• Fall 2013

    Volume 36, Number 1

    Virginia Tech Magazine, fall 2013

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  • Redesigned university website launched

    Virginia Tech homepage

    In August, the university launched the redesigned homepage for The new page features a larger display area for images and content, horizontal navigation, a larger search box, dedicated sections to present news and life at Virginia Tech, and opportunities for learning.

    The new homepage also uses a coding structure called responsive design to improve its display on mobile devices and tablets. The Web communications team within University Relations, the group responsible for the new redesign, conducted surveys and user tests and researched emerging Web trends to develop a framework that would continue to uphold Virginia Tech's commitment to quality, innovation, and results. Early feedback has been very positive. To submit your thoughts or comments, please send an email to
  • Email newsletter redesigned

    Virginia Tech Monthly

    The Virginia Tech Monthly—formerly the VT NetLetter—is a slice of campus life delivered to your email inbox. Get the latest need-to-know news, explore online features and Web extras, and read exclusive stories about fellow alumni.

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  • Virginia Tech breaks into top 25 best public universities for undergraduates

    For the first time, Virginia Tech has moved into the Top 25 public universities as ranked by U.S. News & World Report in its annual survey of undergraduate programs, "America's Best Colleges 2014," released in September. The move to No. 25 among public schools is a bump up from the No. 28 position in the 2013 survey.

    Among public and private universities, Virginia Tech ranked 69th in the nation, a move up from No. 72 in the previous survey. Virginia Tech shares the spot with Rutgers, Texas A&M, and the University of Minnesota.
  • A snapshot of the Class of 2017

    Dorm room at Virginia Tech; photo by Logan Wallace

    The Hokie Nation gained approximately 5,350 new undergraduate students this fall, and they're a smart bunch. The middle 50 percent of students offered admission had grade point averages ranging form 3.78 to 4.23 and SAT scores (critical reading and mathematics) ranging from 1,160 to 1,340.

    While the majority of the new students are from Virginia (more than 3,500), about 1,700 represent other states, territories, and countries. The top states of incoming out-of-state freshmen, by order of enrollment, are Maryland (364), New Jersey (275), Pennsylvania (242), North Carolina (146), and New York (96). The top five countries by order of enrollment are China, India, Jordan, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia.

    The Class of 2017 includes 224 international students, 343 students participating in the Corps of Cadets, 152 valedictorians and salutatorians, 1,533 legacies, and 27 sets of twins.

    Source: Undergraduate Admissions
  • Clarke appointed as veterinary college dean

    Dr. Cyril R. Clarke; photo courtesy of Oregon State University

    Dr. Cyril R. Clarke has been named dean of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. Formerly a professor in and dean of Oregon State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, Clarke succeeds dean Dr. Gerhardt G. Schurig.

    "Cyril Clarke is a highly respected leader in veterinary medicine and education, bringing with him dean-level experience and an impressive record of leadership and scholarly results. He brings perspective and experience that will serve the college, Virginia Tech, and the University of Maryland," said Provost Mark McNamee.

    Clarke, a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, is the college's fourth dean. "The college has established a distinguished record of accomplishment in veterinary education, delivery of clinical and diagnostic services across a wide range of clinical specialties, and biomedical research in comparative health sciences," Clarke said. "It is particularly well positioned to advance translational medicine and the concept of One Health, which recognizes the close linkage between animal and public health. The partnership involving two land-grant universities provides an excellent opportunity for further development of innovative and collaborative programs that meet the veterinary educational and animal health needs of Virginia and Maryland. I am excited to be given the opportunity to lead the college in its next phase of development."
  • Researchers study effects of pesticides on honey bee health

    Troy Anderson, Carlyle Brewster, and Richard Fell; photo by Lindsay Key

    The Department of Entomology's (from left) Troy Anderson, Carlyle Brewster, and Richard Fell monitor hives at Virginia Tech's Prices Fork Research Center.

    Virginia Tech researchers are gathering valuable information about the impact of pesticide exposure on honey bee colony health in Virginia, helping both the apicultural and agricultural industries to reduce the loss of managed bee colonies.

    Honey bees allow for the production of such important crops as apples, melons, and squash in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but hives are collapsing at an approximate rate of 33 percent per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Continued losses are expected to drive up food costs. Despite active research efforts, a fundamental explanation for bee colony losses remains unclear.

