The College of Natural Resources and Environment has added three new faculty members for the 2023-24 academic year.

Carrie Fearer joined the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation as an assistant professor this fall. Her research focuses on forest health and ecosystem adaptions to invasive pests and pathogens.

“My research focuses on broad-scale forest health and how that is impacted by non-native, invasive pathogens and pests,” said Fearer, who received a doctorate in environmental science from The Ohio State University. “I’m especially focused on the question of host resistance with an emphasis on identifying trees and tree defense mechanisms that are critical for disease prevention and forest restoration.”

Fearer has been studying the emergence of beech leaf disease, which is impacting numerous beech tree species throughout the U.S. She has contributed research correlating the disease with a non-native nematode, a microscopic worm, species, though there remains some debate about what the causal agent for the spread is.

More recently, Fearer conducted postgraduate research utilizing the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory Analysis database to determine demographic changes of northeastern forests as a result of pathogen and pest invasions to better understand the effects on carbon storage and sequestration capacities in forests.

“This is a really powerful data source that provides a great deal of information about our forests,” said Fearer. “This was a proof-of-concept effort to look at how different pests and pathogens have impacted regions and how that might affect carbon storage.”

Fearer is currently co-teaching a course on forest tree and pest management with Professor Scott Salom of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Kiara Winans joined the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials (SBIO) as a collegiate assistant professor in October. Winans’ expertise is in industrial ecology.

“As an industrial ecologist, I view the world through the lens of materials and energy flows in natural and built environments,” said Winans, who received a doctorate in soil, water, and ecosystems sciences and biological and agricultural engineering from the University of Florida. “My work focuses on systematic evaluations to mitigate environmental and societal impacts while increasing economic, material, and energy efficiencies.”

Winans was previously a lecturer at the University of California, Davis, where she co-created and co-directed the Industrial Ecology Program while working on implementing and developing life-cycle assessment methodology to tackle research questions related to various industries.

“I’m enthusiastic about becoming a part of the SBIO community; working alongside faculty, staff, and students; and contributing my knowledge and experience to our growing body of work in the department,” said Winans, “especially in areas like life-cycle analysis and the circular economy as well as other instructional offerings in industrial ecology.”

Michael Berry will join the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation as an assistant professor during the spring semester. Berry has a multidisciplinary background in forestry, civil engineering, and business with a focus on forest operations, utilization, and management.

“My primary research area is in forest harvesting operations and the influence of these operations on the overall forestry supply and value chains,” said Berry, who received a doctorate in sustainable forest management from Oregon State University. “My work lies at the confluence of forest operations and business development. I utilize engineering problem-solving methods and operational analysis techniques to optimize forestry operations and supply chains to best meet market demands.”

Berry has been working as an engineer and program manager for the National Park Service in northern Arizona and southern Utah. Prior to that, he served as a research fellow and lecturer in forest operations for the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia, where he worked on forest operation projects and research throughout the country.

Berry looks forward to building research relationships with other faculty at Virginia Tech.

“I see the collaborative academic environment, coupled with an engaged forestry community, as an ideal place to advance my research in developing more operationally efficient, environmentally sustainable, and financially optimal forestry models and methods,” he said. “I’m also excited to work with regional groups such as the Virginia Loggers Association, the Virginia Forestry Association, and the Virginia Forest Products Association to advance applied research outcomes while contributing to the broader body of knowledge.”

Berry will teach courses in forest fiber supply, forest harvesting, and advanced forest harvesting.

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