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Meet the 2023 award recipients

Learn more about the faculty and staff who were recognized for excellence.

Alumni Awards for Excellence

Sponsored by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, the Alumni Awards for Excellence are awarded annually to faculty and staff who exhibit excellence and dedication in their respective fields.

Bobby Clark, Extension

Bobby Clark ’87 enjoys empowering others with knowledge that helps them achieve their goals. His role with Virginia Cooperative Extension — senior Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources at the Shenandoah unit — lets him do just that. “My desire to become an Extension agent started when I was in high school,” he said. “My Extension career spans two states — North Carolina and Virginia — and 35 years. Throughout my career I have always enjoyed helping both individuals and communities succeed through the knowledge shared as an Extension agent.” Clark has earned multiple accolades for his work, including Program Excellence Awards at the district and state levels, the National Association of County Agricultural Agents Distinguished Service Award, and the Virginia Association of Agricultural Extension Agents Distinguished Service Award.

Jennifer Ligon, Extension agent

For Jennifer Ligon ’02, M.S. ’14, senior agriculture and natural resources agent with Virginia Cooperative Extension, working with the Buckingham Cattlemen's Association and other cattle producers is like being with family. Throughout her career, her programming at local, state, and national levels has reached over 153,500 individuals — youth, community members, incarcerated people, agricultural producers, and producer groups. But her major responsibility is advising the Buckingham Cattlemen’s Association, other cattlemen’s groups, and markets by coordinating and marketing their value-added cattle sales. Since 2009, those sales have recognized premiums of $2.7 million over market values. Ligon has recruited and utilized over 3,500 volunteer hours, including in-kind support from local and state government and industry partners, and helped acquire multiple external grants totaling $3.7 million. Additionally, she offers statewide programming in Beef Quality Assurance and cattle handling, reaching more than 2,000 clients. She has been recognized with a myriad of awards for her work at the state and national level, most recently the National Association County Agricultural Agents’ Excellence in Livestock Production and Excellence in Agriculture Awareness awards in 2022.

Michelle Prysby, Extension specialist

In 2005, as a Virginia Cooperative Extension faculty member in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, Michelle Prysby led the launch of the Virginia Master Naturalist program, a volunteer training and service program focused on natural resources. She has worked with the program for most of its existence, assisting the 30 Virginia Master Naturalist chapters, teaching courses, developing new initiatives and training resources, and engaging with sponsors and partners. A Master Naturalist volunteer herself, she enjoys “engaging with inspiring volunteers and helping to make a difference for the environment” through her work. Prysby previously received the Gerald P. McCarthy Award for Leadership in Environmental Conflict Resolution from the Virginia Natural Resources Leadership Institute in 2019 and the Gold Award for Early Career Leadership from the Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals in 2010.

Sharing the Road with Trucks Program, Outreach Excellence - Team Achievement

Matthew Camden ’06, Mark Golusky, and Scott Tidwell ’02 of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute have spent a decade researching, developing, and implementing a safety education and outreach program for high school students. The Sharing the Road with Trucks Program is an interactive experience to equip driver education students with knowledge about and skills for driving around large vehicles. As of March, the team had engaged with 18,500 students across 159 visits in Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland. Although the program’s primary focus is on teens drivers, anyone can benefit from the information about safely sharing the road with trucks. To this end, the team recently began initiatives to offer the program to the general driving public.

Mintai Kim, Outreach Excellence - Individual

Mintai Kim, professor of landscape architecture, has worked with coastal communities facing issues related to climate change. He started the Climate and Community Resilience Laboratory at Virginia Tech and uses Geodesign, a collaborative framework, to solve complex design and planning problems related to climate change. To aid communities facing climate change threats, he has built strong collaborative and sustaining relationships with various stakeholders in Virginia's coastal region. For the last decade, his research team and design and planning studio students have provided alternative design and planning solutions. “The mayor of the City of Virginia Beach even sent a letter of appreciation to the students for their service, which is a testament to the contribution of their work,” Kim said. Previous awards for Kim include the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture’s Excellence in Research and/or Creative Works Award-senior level and Best Scientific Paper at the 18th International Conference on Information Technology in Landscape Architecture.

