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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2015 / 04 

Virginia Tech's 2015 Diversity Scholars offer projects to tackle inclusion and diversity concerns

April 29, 2015

Diversity Scholars from Virginia Tech's Graduate School will present their projects from 10 a.m. until noon on May 7 in the multipurpose room of the Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown, 155 Otey Street on the Blacksburg campus. 

The event is free and open to the public. 

The Diversity Scholars initiative is a competitive program aimed at helping students develop and implement projects to improve inclusion and diversity through dialogue, advocacy, and change. Past projects have taken multiple forms, from events to programs to analysis. They can focus on specific departments or the entire university, including the campuses in the National Capital Region, Roanoke, and Richmond. 

This year’s 22 scholars and their projects are:

  • Vanessa Alphonse, from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, is a doctoral student in the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and her master’s degree from Virginia Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. Alphonse plans to create and moderate an online blog reporting current world events affecting higher education and promoting inclusion and diversity events on campus. 
  • Abhijeet Bidwai, of Kalyan, Maharashtra, India, is a master’s degree student in electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the Univesity of Mumbai, India. Bidwai wants to foster dialogue among the students from different countries, including the United States, through formation of common interest groups. He also wants to improve connections among the organizations for students from different countries.
  • Sarah Halvorson-Fried, of Bangor Maine, is a master's degree student in urban and regional planning in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Macalester College. She is conducting an impact evaluation of the Islamic Worlds Festival that took place at the Center for the Arts in April 2015. Her project assesses the impact of the planning process on those involved, and the effects of the festival on a wide range of undergraduate students.
  • Nada Heddane, of Rabat, Morocco, is a master’s degree student in political science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the School of Governance and Economics of Rabat. She plans to make a video featuring international students talking about their cultures to help dispel myths and assumptions about different cultures and countries.
  • Claudia Howell, of Williamsburg Virginia, is a doctoral student studying counselor education and supervision in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. She earned her bachelor’s degree at James Madison University and her master’s degree from Clemson University. She is partnering with the athletic department to conduct a series of workshops aimed at athletes, coaches and administrators to generate awareness of the LGBT student-athlete population. 
  • Whitley M. Johnson, of Petersburg Virginia, is a master’s degree student in the higher education and student affairs program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Virginia Tech. She will continue work on the Future Forward Mentoring Program, initiated in 2013 and designed by Jackie Thomas and Brielle Wright. The project uses the Aspirations for Student Learning and the Principles of Community to contribute to the care and holistic development of students.
  • Gordon Jones, of West Chester Pennsylvania, is a doctoral student in the crop and soil environmental sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Warren Wilson College and his master’s degree from Virginia Tech. He is developing a support group for Virginia Tech students with dyslexia, a reading disability, and to provide opportunities to learn about resources, tips and successful coping mechanisms.
  • Cynthia Karlsson, of Christiansburg Virginia, is a doctoral student in human nutrition, foods, and exercise College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a master’s degree student in population health sciences through the Virginia Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Pacific Lutheran University. She is partnering with Jonathan Waldron on a project to enhance the climate of diversity and inclusion in the university’s classrooms with a mentor-mentee program.
  • Shabnam Kavousi, of Shiraz, Iran, is a doctoral student in architecture and design research in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. She holds a master’s degree from the Universiti Putra Malaysia. Her project seeks to organize multicultural events in the School of Architecture and Design at which graduate and undergraduate students can display works demonstrating the art and craftsmanship of their countries.
  • Jordan Laney, of McDowell County North Carolina, is a doctoral student in the interdisciplinary Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) program. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Goddard College and her master’s degree from Appalachian State University. She wants to identify and address the specific needs of first generation, Appalachian-identifying graduate students. She will document qualitative evaluations of the campus climate for and will use the data to create awareness and inclusive initiatives for those students.
