Annie Hesp, an instructor of Spanish in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and the husband and wife team of Kirk and Noel Schulz will deliver the keynote addresses at Virginia Tech's 2012 fall University and Graduate School Commencement ceremonies to be held Friday, Dec. 21.

Hesp, whose personal invitation and social media campaign led to an on-campus visit from Martin Sheen and Emilo Estevez last year, will speak to the undergraduate students at the University Ceremony which begins at 11 a.m.

Kirk and Noel Schulz, two Virginia Tech alumni who have gone on to become the president of Kansas State University (Kirk Schulz) and the associate dean for research and graduate programs and Paslay Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Kansas State (Noel Schulz), will speak together during the Graduate School Ceremony which begins at 3 p.m.

Both ceremonies will be held at Cassell Coliseum. Approximately 2,500 students will be honored for completing their academic degrees at the end of the summer and fall terms at the two events.

Those seeking more information on the ceremonies should visit the Fall 2012 Commencement website.

University Commencement Speaker: Annie Hesp

Annie Hesp began teaching at Virginia Tech in 2010 and rarely has an instructor so strongly impacted both students and peers in such a short time. 

Hesp’s research focuses on the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James), a 500-mile medieval pilgrimage route across Northern Spain. She has spent several years exploring this area: working, rock climbing, biking, hiking, and ultimately writing her dissertation on the Camino community

Last year, Hesp capitalized on her Camino connections by bringing actor/director Estevez and his actor father Sheen for a screening of their movie, The Way, which features the same path that Hesp studies.

The concept of pilgrimage holds a special place in Hesp’s teachings. In addition to offering courses, she accompanies students to Spain to hike for 15 days with little more than their backpacks, staffs, and notebooks. These student pilgrims live and walk with their counterparts from around the world. 

Making sure to balance daily walking rigors with class meetings, Hesp engages students in lively discussions on the influence of Rome or the impact of Franco’s dictatorship – all in the scenic settings of ages-old inns and courtyards. 

In the summer of 2013, she will lead her fourth group of undergraduates in a program that is quickly becoming a popular education abroad option at Virginia Tech.

A central component of Hesp’s research is community formation, which she puts to practical application in the classroom. Students experience this inclusive environment first hand as she creates a welcoming climate where everybody is expected to participate. Many letters sent by students to the “Thank a Teacher Project” attest to Hesp’s skill in this area.

Attention to community extends beyond Hesp’s classroom. Known for her frank one-on-one talks over coffee, Hesp urges students to focus on their academic and professional goals, and the steps necessary to achieve them. She also provides support and recommendations as they apply for internships, jobs, and graduate school.  Just as the movie, The Way, advocates for being an active agent in life, Hesp encourages those around her to embrace a thoughtful and dynamic plan for the future.

Hesp completed her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in Spanish literature. She received her master’s from Portland State University and her bachelor’s degree from Boise State University.

Graduate Commencement Speakers: Kirk H. and Noel Schulz

Kirk H. Schulz is the 13th president of Kansas State University, an internationally recognized land-grant university with three campuses and an enrollment exceeding 24,000 students.

Born in Portsmouth, Va., Kirk Schulz grew up in Norfolk and attended Old Dominion University before transferring to Virginia Tech, where he received his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D., both in chemical engineering in 1986 and 1991, respectively.

Shortly after his arrival at Kansas State in 2009, Kirk Schulz implemented the K-State 2025 visionary planning initiative that seeks to place the school among the top 50 public research universities by the year 2025. Since his appointment, he has led the way for increased enrollment, increased private giving, and the establishment of a new campus and graduate degree program in Olathe, Kan.

Prior to his appointment at Kansas State, Kirk Schulz was vice president for research and economic development at Mississippi State University. He also has served on the faculty at Michigan Technological University and the University of North Dakota.

Kirk Schulz is active in the American Institute for Chemical Engineers and the American Society for Engineering Education. In recognition of achievements in the field of chemical engineering, he was selected as a Fellow in both the American Society of Engineering Education and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Other professional honors include membership in the Golden Key International Honor Society, the Tau Beta Pi Honorary Engineering Society, and the Omega Chi Epsilon Honorary Chemical Engineering Society. He also received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 1995.

Kirk Schulz was named Virginia Tech Outstanding Young Alumnus in 2000 and received the university’s Graduate Alumni Achievement Award in 2011. He attained the rank of Eagle Scout in 1977 and continues to play an active role in the Boy Scouts of America.

Noel Schulz is president of IEEE Power and Energy Society, the world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology. She is also associate dean for research and graduate programs and Paslay Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Kansas State.

She received her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech in 1988 and 1990, respectively, and her Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota in 1995. Noel Schulz joined the Kansas State faculty in 2009 and was named associate dean in 2012. Before joining Kansas State, she spent eight years at Mississippi State University where she was the TVA Professor in Power Systems Engineering.

In addition to more than 19 years teaching experience, Noel Schulz is active in research and outreach. She has graduated 40 master’s degree and 12 Ph.D. students; published 160 papers and two book chapters; and brought in more than $10 million in external research through individual and collaborative projects, including a National Science Foundation CAREER award. Her research interests are in the computer applications in power systems, including power system operations, shipboard power systems, and intelligent system applications.

In addition to serving as president, Noel Schulz has held other offices in the IEEE Power and Energy Society, including secretary, treasurer, and president-elect. She is a member of Eta Kappa Nu Electrical Engineering Honorary Society, Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society, American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), the Society of Women Engineers, and the National Society of Black Engineers. She served on the Board of Directors for ASEE from 2008 to 2010.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

Catherine Doss and Jean Elliott contributed to this story.
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