Tech News

Tech News

Virginia Tech responds to Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Virginia Tech enacted a concerted effort to help displaced students both here and from the Gulf region.

Several Tech administrators, faculty, and staff worked through the Labor Day weekend to enroll, for the remainder of the fall semester, more than 30 displaced students, the majority from Tulane University in New Orleans. Director of the Student Life Office Tom Brown contacted many of the 57 Virginia Tech undergraduates whose homes are in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. In addition, the Student Life Office will help displaced students with emergency funds.

Virginia Tech is among several universities in the South offering online courses for displaced undergraduate and graduate students through a program funded by an association of colleges and universities, the Sloan Consortium, which will assist with the costs of delivering instruction.

Among the university's faculty assisting with disaster-relief efforts in the Gulf region is Professor of Forestry Shep Zedaker, a national expert on forest fires, who is leading a 20-man crew from Virginia's Department of Forestry to help clear fallen trees near Biloxi, Miss. Professor of Geography Bill Carstensen is developing maps and a Geographical Information System database to help the American Association for State and Local History identify significant Gulf-area historical sites and collections. Jennifer Brown, clinical assistant professor in equine surgery and emergency care at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, has been deployed to the Gulf Coast as a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association's Veterinary Medical Assistance Team 2. The teams are working closely with other emergency services personnel to assess and deal with the animal and public health issues associated with the catastrophe.

Virginia Tech also has taken in a displaced professor. Gretchen Clum, a clinical psychologist who left Johns Hopkins University to join the faculty of Tulane on Sept. 1, now has a visiting faculty appointment at Tech. Clum, who works with HIV patients and is affiliated with Tulane's School of Public Health, is the daughter of Virginia Tech Professor of Psychology George Clum.

For updates on Virginia Tech's Katrina-relief activities, as well as information about other ways the university community can contribute to relief efforts, go to

New vice president for student affairs named

Zenobia L. Hikes
Zenobia L. Hikes

Zenobia L. Hikes, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Spelman College in Atlanta, began as vice president for student affairs at Virginia Tech on Sept. 1. As the chief officer for Tech's Student Affairs division, Hikes oversees 14 university departments, including student life, housing and dining programs, career services, student health, and recreational sports, with an annual budget of $66 million and 970 employees. At Spelman, Hikes, who had served as the chief student affairs officer since 1999, provided leadership for 13 departments, established Spelman’s Women of Excellence Leadership Series, and initiated several other leadership programs to empower Spelman students. Hikes succeeds Landrum L. Cross, who retired June 30 after 22 years of service to Virginia Tech.

Duke, Nolen appointed to board of visitors
In July, Gov. Mark R. Warner appointed two new members to the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors. Shelly Duke of Middleburg, Va., is the owner and manager of Rallywood Farm. A long-time friend to the Marion DuPont Scott Equine Center, Duke is chair of the center's board of directors and serves on the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine Advisory Council. She has been a member of the Virginia Tech Foundation Board of Directors and is a member of the Legacy Society and the Ut Prosim Society. George C. Nolen of Centreville, Va., a 1978 graduate of the Pamplin College of Business, is president and chief executive officer of Siemens Corporation, which he joined in 1982. Today, Siemens is a $16.6 billion, 65,000-employee leader in several industries, including healthcare technology, power generation and transmission, and communications technology. For more information on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, go to


Engineering students sweep international competition

autonomous vehicle

The Virginia Tech Autonomous Vehicle Team swept the 2005 international Intelligent Ground Vehicles Competition (IGVC), placing first, second, and third, and winning eight of nine event categories, along with $15,000 in prizes. Led by faculty advisers Charles Reinholtz and Alfred Wicks, professors of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering, Tech's team entered three of the 37 autonomous vehicles that competed in this year's event, held June 11-13 in Traverse City, Mich. Autonomous vehicles are equipped with computer, sensor, and navigational technologies and are programmed to maneuver without human intervention.
Faculty member receives presidential award

Michael GarvinMichael Garvin, who joined the faculty of Virginia Tech's Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering on July 1, was honored at the White House on June 13 as a 2004 recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest national honor for researchers in the early stages of their careers. Garvin is one of 20 researchers whose work is supported by the National Science Foundation to receive the award. Formerly an assistant professor of civil engineering at Columbia University, Garvin is developing new methods to help municipal and higher-level officials better manage infrastructure investments. New approaches to investment strategies and procurement practices for large-scale infrastructure projects are important in the current climate of increased public expectations and decreased federal funding.

