Shamindri Arachchige , instructor in the Department of Chemistry, and Karen J. Brewer, professor of chemistry, both in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, have received the university's 2014 Alumni Award for Outreach Excellence (team award).

With support from the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, the Alumni Award for Outreach Excellence is presented annually to recognize outstanding contributions by Virginia Tech faculty members who have extended the university's outreach mission throughout the commonwealth, the nation, and the world. Recipients are nominated by their peers, receive a $2,000 cash prize, and are inducted into the university's Academy of Outreach Excellence.

Arachchige and Brewer have provided long term outreach activities to Blacksburg Middle School students while acting as role models and providing supportive, positive, and intensive interactions to aspiring young scientists.

For almost a decade, they have hosted an annual Blacksburg Middle School eighth grade chemistry day which brings as many as 300 students to campus to study physical science. Arachchige and Brewer as well as many graduate students present a engaging chemistry show that provides a unique educational experience for the students.

The event’s format is interactive, allowing students to participate in a number of activities related to elements, compounds, and chemical reactions. Arachchige and Brewer work with the middle school teachers to coordinate the topics covered so the event reinforces what is being taught at the middle school.

The students enjoy being in a setting that allows them to enjoy chemical reactions that are both entertaining and educational.

To further support middle school science education, Arachchige and Brewer have designed and provided chemistry activities packs that are given to all eighth grade students in Blacksburg, giving their teachers the opportunity to discuss the activity packs with the students in the classroom as well as giving the students the opportunity to take the experiments home and share them with parents and siblings.

Arachchige and Brewer have worked with Virginia Tech Honors students to design chemistry experiments that address several of the standards of learning for eighth grade physical science. These experiment packages include student and instructor materials as well as supplies for these experiments.  

These demonstrations and activities allow teachers to extend their students experiences beyond the standard experiments typically available in a public school classroom, and they serve to stimulate student interest in the sciences as an area of academic pursuit and as a potential career.

In addition to their outreach to local middle school students, the two have been active in several other programs.

For several years, Arachchige and Brewer have been involved in the Virginia-North Carolina Alliance for Minority Participation program, meeting with incoming Virginia Tech students to show them the excitement of science, provide advice for college success, and establish relationships to ensure long term success.

They also have been involved in the Eastern Cherokee Program that brings Cherokee students to college campuses and provides scholarships to attend four year institutions.

Arachchige and Brewer have been involved in the Summer Around the Drillfield program exposing alumni and their families to the excitement of science, and they frequently host visits by Cub Scout and Boy Scout troops to help them obtain the chemistry merit badge.

Arachchige received her bachelor’s degree from Open University of Sri Lanka and a Ph.D. from Wayne State University. Brewer received her bachelor’s degree from Wofford College and a Ph.D. from Clemson University.

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.

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