The College of Natural Resources and Environment (CNRE) will honor tradition by turning over the podium to the Outstanding Senior and Outstanding Teacher for its commencement on Thursday, May 12, at 7 p.m.

Mariel Gomez, who will graduate with a degree in sustainable biomaterials, is the recipient of CNRE’s 2022 Outstanding Senior Award. Her academic career as a Hokie has been defined by a wide array of career-building, experiential-learning opportunities and supported by her academic advisor and faculty mentors from the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials.

Gomez participated in fieldwork and curriculum-development experiences as well as undergraduate research. As a sophomore, she collaborated with Professor Tom Hammett to study specialty biofuels. During her senior year, she worked as an undergraduate research assistant in Professor Kevin Edgar’s lab.

Perhaps her biggest accomplishment — and career-building experience — was a six-month, full-time position during her junior year working with PepsiCo's Research and Development Sustainability Commercialization Team. She spent six weeks onsite at PepsiCo’s Valhalla, New York, lab, where she oversaw cross-functional projects focused on improving the company’s recycling and sustainability efforts. At the same time, she continued to work toward her degree through online courses.

Gomez has been a member of the National Guard since 2019 and currently serves as supply clerk for her unit headquarters.

This summer, after graduation, she will be attending MAT-DAT REU, the National Science Foundation-sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduates in Materials Engineering with Data Science at North Carolina State University. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. as a gateway to a career in materials engineering.

Professor Chad Bolding teaches courses and conducts research in the area of forest operations (harvesting) in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation. Bolding has been honored with CNRE’s 2022 Outstanding Teaching Award and Certificate of Teaching Excellence and will also speak to CNRE graduates.

In nominating his colleague for this award, Alumni Distinguished Professor John Seiler provided examples of Bolding’s leadership in course development, inclusive teaching practices, and “knack for developing and delivering practical instruction and experiential learning as a hallmark of his teaching.”

For his Forest Fiber Supply class, Bolding developed a field exercise requiring students to complete field inventories, collect and summarize data, and submit timber bids that are compared with the actual purchase prices. To support the effort, he secured grant money to purchase state-of-the-art inventory tools and data loggers.

The course was recently approved as a Pathway Advanced Discourse and Ethical Reasoning class and will assist his department in navigating changes to core requirements.

Bolding was one of the first participants in the Virginia Tech Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Inclusive Excellence Grant program, which promotes institutional change supporting the engagement and success of all students, especially those populations that have been historically underrepresented and underserved in the sciences.

As a result of this involvement, he developed and delivered a new Professional Skills in Natural Resources course, which is now a departmental core requirement. Numerous guest speakers have visited the class to share personal stories of challenges and successes, and students learn about professional interaction and skills such as written and oral communications, advancement of diversity and inclusion, and personal responsibility.

Another HHMI grant initiative that Bolding helped plan and implement was the purchase of 35 “field kits” for students who do not have the financial resources necessary to equip themselves. Since many forestry courses require labs that utilize expensive tools, such as the clinometers used to measure tree heights, Bolding tapped HHMI funds to purchase equipment that students can check out for a semester.

When the university moved to online learning during the COVID pandemic, Bolding’s efforts to prepare course materials and offer in-person experiences were “near heroic.” He filmed, edited, and produced videos with guest speakers and on-site recordings and created a YouTube channel.

Bolding also taught all his classes and labs in-person, meeting with students to watch and discuss the videos. In spring 2021, for the Forest Operations Field Studies course, he redesigned all the stops on the week-long tour of forestry industrial sites to meet safe travel policies.

Written by Krista Timney

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