Kathleen Alexander, associate professor of wildlife in the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech, has received the university’s 2015 Alumni Award for Excellence in International Research.
Sponsored by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, the Alumni Award for Excellence in International Research is presented annually to a faculty or staff member who has had a significant impact on international research at Virginia Tech. Selection is based on contributions to the internationalization of Virginia Tech, global impact, significance of the project, and sustainability of the project. Recipients are awarded $2,000.
A member of the Virginia Tech community since 2007, Alexander focuses on international development and public and wildlife health with an emphasis on balancing human health and environmental sustainability. Her scholarship examines the manner in which diseases are transmitted at the human-animal-environmental interface. Working across Africa, she takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of infectious disease, integrating divergent study elements, from human culture and behavior to hydrological dynamics and climate change.
“Most recently, Dr. Alexander has been involved in efforts to understand and combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa,” Joel Snodgrass, professor and head of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, wrote in his letter of nomination. “She has also worked with new strains of TB [tuberculosis] and water-borne pathogens. Of particular importance is her development of connections between environmental extremes, human behavior, and the transmission of disease among humans, wildlife, and the environment. Dr. Alexander’s work is published in high-impact journals and is highly cited.”
As part of her earlier work, Alexander, who is a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate, established the Center for Conservation of African Resources: Animals, Communities, and Land Use in Botswana with her husband, Mark Vandewalle, an adjunct professor. This nongovernmental organization has helped bridge the gap between human and animal health and environmental sustainability.
The center’s facility, located at the boundary of Africa’s well-known Chobe National Park, houses the only molecular and microbiological lab in the region. Teaching and educational facilities support outreach activities that are interwoven with Alexander’s research program. The center also serves as an important training facility for Virginia Tech graduate and undergraduate students, where they are immersed in real-world sustainability and health challenges facing countries with limited resources.
Alexander and her research team have made a number of important findings in Botswana that have influenced policy and planning in the country. She discovered a novel emerging tuberculosis pathogen related to human tuberculosis and identified the widespread occurrence of antibiotic resistance in wildlife, even in protected areas, a surprising finding. She was the first to identify the occurrence of important zoonotic pathogens, such as leptospirosis, among wildlife in Botswana, a finding with significant public health implications. She also established the continued presence of brucellosis in wildlife populations in the Chobe region. This important pathogen can be transmitted to humans through the handling and consumption of bushmeat.
Her work has also revealed important linkages between water quality and human health and the relationship to meteorological drivers that signal increased community vulnerability to diarrheal disease under climate change forecasts for the region. Her work is focused on understanding and addressing critical threats to communities and the ecosystems on which they depend.
Alexander received a bachelor’s degree, a doctorate of veterinary medicine, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis.
Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.
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