Professor wins advisor award from NSF

Douglas NelsonThe National Science Foundation (NSF) presented the Outstanding Long-Term Faculty Advisor Award to Virginia Tech Professor of Mechanical Engineering Douglas Nelson during the 2005 Challenge X competition on June 9 at General Motor's Milford Proving Grounds near Detroit, Mich. Nelson is the founding advisor of Tech's Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team, which has participated since 1994 in alternative-fuel, student-designed vehicle competitions sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. automakers. Nelson's award includes a $15,000 grant to help fund undergraduate participation at Virginia Tech in the Challenge X competition.


Commemorating football legends

Their names are synonymous with Virginia Tech football: Coach Frank Beamer, Bruce Smith, Don Strock, and Michael Vick.

To honor these men's efforts in making Hokie football what it is today, the Department of Licensing has launched a special line of products, "The Legends of Lane." Including two T-shirts, a fleece sweatshirt, a polo shirt, and a cap that bear the Legends of Lane logo (shown above), the items hit the University Bookstores shelves on Aug. 1 and will be available during the 2005 football season and through Christmas.

For more information, visit the bookstore online at

College of Engineering appoints endowed professors
Karen TholeKaren A. Thole

The recipient of the William S. Cross Professorship in the College of Engineering, AdvanceVT Professor of Mechanical Engineering Karen A. Thole is the first female appointed to an endowed engineering professorship at the university. At Tech since 1999, Thole, whose primary areas of expertise are heat transfer and fluid mechanics, has been solely responsible for attracting research funding of more than $5 million from major federal and national sources. A National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award winner in 1996 and a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Thole is one of the principal investigators on the Institutional Transformation Award from the NSF's Advance Program, which is aimed at increasing the participation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers.

Jeffrey ReedJeffrey H. Reed

Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Jeffrey H. Reed received the Willis G. Worcester Professorship of Electrical and Computer Engineering, traditionally awarded to a leading researcher. Reed, who has been at Tech since 1992 and is internationally known for his research in the areas of software and software-defined radio, has been a principal or co-principal investigator on 55 sponsored projects, resulting in approximately $7 million in funding.

Class of 2009 sets admission records

The quality of Virginia Tech students continues to rise, making admission to the university increasingly competitive. Selected from 17,687 applicants, the 5,187 students comprising the Class of 2009 have an average grade point average of 3.72 on a 4.0 scale, up from 3.67 last year. Their SAT scores average 1204, compared to last year's 1201. Virginia Tech did not consider the new writing component of this year's SAT test, instead desiring a year's worth of data before determining how or if the new section will figure into the admissions process.

Hailing from 43 states and 27 countries, the Class of 2009 is 73 percent Caucasian, 7.5 percent Asian, 3.4 percent Black, 2.8 percent Hispanic, and less than 1 percent Native American; 12.6 percent did not indicate an ethnicity. Although the percentage of African-American students declined from 3.8 in 2004 to 3.4 for 2005, more joined the freshman class than last year (186 compared to 173 in 2004). The number of African Americans applying to Virginia Tech has decreased each year since 2001, but the university made more offers this year and has enrolled a slightly higher number for the fall semester. The Hispanic population has increased from 2.0 to 2.8 percent.

VT students

Donaldson Brown becomes Graduate Life Center

Donaldson Brown

Virginia Tech has transformed the former Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center into the innovative, fully integrated Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown, encompassing academic, social, residential, and administrative functions.

A joint endeavor of the Graduate School and four departments in Student Affairs (housing and dining services, residence life, university unions, and student activities), the center provides a place for graduate students and faculty to interact and offers a range of programs, events, and services. To eventually include the Graduate School administrative offices, "the Graduate Life Center is a reflection of Virginia Tech's commitment to advancing graduate scholarship and building graduate community,” says Dean of the Graduate School Karen P. DePauw.

The transition from conference center to graduate center is being completed in two phases, the first of which was this summer's five-week renovation to bring up to code for residence hall use the hotel's three floors of rooms and Alumni Hall's two floors of rooms. Graduate living quarters in the Donaldson Brown complex opened for occupancy at the beginning of the fall semester. Next summer's Phase II renovation will complete the project.

Civil War theme cruise for alumni

Virginia Tech alumni and friends will have an opportunity to hear lectures by nationally prominent Civil War historians James I. "Bud" Robertson, Alumni Distinguished Professor of History and executive director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies, and William C. "Jack" Davis, professor of history and the center's director of programs, during a special cruise aboard the steamboat "Delta Queen," a registered National Historic Landmark. Scheduled for July 17-24, 2006, the cruise from Nashville to Chattanooga, Tenn., includes visits to three Civil War battlefields, as well as stops in Paducah, Ky.; Savannah, Tenn.; and Florence and Decatur, Ala. For additional information or to register, contact University Travel at 540/961-2700 ext. 228; 1-800/638-2701 ext. 228, or


Research News

Preserving Virginia's "Lost" Communities

Pocahontas, Va.
Pocahontas, Va.