Mehdi Ahmadian, Research

Mehdi Ahmadian, the J. Bernard Jones Chair of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Center for Vehicle Systems and Safety, is an internationally known expert in vehicle system dynamics and safety who enjoys interacting with students and the student-centric focus of the university. For the past 38 years, he has been a pioneering researcher in advanced technologies for improving road and rail transportation safety, efficiency, and comfort. He also serves as the director of the Railway Technologies Laboratory and the Advanced Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory and is the founding director of the Virginia Institute for Performance Engineering and Research. During his tenure at Virginia Tech, his research has resulted in 123 funded projects, totaling more than $27 million, of which $23 million is directly attributed to him. He holds 11 U.S. and international patents and has authored more than 300 refereed technical publications. Other accolades include the 2019 Magnus Hendrickson Innovation Award from SAE International and the organization’s 2019 Top Contributor of the Year Award given to the top 35 contributors among more than 200,000 members.

Ralph Buehler, Research

Ralph Buehler, professor and chair of the urban affairs and planning program in the School of Public and International Affairs, rides his bike to his office at the Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington every day. Most of his research has an international comparative perspective, contrasting transport and land-use policies, transport systems, and travel behavior in Western Europe and North America. He has been a member of review and advisory committees for the U.S. Department of Transportation, the National Highway and Transit Cooperative Research Programs, the European Commission, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization. Buehler said he appreciates “the ability to combine research, outreach, and teaching to identify policy lessons and international best practice on how to achieve more socially equitable, environmentally sound, and economically efficient urban transport.” His accolades include a Career Achievement Award in 2021 from what was then the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.

Nadine Sinno, International Education

Nadine Sinno, associate professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, helped elevate the study of Arabic into one of the university’s newer majors, first offered in 2020. “Virginia Tech provided me and other faculty with the support necessary for building a vibrant Arabic program centered on rigorous academics, experiential opportunities, and cultural outreach.” Grants, such as those dedicated to international initiatives, allow the department to host lectures, films, and performances that have enhanced Virginia Tech’s mission in promoting diversity and inclusion. Sinno said that the combination of working with students, cultural programming, and outreach is the best part of her work along with the collegiality of faculty, staff, and students. She has been recognized with an Alumni Award for Teaching Excellence in 2019 as well as a Certificate of Teaching Excellence.

Francisco R. Carvallo, International Outreach

Francisco R. Carvallo, clinical associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, is board-certified in veterinary anatomic pathology and has a passion for diagnostics and teaching. Each year, the department has a couple of international students for pathology rotations. Carvallo coordinates this process, helping the students get immersed in the area of veterinary diagnostics and get a case report published in a journal. “With this, we are trying to increase their chances to be accepted in pathology residencies,” he said. Additionally, he is among a group of faculty who teach Introduction to Veterinary Histopathology in agreement with the Davis Thompson Foundation. Currently, the program reaches 250 students around the world. Carvallo is working with the foundation to develop teaching experiences and laboratories around Latin America, and the first live activities and wet labs are scheduled to begin later this year. He has been additionally recognized with the Barbara Jean Thompson Award for outstanding service to the Davis Thompson Foundation.

James Hawdon, International Research

James Hawdon, professor and director of the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention, has researched how communities influence and respond to violence for more than 30 years. His cross-national work on communal responses to mass violence as well as his more recent research on online hate and extremism have influenced other researchers and policy makers. “My colleagues and the strong sense of community make Blacksburg and VT such incredible places to live and work,” he said. Hawdon recently was awarded a Doctorate Honoris Causais by the University of Turku, Finland, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to international research and longtime work with University of Turku faculty members and students. He is also in a classic rock band, the Mudd Daubers, with several other Hokie faculty and staff members.

Katharine Cleland, Teaching

Katharine Cleland, associate professor of English, has taught undergraduate and graduate students since 2012 and says the best part of her job is “discussing great works of literature with my amazing students.” A scholar of the English Renaissance, she has taught 11 different courses ranging from Intro to Shakespeare and Contemporary Shakespeare Adaptations to Milton and Renaissance Revenge Tragedy. In her classes, she situates Renaissance texts within their own historical context while also encouraging students to draw connections with the present day. Cleland also serves as the director of graduate studies in English and the director of the Master of Arts in English program. She has been previously recognized with a Certificate of Teaching Excellence in 2021 from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Kirsten Rutsala, Teaching

Kirsten Rutsala, collegiate assistant professor of Russian, was the lead writer of a proposal for a grant from The Language Flagship, an organization sponsored by the National Security Education Program within the Department of Defense. In 2020, Virginia Tech was one of eight universities nationwide to receive a Russian Flagship grant, and Rutsala currently serves as the associate director of the university’s Russian Flagship program, designed to produce a cohort of university graduates who achieve professional-level Russian language proficiency and cultural competence. “I love working with students as they develop their Russian language proficiency and awareness of Russian culture.” Rutsala teaches Russian language courses at all levels as well as courses in Russian literature and culture. She earned a Certificate of Teaching Excellence from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences in 2022.