    "There are knowledge gaps with respect to pesticide effects on bee colonies," said Troy Anderson, an assistant professor of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and affiliated member of the Fralin Life Science Institute. "This study will provide important information about the exposure of bee colonies to common-use pesticides and the health risks associated with these exposures."

    Funded by a $1.4 million grant from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), Anderson is engaging in the five-year study with Richard Fell, professor emeritus of entomology, and Carlyle Brewster, professor of entomology. The grant itself is funded by pesticide fees collected by VDACS' Office of Pesticide Services.
  • Rachel Holloway named vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs

    Rachel Holloway; photo by Jim Stroup

    Rachel Holloway has been selected as vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs. In the position, Holloway oversees the strategies, programs, and resources that support the undergraduate educational experience. In addition, she works closely with college deans, associate deans, and other vice provosts to coordinate strategic initiatives to advance the university's undergraduate education profile.

    "As a faculty member, department head, and associate dean, [Holloway] has demonstrated her commitment to excellence in undergraduate education," said Mark McNamee, senior vice president and provost. "Her experience and knowledge of Virginia Tech will facilitate the development of this redefined vice provost position. I look forward to working with Rachel and the other vice provosts on furthering the growth of our academic programs."
  • Helping smokers kick the habit

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    Addiction can distort decision-making by causing the brain to overvalue immediate, drug-associated stimuli and undervalue longer-term rewards. This excessive discounting of the future is associated with poor treatment outcomes. Our research has shown that people who relapse the most are those who discount the future the most. We speculate that smokers who can't envision the future well are those stuck in their immediate circumstances. So a nicotine craving has an exaggerated effect on them."

    Warren Bickel, professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, where he also directs the Addiction Recovery Research Center. Bickel recently received a $3.2 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse for research on improving self-control in smokers seeking to quit. Learn more »

    Fall 2013

    The Architect of Growth: The legacy of a visionary president

    Elevating the Arts: A preview of the Center for the Arts' grand opening

    Wheel Whisperers: Smart Road talks to vehicles—all in the name of safety

    Tech-Savvy Success in the Heart of Blacksburg

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    The new College Avenue promenade

    College Avenue promenade

    The new College Avenue promenade, which stretches from Squires Student Center to Main Street, features an extra-wide sidewalk, landscaping, and outdoor dining space for restaurants. Photo by Jim Stroup.

    Marching Virginians facility to be constructed

    This fall, Virginia Tech's popular Marching Virginians band has more than just its 40th season of existence to celebrate. In September, the Board of Visitors gave approval to erect phase one of a structure for the band—a roughly 4,300-square-foot building for instrument storage and percussion practice, and an attached, 3,500-square-foot pavilion that will provide covered space for the full band to practice, rain or shine. The project also includes a lighted practice field.

    The facilities will be located behind the southeast corner of the Chicken Hill Parking lot, near Lane Stadium, and are projected to cost $4.75 million. Funding will come from the Departments of Athletics and Recreational Sports and donations raised by the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

    Hokie Spirit quantified
    In The Princeton Review's 2014 edition of its annual college guide, Virginia Tech again earned top honors based on student responses measured against responses from almost 400 colleges and universities. Rankings include Hokie Spirit quantified

    Pamplin restructures M.B.A. program to respond to changing market

    The Pamplin College of Business is restructuring its M.B.A. program in response to changing market conditions for the graduate business degree. Starting in fall 2014, Pamplin will redeploy resources toward expanding enrollments in its part-time M.B.A. formats in Northern Virginia and other major metropolitan areas of the state.

    "We're shifting our emphasis from Blacksburg to larger markets in response to student demand," said Steve Skripak, Pamplin's associate dean for graduate programs. "Urban locations like the Northern Virginia market are very attractive to our typical prospects in their 20s and 30s. We see considerable opportunity that could be seized with additional investment in recruiting top students."

    Skripak emphasized that the changes will have no noticeable impact on the full-time students who began classes this fall and are expected to graduate from the two-year program in 2015. Courses and support activities for this last cohort of full-time students will go on as usual, he said.

