For senior Daniel Grizzard, a desire to help others led to him take on a leadership role with Service Without Borders at Virginia Tech. His efforts to help others both locally and overseas has culminated in his selection as the 2020 recipient of the College of Natural Resources and Environment’s David Wm. Smith Leadership Award.

“Before entering college, I had the general idea that I wanted to work in a field that involved helping others,” said Grizzard, who is from Loudoun County, Virginia. “While I was certain in that ambition, I had no clear idea what type of profession I wanted to work in. I was drawn to Virginia Tech because of its Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) motto. I was excited to be a part of something bigger than myself.”

Grizzard found a home in the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials, where he has been able to merge his passion for helping others with a field of study that strives to develop solutions that will lessen environmental impacts.

“Learning about the challenge between environmental applications and how to create a responsible society that works for everyone and the environment has been the most rewarding part of my studies,” said Grizzard, who served as vice president of the Society of Renewable Resources at Virginia Tech. “I realized that the best way to learn about those dual responsibilities was in sustainable biomaterials.”

Grizzard also served as a member of Service Without Borders, a student organization that strives to honor the Ut Prosim spirit by providing opportunities for students to do service projects within the local community and overseas. He served as the financial coordinator for a relief effort in Nepal in 2017 and as a trip leader for a two-week journey to India in the fall where he has helped foster relations between Virginia Tech and the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences in Bhubaneswar, India.

“One of the things the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences does is provide a free education, including room and board, for 27,000 rural students who otherwise wouldn’t have any access to schooling,” Grizzard explained. “It’s a free education from kindergarten all the way through high school.”

The Service Without Borders group spent a week visiting the school in Bhubaneswar before traveling to rural India to meet with community and tribal leaders to discuss some of the challenges they face.

“I didn’t know what to expect, because that part of India isn’t one of the more commonly visited areas,” he said. “But they have an incredible landscape and natural beauty, and everyone was incredibly kind. It was an amazing, informative experience for all of us.”

Professor Audrey Zink-Sharp says that Grizzard’s work with Service Without Borders makes him a deserving recipient of the David Wm. Smith Award: “Daniel truly exemplifies student leadership in his actions, his heart, and his soul. He has achieved extremely high academic credentials while maintaining a calm, efficient, and entirely personable approach during his years with us. We’re fortunate that he chose to study with us in the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials.”

The award recognizes the senior in the college who best demonstrates the traits of leadership, college and community service, and professionalism characterized by David Wm. Smith, the Hon., and Mrs. Shelton H. Short Jr., Professor Emeritus of Forestry, who served the college for 37 years.

Grizzard, who also spent a semester studying at Philipps University of Marburg in Germany, notes that going overseas is crucial not only in broadening one’s perspective but in reshaping how a person understands their own background and home experiences.

“If you’re going to work in our increasingly global world, there’s a benefit to understanding how other cultures and other people live, and the ways their experience and worldviews are different and how they are the same,” Grizzard noted. “In a lot of ways, going overseas helps you think more about how you live at home.”

Locally, Grizzard has participated in a lunch buddies program at Harding Avenue Elementary School in Blacksburg, which pairs Virginia Tech students with children who could benefit from having a role model. He also spent last summer as a development intern for The Alleghany Foundation, a nonprofit that provides grants to improve the quality of life for people in Virginia’s Alleghany County and surrounding areas.

“I worked with the foundation director to improve interim reporting processes for their grants so we could better track the tangible progress that was happening in the community,” Grizzard explained. “It was a cool opportunity because I got to work with the town council and the mayor of Covington and learn about the different ways that people in local government work to improve their communities.”

For Grizzard, who did a spring research project on maple syrup production as a way to bring new agriculture industries to that area, the internship led to a job offer. Upon graduating in May, he will return to the Alleghany Foundation on a yearlong fellowship.

“Long term, I’d like to go back to school and get a master’s degree in community and economic development to continue to do what I’m doing on a larger scale,” Grizzard said. “I want to keep being involved in projects that provide a tangible benefit to the people and communities I’m working with.”

Written by David Fleming

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