McComas Staff Leadership Award

The McComas Staff Leadership Award honors the significant leadership contributions of a classified or university staff member who has been employed at Virginia Tech for at least one year.

Judy Wright Taylor

Judy Wright Taylor came to work at the College of Science as a development associate in March 2007. In 2010, she obtained a position in the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost as an executive assistant. There, she works to support the role of the faculty affairs office in administering the Academic, Research, and Student Affairs Committee of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors. She has served the university for several years as an active member of the Staff Senate, including holding multiple positions on committees and commissions. In addition, she currently serves on the executive board of the Staff Senate as the chair of the Elections and Nominations Committee. “The one thing that I enjoy most about my job is working with a great group of colleagues,” she said.

Nikki Gland-Turpin

Nikki Gland-Turpin is a project coordinator for Donor Relations and Prospect Development and has worked at Virginia Tech since May 2015. Through the years, she has worked within the Advancement Division focusing on fundraising, alumni participation, and engagement goals. Her enthusiasm for Virginia Tech's motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), and advancing the university’s impact is exemplary in supporting the meaningful work of Advancement – from the opportunity to thank generous donors to helping our Hokies connect with each other. “I love being part of Hokie Nation because it brings a sense of community. It's great to see everyone come together and show their support for Virginia Tech - no matter the cause,” Gland-Turpin said.

Presidential Principles of Community Award

The Presidential Principles of Community Award recognizes faculty and staff members who exemplify and promote a welcoming and inclusive environment in accordance with the university’s Principles of Community.

Ellen Banks

Ellen Banks has served as the Division of Human Resources’ compliance and policy officer since 2018. A primary function of her role is representing the vice president for human resources on several committees, including the Policy Advisory Committee, Compliance Advisory Committee, and Retirement Committee. She has had the opportunity to work collaboratively with her colleagues to update and create human resources-related policy to align with university priorities, enhance employee engagement, and reduce institutional risk. “The most rewarding aspect of my role is problem-solving with the most dedicated, warm and brilliant colleagues known,” Banks said. In addition to policy work, she and her team provide critical support for various audits on human resources matters as well as administer compliance plans for significant laws and regulations, most notably the university conviction check and drug testing functions. She has been previously recognized with the division’s Award for Exceptional Contribution in 2022 and Leadership All-Star Award in 2021.

Ashleigh “Bing” Bingham

As director for the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, Ashleigh “Bing” Bingham supports the mental, emotional, social, and physical wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer Hokies by creating space, providing resources, advocating for student needs, and facilitating learning opportunities for faculty, staff, and students. This work has included chairing the LGBTQ+ Working Group, serving on the steering committees for the queer studies minor and the Lavender House living-learning community, and advising HokiePRIDE as well as other gender, sexual, and romantic minority student organizations. Since their appointment as director, six all gender restrooms have been added to the Blacksburg campus, a 15-week VirTual Safe Zone training program has been created, and chosen names have been incorporated in Banner and on Hokie Passports. “I love being a part of the Hokie Nation because it means I am one of many people working to make Virginia Tech a more supportive and affirming place for queer and trans individuals,” Bingham said.

Alicia Cohen

Alicia Cohen began working at Virginia Tech in 1989 as the coordinator of student organizations. With a shift in focus to leadership development, she created and led educational opportunities for students and taught in the Residential Leadership Community for over a decade. In 1990, she became assistant to the vice president for multicultural affairs and since then has focused her work on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. She was instrumental in developing the first train-the-trainer diversity education program and was part of the team that created the Diversity Development Institute, which she later directed. She has served on multiple university commissions and committees and is currently a member of the Sexual Violence Culture and Climate Working Group. Throughout her time at Virginia Tech, Cohen has served as a visible and vocal advocate for historically marginalized communities and is especially dedicated to students — always willing to sit and talk with them, facilitate sessions for their organizations, and support them in whatever ways necessary. Previous awards include an AP Faculty Award as part of the Diversity Education and Engagement Team.

Rebecca Hester

Rebecca Hester is an associate professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society. A co-founder of the Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies at Virginia Tech, she currently serves as its associate director of education. Hester’s research is focused on the intersection of migration and health. She has received numerous awards including the Diggs teaching Award, the CLAHS Diversity Award, and the Juneteenth Scholars Award. When she is not working, Hester enjoys riding her horses. Currently, she is training to compete in the Mongol Derby, a 650-mile horse race across Mongolia.

