Kathleen Alexander receives Virginia’s highest faculty honor
Alexander’s biological systems approach to studying ecosystem health in Botswana has earned her recognition from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
Kathleen Alexander, the William E. Lavery Professor in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, has received a 2024 Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).
This award is the highest honor awarded to faculty in the commonwealth, celebrating significant accomplishments in teaching, research, scholarship, and public service.
Alexander, who has taught wildlife disease ecology and forensics in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation since 2007, is the co-founder of the Centre for African Resources, Animals, Communities, and Land Use (CARACAL), a nonprofit in Botswana that aims to promote conservation efforts in the region while improving communities through outreach and education efforts.
A wildlife veterinarian, Alexander is internationally recognized as an expert in disease emergence at the nexus of human, wildlife, and environmental interactions. Her research portfolio has focused on the dynamics of zoonotic disease spread, challenges of antibiotic resistance, improvements to water quality, and community adaptations and livelihood strategies to support developing regions of sub-Saharan Africa.
“Dr. Alexander’s decision to anchor her fieldwork in Africa has proven impactful in ways beyond typical measures of scholarship and success,” said Paul Winistorfer, dean of the College of Natural Resources and Environment. “The impacts of her work on the scientific community and the social, political, and environmental networks of Botswana and beyond are a testament to her vision, passion, and commitment to a better world.”
Alexander, an affiliated faculty member of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute and the Center for Emerging, Zoonotic, and Arthropod-borne Pathogens, has been the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on more than $12 million in external research funding for her work in Africa, and more than 65 percent of her publications involve co-authors from institutes or organizations outside of the U.S. She has been prolific in sharing her research, averaging eight peer-reviewed papers per year over the past five years and appearing in top scientific journals such as Science, Nature, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
As an educator, Alexander has strived to foster learning opportunities for Hokies in Botswana through experiential opportunities that give Virginia Tech students the chance to learn alongside Batswana students. She has founded programming to support environmental education and public health initiatives, receiving National Science Foundation funding to bring African American high school students to CARACAL to learn about wildlife conservation.
In addition to her research and educational outreach, Alexander has fostered a strong and burgeoning partnership between Virginia Tech and the government of Botswana. In March 2023, Botswana President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi became the first international head of state to visit Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus, where he gave an address on the topic of conservation, democracy, and sustainable development.
More recently, Alexander broke ground on a new wildlife forensics lab in Kasane, Botswana. Funded by a $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs that Alexander was the principle investigator for, the lab will allow researchers and interagency law enforcement professionals to analyze evidence in wildlife trafficking cases, a critical global challenge in conservation efforts.
Alexander hopes that Virginia Tech’s continued collaboration with the Botswana government can be a model for how universities, through unique partnerships, can bring knowledge to bear on key global challenges.
“This effort highlights how academic institutions and governments can partner at the highest level to secure healthy environments and a sustainable future for our global communities,” said Alexander. “This collaboration showcases Virginia Tech’s unique commitment to service, and I hope, serves as a model for our students to consider how each of us can contribute to securing peace, democracy, poverty alleviation, and address inequality in communities most in need of service.”
Alexander will be honored with University Distinguished Professor Daniel Crawford of the College of Science, whose research focuses on the development of quantum mechanical models of molecular properties, and Associate Professor Timothy Jarome of the School of Animal Sciences, whose research explores the neurobiological mechanisms responsible for post-traumatic stress disorder. SCHEV Outstanding Faculty Award recipients were reviewed by a panel of peers and chosen by a committee representing both public and private sectors.