The second cohort of diversity scholars in the Graduate School at Virginia Tech unveiled their projects and research April 17 during a presentation and dialogue session at the Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown. 

Diversity scholars’ projects are designed to create a more diverse and inclusive experience for graduate students, staff, faculty, and administrators.

“Scholars’ projects varied widely,” said Dannette Gomez Beane, director of the Office of Graduate Recruiting and Diversity Initiatives. “But, the one thing they all have in common is heightening the awareness of diversity and inclusion at Virginia Tech.”

The 2012-13 diversity scholars are

  • Nasrin Afzal of Esfahan, Iran, a doctoral student in physics in the College of Science;
  • Elsa Camargo of Chicago, Ill., a doctoral student in educational leadership and policy studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences;
  • Mike Ekoniak of Youngstown, Ohio, a doctoral student in engineering education in the College of Engineering;
  • Holly Jordan of Baltimore, Md., a doctoral student in alliance for social, political, ethical, and cultural thought known as the ASPECT program;
  • Jaser Mahasneh of Jarash, Jordan, a doctoral student in building construction in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies;
  • Christian Matheis of San Antonio, Texas, doctoral student in the ASPECT program;
  • Sara McDonough of Lorton, Va., a doctoral student in africana studies and american indian/indigenous studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences;
  • Monica Motley of Danville, Va., a master’s student in public health and a doctoral student in biomedical and veterinary sciences in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine;
  • Brittany Ralph of Hampton, Va., a master's student in public health in the population health sciences in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine;
  • Nicole M. Rishel of Girard, Ohio, a doctoral student in public administration and policy in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies;
  • Carling Sitterley of Forest, Va., a master’s student in public health and a doctoral student in biomedical and veterinary sciences in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine;
  • Reginald Stroble of Richmond Va., a master’s student in educational leadership and policy studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences; and
  • Brielle Wright of Clarkton, N.C., a master’s student in agriculture and extension education in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Projects included initiatives such as a T-shirt campaign developed by Nicole M. Rishel. 

Rishel distributed T-shirts printed with “This is What Diversity Looks Like” to students who were also asked to write an explanation of what diversity means to them. Rishel photographed the students wearing the shirt and holding a sign explaining diversity from their perspective. The project will culminate with the collection of visual representations being printed in a book and also in electronic form.

Carling Sitterley proposed instituting a diversity education workshop created specifically for veterinary faculty with the potential for developing a series and a similar parallel workshop series for veterinary staff.

Jaser Mahasneh outlined plans for a global diversity salon in which both graduate and undergraduate students meet and engage in formal discussion and sharing of different activities like tasting food, learning other languages, wearing unusual dressing styles, and practicing different traditions. The social events focus on cultural appreciation while also offering a fun activity.

Mike Ekoniak suggested developing a series of conversations to discuss sexual identity in engineering and reasons that fostering a welcoming climate towards Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) engineering students and faculty is important ethically and academically. Ekoniak pointed out that this type of conversation is directly in line with Virginia Tech’s Principles of Community.

“Graduate students are involved with the learning, teaching, and research of the university,” Beane said, “and can offer a valuable perspective of what is lacking in the area of diversity and inclusion. The diversity scholars program allows students to propose projects to address concerns and gives students the opportunity to have a direct impact on their environment.”

According to Beane, several of the 2011-12 diversity scholars’ projects are now part of the institutional infrastructure. One scholar suggested an orientation event in the Graduate School for underrepresented students. This event took place August 2012 and over 100 students, faculty, and staff participated. This event will be added to the orientation schedule in the future. A 2012 scholar suggested a graduate student climate survey that was administered in the spring of 2013.

Diversity Scholars are chosen based upon their competency in diversity and inclusion, knowledge about cultural differences, and belief in the Virginia Tech Principles of Community. A nomination is required and is evaluated by a committee based upon several factors seen in congruence with the Inclusive Excellence model and the Diversity Strategic Plan.