Virginia Tech Magazine
News & Research -|- Summer 2007


Charles Steger and Kenneth Feinberg
President Charles Steger and Kenneth R.
Tech to work with Sept. 11 fund administrator

Virginia Tech President Charles Steger has asked Kenneth R. Feinberg, who served as "Special master of the federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001," to administer distributions of the university's Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund (HSMF). "While we are very concerned about future and ongoing needs of the university community in Blacksburg," Steger notes, "we believe it is best to focus the funds on the current needs and desires of families of the deceased and the injured students and faculty."

Feinberg, who will work pro bono for Virginia Tech, is an attorney and one of the nation's leading experts in mediation and alternative dispute resolution. While working with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, Feinberg developed and promulgated regulations and administered distributions of federal monies to families of those deceased and injured in the attacks.

"Following the April 16 tragedy, there was tremendous outpouring of support for the university community, the victims, and their families," Steger says. "Some of this support was manifested in spontaneous contributions to what was later to become the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund. Later, it became apparent that the Virginia Tech Foundation, because of its mission and incorporation as an educational foundation and not a benevolent foundation, was limited in how the monies could be used. With no experience in dealing with crime victims, we felt it best to seek expert advice in disbursements of these monies."

Feinberg and the university planned to disseminate in mid-July a set of proposals for comment about distributions to the families. The victims and families will be given options on the ultimate uses of the funds; payments would be completed sometime during the fall.

The HSMF will be closed for future donations Aug. 1. The university has not and will not actively solicit funds, but monies given after the closing date will be directed to the Hokie Spirit Scholarship Fund, a general scholarship fund for Virginia Tech students that could also be used for others involved in the tragedy.

Listen to Feinberg's comments about the work he will be doing with the university and the families of victims of the April 16 tragedy at

Sue Ott Rowlands

New dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

Sue Ott Rowlands, professor of theatre and interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Toledo, became dean of Virginia Tech's College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, effective in July. She replaces Jerry Niles, who will retire this summer.

Ott Rowlands has served as interim dean at Toledo since 2005. Prior to this interim appointment, she served as chair of the Department of Theatre and Film from 2002 to 2005. Ott Rowlands' career has spanned higher education administration, university teaching, arts administration, and professional theatre. She continues to work actively as a theatre professional.

Tom Brown

Tom Brown appointed dean of students

James Thomas "Tom" Brown, former senior associate dean of the Dean of Students Office, has been appointed as the dean of students. The Dean of Students Office is responsible for the coordination of student advocacy, new student orientation and parent programs, and responding to student emergencies in collaboration with Judicial Affairs, Housing and Residence Life, Cook Counseling Center, Schiffert Health Center, and other departments and agencies.

"Tom Brown is a seasoned professional who has worked diligently with faculty, staff, and students for many years," said Zenobia Lawrence Hikes, vice president for student affairs, in announcing the appointment. "His work with student advocacy and crises, as well as his knowledge of the university, will especially benefit the university in the wake of the events of April 16." Brown, who holds a bachelor's degree from Virginia Tech and a master's degree from the University of Virginia, has served in several positions during his nearly 29 years at Virginia Tech.

Norris Hall re-opens

Norris Hall
Phased re-use of Norris Hall began June 18 in conjunction with the faculty and leadership of the College of Engineering and particularly the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics (ESM). The building now will be dedicated to offices and laboratories for ESM and the civil and environmental engineering departments, which had been the primary building occupants prior to April 16. In light of the tragedy, the decision also was made to never again have general assignment classrooms in Norris. Because the building will be devoted solely to ESM departmental activities, the department will, over the long term, consolidate offices and labs currently located in three other buildings.

At about 70,000 gross square feet, Norris Hall represents a significant resource for Virginia Tech. Additionally, says College of Engineering Dean Richard Benson, "The sophisticated and expensive laboratories in Norris cannot be moved and are essential to the work of ESM and, therefore, the college. We had literally dozens of graduate students whose work was frozen in time and who were unable to move on to jobs or complete their research." In addition to its own work, ESM is a service department, Benson explains. "The productivity and even the accreditation of other engineering programs--most notably civil and environmental engineering, materials science and engineering, and ocean engineering--depend on ESM-maintained laboratories in Norris Hall."

Head of ESM Ishwar Puri says, "I have discussed this decision with many throughout the department and college, as well as with university leadership, and we are cognizant of the potential mental roadblocks. Generally, the faculty and graduate students were not only willing but anxious to return to their offices, labs, and research and to not allow this tragedy to stop the great work and learning of this university."

Norris Hall is named for Earl B. Norris, who served as dean of engineering from 1928-1952.

Intermediate memorial to honor April 16 victims
intermediate memorial

A new "intermediate" memorial will replace the original makeshift memorial created immediately after April 16 by the student group Hokies United. Located in the same place--in front of the Drillfield viewing stand directly across the street from Burruss Hall--the intermediate memorial will reflect the original semi-circle and will have 32 new, substantially larger Hokie Stones, each engraved with the name of a deceased victim. A viewing path will surround the stones, which will be embedded in an arc of crushed gravel. Construction of the intermediate memorial, which includes materials donated by generous individuals and companies, began in early June and is expected to be completed before students return for the fall semester.

