Virginia Tech Magazine
Winter 2009

David Grant
Linsey M. Barker
Arlane Gordon-Bray
Adnan Barqawi
Chris Strock
Estee G. Rios
Emily Mashack
Christine George
Follow the leaders by Denise Young
Some of Virginia Tech's most outstanding students exemplify the university motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), with their contributions and service to communities both local and global.

When Adnan Barqawi, a senior business-management major and regimental commander of the corps of cadets, came to Virginia Tech and the United States in July 2005, he--like many immersed in an unfamiliar culture--felt his experiences changing him in unexpected ways.

"The East and West are opposite ends of the spectrum. In the East, the governments control education; we're taught that the Holocaust isn't real." There were pages missing from his history book, he recalls, even though he was educated in a private British school. "In the United States, we are ultimately responsible for who we become. There is freedom of thought, the freedom to be who you are."

Barqawi's grandfather was a Palestinian who immigrated to Kuwait when his father was three years old. "I was born and raised in Kuwait, but I was still considered a Palestinian--in the Middle East, you are a citizen of the country of your ancestors. I considered myself a man without a country." Barqawi knew, however, that he wanted to come to the United States to pursue higher education. "I chose Virginia because [the state motto] said, 'Virginia is for Lovers,' and I chose Virginia Tech because the campus looked beautiful in the photos I saw."

Upon arriving at Virginia Tech, Barqawi saw a cadet in uniform. "I asked him, 'How do I become like you, sir?'" The cadet told Barqawi the mission statement of the corps of cadets: to develop leaders of exemplary character who are committed to the concept of selfless service and are prepared to serve the commonwealth and the nation. Barqawi signed up.

Adnan Barqawi
"In the United States, we are ultimately responsible for who we become. There is freedom of thought, the freedom to be who you are."
Though Barqawi found acceptance among his fellow cadets, his journey to becoming a lieutenant colonel in their ranks wasn't without its hurdles. "When I first heard the command, 'On your face!' I stuck my cheek on the floor. I realized I had no clue what a push-up looked like." In fact, coming from Kuwait, where temperatures can reach 114 degrees, Barqawi had little experience with physical exercise.

Yet with the support of his fellow cadets, Barqawi pushed on, overcoming these limitations to become regimental commander, and today leads more than 700 people. He credits the corps with helping him to know what kind of leader he wanted to be and with granting its members leeway to make leadership mistakes without consequences.

"I've accomplished more than I expected," Barqawi says. "I am indebted to this nation and what it's given me."

Barqawi says the quality of education and the curriculum at Tech, along with the leadership and discipline training of the corps, contributed significantly to his personal growth. After graduation, he plans to spend two years with the Teach for America program, established in 1990 to bridge the education gap between the middle and lower classes by providing instructors in under-funded schools.

"I am so much closer to where I wanted to be, to whom I dreamt of becoming," reflects Barqawi, who aspires to a future as a U.S. ambassador.



As a student representative to the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, doctoral candidate and aspiring professor Linsey M. Barker is working to open a dialogue between board members and the graduate student body. Barker's focus has been on creating additional travel opportunities for graduate students and on facilitating university-wide mentoring and advising between faculty members and students both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

"I think that looking at how things are done differently around the world can only help us to improve the U.S. higher education systems. If you are open to learning about how things are different, you can get ideas for improvement."
"We're trying to increase the number of international experiences for graduate students," says Barker, a Ph.D. candidate in industrial and systems engineering. She has also advocated improving the quality of health insurance provided to graduate students and promoting the need for inclusive excellence, especially diversity.Barker says she decided to pursue the board position because she wanted to understand the administrative workings of a university. She currently acts as a non-voting member on the board's academic affairs subcommittee. "It's a nice way to see how your university works beyond your department, how governance works, how changes occur, and how to have an impact. Understanding the big picture helps you make change," Barker notes.

Barker is also a Citizen Scholar, a recognition awarded to graduate students who extend their academics to serve or engage the larger community. She participated in the Preparing the Future Professoriate global perspectives program, during which she traveled to Switzerland and Italy to study European higher education, an experience she credits with fueling her desire to push for more international educational opportunities.

"The entire trip was a series of once-in-a-lifetime experiences with a set of people whom I didn't know going in but whom I now consider lifelong friends," Barker says. "Basically, the highlights were the conversations that occurred among all these students [and the dean of the Graduate School] from different academic disciplines, travel experience, and world views; and the conversations that took place on trains and in cafes and in museums or while shopping or walking up cobble-stoned streets in a heat wave."

