Graduate School Diversity Scholars will share projects at April 27 Spotlight program
The 12 students from five colleges have linked their interest in diversity, equity, and inclusion with their research to create several programs aimed at both the university community and those beyond it
The 2023 Graduate School Diversity Scholars will showcase their work at a Spotlight event and luncheon on Thursday, April 27, from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Graduate Life Center Multipurpose Room. The annual event is hosted by the Graduate School Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Strategic Partnerships.
Diversity Scholars specialize in and advocate for the awareness, knowledge, and skills associated with diversity, equity, and inclusion across the university and the surrounding communities. Past projects have included film festivals, a powwow, student support groups, and ways to make curricula more inclusive. The 2023 scholars will present their projects in a lightning-round format. Lunch will be provided. Please register if you plan to attend. The event is free, and all are welcome to attend. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following graduate students are 2023 Diversity Scholars.
Michelle Choi Ausman is a Ph.D. student in the engineering education department in the College of Engineering. She earned a bachelor’s degree from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and master’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. “My research looks at the intersections of Asian American and multiracial identity with engineering identity,” Ausman said. The project focuses on Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American (APIDA) cultural identity and engineering identity. “I aim to understand the intersections of engineering and APIDA identity by exploring how APIDA engineering students' experiences vary depending on participation in the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers,” she said.
Catherine Cotrupi is a Ph.D. candidate in the higher education program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Clemson University and a master’s degree from Virginia Tech. “My research focuses on the topics of whiteness and the characteristics of white supremacy culture in service learning and university community engagement work,” Cotrupi said. “Engaging with these topics is imperative for advancing antiracism and decolonization efforts in academia.” Her project facilitated a personal and professional development session for graduate students exploring the topics of whiteness and the characteristics of white supremacy culture in their lives and work. Attendees were introduced to those two topics and then participated in individual reflective practice. “This reflection time will assist them in deconstructing their own experiences with these concepts,” Cotrupi said.
Sharon Dorsey is a master’s degree student in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. She holds a bachelor’s degree from George Mason University. She investigates the nesting behavior of the piping plover, an endangered shorebird, to better understand the types of nesting locations they prefer. “My research provides new insight into what the most suitable landscape for these endangered shorebirds looks like, which will help inform land management decisions,” she said. For her project, she produced a short film that documents the story of a young, Black biologist paving her way in the conservation field by studying an endangered shorebird on the beaches of Long Island, New York. “There are many aspects of fieldwork that are new to her — learning survey techniques, driving a UTV along the beach, driving a boat to access the field site, and handling wildlife,” she said of the film. “As a native of Baltimore, Maryland, she demonstrates how no matter where you come from, a career in wildlife conservation is attainable for you.”
C. Meranda Flachs-Surmanek is earning master’s degrees in the urban and regional planning program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and in the theatre arts program in the College of Architecture, Arts, and Design. They earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from New York University. Their project, "We Shape This City," is a workshop that explores themes of belonging, displacement, and spatial justice. They developed the workshop with Andreza Jorge, a Ph.D. candidate in the Alliance of Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought program, and Hiromi Okumura, an instructor in the School of Visual Arts. The workshop “connects integrative themes of cultivating creative expression to create just, joyful, and prosperous societies and improve community health,” they said. “Through the practice of aesthetic expression including dance, visual art, and theatre practices, we'll build connections between these ideas and our stories.”
Gia Ha is earning master’s degrees in the urban and regional planning program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and in the Bowman Sustainable Land Development Program in the College of Engineering. She earned a bachelor’s degree from George Mason University. She will join the engineering education Ph.D. program in fall 2023. “I am interested in learning how behavioral science and systems thinking can promote sustainable policy and empower marginalized communities,” she said. Her project focuses on the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American community at Virginia Tech and in the New River Valley. “In collaboration with the APIDA Caucus, and the Graduate APIDA Association, and the Asian Cultural Engagement Center at Virginia Tech, I am creating an APIDA state of the union report to explore and highlight the trends, contributions, and needs of the APIDA community,” Ha said. The project goal is to enhance overall diversity, equity, and inclusion at Virginia Tech.
Jasmine Lewis is a Ph.D. student in the psychology department in the College of Science. She earned a bachelor’s degree from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in biomedical sciences. “The history of Black, Indigenous, and people of color scientists and their contributions to the field of science is a rich and often overlooked narrative,” Lewis said, noting that these communities of scientists remain underrepresented. “My proposed project would develop and pilot a book club for graduate students across the sciences to convene and discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion in science.”
Justice Madden is a master’s degree student in the agricultural, leadership, and community education program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia. “My research interests include food systems thinking, the Black radical imagination, and the storytelling/oral traditions of Black seed-keepers in the mid-Atlantic region,” she said. “Our seeds tell a story about home, reminding us it is wherever we’re grounded. Moreover, seeds show us what it takes to grow together. This program seeks to engage the Virginia Tech community with a unique opportunity to connect with seeds and our stories for a dynamic exchange.”
Clayton Markham is a Ph.D. student in the civil and environmental engineering department in the College of Engineering. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University at Buffalo. “I work at the intersection of environmental microbiology and engineering, focusing specifically on combating the spread of antimicrobial resistance in the environment,” he said. Antimicrobial resistance is the process by which microbes develop the ability to protect themselves from antimicrobial agents such as antibiotics or disinfectants.” Markham worked with Mazzini Masias and Maldonado Rivera on a project that focused on Kids’ Tech University (KTU), a program during which children and their parents learn about STEM topics through presentations and hands-on activities with university professors and students. “However, families with lingual barriers are left out of this amazing program that allows the parent and child to engage in STEM together, fortifying their mutual investment in the child’s future career in STEM,” Markham said. “That is why we are providing real-time English-to-Spanish translations of each aspect of the program at the April KTU … en Español.”
Fiorella Mazzini Masias is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials in the College of Natural Resources and Environment and earned a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech, as well. She said, “The goal of my research is to find sustainable replacements for commodity plastics.” Mazzini Masias worked on the Kids’ Tech University project.
Gabriel Maldonado Rivera is a master’s degree student in the civil and environmental engineering department in the College of Engineering. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico in Arecibo. “My research interests lie in studying antibiotic resistance microorganisms and genes in wastewater environments,” said Maldonado Rivera. “Ultimately, my goal is to mitigate the spread of antibiotic resistance and promote public health.” He worked on the Kids’ Tech University project.
Rebecca Steele is a Ph.D. student in the higher education program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Steele earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from East Tennessee State University. “I'm interested in studying when and why pre-med students choose to no longer pursue medicine in an effort to support students and increase diversity in medical schools,” Steele said. Describing the project, Steele said, “Many people feel uncomfortable in traditional gyms.” Steele’s project focuses on highlighting the need for a more inclusive space on campus for physical exercise.
Carey Ann Stewart is a Ph.D. student in curriculum and instruction in the School of Education focusing on elementary education and teacher education at the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. She earned a bachelor's degree from Oswego State University and a master's degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. "My research looks at using diverse children's literature in elementary classrooms to serve as a method, model, or mentor text for including culturally relevant pedagogies," Stewart said. The project focuses on improving access to diverse children's literature representing various backgrounds and abilities from historically underrepresented and underserved groups. "I aim to understand the development of culturally relevant practices in preservice teachers and increase equity for students to access diverse books to promote an inclusive learning environment," she said.