Once the new memorial is completed, the university will offer the families of the victims the Hokie Stones from the original memorial.

Looking ahead, the university will form a new committee to look at the design and construction of a permanent memorial. The committee that proposed the plans for the intermediate memorial suggested that the permanent memorial be located west of the Drillfield, in the plain between Davidson and Price halls.

Over the next several months, President Charles Steger will evaluate possibilities for designing a permanent memorial, including the possibility of a juried design competition or the use of students or alumni architects. It is expected that it will be at least three years before such a memorial can be built.

Amanda Davis

Undergraduate awarded Fulbright Scholarship

Amanda Davis, who graduated from Tech in May with a dual degree in international studies and human development, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Mexico at The Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM). Starting in August, Davis, who also received a minor in Spanish, will pursue a master's degree in public policy from ITESM, popularly known as Monterrey Tec. For her graduate thesis, Davis will conduct research on "How the respective legislative branches of the U.S. and Mexican governments, as well as the changing international order, have impacted the countries' bilateral relationship."

Thomas Reppert

Engineering student wins Fulbright, NSF grants

Thomas Reppert, who graduated summa cum laude in May with a bachelor's degree in aerospace and ocean engineering, has been awarded grants for graduate studies from both the U.S. State Department's Fulbright Program and the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Reppert, who also completed a minor in Spanish, was a student in Virginia Tech's University Honors Program, which nominated him for the Fulbright grant.

As a Fulbright scholar, Reppert will receive travel and living expenses and tuition for graduate study and research during the 2007-08 academic year at the University of Zaragoza in Spain, where he will study celestial mechanics and numerical analysis. He also will participate in the European Space Agency's Student Space Exploration and Technology Initiative, which plans to launch the European Student Earth Orbiter in order to test hardware for future interplanetary missions.

After completing his studies at Zaragoza, Reppert plans to use his NSF fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The fellowship will provide three years of funding for graduate school, including a tuition supplement and a stipend.

President Steger and the Yankees
NYY/Ariele Goldman
On May 23, Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, Virginia Tech Police Department Capt. Vince Houston, Virginia Tech Rescue Squad members Jason Dominczak and Matthew Johnson, and Virginia Tech Director of Athletics Jim Weaver were on hand to receive a $1 million check for the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund from New York Yankees shortstop and team captain Derek Jeter on behalf of team owner George Steinbrenner. Minutes later, before the team's home game against the Boston Red Sox, Steger threw the ceremonial first pitch, which was neatly fielded by Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, whose chest protector bore the VT logo. Posada and his teammates also wore the VT logo on their baseball caps. Additionally, the Yankees announced that the team would play an exhibition game against the Hokies baseball team sometime in 2008.

Hokies United Hokies United leaders merit inaugural award

The Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Office for Equal Opportunity have recognized the student leadership of Hokies United with the inaugural Virginia Tech Principles of Community Award for their efforts in helping to bring the community together in the wake of the tragic events of April 16. Kevin McDonald, the newly appointed vice president for multicultural affairs, says, "Our entire community is extremely grateful for the tireless efforts, compassion, and support that Hokies United provided during a time when we needed them the most. The student leaders that comprise this amazing organization have an undying commitment to service and have had a positive impact on communities, both locally and nationally, in ways that will never be forgotten."

The new award was created to recognize extraordinary leadership and actions that represent the spirit of the university's Principles of Community. During times of crisis, Hokies United consistently has been at the forefront of response efforts locally and worldwide. The organization provided support for relief efforts after Sept. 11, 2001, the tsunami in Sumatra in 2004, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Most recently, Hokies United stepped up to respond to two tragedies that profoundly impacted the Virginia Tech campus: providing support for the families of law enforcement in the wake of the William Morva incident in August 2006 and then to the entire university community during the aftermath of the tragic events of April 16.

In a letter to award recipients, President Charles Steger acknowledged the burden Hokies United assumed immediately after the events of April 16. "We realize also that it has been a difficult time for you as students in terms of managing your academics, dealing with your own personal grief, and assuming leadership responsibilities within Hokies United," Steger wrote. "The university does indeed recognize and value all of your hard work and effort during this tragic time. Your commitment to Virginia Tech has been extraordinary."

Hokie Nation

"Hokie Nation" at a theatre near you?

What a way to celebrate Hokie Pride Day--on Aug. 31, "Hokie Nation," a feature-length documentary on Hokie football fan culture, will debut at Blackburg's Lyric Theatre for a six-show weekend run. The following week, the film will be released statewide, including Northern Virginia, Richmond, the Tidewater region, and Roanoke.