Barker adds that her travels as a graduate student gave her the opportunity to study how European institutions assess students and the quality of a program. "I think that looking at how things are done differently around the world can only help us to improve the U.S. higher education system. If you are open to learning about how things are different--and also where they are similar--you can get ideas for improvement."

Barker's doctoral research has focused on health care, researching how different types of fatigue affect nurses' performance and safety--both patient safety and nurses' well-being on the job. She hopes to take the skills she has learned as a Virginia Tech graduate student and student representative and apply them to a future job as a professor. "I want to try to help promote change and improvements at another university."

Linsey M. Barker


A senior in international studies who hopes to land a job related to public policy and international issues, Arlane Gordon-Bray finds that her role as the undergraduate student representative on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors has prepared her for business-world etiquette and skills.

"The biggest challenge is trying to step out of the student-leader bubble to hear student concerns," she says. Because she is constantly surrounded by other student leaders, she adds, "It can be difficult to bridge the communication gap between myself and concerns from students who are less involved in leadership roles."

One of the ways Gordon-Bray has tried to help students feel more connected to administrators is by inviting freshmen and students who are not in leadership roles to a student lunch with President Charles W. Steger. "Many students are intimidated," especially freshmen, she notes. Students also sometimes worry that they will feel out-of-place in a room full of student leaders, she says. "I have to remind them that their opinion is just as valid as everyone else's. You're not more or less valid because you're a student leader."

Gordon-Bray's experience as a student leader did not begin with her senior-year appointment as a student representative to the board of visitors, where she serves on the student affairs and athletics committee. Gordon-Bray has also been a resident advisor, an experience with which she credits a great deal of her personal growth.

Arlane Gordon-Bray
"Being a resident advisor taught me how to lead as a personal advisor and to be a mentor, which inspired a passion to help others achieve their goals. It was also my first training in paperwork."
"Being a resident advisor taught me how to lead as a personal advisor and to be a mentor, which inspired a passion to help others achieve their goals," she says. "It was also my first training in paperwork," she jokes.Gordon-Bray says helping students to feel that their opinions and concerns are being heard is the best part of her leadership roles on campus, along with helping to enhance the student experience.

Of course, the freebies Gordon-Bray receives from student organizations are a definite bonus. "I love free T-shirts," Gordon-Bray says with a laugh, noting that her rainbow "Hokie Pride" T-shirt from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance is a personal favorite.

Gordon-Bray also appreciates having connections with other student organizations because they help her to better understand the needs and interests of students. "I'm only one person," she points out, "so it's nice to have input from the Student Government Association and other student groups to help me gauge student concerns."


Chris Strock


Chris Strock may not have studied sociology as an undergraduate, but as a second-year Ph.D. student in civil and environmental engineering, his work has melded engineering with issues of social infrastructure. Strock, who is also pursuing a graduate certificate in international research, has traveled to Nigeria, Haiti, and Belize to work on humanitarian efforts in those countries.

"Infrastructure is the foundation of social and economic rights," he says. "Unfortunately, social justice has a perceived political bias, so a lot of people dismiss it as illegitimate sometimes. I argue that it's not a political ideology; it should just be part of our humanity."

Strock's efforts have included drinking-water assessments and construction plans for schools and hospitals in Nigeria, and he has worked with the nonprofit organization Peacework to make improvements to a primary school in Belize. He also developed a public latrine and waste-treatment system for L'Hopital Sacre Coeur in Milot, Haiti.

"Haiti is in our backyard, and it's the poorest country in the world," Strock notes. "It has a very violent and complicated history, yet the people just have a hope and a resolve. We could learn a lot more from them about what really matters in life."

"Unfortunately, social justice has a perceived political bias, so a lot of people dismiss it as illegitimate sometimes. I argue that it's not a political ideology; it should just be part of our humanity."
Strock also founded the Poverty Awareness Coalition for Equality, or PACE, a word that means "peace" in Italian. The university organization supports both local and global efforts toward social justice and sponsors fundraisers, such as concerts and disc-golf tournaments, to raise money for and awareness of causes related to poverty.

This year, PACE is supporting a clinic in a town in northern Haiti, Passe Catabois, which was devastated by hurricanes in 2008. Clinics often serve as central hubs in Haiti, helping people to rebuild homes and supporting the community in other ways. The group has already emptied its coffers to help fund the clinic, and members are asked to bring a canned food item to the group's twice-monthly meetings to support the local food pantry.

