Virginia Tech Magazine
Around the Drillfield
Summer 2008

Graduates honored at 136th commencement

2008 graduates

To watch Hoda Kotb's commencement address, go to
More than 5,000 students graduated during Virginia Tech's commencement ceremonies on May 9. Approximately 25 associate's degrees and 3,727 bachelor's degrees were awarded at University Commencement in Lane Stadium, featuring a keynote address by NBC News anchor and correspondent Hoda Kotb (communication '86).

At the Graduate Commencement ceremony in Cassell Coliseum, nearly 1,300 graduated, including 1,009 master's degree candidates, 13 education specialist degree candidates, 14 Ed.D. candidates, 53 graduate certificates, and 197 Ph.D. candidates. In addition, 89 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees were awarded. The keynote speaker was Tae-sik Lee, South Korea's ambassador to the United States.

At Virginia Tech's 28th Northern Virginia Center commencement ceremony on May 11 at the George Mason University Center for the Arts in Fairfax, Va., ABC News Senior Justice Department Correspondent Pierre Thomas (communication '84) addressed approximately 300 Northern Capital Region graduates.

Schiffert Health Center receives $1 million gift
Schiffert Health Center Virginia Tech's Division of Student Affairs received a $1 million gift, its largest ever, from Dr. Charles W. Schiffert, director of the university's student health center from 1970 to 1986. The Dolores S. Schiffert Health Education Endowment, which honors Schiffert's wife who died in November, will allow the university to fund new and expanded initiatives in drug education, smoking cessation, obesity prevention, healthy relationships, and good nutrition. Schiffert's long-standing commitment to the physical and emotional health of students both on campus and in the community was recognized in 1998, when the campus health center was named in his honor.
Engineering, education, and public affairs programs earn high marks

Graduate programs in three of Virginia Tech's colleges were nationally ranked among the best in their fields in "America's Best Graduate Schools 2009" survey released by U.S. News and World Report.

The industrial engineering graduate program in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering is ranked seventh this year among peer programs nationally. Both the civil engineering and the environmental engineering programs in the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering are ranked 10th. These three specialties typically score among the top 10 in their respective fields. The College of Engineering's overall graduate program moved from 33rd last year to 28th among all schools of engineering and from 18th to 17th among engineering colleges at public institutions.

The Career and Technical Education graduate program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences' School of Education ranked fifth among vocational and technical specialties, moving up a position from last year. The program has been a top-10 selection for the past 14 years. In addition, the public affairs program in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies' School of Public and International Affairs was ranked 27th in the nation.

U.S. News & World Report's graduate rankings of colleges are based on data gathered from the surveyed schools, along with peer assessments by deans, senior faculty, and other professionals in their respective fields.

2008 Undergraduates of the year
Kaitlyn Hercik '08
In April, two University Honors program students were named Virginia Tech's 2008 Undergraduate Woman of the Year and Undergraduate Man of the Year, among the university's most prestigious awards for undergraduates.
Kaitlyn N. Hercik (psychology '08) of Oakton, Va., co-founded Virginia Tech's chapter of Best Buddies, an international organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by providing one-to-one friendships and integrated employment. A member of Psi Chi, the national honors society in psychology; the Golden Keys, an international honors program; and the Order of Omega, a Greek honors program, Hercik participated in the Infant Perception Laboratory at Virginia Tech as an undergraduate researcher.
Ryan C. Smith '08 Ryan C. Smith (psychology '08; sociology '08; political science '08) of Hardyville, Va., served as the undergraduate representative to the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors and conducted research on the efficiency of prom safety programs to help high schools throughout Virginia create safer prom environments. Smith also worked as a researcher for Virginia Tech's Center for Applied Behavior Systems, where he has co-authored 11 convention presentations and was the senior author of eight research documents.

Both students exemplify the university motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), through their balanced achievement in scholarship, service, and commitment to the university community.

Students win Goldwater Scholarships
Thao Do

Thao Do, a sophomore from Springfield, Va., majoring in mechanical engineering, has undergraduate research experiences at Virginia Tech, Harvard University, and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C. Interested in nanotechnology because of its potential applications in the biomedical field, she has focused her research on developing robust microscopic channels and particles. Do, who has filed for a patent related to one project at Harvard, co-authored a journal article and delivered a presentation to the American Physics Society. In addition, she helped with the Human-Powered Submarine Team and the Society of Women Engineers, for which she organizes a Girl Scout Day to inspire 46 local students to pursue careers in science and engineering.