  • Devon Lee, of Long Beach, California, is a doctoral student in sociology, specializing in Africana studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Davis and his master’s degree from the University of Kansas. He plans to develop a hybrid “each one, reach one” mentorship model that calls on faculty to be resources in the academic, professional and social development of black graduate students.
  • Darren Maczka, of Leverett, Massachusetts, is a doctoral student in engineering education and a master’s degree student in electrical engineering in the College of Engineering.  He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He and Svyantek will collaborate on a series of workshops to help graduate students create inclusive and accessible classroom environments. His focus is reflective practices and helping graduate teaching assistants gain awareness of implicit biases and privilege they may bring to their classrooms. 
  • Miguel Angel Martinez, of Las Vegas, Nevada, is a master’s degree student in higher education and student affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Nevada at Reno. His project focuses on fostering organic mentoring relationships between students and faculty. He began work during the spring semester with opportunities for students to present scholarly work describing issues affecting the Latino community in myriad subjects.
  • Zerrin Ondin, of Istanbul, Turkey, is a doctoral student in instructional design and technology in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Marmara University in Turkey and her master’s degree from Bogazici University in Turkey. She is developing a framework for Virginia Tech to design and develop inclusive online courses. She is investigating experiences of instructors, instructional designers, and online learning managers and analyzing problems they have faced while creating accessible learning environments.
  • Yun Qian, of Jiangsu, China, is a doctoral student in macromolecular science and engineering in the College of Engineering. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in China. Her project analyzes relationships between international and American students, helping them find common issues and overcome cultural and communications gaps. She is working in collaboration with other diversity scholars.
  • Ashley Robinson, of Chesapeake, Virginia, is a doctoral student in computer science in the College of Engineering.  She earned her bachelor’s degree from Norfolk State University and her master’s degree from Virginia Tech. Her project aims to educate computer science students about the importance of designing inclusive computer technology.
  • Sarah Steelman, of Las Vegas Nevada, is a doctoral student in marriage and family therapy program within the human development department  in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Las Vegas. She plans to work with the LGBT+ community at Virginia Tech to create panels highlighting sexual and gender diversity for programs and departments. 
  • Martina Svyantek, of Akron, Ohio, is a doctoral student in engineering education in the College of Engineering. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Auburn University. She is working with Maczka to create a seminar series aimed at introducing graduate students to classroom inclusivity and accessibility topics.
  • Anthony Szczurek, of Chicago Illinois, is a doctoral student in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) program.  He earned his bachelor's and master’s degrees from The New School. He is exploring the different meanings of being a student and plans to set up events to give international students a platform to discuss to their personal experiences in higher education in their home countries as well as place the American student experience within a varied and dynamic global context. 
  • Amy Vu, of Overland Park Kansas, is a master’s degree student in agricultural, leadership, and community education in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She is developing a “CALS SafeSpace” for the faculty and staff to help create a climate reflecting diversity in all the departments within the college and to highlight diversity and inclusion initiatives
  • Jonathan Waldron, of Manassas, Virginia, is a doctoral student in clinical science in the College of Science. In collaboration with Karlsson, he is working to enhance the climate of diversity and inclusion within the classroom. This project will look at departmentally driven programs that provide examples of classroom materials to facilitate an ongoing conversation on inclusion and diversity.
  • Marjorie R. Willner, of Briarcliff Manor, New York, is a doctoral student in Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology in the College of Engineering. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and her master’s degree from Notre Dame University. Her project focuses on creating an LGBTQ+ Steering Committee, connecting diverse resources and champions from across Virginia Tech and the greater Blacksburg community. The committee will be a forum through which to disseminate information and to coordinate programming and policy initiatives.

Visit the Diversity Scholars webpage to learn more about the program.

With a visitor’s permit, parking is available in the lot located at the corner of College Avenue and Otey Street or the Architecture Annex Lot also on Otey Street. Permits are available at the Visitor Center, 925 Prices Fork Road, during regular business hours or at the Virginia Tech Police Department in the maintenance complex off Southgate Drive at all other times. Find more parking information online, or call 540-231-3200.

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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