Strock's work both abroad and at home garnered him the Graduate Student Services Award for 2008. Among his other honors, he holds a Myers-Lawson Fellowship and a Vecellio Fellowship for his academic achievements.

Strock says that because there is a difference between the results he sees from project-based and presence-based work toward creating social justice, he may move overseas with his wife and three daughters after graduation to devote his time more fully to these issues.


As an incoming freshman, Estee G. Rios was a shy student. Now a senior majoring in accounting and information systems, Rios credits her Virginia Tech experience with improving her communication skills. In fact, the sense of community spirit at Virginia Tech is what attracted her to the school in the first place. Coming from a military family, Rios had attended 10 different schools by her senior year of high school. When she began applying to colleges, her father encouraged her to visit Tech.

Estee G. Rios

"I took a tour of the campus, and everyone was welcoming to new people," says Rios, who fell in love with the campus and with the vibe of the Tech community. "Everything was so beautiful, and all of the students would shout, 'Go, Hokies!' at our tour group. It was the excitement and spirit of the current students, the pride they took in this place--I knew I wanted to be a part of that, too."

Since then, her work as a resident advisor--a position she's held since her sophomore year--and the knowledge garnered in the classroom have helped her to hone her interpersonal skills. "Tech is really a school that teaches you to be involved. You can't just let life drag you around," says Rios.

She also serves as a Pamplin Ambassador, speaking to high school students and assisting incoming freshmen in the Pamplin College of Business. "Everyone's just willing to help you out, and being a Pamplin Ambassador helps incoming freshmen to know they can approach faculty and staff," she says.

When speaking to prospective students, Rios finds that the same spirit that drew her to Virginia Tech holds the most appeal. "It is the passion, excitement, and love we have for this school and each other that does all of the work.

"It was the excitement and spirit of the current students ,the pride they took in this place--I knew I wanted to be a part of that too."
"I can have a conversation with a student about where they grew up or things they are involved with in high school, and it is the genuine interest I show in them that brings them to Tech. It was this same feeling that brought me here." Now a senior resident advisor at Newman Hall, Rios serves as a mentor to help new and returning resident advisors by answering their questions and assisting them in planning events.

But Rios hasn't benefited from just the environment on campus--what she's learned in the classroom has given her access to the next level. Under the advisement of accounting and information systems Assistant Professor Lynette Wood, Rios was one of 50 students nationwide selected for the KPMG Future Diversity Leaders program. The international accounting and consulting firm launched the program as part of an ongoing effort to increase and support minority representation in the accounting profession. As a participant in the program, Rios obtained an internship at the firm's Sacramento, Calif., office, working in the audit sector.

Rios credits her experience at KPMG with developing her teamwork skills and teaching her to communicate effectively with other staff and clients. She also says the experience further shaped her time-management skills. Next summer, Rios plans to intern with the firm at its Washington, D.C., office.



Christine George entered Virginia Tech a pre-veterinary major. By the end of her sophomore year, however, she recognized that her path would lead to the study of medicine and infectious diseases. Now a graduate student in the public and international affairs master's program, George has shown herself to be someone who works from the ground up to address issues of infectious disease across the globe.

As an undergraduate, George traveled to Mali, where the plight of villagers suffering from dengue and yellow fever led her to search for ideas to provide the country with ways to set up a sustainable mosquito-borne virus program. George did not stop there, though. She raised $25,000 to travel to Mali and conduct the necessary research to help the people of Mali apply for additional funding and support.

George also continues to be active with the Kona BikeTown Africa campaign, which provides Kona bikes to health care workers in Africa so that they can travel to more remote areas. Alongside three other University Honors students, George raised $10,600, enough to pay for 106 bikes. She traveled to Mozambique in November to present the bikes and show the giving Hokie Spirit behind each one--every bike sported a Virginia Tech sticker.

(To learn more about the Kona BikeTown Africa campaign and the students' involement, go HERE.)

Christine George
"It seems like I've ended up as someone who builds from the ground up. It's neat being at the beginning stages."
As a graduate student, George also continues to help organize projects, including her involvement in the planning stages of a collaborative effort between the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance that will emphasize transdisciplinary research. By joining the body of expertise represented by each institute, the project will assist one or more Sub-Saharan African nations as they work to fight infectious disease.

"It seems like I've ended up as someone who builds from the ground up. It's neat being at the beginning stages," says George, who notes that she seems to be involved frequently in the planning process of projects and research. Eventually, she wants to attend medical school.