Homero Murzi

Homero Murzi, assistant professor in engineering education, started his journey at Virginia Tech as a Ph.D. student in 2013. After graduating in 2016, and spending a year working in Australia, he returned to Virginia Tech, where he is the leader of the Engineering Competencies, Learning, and Inclusive Practices for Success Lab. Murzi’s goal is to develop engineering education practices that value the capital that traditionally marginalized students bring into the field. “The amplifier effect of my job is something I really enjoy. I also love that I get to learn from students and colleagues every day,” he said. He serves in multiple roles for the American Society for Engineering Education and is the chair for his Department of Engineering Education’s Equity and Inclusion Committee. Murzi has received several recognitions for his equity and inclusion and teaching efforts, including the 2022 Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching and the 2021 Charles "Butch" and Joan Nunnally Outstanding VT Engineering Education Faculty Award.

HBCU/MSI Research Summit at Virginia Tech

Hundreds of undergraduate students and faculty members from more than a dozen Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutes (MSIs) visit Blacksburg each year for the HBCU/MSI Research Summit at Virginia Tech. The event is hosted by the Graduate School's Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Strategic Partnerships. The office focuses on “efforts to support graduate students' experiences by focusing on diversity, inclusion, and belonging. We offer regular programs to help our students find and utilize their communities as they navigate graduate school,” said Shernita Lee ’14, assistant dean and director of the office, which includes Support Specialist Shania Clinedinst and graduate assistants Isil Anakok and Zuleka Woods. The event is supported by the HBCU/MSI Research Team that includes about 20 representatives from across colleges, departments, and institutes. The collaborative effort has successfully recruited numerous graduate students and facilitated new and continuing relationships among faculty members to promote Virginia Tech's commitment to diversity and inclusion.

University Sporn Teaching Award for Excellence in Teaching Introductory Subjects

Sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and the Virginia Tech Academy for Teaching Excellence, the Sporn Award for Teaching Introductory Subjects recognizes a Virginia Tech faculty member nominated and selected by undergraduate students.

Megan Emori

Megan Emori came to Virginia Tech in 2017 after receiving her Ph.D. in human biology and translational medicine. She encourages first-year students in the large introductory Principles of Biology courses to build community through small group work and active teaching methods. She continues to support them in the Cell Function and Differentiation course, where she helps create connections between textbook material and current scientific research. Emori’s efforts working alongside students to create community, build connections, and improve communication for undergraduates in biological sciences since 2019  led to the development of the Biological Sciences Student Ambassadors program, where she is the faculty advisor. Emori is one of the first teachers that students will see at Virginia Tech, and her work running the Careers in Biological Sciences course ensures continued support as students prepare for graduation and beyond.

Staff Career Achievement Award

Created in 2011 to recognize retiring staff members, the Staff Career Achievement Award is presented annually to individuals who retired the previous year and who distinguished themselves through exemplary performance and service during their university career. Nominees must have worked a minimum of 10 years at Virginia Tech.

Karen Dove

Karen S. Dove, office manager in the Department of Biochemistry, retired after 45 years and eight months at Virginia Tech. She started working part-time at the university in 1976 while still in high school and then upon graduation was hired full-time in 1977. She progressed through different positions working with faculty, staff, research faculty, and undergraduate students. She enjoyed interacting and continued learning from each group, always finding a sense of accomplishment and pride to be working at the Hokie Nation. She enjoyed “being part of a team that appreciates and values your accomplishments and your work ethic.”

E. Jane Harrison

E. Jane Harrison loved her time producing the Summer Arts Festival. From her position as executive assistant for outreach and facilities within the School of Performing Arts, Harrison worked with the festival from its beginning in 1991 as an assistant producer to Tony Distler. Then, after Distler’s retirement, Harrison was appointed the event’s producer until her retirement in 2022. In total, Harrison worked for Virginia Tech for 48 years and eight months. “My interest in Virginia Tech started when I was 13 years old. One of my sisters was attending the Upward Bound program in the summer of 1968. Me and my three other sisters got to come with our parents to pick her up at the end of the program. It was quite a sight to see for a young girl from Galax, Virginia,” she said. “In 1973, I graduated from a community college and was able to apply for a position at Virginia Tech. I was hired and began working one week later.”

Brenda Husser

Brenda Husser spent 41 years at Virginia Tech, most recently as an academic advisor for the Department of Sociology, working with students majoring in sociology and criminology. She was skilled at developing trusting relationships with those she mentored and truly enjoyed working with the students. She also found endless satisfaction in all her positions at Virginia Tech.  " In each position I continued to learn,” she said. “The experience I gained in record keeping, accounts management, office administration, promotion and tenure, supervision, both undergraduate and graduate programs, and undergraduate advising was exceptional.” Past awards for Husser included the President's Award for Excellence in 2021 and 2003, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars’ Inspire Integrity Award In 2019, and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Staff Employee of the Year in 2017.