Featuring interviews with fans of all ages and with such Tech sports legends as Bruce Smith, Antonio Freeman, Shayne Graham, and Coach Frank Beamer, the documentary, which was filmed between July 2006 and March 2007, covers the entire Hokie game-day experience. For more on the project and show times and dates, go to

Hokie Nation

Hokie Pride Day 2007

Hokie Pride Day is Friday, Aug. 31--the day before Virginia Tech's football season opener against East Carolina University--and it's expected that Hokies across the nation and around the world will show their Hokie spirit more strongly than ever. Even ESPN will get into the act by broadcasting the 2007 season's inaugural "College Game Day" from Blacksburg on Saturday. Make sure to display your Hokie pride by flaunting burnt orange and Chicago maroon everywhere you go. For tips on ways to celebrate Hokie Pride Day, go to

One suggestion for showing your Tech spirit is to encourage your place of business to promote a Hokie Pride casual dress day--which could make you a winner in this year's "Crazy for the Hokies & Casual Fridays" sweepstakes. To enter, all you need is a photo of yourself wearing Virginia Tech apparel at your place of employment. Entries can be submitted before Nov. 17 at any of the 50 A&N stores throughout the commonwealth. (Out-of-state participants can mail their entries.) Winners will be chosen at random and announced during halftime of the University of Miami football game. For more details about entering the sweepstakes, go to after Aug. 20. Let's go, Hokies!

Give a HokieBird a home

"All Roads Lead to Blacksburg" HokieBird
Courtesy of the Blacksburg Partnership
What is the result of giving a professional artist creative license with a 5-foot tall fiberglass HokieBird? It's Gobble de Art, the series of painted statues that have been popular tourist attractions located throughout Blacksburg since last summer. Now, some of the birds are looking for new owners--the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and the Blacksburg Partnership are auctioning 16 HokieBird statues on eBay from Aug. 24 to Aug. 31.

This is your chance to be the proud owner of the "Van Gogh Gobbler," a salute to the famous painter; "The Old and the New," painted to resemble Hokie Stone with climbing vines; "All Roads Lead to Blacksburg" (pictured left), a representation of the landscapes leading visitors to town; or any one of the other 13 statues. To take a look at all 16 birds, go to Additional information about the statues and auction details can be found at by searching for "Gobble de Art" or "HokieBird."

Proceeds from the auction will support the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and the Blacksburg Partnership, which is a coalition of the Town of Blacksburg, Blacksburg businesses, and Virginia Tech that promotes the quality of life in Blacksburg. Contact Diane Akers of the Blacksburg Partnership at 540/433-2008 or at to learn more about the auction.

Note: A portion of the purchase price may be tax deductible; consult your tax advisor.


Undergraduates' work to bolster Type 2 diabetes treatment

A paper from Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) Assistant Professor Biswarup Mukhopadhyay and three other researchers is being noticed not only for its scientific contributions but also for its authorship: The other three researchers were undergraduate students.

Published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the paper--"Roles of Asp75, Asp78, and Glu83 of GTP-dependent phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase from Mycobacterium smegmatis"--will help researchers designing drugs for Type 2 diabetes to identify potential targets for docking inhibitors that will slow down, but not fully eliminate, the body's overproduction of glucose.

Two of the three undergraduates whose work contributed to the paper are Tech alumni Kristen Boswell (human nutrition, foods, and exercise '03) and Christopher Case (biochemistry '05), who worked in Mukhopadhyay's research group at VBI. Boswell is currently a graduate student in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin. Case, who noted that he saw this research opportunity as a privilege and a means of advancing his academic career, is pursuing a Ph.D. in microbiology at Yale University. The third co-author, Edward Concar, worked with Mukhopadhyay at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is now a research associate for Genencor Inc.

Mukhopadhyay is just one of many VBI researchers who make it a priority to involve undergraduate students in their research programs. VBI has a research platform centered on understanding the "disease triangle" of host-pathogen-environment interactions in plants, humans, and other animals.

Virginia Tech, Georgetown form new partnership

Virginia Tech and Georgetown University Medical Center have formed a new, complementary partnership to establish a joint program for drug discovery and development, bringing together experts from both universities in disciplines ranging from medicine to chemistry to technology. "The partnership is timely because, in the current environment, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly looking to universities for research and development," says Jim Bohland, vice president and executive director of Virginia Tech's National Capital Region. The first three drug discovery projects that Virginia Tech and Georgetown will undertake are examining the effectiveness of naturally occurring products--such as those derived from plants--against malaria; investigating the use of fatty acids to fight various microorganisms that cause disease; and attempting to create drugs that inhibit production of an enzyme that is integral for the development of the plaques that form in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease.

Biofuels research spurred by $1.2 million grant

Virginia Tech researchers have received $1.2 million to study protein-protein interactions associated with biomass production in poplar wood. The U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture jointly selected the Virginia Tech project and 10 others to receive awards totaling $8.3 million for biofuel research that may increase the availability and use of alternative fuels. All 11 projects are focused on developing new biofuels resources other than corn-based ethanol. Due to increased demands for corn as both a crop and a fuel resource, its price has nearly doubled during the past year, raising debate about its efficacy as an alternative fuel source. President George W. Bush has set a goal of reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent in a decade.

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