 1950s. He is chairman of the Dean’s Roundtable Advisory Board, serves on the Virginia Tech Foundation Board’s Development Committee, and is a member of the Ut Prosim Society, and has endowed several scholarships.
  • William Hassinger, bachelor’s degree, physics, 1950. President of North Carolina-based building materials retailer Hassinger Wholesale Company until his retirement in 2002, Hassinger has established numerous scholarships and fellowships at Virginia Tech. These include the Davy-Faraday Scholarship – named for scientists Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday – which honors interdisciplinary learning and research and recognizes the importance of the student-mentor relationship. He also endowed a graduate fellowship, as well as a senior faculty fellowship, both in physics, and the L.C. Hassinger Senior Faculty Fellowship in nanoscience, honoring his grandfather. He is a member of the university’s Ut Prosim Society President’s Circle.
  • Deborah Koller, bachelor’s degree, biology, 1976. Retired as senior principal scientist at Altria Client Services after 32 years of dedicated service, Koller serves on the Dean’s Roundtable Advisory Board and the Department of Biological Sciences Advisory Board, was recently elected to the Virginia Tech Foundation Board of Directors, and is a member of the Ut Prosim Society and Legacy Society. A longtime supporter of the college and its students, Koller established the Paul and Laverne Ayers Excellence Fund in the College of Science, along with her sisters, in honor of their parents, which provides support for training future educators in science, technology, engineering, and math, in addition to an endowed scholarship awarded annually to a student in biological sciences.




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