Alumni added to Aerospace Walk of Honor

Virginia Tech engineering alumni Col. Jesse P. "Jake" Jacobs Jr. and the late John B. "Jack" McKay were inducted recently into the Aerospace Walk of Honor in Lancaster, Calif.

Statues of Jacobs and McKay were added to the Walk of Honor monument display, established in 1990 by the city to recognize distinguished pilots, such as astronauts Neil Armstrong and Chuck Yeager, who served at nearby Edwards Air Force Base.

Jacobs (industrial engineering '49) flew the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber over Europe during World War II and flew 121 combat missions in the Korean War.

During his 20-year career as a test pilot at Edwards and other bases, Jacobs flew more than 100 different types of aircraft. A native of Tennessee, Jacobs now resides in Sequim, Wash.

McKay (aeronautical engineering '51), a native of Portsmouth, Va., flew 82 combat missions in World War II before attending Tech. McKay's 20-year career as a test pilot for NASA began with flights of the jet and rocket versions of aircraft used for transonic and Mach 2 research. He was one of the first seven pilots selected to fly the X-15 and achieved astronaut status for taking it to an altitude of about 56 miles and a speed of 3,938 miles per hour.

An emergency landing in an X-15 on Mud Lake in Nevada in 1962 caused back injuries that led to McKay's retirement as a test pilot in 1971.

He died in 1975, 20 years to the day after his first rocket aircraft flight. In 1995, Virginia's Gov. George Allen declared McKay's birthday, Dec. 8, 1922, as "John B. McKay Day," in honor of his contributions to the aerospace industry. McKay also was the first inductee of the recently created Virginia Tech Aviation Wall of Fame at the Virginia Tech airport.

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Simmons packages film success in Dead Man Walking

Working with Hollywood greats such as Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn doesn't faze Joseph Rutherford "Rudd" Simmons III (theatre arts '75), who co-produced the recent Academy Award-winning movie Dead Man Walking. After all, Simmons says, an actor is simply a one-person, multi-million dollar industry. His job is to put together a package that best combines actors, directors, scripts, and other elements to make a successful film. And he's gained a reputation in filmmaking circles by doing just that.

Simmons came to Virginia Tech to study biology, but began exploring other options during his sophomore year. One theatre class was all it took to convince him to change majors. He says he knew right away that he wanted to work in the film industry.

After graduation, Simmons obtained a master's degree in filmmaking at New York University. He then decided to remain in New York to pursue independent filmmaking.

In recent years, Simmons has developed his ability to work with writer/directors such as Tim Robbins, with whom he co-produced Dead Man Walking. The film received four Academy Award nominations, and Sarandon won the Oscar for her portrayal of a nun drawn into a relationship with a prisoner (Penn) convicted of killing two teenage lovers.

Simmons says he prefers to produce independent, low-budget films rather than Hollywood movies because "the director's voice can come through." His other production credits include Down By Law with Jim Jarmusch and The Night We Never Met with Warren Leigh.

Each film project takes Simmons from eight to 12 months, from pre-production through shooting and editing. Working 10 to 16 hours a day, six days a week is not unusual. "Movie making is such a Herculean effort that I'm amazed when I go to the movies that something is actually up there on the screen," he says.

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Nationally honored teacher takes insights to NASA

Pamela Brooks Newberry (industrial arts education '75) has been named a 1996 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, one of only six in the nation. The fellows spend a semester working in House of Representatives, the Senate, and at selected federal agencies.

When Newberry was assigned to work with legislators and administrators at NASA to plan the agency's educational program, she found officials receptive to her suggestions. "I learned that legislators really do listen to ordinary citizens," she says.

During her nine years of teaching mathematics and technology education, Newberry's honors have included being named 1994 Virginia Teacher of the Year and receiving the 1993 President's Award for excellence in Math and Science.

"I try to make what I teach functional and to help students put what they're learning into practice," Newberry says. In her favorite geometry activity, student teams design and build bridges from toothpicks, following building codes and "purchasing" materials and services. Newberry brings in local building inspectors, architects, and safety inspectors.