    Pamplin will offer three MBA formats designed to meet students' needs for career development and advancement while remaining employed: an executive M.B.A. in the Washington, D.C., area; a part-time program known as the evening M.B.A., also in metro Washington, D.C.; and another part-time program, called the professional M.B.A., that alternates class meetings between Richmond and Roanoke.

    Blacksburg, Tech join US Ignite to help advance Internet's future

    The Town of Blacksburg and Virginia Tech have joined US Ignite, a White House initiative that aims to realize the potential of fast, open, next-generation networks by facilitating a national high-speed broadband test bed for development and deployment of ultra-fast broadband applications. The initiative began in 2012 with a five-year charge from the National Science Foundation for US Ignite to serve as a coordinator and incubator of the nationwide test bed, which will spur the adoption of ultra-high speed and software-defined networks, jumpstart gigabit application development, and share best practices with its partners.

    Plans are under way to enhance the broadband infrastructure in the downtown area in order to enable greater participation in high-speed network connectivity for citizens and businesses. Meanwhile, TechPad CEO and founder Bob Summers (computer engineering '98) has already received funding from US Ignite for his advanced fitness app, KinectHealth.

    Locally, participation in the initiative is being led by Blacksburg Town Manager Marc Verniel and Scott Midkiff, vice president of information technology at Virginia Tech.

    tailgating favorites

    Don't hold your applause: clapping with wet hands

    Focusing the dynamics of squeezing fluids using a simple experiment of clapping with wet hands, Sunny Jung and his colleagues have published a paper in Physical Review E that examines the question of why a thin film of liquid breaks into small drops by the squeezing or clapping motion.

    Jung, an assistant professor of engineering science and mechanics, found that the film is ejected radically and generates fluid treads and droplets at a high speed. Other fluids, such as gasoline and oil, behave similarly, but a very viscous fluid such as honey would not. Understanding the reaction of fluid flows has implications for the mixing of fuel fluids in order to maximize combustion to attain fuel efficiency, and oil companies are interested in the findings because of the oil separation process.

    Biomedical engineer achieves drug-patch breakthrough

    An assistant professor in the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering has developed a flexible microneedle patch that allows drugs to be delivered directly and fully through the skin. The new patch can quicken drug delivery time while cutting waste and can likely minimize side effects in some cases.

    Leading development of the flexible patch was Lissett Bickford, an assistant professor and researcher of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering. Work on the technology was completed while Bickford was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and news of the delivery technology was published in a recent issue of the scientific journal Advanced Materials.

    Universities celebrate grand opening in Newport News
    Newport News higher education center

    In August, Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia (U.Va.) unveiled their jointly operated Newport News higher education center, the latest in the growing body of Tech's commonwealth campus centers.

    Located in Richmond, Virginia Beach, Critz, Abingdon, and Roanoke, the centers provide professional development and corporate training in their regions. Most also provide graduate-level academic offerings.

    Melissa Lubin, who directs the center in Newport News, plus the centers in Virginia Beach and Richmond, said the emphasis in Newport News will be on customized professional development training for clients in industry and government. "Our longer-term goal is to expand our graduate offerings in this part of Virginia, which is concentrated in population and also in flourishing business environments," she said.

    Lubin and her counterparts at U.Va. coordinated the center's development with an eye to each university's strengths, with U.Va. focused on certificate training in finance, information technology, and business. The universities will share the center's office, conference, and classroom space.

    New living-learning community focuses on entrepreneurship

    Thirty-five students are immersing themselves in entrepreneurship this semester through an "Innovate" living-learning community. Housed in the Oak Lane community, students from a variety of majors are living in a high-energy environment while interacting with faculty ambassadors, alumni coaches, a live-in residential learning coordinator, a graduate director, and upper-level students.

    Pamplin College of Business Dean Robert Sumichrast said the Innovate program allows students to learn about entrepreneurship and build important skills, such as leadership, strategic planning, project management, and how to recognize opportunities. "Through courses in our management department, we have been preparing students to take an entrepreneurial approach in managing within any context, from startups to large organizations," Sumichrast said. "At the end of the program, these students will not only have experience, skills, and knowledge, but also have a network of colleagues and mentors that will help them launch their innovative ideas."

