During the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences 2022 commencement ceremony at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 12, in Lane Stadium, faculty, staff, and students will be honored for their achievements and successes both inside and outside of the classroom.

Four seniors received awards recognizing the most outstanding transfer student, a student who blazes a new trail, a student who epitomizes diversity and inclusion, and a student who goes above and beyond in helping others.

Damian Rories, a graduating senior in the Department of Food Science and Technology, received the Outstanding Transfer Student Award. Rories is a nontraditional student who started at community college before taking a break and working for eight years. After he returned to community college, he earned a 4.0 grade-point average every semester from spring 2018 through summer 2019. He worked another year and started in food science and technology in fall 2020, earning a 4.0 every semester.

The Madelynn Todd Trailblazer Award went to Madisyn Dalton from the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise. Dalton is the founder and president of a nonprofit dental hygiene program called Brush Up. The nonprofit delivers dental hygiene goodie bags to local elementary schools along with infographics pertaining to hygiene.

Lauren Wildman from the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise received the Hokie Helpers Award for going above and beyond in her service.

Wildman had the opportunity to become certified as an immunizer for the COVID-19 vaccine. Her boss texted her one night that her company would be able to start administering the vaccine and that they needed her the next day. However, Wildman needed CPR training in order to administer the vaccine. Determined, she drove four hours from Blacksburg to earn her CPR certification during the night so should would be able to administer the vaccine the next day, showing her adaptability, initiative, and commitment.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences nominated three faculty for the Academy of Teaching Excellence Awards. The college’s recipients are Luciana Bergamasco, an instructor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, Sean O’Keefe, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology, and Angela Anderson, an assistant collegiate professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise.

Bergamasco received the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Certificate of Teaching Excellence Award for her excellence in the classroom, advising, and beyond.

“Lucy is a huge part of a core group of advisors that gives tirelessly to advising activities with our students,” said Dave Gerrard, head of the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences. “Given her teaching schedule and the number of hours she spends in the classroom, advising more than 50 students per year is a lot of extra work, but for someone so committed to undergraduates, she finds this type of interaction invigorating and enjoyable. I think it is fair to state that without Lucy, our department and its undergraduate program would be in a much different place without her in our faculty.”

The second recipient of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Certificate of Teaching Excellence Award is O’Keefe.

“Throughout the research and education efforts that I have made, I have always tried to do what is best for the students,” O’Keefe said. “I work many Sundays during the semester to give students an opportunity to learn to brew beer, when they would not otherwise have the chance. The upside for me is knowing that I have done everything that I can to help students graduate and be successful.”

The final recipient of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Certificate of Teaching Excellence Award is Anderson.

“Most importantly to me, Dr. Anderson has been an amazing mentor. I always felt that I could reach out to her regarding any troubles I had inside and outside school,” said Georgia Brandt, a former student. “She was able to help me, along with other students deal with difficult situations and always has her student’s best interests in mind. Working in the health field today, I try to embody Dr. Anderson in every way I can. She has inspired me as a woman and leader in STEM and continues to motivate others within our college as well.”

Nine students were recognized for their outstanding service, leadership, engagement, personal growth and development, and academics success during their time in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech.

Departments within the college (CALS) also recognized seniors for their achievements. They are:

  • Jakob Baker, Department of Food Science and Technology’s outstanding senior. “I hope to pioneer innovative and preventative measures to mitigate infectious foodborne diseases and collaborate with regulatory agencies to streamline expectations and hazard analysis plans,” Baker said.
  • Claire Cunningham,  Department of Dairy Science’s outstanding senior. “Effective leadership fosters a sense of mutual respect and allows for an open and honest line of communication. Strong leaders inspire and encourage others to be the best they can be,” Cunningham said.
  • Kendall Knicely, Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education’s outstanding senior. “I have learned, after long hours of reflection, from my previous health issues that our situations find us for a reason. It may be difficult, painful, or challenging, but it serves a purpose: It shapes and develops us into the person we are meant to be. Our mountains equip us for our future endeavors,” Knicely said.
  • Marie Piechnik, Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences' outstanding senior. “Leadership means achieving an overall goal while supporting others and helping them be as successful as possible,” Piechnik said.
  • Lauren Provinsal, Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise's outstanding senior and the college’s outstanding undergraduate. “None of these accomplishments could have been achieved without the help of community members, faculty, fellow students, and alumni I have met along this four-year journey,” Provinsal said. “I will be forever grateful to call myself a Hokie and a College of Agriculture and Life Science 2022 graduate.”
  • Zachary SchwarzAgricultural Technology Program’s outstanding senior. “My success throughout my time here at Virginia Tech is a direct result of the open and caring community that CALS and Virginia Tech provide. The network and support system will carry me forward throughout my career. I’m proud to be a Hokie,” Schwarz said.
  • Molly Simek, Department of Biochemistry's outstanding senior. “I have learned that leadership is more than having authoritative responsibilities over a group. Rather, it is the use of communication, experiences, and privilege to collectively guide a group toward a specific goal,” Simek said.
  • Macie Snelson, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics' (AAEC) outstanding senior. “My department and CALS have felt like home,” Snelson said. “I felt welcomed and included and that I belonged. My AAEC coursework has been rich with information on a wide array of topics, piquing my interest in things I did not even realize existed beforehand.”
  • Caroline Vasquez, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences' outstanding senior. “I think that Ut Prosim is something that is more meaningful when we incorporate it into our daily lives, so I believe that I demonstrate Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) by always looking for little ways that I can improve the lives of the people around me, even if it is something as small as a smile or a batch of cookies,” Vasquez said.

Two College of Agriculture and Life Sciences graduate students were also recognized for excellence inside and outside of the classroom.  

Leah Hamilton, a Ph.D. candidate from the Department of Food Science and Technology, received the Outstanding Ph.D. Student award. Hamilton’s research area is food sensory science with Jacob Lahne, an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology. Food sensory science is a combination of math, culinary, and food studies expertise as well as food science.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences recognized entomologist Aryanna James as its outstanding master’s student.

As the current Grayson Awardee for the Outstanding Masters Student in Entomology, James represents the best of an outstanding group of graduate students in the department and epitomizes the Virginia Tech service-focused student.

During her time in the Department of Entomology, she took a leading role in departmental outreach, teaching, and research in collaboration with Virginia Tech faculty and one U.S. Environmental Protection Agency biologist. She distinguished herself through her approach to teaching and scientific questioning.

The 2022 College of Agriculture and Life Sciences commencement ceremony will be led by Alan Grant, dean of the college, and Susan Sumner, an associate dean and the director of Academic Programs and the director Agricultural Technology Program. Elizabeth Galbreath ’17 will conclude the ceremony by welcoming the college’s newest alumni to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Alumni Organization.

Since she became an alumna, Galbreath has worked in youth programming, marketing, sales, agricultural education, and leader development. She’s also involved in various local 4-H, FFA, and Farm Bureau activities and is a member of the Chairman’s Club of the American Royal and the Agriculture Future of America Alliance. Currently, Galbreath is the Agriculture Future of America’s program manager of student leaders. She is committed to being a reliable, authentic spokeswoman for the agriculture community and developing young people to reach their full potential.

“After graduation, I had a hard time knowing how to get involved with things outside of college. Since then, I have realized that Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) is not just about what you do, but it is about how you do it,” she said. “I live out our motto now by going above and beyond with my coworkers and the students I serve. I also integrate volunteering into my life consistently with organizations I care about like the American Royal or through sharing my experiences with Virginia Tech classes virtually.”

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