The Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Diversity Council announced the winners of the 2017 diversity awards in August. Presented annually, the awards recognize individuals for their outstanding efforts to promote diversity. The council conferred three Diversity and Inclusion Service Awards, and one Diversity Incentive Fund award to two faculty members.

The Diversity and Inclusion Service Award recognizes the outstanding diversity accomplishments of faculty, staff, and students in the college. The award includes a letter of commendation, a plaque, and a monetary award of $500.

Joe Hunnings, director of planning & reporting, professional development, and civil rights compliance earned the first of three awards. Hunnings has embraced diversity in a way few others have, building a career that has long fostered cross-cultural awareness and understanding. He established, for the first time in Virginia Cooperative Extension history, a sustained system of civil rights compliance training for all extension and research faculty. A version of this highly successful program is now offered to volunteers. Hunnings is also credited with development of the Diversity and Inclusion Fellows Program, which enlists extension agents to engage their districts on generational differences.  

The second Diversity and Inclusion Service Award was presented to Kristen Clermont. This outstanding graduate student exemplifies the type of high-achieving, service-minded, and inclusion-oriented individual the award is intended to honor. Clermont began graduate school in 2012 in the Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology and Weed Science. Three years later, she earned the Arthur J. Webber award in recognition of her generosity in sharing her time and talents. Clermont has organized international potluck lunches and other events to help students connect, and to promote cross-cultural awareness.

Analit Chambi Rojas earned the third award this year. This undergraduate, now in her junior year, is studying environmental science and serves as a CALS Student Ambassador. For the past four summers, she has volunteered with the Hispanic College Institute as a mentor to girls who share their stories about overcoming struggle, and voice their aspirations for the future. Last fall, she organized a Graduate Student Information Panel session for underrepresented students at Virginia Tech.  

The CALS Diversity Incentive Fund provides support for new, innovative, and creative approaches to raise awareness, engage learners, and change behaviors about diversity and inclusion within both the academic community and the broader constituencies served by the college. Winners of this award help organize lectures, workshops, and other innovative programs designed to address diversity. The annual Diversity Incentive Fund is $2,000.

This year’s award was given to Erin Ling, a senior extension associate in Biological Systems Engineering, and Kim Niewolny, an associate professor and extension specialist with the department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education.

Ling and Niewolny will bring Navina Khanna, director of the Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor Food Alliance, a national food and farm justice coalition, to the college for a workshop. This engaging and dynamic speaker will discuss food and agriculture policy, science as a public good, and leadership for social justice. Khanna represents the perspective of a first-generation South Asian American woman who graduated from a land grant university and is working on the front lines of food system change. The workshop will inspire students and faculty, and generate greater understanding about the important role food and agriculture play in creating social justice in society.

Through its Diversity Council, CALS provides leadership to promote diversity, guide the recruitment and retention of employees, and support the inclusion of all people in educational programs and services.

Written by Amy Painter

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