An outreach of Virginia Tech's College of Architecture + Urban Studies, the Community Design Assistance Center (CDAC) is working to preserve 30 of Virginia's "lost" communities--and not in ways that might immediately come to mind.

For this special project, the center has already produced a photographic exhibit, a motorcyclist's guide, and a set of note cards featuring images of these once-thriving communities, among them such locales as Branchville, Pocahontas, Moneta, and Pamplin City.

The center hopes to culminate the project with the publication of a book, Lost Communities of Virginia, which includes oral histories and numerous photographs of each place. Because the center needs additional funding for this ambitious undertaking, all proceeds from the sale of the note cards will support the book's publication.

To purchase a set of the note cards or to learn more about supporting the CDAC, go to

Reducing the danger of malaria
Virginia Tech will receive a $2.7 million grant from the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health to help reduce the danger of malaria. The project, among 43 groundbreaking research projects to improve health in developing countries, is supported by $436 million from the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, launched in 2003 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with the National Institutes of Health. The initiative is a major international effort to achieve scientific breakthroughs against diseases that kill millions of people each year in the world's poorest countries. The Virginia Tech project aims to develop an insecticide to use on nets suspended over beds where people sleep. A requirement of the project is that the insecticide must specifically target the mosquito species that transmits malaria, Anopheles gambiae, and cannot be toxic to humans or other animals.

Tech center leads team in $14.3 million climate-change project
Power plants that use coal and oil produce various byproducts, among them, the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. The Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research (VCCER) at Virginia Tech is leading one of three field-test teams in developing and testing technology to send carbon dioxide (CO2) back into unmineable coal beds where it will stay for thousands of years. At some sites, CO2 would be stored where methane has been removed and could even enhance the recovery of methane. VCCER represents Virginia in the multistate Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership, one of seven regional consortiums established by the Department of Energy as part of President George W. Bush's Global Climate Change Initiative to reduce greenhouse gas by 18 percent by 2012.

USDA grant funds soybean pathogen research
Brett Tyler, research professor at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and Virginia Tech professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science, has been awarded a three-year, $980,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify the ways in which the plant pathogen Phytophthora sojae overcomes the defenses of its host soybean. Phytophthora species and related pathogens cause tens of billions of dollars of damage every year to a wide range of agriculturally and ornamentally important plants, as well as severely damaging forests and threatening entire natural ecosystems. Specifically, P. sojae causes serious damage to soybean crops and cost growers $1 billion worldwide in 2003. In order to improve methods for controlling Phytophthora infection, it is important to understand how these pathogens break down plants' defenses so that plants with better resistance to the pathogen can be developed.

Research to inactivate Hepatitis A in oysters
Virginia Sea Grant announced an award of $119,000 to study the effects of high hydrostatic pressure (HPP) in inactivating Hepatitis A virus (HAV) in both shucked and unshucked oysters. The project, led by Daniel Holliman, research scientist and director of research for Virginia Tech's HPP Laboratory, and research associate Laura Douglas, manager of the HPP lab, will identify high-pressure processing schedules resulting in inactivation of the virus, one of the more serious illnesses transmissible by shellfish. Worldwide, HAV is responsible for more than 1.5 million cases of the disease each year, with 260,000 cases and more than 100 deaths in the United States. The disease generally runs its course in two months, but can linger as long as six. While survival rates for HAV are greater than 99 percent, the disease can be very dangerous for infants, the elderly, people with suppressed immune systems, and people with existing liver disease.


Property management students learn to work together

In an effort to prepare property management majors for life after graduation, a capstone course requires students to research a property and make recommendations to its owner. The project necessitates expertise both in property management principles and in group dynamics. Thanks to a new one-credit course, Group Processes and Presentations, the students passed with flying colors.

In Spring 2004, professors Marlene Preston of the Department of Communication and Rosemary Goss of the Department of Apparel, Housing, and Resource Management, joined forces to pilot this cross-disciplinary experience for students. Communication faculty members Preston, John Tedesco, and Dale Jenkins provided support through CommLab, a resource for student speakers that is located in Newman Library.

students in lab

Property management faculty members Goss, Julia Beamish, and Patrick Council directed students as they researched properties, studied approaches for property owners, and developed recommendations. The project was so successful that the one-time "special study" course was developed into a routinely offered course for Spring 2005.

In Spring 2005, students in Corey Hickerson's Public Relations Case Studies class also enrolled in the one-credit course to enhance their work on a public relations campaign for a client. Students from both the public relations class and the property management class met in CommLab--now coordinated by Brandi Quesenberry--and wrote journal entries in response to weekly readings and questions about such topics as time management and conflict resolution.