Newberry is currently pursuing an M.S. in education from Virginia Tech while on leave from Wythe County Schools.

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Handling the snake problem in Guam

In a laboratory at the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., veterinary pathologist Don Nichols (veterinary medicine '84) is trying to help nature rebalance an ecosystem gone awry.

In the tropical Pacific 9,000 miles away, the U.S. territory of Guam is being overrun with snakes, specifically, brown tree snakes (Boiga irregularis), a nocturnal creature that can reach 10 feet in length.

Since finding its way to Guam some 50 years ago, the non-poisonous tree snake has slithered into a rare niche within Mother Natures grand scheme: no natural predators and an abundant food supply. Their population has soared to an estimated two million or moreabout 10,000 per square mile.

The snakes hang like vines from trees, fences, and power poles. In fact, power outages caused when electricity arcs across snakes spanning power lines have become a frequent problem. The snake-outs, as the residents term the power outages, got the attention of the U.S. Department of Defense, which requires a reliable source of electrical power to run the radar and other military systems on Guams military bases. The DOD provided Nichols with initial funding for his research.

But the snake-outs are not the most insidious problems caused by the snakes prodigious ways. The snakes have eliminated nine of Guams 18 species of forest birds; six of the remaining species are endangered and the other three are rare.

Nichols, who became involved in the problem while serving a residency at the National Zoo, put two and two together after watching paramyxoviruses wreak havoc in zoo-bound snake populations. He started pilot studies using viruses to control the snakes while he was a pathologist with the National Institutes of Health. Since joining the National Zoo in 1991, he has traveled to Guam four times. Under new funding from the Department of the Interior, he is searching for a strain of the virus that will kill the snake without affecting other lifeforms (birds and mammals are not threatened by the virus).

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Bringing back the Lyric

Almost everyone who attended Virginia Tech between 1930 and 1989 has some memory of the Lyric Theatre. Maybe the Art Deco/Spanish Colonial Revival theater was your favorite downtown date spot, or perhaps you were entranced there by your first viewing of "Gone with the Wind," "Star Wars," or "Dr. Zhivago."

When the Lyric closed its doors in 1989, many lamented the passing of an era. A community group, the Lyric Council, decided to do more than reminisce about the town's last downtown movie theater, and, in the spring of 1996, the Lyric again opened for art films, popular and classical movies, school exhibitions, musical events, and public meetings. Now the group is raising funds to begin tasteful restorations and renovations to meet modern safety codes.

The Lyric first opened on College Avenue in 1930, one of the first four Virginia theaters designed for talking pictures, and quickly became the cultural heart of the community. Its eight-panel mahogany doors, vaulted ceiling, chandeliers, and wrought iron lanterns created a fantasy world its early Depression-era patrons seemed to crave.

Now crowds of up to 500 are enjoying folk festivals, "Jane Eyre," the African film festival, and "Il Postino." The grand old movie house represents a visible link between the "town and gown" faces of Blacksburg.

For more information about the Lyric Theatre or its schedule, call (540) 951-0604 or visit its website at

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Alum takes talents on the road

When Alan Jackson, 1995 Country Music Entertainer of the Year, takes his popular show on the road, Paul Whitfield (communication studies '89) is right there with him. Whitfield has parlayed his interest in broadcasting into a job designing and running the video wall behind Jackson. He designed and built Jackson's video switching system and is responsible for setting it up and keeping it working on tours.

The video set-up includes a 40 foot-by-8 foot wall behind Jackson and large screens above the stage. Whitfield mixes live and pre-recorded video in synchrony with the music.

Whitfield started in the entertainment industry running sound for a band in his native Virginia, but soon moved to Nashville to work as an audio engineer. There he hooked up with Performance Video of Alexandria, Va., came back home to do their video work, and then got sent back to Nashville six months later, this time to work with country star Jackson.

Whitfield enjoys three catered meals a day and the camaraderie of tour members, especially Jackson. But sometimes were not sure what day it is or what city were in, he says. "You get on the bus after a performance, and when you wake up, you're somewhere else."

In addition to his work with Jackson, Whitfield has been in charge of the video projection for the nationally broadcast Country Fest '96 from Atlanta and for Fanfare in Nashville this summer.

