Virginia Tech Magazine
Alumni Shorts
Winter 2008


Hokie faithful, there's a promising diva among us.

Not only does Danielle Talamantes (vocal performance '98, music education '98) have a fine voice, she's poised and vibrant on stage, has great comic timing, and continues to add to her already appealing repertoire.

As the 2006 winner of the National Association of Teachers of Singing Artist Awards competition, the young soprano has also made her Carnegie Hall debut in a sold-out solo recital last March that set an attendance record at Weill Recital Hall. Several months before the performance, Assistant Professor of Music Tracy Cowden noted that Talamantes' debut was "about the biggest news we could have about a former student."

Well, maybe.


Danielle Talamantes
Danielle Talamantes '98

After advancing to the semifinals in the prestigious Domingo World Operalia Competition earlier this year in Paris, Talamantes was one of only 46 singers worldwide selected to compete in the equally prestigious Seoul International Music Competition in South Korea in early December. She advanced to the finals as the only American and the only female among the six vocalists, finishing tied for fourth. "Every audition, competition, or performance is a step forward," says the Northern Virginia native, "and I’m currently almost at a full sprint."

Talamantes and Domingo
Talamantes and Placido Domingo
A sought-after oratorio soloist in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, where she maintains a voice studio, Talamantes has long been well received. She has a "lovely voice," "marvelously vibrant and nuanced," wrote Cecelia Porter in The Washington Post. Ronni Reich, also reviewing for The Post, praised Talamantes' "remarkable acting ability" and "brilliant high notes."

From the looks of her performance schedule, Talamantes continues to impress opera companies, too. In February, she debuts with Nevada Opera as Gretel in Hansel and Gretel and then with Annapolis Opera as Micäela in Carmen. In June, she’ll appear as Alexandra in Regina with Long Leaf Opera.

Talamantes, who declined a scholarship to a music conservatory because she wanted the full "college experience," says that her time at Tech was "wonderful and invigorating," especially her weekly lessons with Nancy McDuffie, assistant professor of voice.

"I thrill at watching people's eyebrows go up when I tell them I went to Virginia Tech to study undergraduate music," she says. "It makes me so proud to know that every time I perform, I represent my alma mater and its small but vital music department."

A Hokie diva indeed.

For more about Talamantes, including audio and video of her performing, go to

Starry, starry night

John Wood (geology '54) was working on his doctorate in geology and geophysics at M.I.T. when he became interested in the earth's origin, "a complete question mark at that time," he explains. He began studying meteorites, which could potentially, he felt, help find answers.

Also in Cambridge, Mass., and similarly engaged in such research, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory--later named the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics--hired Wood, who ultimately spent his entire professional life there, save three years at the University of Chicago in the early '60s.

After NASA astronauts returned from the moon in 1969, Wood was among those selected to study the lunar surface samples gathered on the mission.


John Wood
John Wood '54 (right) recently exhibited some of his oil canvases
at the Holtzman Alumni Center.

The research, conducted by his four-scientist team, revealed the nature and origin of the light-colored crustal material covering much of the moon, "the most fundamental discovery to result from the lunar mission," he notes.

The significance of the findings led to Wood's appointment to the Lunar Sample Analysis Planning Team as vice chair, advising NASA during the Apollo program. This work, along with his meteorite study, arguably laid the path to Wood's 1991 election to the National Academy of Science, the capstone to a highly regarded career.

But the story doesn't end there.

Since his retirement in 2004, Wood has "faithfully turned out one good-sized painting each month"--and to good result. His oil canvases, which capture life scenes in near-photographic detail, have appeared in juried shows around Cambridge and most recently at the Holtzman Alumni Center during the fall semester.

Over the years, Wood has taken a few art courses--at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, for instance, and the School of the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. Even so, he doesn't believe his new calling is much of a stretch from his scientific work. His paintings, he told The Roanoke Times, are "very left brain … very planned and layered and calculated."

Such a description fits perfectly the freshman who protested having to take VPI's aptitude test because, he informed the test-giver, he'd already decided to become a geologist. "Nothing, however, would do but that I take the test," Wood recalls. "The test-giver used a template to score the test in real time, then said I was making a terrible mistake, that I should be an artist, not a scientist!"

It seems Wood's second career was in the stars, too.

Although Wood’s exhibition at the alumni center closed Dec. 3, a painting remains at Tech in the most appropriate of places. Professor and chair of the Department of Geosciences Robert Tracy, who did post-doctoral work with Wood in the mid-'70s, purchased Wood's landscape painting, "County Kerry–2006," for the chair's office.

All of Wood's paintings can be viewed online at

Mind and body

Koh Herlong
Koh Herlong '82


Energetic and organized enough for a twofold career, Koh Herlong (elementary education '82) is both a computer teacher, with two books on Internet safety and ethics under her belt, and a fitness instructor who travels the country training others. "I really learned how to orchestrate all the many tasks, responsibilities, and needs in life during my four years at Virginia Tech," she says.

In the early 80s, Tech's School of Education was one of only a handful that required a full year of student teaching, says Herlong. "The experience was incredible. It definitely prepared me to be a successful teacher, but I also learned a great deal about people in general."

Herlong, who upon graduation taught secondary school, eventually fell into adult computer instruction in industry and government. From there, she returned to secondary education as a computer teacher and began taking online classes toward an M.S. in educational technology, which she received from Walden University in 1999.

Because online safety was the most frequent concern Herlong heard from her students' parents, she become involved in workshops and conferences on Internet safety and ethics and wrote two books. Her first, Click, Click, Who's There?, builds a "non-technical, family-based foundation for safe use of the Internet and proper ethics online," she says.

Her second, Click, Click, Who's Really There?, discusses online predators and other Internet dangers.

These days, Herlong is often the expert at workshops and conferences on Internet safety and ethics for parents and educators alike. And then there's her other career, which requires just as much attention.

As the director of education for Zumba Fitness LLC, and a Zumba National Master Trainer, Herlong travels every weekend to train instructors in the popular exercise program. Last March, she returned to Blacksburg to lead a well-attended training workshop at the university. "Education and teaching are my passions," she says. "I love teaching."

But it takes more than heart to sustain two careers. "I do believe my success stems from the solid foundation I received during my senior year at Tech, both student teaching and taking classes. As well, I believe my Greek life was a huge contributor to my people skills and life skills."

For more about Zumba, go to

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