Kevin Finelli

Kevin Finelli, a junior from Yorktown, Va., double majoring in mathematics and physics, has conducted undergraduate research in the departments of Physics and Mathematics, as well as at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Va. His physics research is a part of the QWeak collaboration, an experiment that will be the first precision measurement of the weak charge of the proton. A member of the Society of Physics Students and the Sigma Pi Sigma Physics National Honor Society, Finelli has helped bring physics to primary and secondary school students in the community through the Physics Outreach Program. He also organized the Hillcrest Academic Assistance Program, which connects younger students with older students willing to tutor.

David Tatum

David Tatum, a junior from Midlothian, Va., double majoring in chemistry and biochemistry, has studied the trafficking of sulfur in bacteria with the Department of Biochemistry and, more recently, molecule-based magnets with the Department of Chemistry. A member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, Tatum taught two recitation sections of a general chemistry course during the fall semester. He is a member of the Virginia Tech Club Volleyball A Team, which placed No. 9 in Division I of the national tournament last year.

Selected for academic merit, Goldwater scholars are awarded up to $7,500 per year for tuition, fees, books, and room and board. Congress established the scholarship program in 1986 to honor the late Sen. Barry Goldwater and to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering. Since the program's inception in 1986, Virginia Tech has had 37 Goldwater scholars, including this year's winners.

A chair designed with a single shipping pallet by fifth-year architecture student Andrew Montgomery of Falls Church, Va., received the Green Stewardship Award from Design Within Reach, a company that sells furniture by major designers.

Applications for incoming class set new record

Virginia Tech received deposits from 5,601 first-year students for the fall 2008 semester--up from 5,215 deposits received last year--and released its wait list. The 2008 class is from the university's largest-ever application pool of 20,756, the third straight record-setting year of applications for freshman admission.

Freshmen accepting the admission offer earned an average high school grade point average (GPA) of 3.80 (with a middle 50 percent of 3.58-4.00), up from 3.77 last year. The average combined math and critical reading SAT score is 1208, up from last year's 1205. Average grades and scores for students who were offered admission are 3.86 GPA (middle 50 percent 3.62-4.08) and a combined critical reading and math SAT score of 1238 (middle 50 percent of 1150-1320).

Of the incoming students, 45.2 percent are female and 54.8 percent male. Ethnicity reported is 9.4 percent Asian, 3.7 percent Black (up from 3.5 percent last year), 3.5 percent Hispanic (up from 3.2 percent last year), less than 1 percent Native American, 77.8 percent Caucasian, and 5.1 percent not reported. In-state students account for 66 percent of the class, and 40 other states and territories, along with 28 foreign countries, make up the remaining 34 percent. Top states represented in the 2008 freshmen class include Virginia (3,694 students), Maryland (561), Pennsylvania (249), New Jersey (246), North Carolina (183), and New York (84).

Nowak to direct Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention

Professor Jerzy Nowak

On July 1, Virginia Tech professor Jerzy Nowak was named the founding director of the university's new Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention, which will occupy space on the renovated second floor (front wing) of Norris Hall. The center is a transdisciplinary undertaking intended to build on the cultural, academic, and security initiatives of the university community that evolved after the tragedy of April 16, 2007.

Nowak, who will step down as head of the Department of Horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has been an impassioned facilitator in the creation of the center. The widower of Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, a charismatic French instructor who was killed that fateful day, Nowak believes that the center will "facilitate collaboration between applied and fundamental sciences and the humanities to develop new knowledge and provide services to the global society."

A minor in peace studies will also be developed and will be administered through the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Professor recognized for contribution to 2007 Nobel Peace Prize

Stephen Prisley, associate professor of forest inventory and geographical information systems, received a certificate commemorating his involvement with the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize along with former Vice President Al Gore. Prisley was one of many individuals who contributed to the work recognized by the prize committee "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

Professor Stephen Prisley with a student

Prisley's work focuses on developing ways to use forest inventory and remote sensing data in estimating amounts of carbon sequestration (storage) in forested areas, which can then be used by land management organizations around the world to develop their own estimates. Accurate carbon sequestration estimates are critical because the release of carbon into the atmosphere contributes to global warming. Prisley, who received his bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees from Virginia Tech, has been a professor in the College of Natural Resources since 1999.

