John Seiler Ph.D. '84, the Hon. and Mrs. Shelton H. Short Jr. Professor of Forestry in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, and Patricia Raun, director of the Center for Communicating Science at Virginia Tech, and a professor of theatre arts in the School of Performing Arts in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, will deliver the keynote addresses at Virginia Tech's 2019 fall University and Graduate School Commencement ceremonies on Dec. 20.

Seiler will speak to undergraduate students at the University Commencement Ceremony, which begins with a procession at 10:30 a.m. Raun will speak at the Graduate School Commencement Ceremony, which begins with a procession at 2:30 p.m.

Both ceremonies will be in Cassell Coliseum. Students will be honored for completing their academic degrees at the end of the summer and fall terms at the two events. Both ceremonies will be livestreamed with links available on the Virginia Tech homepage.

Those seeking more information on the ceremonies should visit the Virginia Tech Commencement website.

A Virginia Tech professor speaks to students with his finger pointed. They are all working in the field near a creek.
John Seiler (center with finger pointing) will give the keynote speech at the University Commencement Ceremony on Dec. 20. Photo courtesy College of Natural Resources and Environment.

Seiler has been a faculty member in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation since 1985. Known regionally and nationally for his yearly fall foliage forecasts, he has garnered a host of teaching and service awards.

Seiler specializes in environmental stress effects on woody plant physiology, including water and pollutant stresses. He has been studying trees for nearly 40 years and, along with his students and colleagues, has produced more than 110 refereed articles. He is quoted regularly in broadcast and print publications, especially in the fall as media and the public seek out his annual predictions for autumn color. Seiler is also known for his work with departmental colleagues in developing an array of multimedia teaching tools that assist students learning about North American tree identification and forest biology, including the most widely used and downloaded tree identification app (vTree).

To his students, Seiler is “Dr. Dendro,” and passing his Forest Biology and Dendrology courses is akin to a badge of honor. Over his years at Virginia Tech, he has taught a wide variety of both undergraduate and graduate courses and has worked with students ranging from kindergartners to retirees. If a group wants to learn about trees, Dr. Dendro will be there to teach them. Seiler personally answers thousands of tree-related questions submitted by the public online through the vTree app and website each year.

“I have always considered myself a ‘blue-collar’ teaching professor, so getting to speak to all fall undergraduates as one last class for the semester is a great honor and possibly the highlight of my teaching career,” Seiler said.

Seiler has received numerous awards at the university, state, national, and international levels, including the university’s William E. Wine Award for Teaching Excellence, the Society of American Foresters’ Carl Alvin Schenck Award for outstanding performance in forestry education, and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award. In 2010, he was named an Alumni Distinguished Professor.

Seiler holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Pennsylvania State University and earned his doctorate at Virginia Tech in 1984.

Patricia Raun poses for a headshot.
Patricia Raun will speak at the Graduate School Commencement Ceremony on Dec. 20. Photo by Olivia Coleman for Virginia Tech.

Raun served as department head of theatre and as director of the School of Performing Arts from 2002 to 2016. She has since shifted her focus to understanding how the tools of the theatre can be used to develop communication skills for scientists, technology professionals, and scholars — helping them discover ways to become more direct, personal, spontaneous, and responsive. Her research focuses on empathy development, serious games and roleplay, collaborative problem-solving, and values-based leadership.

Raun has served on the boards of a variety of national organizations, including the Southeastern Theatre Conference, the Association of Theatre in Higher Education, the Voice and Speech Trainers Association, and the National Association of Schools of Theatre.

She received her M.F.A. from Pennsylvania State University’s Professional Actor Training Program and a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Raun has earned many honors for her leadership and teaching, including a 2010 Virginia Tech Excellence in Administration Award, a 2011 College of Arts and Architecture Alumni Award from Penn State, and a 2017 College of Fine and Performing Arts Outstanding Alumni Award from the University of Nebraska.

In 2019, Raun and her colleague, Carrie Kroehler, received the Alumni Award for Excellence in Outreach from Virginia Tech for their work supporting scientists’ needs to tell their stories.

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