Drill Field header illustration


3 happy couples

HAPPILY EVER AFTER: About a quarter of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine Class of 2020 scheduled weddings between April and June. Although the sopread of the coronavirus akltered the plans for manyb “I dos,” some couples kept their original dates, incorporating creative remakes for their ceremonies. Pictured are (left) Lena Turkheimer and Mark Owen, (middle) Quinn Weinberg and Stephen Owen, (right) Cody Roberts and Abby Winn.

The time between Match Day, when graduating medical students find out where they are headed for residency, and the actual start of the residency typically is filled with numerous celebrations.

There is graduation, preparation for residencies—and for some, weddings.

Almost a quarter of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s (VTCSOM) 2020 graduating class planned to marry between April and June. Many postponed their nuptials because of the pandemic, while others opted for an elopement or virtual ceremony, to be followed by a larger celebration in 2021.

Lena Turkheimer ’20 and Mark Owen originally planned to exchange their vows at a Charlottesville vineyard. Instead, the couple said “I do” in Turkheimer’s parents’ Charlottesville backyard on April 11. The guest list included their parents, a photographer, bride, groom—and Zoom.

Some of the family’s neighbors joined the celebration, also from an appropriate physical distance.

“They came to the end of our driveway with signs, which was really cute,” Turkheimer said. “We were totally shocked by how much fun it ended up being, and it still felt like a really nice and special day.”

Stephen Owen ’20 and Quinn Weinberg, a current VTCSOM student, postponed a bigger celebration until August 2021, but held an intimate ceremony at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Roanoke on April 18, a change from their original May 23 date. Their parents, the officiant, and a photographer attended in person, while other guests watched on Zoom.

“In some ways, this is a shock to the system… [but] it’s not about the flowers or how many people are coming to your wedding or about your registry,” Stephen Owen said. “It's about the actual marriage.”

Abby Winn’ 20 and Cody Roberts ’20 eloped on the patio of the Hotel Roanoke on April 17. Their small event included just the bride and groom, the officiant, a photographer, and the hotel wedding planner.

Now, the newlyweds are moving to Minneapolis, Minnesota, for both of their residencies. They plan to come back to Roanoke for their official celebration in February.

“We wanted to still create those memories. Just not now,” Winn said.


cow in a field

FIELD KNOWLEDGE: A new study is examining how to increase bee-friendly plants while meeting the needs of cattle along the “fexcue belt” that stretches from Virginia and the Carolinas to Kansas and Oklahoma.

Tall fescue is a hardy grass that’s resistant to drought and cold, which makes it perfect to feed cattle during the winter and spring. But the plant harbors a fungus that can cause health problems in cattle, especially during the hot summer. And it's an invasive species from Europe that can crowd out wildflowers and other native plants, which could be contributing to the decline in the population of bees and other pollinating insects.

A new study led by Megan O’Rourke, an associate professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, will address both of these problems. The research team will plant native prairie grasses and wildflowers in pastures at research stations in Virginia and Tennessee, and on six on-farm sites in Northern Virginia, including on Thomas Jefferson Foundation farmland.

“We’re trying to transform the landscape to support both cattle and pollinators by planting more native wildflowers on farmland,” said O’Rourke.

The $1.8 million project is funded half by a federal grant and half by contributions of time, land, cattle, and financial support through Virginia Tech, the University of Tennessee, farmers working with the researchers, and Virginia Working Landscapes, a nonprofit organization.


Designs for a new Virginia Tech Innovation Campus building released in April feature a campus centered on the principles of sustainability, green and social spaces, accessibility, integrated technology, and of course, Hokie Stone.

Architectural renderings of the building—designed by SmithGroup, one of the world’s preeminent integrated design firms—showcase a 300,000-square-foot academic building that incorporates daylight while addressing solar heat gain, glare, and comfort. Occupants will have access to nature through connection to open space and parks in the district and within the building via multiple terraces. The building will be capped by a solar array, and photovoltaics will be incorporated into the glass of the facade.

The Innovation Campus will include three buildings on about four acres at the northern end of phase 1, near Alexandria’s border with Arlington County.

SmithGroup is taking inspiration from Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus by including dolomite limestone (Hokie Stone) in the landscape. Together with the university’s staff, the company is exploring special use of the stone at the base of the building to balance the glass and metal facades with the warmth and solidity of natural stone.


lying down during demonstration

PEACEABLE DEMONSTRATION: In Blacksburg and across the country, people came together to raise their voices against all forms of racism. Photo for Virginia Tech by Dan Mirolli.

Four years ago, 3.8 percent of first-year students who enrolled at Virginia Tech were Black. This fall, 8 percent of the entering undergraduates are Black. But Virginia Tech must do more, said Menah Pratt-Clarke, vice president for strategic affairs and diversity, in a June 5 online discussion with the campus community about understanding and combating racism in America.

Pratt-Clarke and Michelle Deramo, assistant provost for diversity education, led the 90-minute discussion, Unfinished Conversations on Race, which was broadcast live on YouTube and on the university’s website. Virginia Tech President Tim Sands also joined the discussion.

remarks during demonstration

Protest organizers made remarks during the demonstration. Photo for Virginia Tech by Dan Mirolli.

“There’s very little grace right now,” said Pratt-Clarke, referring to the recent killings of Black men and women. “It is as if many feel that America has had 400 years to care, to get it right. Yet I know, as many of us do know, that we must struggle together to get there.”