Future of the Office of Recovery and Support

President Charles W. Steger announced in May that the Office of Recovery and Support will be moved under the senior management area of the Vice President for Alumni Relations, effective July 1.

The Office of Recovery and Support was created during the summer of 2007 for the primary purposes of improving two-way communication with and facilitating provision of support services to the families of those who were killed on April 16, 2007, and also to those who were physically injured and their families. Under the leadership of Jay Poole, the Office of Recovery and Support has strengthened relationships with those who were injured and their families and with the families that lost loved ones.

Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations Debbie Day will assume responsibilities as director of the Office of Recovery and Support in addition to her current duties. Steger envisions that the office will continue to exist as a distinct office under Day's direction until all or most of the injured students have graduated, and then its functions, which will have scaled back naturally, will be absorbed into the Alumni Relations office.

Northern Virginia Center offers first undergraduate courses

For the first time, Virginia Tech undergraduates can take courses at the Northern Virginia Center this summer: Management Theory and Leadership Practice, and Business Policy and Strategy, to be taught by Pamplin College of Business management professor Michael Badawy.

Badawy is among 15 Virginia Tech faculty members at the Blacksburg and Northern Virginia campuses who received grants last fall from the provost's office to support their summer teaching. Established in fall 2006, the summer sessions grant program aims to promote summer session as an integral component of a student's learning, discovery, and engagement experience.

Distinguished alumni honored

James B. Jones '44

Jacob Lutz III '78, rector of the board of visitors, and
2008 Ruffner Medal recipient, James B. Jones '44

James B. "J.B." Jones (mechanical engineering '44) of Blacksburg, Va., received Virginia Tech's most prestigious honor, the William H. Ruffner Medal, awarded annually to recognize individuals who have performed notable and distinguished service to the university. As an undergraduate, Jones was active in the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets Regimental Band and was an Honor Court judge, editor of the student newspaper, The Virginia Tech, and a member of the German Club, among other social and honor society affiliations. After working with the U.S. Department of War, Jones earned a Ph.D. from Purdue University and taught there from 1945 to 1964, when he returned to Virginia Tech. Jones headed the Department of Mechanical Engineering for 19 years and was named the Lingan S. Randolph Professor of Mechanical Engineering. In 1991, he received the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' James Harry Potter Gold Medal for contributions in thermodynamics. Jones and his wife, Jane (aerospace engineering '44), are members of the Ut Prosim Society, the university's most prestigious donor society. His father, Alonzo L. Jones, graduated from Virginia Tech in 1918 with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Gene James (animal science '53) of Richmond, Va., received the 2008 University Distinguished Achievement Award, given annually to recognize personal and professional achievements of enduring significance to society. A member of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, the golf team, the Block and Bridle Club, Phi Sigma Biological Society, and the Monogram Club as an undergraduate, James spent 43 years with Southern States Cooperative, retiring as president and chief executive officer in 1997. For Virginia Tech, James served on the Virginia Tech Foundation Board of Directors as chairman and as a member of its executive committee, as well as the Virginia Tech Alumni Board of Directors as both member and president, the Economic Development Council, the Leadership Council of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Campaign Steering Committee, the Alumni Center National Leadership Campaign Committee, and the Hokies for Higher Education Class of 1953 Reunion Committee. Members of the Ut Prosim Society, James and his wife, Ina Mae, created an endowed graduate scholarship in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and have supported numerous university programs.

VT women's lacrosse team

ACC Sportsmanship of the Year awards

Virginia Tech received the ACC Sportsmanship School of the Year Award for the 2007-08 academic year. A traveling trophy will be on display for one year at the university. Individual teams receiving the spring sportsmanship awards were women's golf, softball, and, for the fourth consecutive year, women's lacrosse. These teams conducted themselves with a high degree of character and good sportsmanship, as determined by a vote of the league's players and coaches. Virginia Tech leads all schools with 19 awards since joining the ACC in 2004.

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