    Student's Tanzanian library project gains momentum
    Mohamed Mwinyi

    When he visited his home in Tanzania this summer, student Mohamed Mwinyi (above) received a hero's welcome. He was greeted by more than 400 students who cheered as he shared his vision for establishing a library in their village.

    Mwinyi, a senior majoring in geographic information systems, came to the United States from Boko, a small village outside of Dar-es-salaam in Tanzania. He said the most striking cultural difference he encountered was unlimited access to books. In his hometown, there is no "maktaba," the Swahili word for library. The nearest one requires an expensive, complicated, all-day bus trip. Even if students can get to a library, access to the books is limited.

    Mwinyi has been working on the library project for two years, collecting books, raising awareness and funds, and planning the physical location. Through University Distinguished Professor Scott Geller and his wife, Joanne, Mwinyi became involved in Actively Caring for People. He talked to one of Geller's classes, connected with volunteers, spoke to university groups, and generated more than 8,000 donated books on all subjects, which he will ship to Boko.

    Now fundraising and gaining support through various community and university groups, Mwinyi is designing a website for the library project and working on an independent study of spatial analysis for the library building. During his trip to Boko, he met with government officials who were enthusiastic about the project. He now has the promise of a small room that will house the books. Teachers have volunteered to organize and secure the books, and Mwinyi is working out the details of a check-out system. "There will not be space to study, just to lend the books. But it is a start," he said.

    Karen Roberto invited to review National Institutes of Health grant proposals

    Karen A. Roberto, professor of human development and director of the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech, has accepted an invitation from the Center for Scientific Review at the National Institutes of Health to serve as a member of the Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes study section. Her term extends from July 1, 2013, until June 30, 2017.

    In this role, Roberto will review grant proposals made to the study section and make recommendations for funding. Membership represents a major commitment of professional time and energy, as well as a unique opportunity to contribute to the national biomedical research effort.

    Roberto also serves as director of the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment at Virginia Tech and holds the positions of adjunct professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and Department of Psychiatry at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

    Researcher's work combines micro-organisms, unmanned drones

    David G. Schmale III, an associate professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, was named one of Popular Science's 2013 Brilliant Ten in the magazine's October issue.

    His research using drones— also called unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs—to explore microbial life in the atmosphere earned him a spot on the prestigious international list of scientists, engineers, and thinkers whose innovations change the world. Schmale and colleagues use research drones to track the movement of dangerous microorganisms that surf atmospheric waves. These atmospheric waves collect, mix, and shuffle microorganisms across cities, states, and even countries. The research has deepened understanding of the flow of life in the atmosphere, and has contributed unique tools for scientific exploration in the burgeoning field of aeroecology.

    Recreating the ancient secrets of Damascus steel

    This summer, two undergraduate students sought to unravel a historical secret lost centuries ago that has wide-ranging implications—such as lighter, more fuel-efficient cars and more powerful reactors for energy— for our future.

    Participating in the Scieneering program, Veronica Kimmerly, a senior chemical engineering and mathematics major, and Beck Giesy, a sophomore mathematics major, put their hands and minds to work on trying to recreate Damascus steel—just one of the several projects tackled by more than 250 undergraduates conducting research across campus this summer.

    The steel, manufactured as far back as 900 A.D. in the area that is now Syria, was known for its overwhelming strength and sharp blade, while also being capable of bending without breaking. But those who made the steel died hundreds of years ago without passing on the process. Researchers recently analyzed ancient pieces and found that the material contained carbon nanotubes—cylindrical constructs made up of a highly structured form of carbon—evenly dispersed through the metal. At the same time in the laboratory of Barry Goodell, professor of sustainable biomaterials in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, another discovery showed carbon nanotubes could be formed from wood and plant fibers.

    "We are trying to make samples by pressing pre-carbonized wood fiber in between steel plates," Kimmerly said. "Basically, we are forming carbon nanotubes and then trying to press them into the steel."

    The positive learning experience has helped stretch the students' boundaries. "The purpose of Scieneering is to do interdisciplinary research," Giesy said. "I decided to take that to the extreme and do something I had absolutely no idea about. With nanotubes, this whole process is about chemistry on a micro-molecular level, which I don't know much about—I've just taken basic chemistry [course work] so far. I am learning it as I go, and it makes it fun."

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