Pratt-Clarke and Deramo each reflected on current events and shared their own unique backgrounds—Pratt-Clarke is African American and Deramo is Italian American. They recapped the struggles of Black Americans throughout history, and they offered advice to faculty, staff, and students about how to be advocates and take action to transform the national and university culture.

Virginia Tech has taken steps in recent years to educate incoming students about diversity principles, including a diversity 101 online training that all new Hokies must take before they can enroll for courses. The university’s Office for Inclusion and Diversity offers a variety of book circles, workshops, and short online modules, covering such topics as diversity in job search and selection committees and safe zone training. To learn more, visit inclusive.vt.edu.

Deramo encouraged each college and unit to use recent statements about current events by leaders and deans, to make an anti-racist action plan. Also, the Office for Inclusion and Diversity offers a variety of workshops and short online modules, covering such topics as diversity in job search and selection committees and safe zone training.

Individual divisions and departments also should evaluate their structures and ensure that they are incorporating elements that support diversity, such as adjusting bylaws and creating a diversity committee, said Pratt-Clarke.

“I hope that as Hokies we can aggressively move forward to make the world a better place,” she said.


The cicadas are back.

cicada closeup

As many as 1.5 million cicadas per acre emerged from the ground this spring. Photo for Virginia Tech by Doug Pfeiffer.

This year, that alien-like wail of the insect world was even more pronounced, as millions of cicadas emerged after 17 years underground.

“Communities and farms with large numbers of cicadas emerging at once may have a substantial noise issue,” said Eric Day, Virginia Cooperative Extension entomologist in Virginia Tech’s Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Hopefully, any annoyance at the disturbance is tempered by just how infrequent—and amazing—this event is.”

Cicadas—large, clear-winged insects with bulbous eyes—occur either annually (every year) or periodically (every 13 or 17 years) depending on the species.

The scale of these events is astounding, with as many as 1.5 million cicadas per acre. Each periodical cicada brood covers a specific geographical region, with some areas overlapping. The timing of this 13- or 17-year cycle is one of the great mysteries of the insect world.



Moose, an 8-year-old therapy dog at Virginia Tech’s Cook Counseling Center, received an honorary doctorate in veterinary medicine.

Moose, an 8-year-old therapy dog at Virginia Tech’s Cook Counseling Center, received an honorary doctorate in veterinary medicine as part of the university’s virtual commencement exercises in May. It was the latest recognition for the pawsome member of Hokie Nation.

Like the Hokies he helps, Moose has had a challenging few months. Just a week after his birthday in February (his 64th, in human years), the Labrador retriever was diagnosed with prostate cancer and began a treatment regimen of radiation, chemotherapy, and other therapies.

His treatment has been managed by providers at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Moose continues to receive chemotherapy and has been given a pawsitive prognosis.

Moose, who came to Virginia Tech in 2014, is one of four dogs at the counseling center who serve as working therapy animals and ambassadors for mental health awareness.


Student broadcasters in the news studio

ON THE AIR: Broadcast journalism is one of the areas of study that will be available in Virginia Tech’s new School of Communication.

A new Virginia Tech School of Communication has received official approval from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. The school, which will supersede the current Department of Communication, will be hosted within the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences beginning this fall.

“The school is expected to magnify our already vibrant programs, enabling students to use the latest technologies to provide storytelling across platforms,” said Robert Denton, who heads the communication department and will serve as the director of the new school.

Denton expects additional majors to be developed within the school, with possible expansions into digital media production, advertising, and professional communication.


Three Forestry students

OUTDOOR CLASSROOM: Students from the College of Natural Resources and Environment visited LandCare job sites, where they gained hands-on experience with the tasks and challenges employees face each day.

Six Virginia Tech undergraduates stepped onto the trading floor at Richmond International Forest Products earlier this year. Wearing headsets that allowed them to listen to negotiations in real time, the students followed along as traders for the company worked with sawmills and purchasers to negotiate prices for spruce, pine, and other forest materials.

A few days earlier, two other students visited the Richmond branch of LandCare, a commercial landscaping company. Following a field crew to job sites, students were introduced to some of the challenges of caring for and maintaining outdoor spaces.

These day-in-the-life experiences, the first in the College of Natural Resources and Environment’s new immersive experience program, were exactly what John Freeborn envisioned when he took on the role of the college’s director of employer relations last year.

“The experience we’re looking to provide hits a really important spot between a company tour and an internship,” he said. “We’re giving students the ability to get to know an organization and a career path in a nontraditional, somewhat informal setting.”

The concept for the day-in-the-life experiences was the brainchild of alumna Megan Schnizler, a trader for Richmond International Forest Products who received a geography degree from Virginia Tech in 2012.

“I hope that the students will raise awareness of the lumber industry, that what we do here is a real thing, and that it’s a great job opportunity for graduates,” she said.

News Reel

Virginia Tech videographers have been hard at work capturing the university’s news. Watch these videos and many others at video.vt.edu.


Virginia Tech’s two graduating HokieBirds—London Hughes and Charlotte Powell—revealed their identities during the university’s May 15 online commencement ceremony.


Hannaleah Hoyt cared for furry patients from the Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center in Roanoke at her home after Virginia issued a stay-at-home order in March.


In April, Hokies around the world came together virtually for the annual Run in Remembrance.


Cmdr. Eric Parlette ’94, a Navy reservist and doctor, served aboard the USNS Comfort, which was dispatched to offer patient support for New York City hospitals that had been overwhelmed during the coronavirus outbreak.


Virginia Tech is prepared for the fall semester after procurement teams sprang into action in March to stock PPE for faculty, staff, students, and visitors.