Ben Poe

Ben Poe retired as an information technology specialist in the Department of Mechanical Engineering after 34 years and eight months of service at Virginia Tech. His first job at the university was as a laboratory instrument maker, “but I asked I could take care of these new items called ‘personal computers,’” Poe said, “and so my career reflected a growth in the development of information technologies.” A self-described people person, Poe enjoyed being able to help others through his work.

William E. Wine Award

The William E. Wine Award was established in 1957 by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association in memory of William E. Wine, Class of 1904, who was a former rector of the Board of Visitors and Alumni Association president. Following a college-level selection process of candidates nominated by students, faculty, and alumni, each college may put forth one nominee. From this group, three faculty members are selected annually. Each Wine Award winner receives $2,000 and automatic induction into the Academy of Teaching Excellence.

Elisabeth Austin

Elisabeth Austin, associate professor of Spanish, teaches Spanish American culture and literature. Contextualizing cultural artifacts through history and social theory, she challenges students to analyze discourse and understand cultures — past and present — that are different from their own. “Hokies are curious and generous. I am inspired by my students' capacity for empathy,” she said. In 2017, she developed a service-learning course called Community through Service: Latino NRV through which students work with community partners such as Literacy Volunteers of the New River Valley and Montgomery County Public Schools while studying Latino cultures in the U.S. In 2022, Austin was awarded the College of Liberal Arts and Human Science’s Diversity Award for her outreach work with students.

Patricia Raun

Patricia Raun, professor of theatre and director of the Center for Communicating Science, has seen the ways performance training helps people develop an awareness of themselves and others, learn to listen, adopt different perspectives, and empathize with the experiences of others. As a result, she has adapted the lessons of theatre to train those in other fields who need to interact with others in personal, clear, spontaneous, responsive, and emotionally active ways. “It is my hope and my mission to support inclusive, creative, and collaborative people to build societies equipped to untangle the complex and intractable problems of our world,” she said. Raun’s past accolades include the Alumni Award for Outreach Excellence - Team Achievement with Carolyn Kroehler in 2019, being named to the inaugural cohort of the ACC Academic Leadership Network for 2018-19, the University of Nebraska’s Alumni Achievement Award, College of Fine and Performing Arts, in 2017, and being inducted into Virginia Tech’s Academy of Faculty Leadership in 2017.

Mike Rosenzweig

Mike Rosenzweig, senior instructor in biological sciences, wants his students to engage with the local community. “I believe that with citizenship comes responsibility. That means striving to be a citizen of both our university and of local communities,” he said. In 1995, he built a significant bridge between Virginia Tech and the Blacksburg community through an education organization called Seek Education, Explore, DiScover (SEEDS). Since 2009, SEEDS has operated the SEEDS-Blacksburg Nature Center to inspire children and grow future leaders through outdoor nature education, discovery learning, and civic awareness. Rosenzweig has been recognized previously with awards that include a College of Science Certificate of Teaching Excellence in 2022, the Department of Biological Sciences Outstanding Teacher in 2020 and 2008, a University Sporn Award for Teaching Introductory Subjects in 2016, and a University Alumni Outreach Award in 2014.

XCaliber Award for Excellence in Technology Assisted Teaching and Learning

Established in 1996 by the Office of the Provost, the XCaliber Award is presented annually by Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies to recognize individual faculty members or teams of faculty and staff who integrate technology in teaching and learning. The award celebrates innovative, student-centered approaches.

David Hicks, Todd Ogle ’95, Paul Quigley, and Thomas Tucker

The team of David Hicks, Todd Ogle ’95, Paul Quigley, and Thomas Tucker started out in 2011 as a small group of faculty interested in harnessing the potential of new technologies to visualize, represent, and learn about hidden and hard histories. That led the group to work on internally and externally funded projects including an extended reality experience that allows elementary students to explore a formerly segregated school, a virtual reality experience that allows children to explore the World War I tunnels of Vauquois, and visualizations of Virginia Tech’s past. More projects are funded and in development. Ogle is executive director of Applied Research in Immersive Experiences and Simulations at University Libraries. Hicks is a professor of history and social sciences education in the School of Education. Quigley is the James I. Robertson Jr. Associate Professor of Civil War Studies and director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. And Tucker is associate professor of creative technologies in the School of Visual Arts.


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