Cortney Steele, who recently defended her doctoral dissertation in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, will be the graduate student fall commencement speaker on Dec. 18.

Steele completed her bachelor’s degree in health and exercise science at Messiah College and her master’s degree in exercise science from Bloomsburg University. She selected HNFE’s option in clinical physiology and metabolism for her doctoral degree due to the diversity the program offered as well as for their experienced and dedicated faculty.

“The department is unique in that it offers three distinct graduate tracks, which allows students to experience the whole translational science model,” said Steele, who served as a graduate teaching assistant for four years. “This really sparked my interest in the program as a whole. I was also able to take dietetics courses to work towards a registered dietitian nutritionist credential.”

Steele’s involvement with Virginia Tech Graduate School programs shaped her both personally and professionally.

The Graduate Student Assembly gave Steele opportunities to engage with the graduate community and collaborate with others. She also served as delegate and committee representative for the assembly, eventually serving as director of events. In 2018, she was selected to become a fellow of the Virginia Tech Academy for GTA Excellence and completed the Graduate School’s Future Professoriate Graduate Certificate.

Another pivotal group Steele was involved with was the Graduate School’s Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program in translational obesity research, which was directed by Kevin Davy, her faculty mentor in HNFE. Engaging with this program allowed her to network in and outside the department to learn more about obesity research across the spectrum. Throughout her degree, she was able to learn many clinical techniques and basic science skills to enhance future career endeavors.  

“Cortney is an extremely intelligent and hard-working individual who approached her doctoral experience with seriousness and professionalism. As a natural leader, more mature than her years or academic status would suggest, she is extremely organized and goal oriented. Cortney works extremely well independently and with others, and her work ethic, maturity, and problem-solving skills have been contagious among her colleagues; these will most certainly provide the substrate for continued success,” said Davy.

In 2018, Steele participated in the Global Perspectives Program, created by Graduate School Dean Karen DePauw. Through examining various academic practices and visiting universities in Switzerland, France, and Italy, the program provided a valuable learning experience by bringing together students from different disciplines that fostered community and friendships. Steele met another Virginia Tech student, Anurag Mantha, in this group, and together, they helped develop Food Access for Students to help other students struggling with food insecurities.

“Over the past five years, my academic journey was truly sculpted by peers, faculty, staff, and the university community. I am especially grateful to DePauw, as she is a true champion for graduate students and many of these opportunities would not exist without her dedication to excellence. When taking my next steps, the experiences and education I received, both on and off campus, are invaluable. Virginia Tech will always be home to me,” said Steele.

Steele has accepted a National Institute of Health T-32 institutional training position at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in the Division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension. She eventually plans a career in academia.

Learn more about Food Access for Students at Virginia Tech and The Market of Virginia Tech.

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