"A transdisciplinary approach helps me to be able to understand and address the complexities of fighting infectious disease," she says. "My experiences in Africa have shown me how important this kind of approach is."



"I had a vision for making changes and thought being the Student Government Association (SGA) president was a way to achieve those," says Emily Mashack, a senior human nutrition, foods, and exercise major, who today occupies the head role in the SGA.

Mashack began her journey at Virginia Tech in the FLEX program, which selects 15 female and 15 male incoming freshmen each year to participate in the SGA. During her sophomore year, she became an assistant director; by her junior year, she was executive director of programming, an experience she credits with giving her the skills needed to lead the association.

"Virginia Tech sets no limits on what we're able to do here," Mashack says, reflecting on her role serving the student body, but she notes that it is not always easy to serve such a large constituency. "One of the largest challenges is making sure that an undergraduate student body of 23,000 feels connected to their SGA. It's really hard to make sure everyone feels connected."

Yet this is exactly what Mashack and her fellow SGA members have set out to do, tackling such issues as sustainability initiatives, diversity standards on campus, and undergraduate student advising.

"One of the largest challenges is making sure an undergraduate student body of 23,000 feels connected to their SGA."
SGA members coordinated a Green Effect Game for the Nov. 22 game, teaming up with the Environmental Coalition and the Resident Hall Federation to encourage recycling at football games. In addition, they plan and host such events as the Big Event, a day in which students perform acts of community service, and the Relay for Life.

"I hope to leave this year with student government having more respect from the student body. In the past, we've been seen as a programming unit. I want us to be seen as making changes and legislation to improve student life on campus," Mashack says, adding that she hopes to foster greater communication and cooperation between students and the administration.

Mashack is currently applying to medical school and hopes to become a doctor of osteopathy. Also studying Spanish and interested in Latin American culture, Mashack says she would like to provide medical services in underserved parts of the United States or to work abroad.


When David Grant arrived at the Virginia Tech campus his freshman year, one of the first things he did was to walk into the Collegiate Times office and ask them to give him something to do. They did--Grant entered as an unpaid reporter, eventually becoming news editor his sophomore year. His junior year, he teleconferenced in from Cairo, Egypt, where he was studying and researching Egyptian print media, to interview for the position of editor, a post he began his senior year.

"Journalism is a fantastic way to meet people, to delve into issues and what's going on in your world," says Grant, a religious studies and political science major who's considering a career in journalism or public policy or at a think-tank.

David Grant

It might sound like quite the range of possibilities, but Grant's travels have had a major impact on his worldview. His junior year, he received a State Department scholarship to study Arabic in Jordan, an experience that immersed him in another culture.

"To really struggle with everyday life, getting around, and buying a tube of toothpaste really humbles you. It was there that I really fell in love with the Middle East," Grant recalls. He spent five hours in class each day for two months studying the language.

After his time in Jordan, Grant spent five months in Egypt and four months in Israel and the West Bank. "There's this raw emotion on display in Egypt all the time," he says. "You see people poor, sick, hurt, sitting in the street. Life in public is different there. It takes work to get to know people in Western culture."

"There was a moment in the streets of Bethlehem when I realized there are significant issues abroad and domestically today in terms of the nature of people's possibility. What called out to me was, 'There's something to be done here."
Grants says he found a moment of epiphany while walking the streets of Bethlehem one evening with his friend Hossam, a Palestinian who worked manual labor in an olive wood factory even though he had a degree in tourism. "Since Israelis built the wall, life is so hard" for many Palestinians, notes Grant. "There was a moment in the streets of Bethlehem when I realized there are significant issues abroad and domestically today in terms of the nature of people's possibility. What called out to me was, 'There’s something to be done here.'"

Moments like these cultivated an interest in public policy for Grant, who sees an opportunity to set up systems that work within a culture rather than outside it, allowing people to realize their possibilities and to empower them. "It's not filling a hole but letting them build their lives, giving them tools," he says.

He coupled his studies in Egypt with an internship at the Center for Arab-West Understanding, where he researched Egyptian print media. He says he found that journalists all over the world are struggling with the same issues, such as revenue sources. Grant says he has learned how active journalists are in the creation of meaning. "They tell you at the end of the day what you need to know," he says.

Grant, a University Honors student, is also the managing editor of the undergraduate research journal Philologia and has blogged for the's Faithbook, in which he discusses religion from the student perspective. Grant credits the University Honors program with mentoring him to help him find his path.

"Those talks of where I was going, who I wanted to be--that's how it happened," he says.

Virginia Tech