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The architect of record for Virginia Tech's planned Advanced Communications and Information Technology Center is Sherertz Franklin Crawford Shaffner, Inc. (SFCS) of Roanoke. The firm, Esocoff and Assoc., is a design consultant to SFCS on the project.

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Tech alumnae debut on Broadway

When Peter Pan's Neverland comes to life on Broadway this winter in Peter and Wendy, two Virginia Tech theatre alumnae will be on stage. Jenny Subjack (theatre arts '94) and Cathy Shaw (theatre arts '80) team up to animate the giant puppets for Captain Hook and other characters in this experimental production by Mabou-Mines. This is the first time on Broadway for Subjack and Shaw.

Catherine "Kat" Domiano ('92 theatre arts MFA) served as stage manager for the production in its off-Broadway runs, which began in Charleston, S.C., at the Spoleto festival and continued at the Public Theater in New York City. Subjack and Shaw have been with the show since Charleston.

The play is based on the J.M. Barrie classic and, according to Subjack, "is nothing like the Disney version of the story." The adventure takes place entirely in Wendy's mind, with the nursery becoming the Neverland of pirate ships, Lost Boys, and the Mermaid Lagoon. Wendy lends her voice to all the other characters, portrayed by puppets operated with levers by actors whose faces are covered by a thin cloth. Each giant puppet requires three actors, and months of practice are required to develop skills in conveying emotions through puppet's movements, according to Subjack.

Subjack has acted in the theatre and appeared in television shows, including The Guiding Light, As the World Turns, and All My Children. This is her first experience with puppets.

Shaw is a master puppeteer who has studied puppetry at the prestigious Institute International du la Marionette in Charleville-Mezierre, France. She has also produced, written, and directed her own works in Atlanta and New York. The play runs from February 1 through March 2 at the New Victory Theater on 209 W. 42nd St. Tickets are available from the New Victory Theatre at (212) 239-6200.

The New York City chapter of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association will host a theater night and party Feb. 20 at the play's 7 p.m. performance. Contact Karen Pallarito at (212) 210-0208 for more information.

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'94 Alumna NBC producer

Melinda Emerson (communication studies '94) says a student internship she won with ABC London has opened doors in her network television career.

But Tech history professor Hayward Farrar, whose class assignment she has parlayed into a full-length book project, thinks Emerson would have found her way up the network ladder no matter what.

Just two years out of Tech, Emerson, 24, is a news producer for the major market Philadelphia NBC-owned station, WCAU-10. And her book on a prominent black anchorman on national television will be published late in 1997.

While at Tech, Emerson interned on NBC's Today show in New York and set her sights on becoming a producer. She spent her Christmas break as an intern for CBS in Washington. A chance meeting on an airplane with a producer from WPXI landed Emerson her first job after graduation with the NBC affiliate. A year later, the Philadelphia station won her away.

Recent alumni may remember Emerson's column in the Preston Journal, her WUVT talk show, "Tech Talk," or recall her as a VTNews anchor for the campus cable television station. Virginia Tech Magazine readers may recall her touching tribute to her friend, the late university President James McComas, in the winter 1994 issue.

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Bringing breaking news to the nation

If you watch the news on an NBC affiliate, you're certain to have seen segments produced by Charles "Chaz" Hinkle (communication studies '90). Hinkle is news producer for the NBC News Channel in Charlotte, N.C., a 10-year-old news operation that sells news feeds to the 215 NBC affiliates across the nation.

When news breaks anywhere in the continental United States, Hinkle goes to work dispatching a satellite truck to the scene and finding people to staff it. He also hires videographers, reporters, and an on-site producer. Recently, he was in charge of coverage of the Mideast summit in Washington, the Unabomber stories, and the Freeman standoff in Montana.

Hinkle usually works from the station base in Charlotte, but sometimes goes out in the field. He was on hand to cover the TWA crash off Long Island in July.

Hinkle has been with the news channel for five years. He started as a videotape editor for the overnight news program. In 1994, he became an editor at the live desk, where he was named producer in June.

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