Dennis R. Dean, University Distinguished Professor and director of the Fralin Life Science Institute, and Alumni Distinguished Professor Thomas M. Gardner will deliver the keynote addresses at Virginia Tech's 2014 fall University and Graduate School Commencement ceremonies on Friday, Dec. 19.

Gardner will speak to undergraduate students at the University Ceremony, which begins at 11 a.m., and Dean will speak at the Graduate School Ceremony at 3 p.m.

Both ceremonies will be in Cassell Coliseum. Approximately 2,500 students will be honored for completing their academic degrees at the end of the summer and fall terms at the two events.

Those seeking more information on the ceremonies should visit the Virginia Tech Commencement website.

University Commencement Speaker: Thomas M. Gardner

A member of Department of English faculty since 1982, Gardner's teaching and research focuses on poetry, primarily that of 19th, 20th, and 21st century American writers with a particular emphasis on the way a poem enacts the movement of the mind and emotions.

His scholarship teaches students how to use poetry when reflecting on world issues. He has published five books with university presses, and his other works have had a significant impact in several disciplines. In addition, he published a book of his poems and had plays produced both here and abroad. His book of lyric essays, "Poverty Creek Journal," focusing on running trails just outside of Blacksburg, has just been published.  

Gardner's students praise his ability to teach new ways of thinking. A common theme in course evaluations is that he does so much more than cover a body of material. Gardner also directs several graduate and undergraduate independent studies and serves on Master of Arts degree and Master of Fine Arts degree thesis committees. He frequently speaks in colleagues’ classrooms around the campus.

He has received many awards during his academic career, including the Outstanding Faculty Award for the Commonwealth of Virginia, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry, and the Fulbright Bicentennial Chair in American Studies at the University of Helsinki. 

Among his Virginia Tech awards are the William E. Wine Teaching Award, the Diggs Teaching Scholar Award, the Alumni Teaching Award, the Phi Beta Kappa Sturm Award for Outstanding Faculty Research, and several College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences awards. 

Prior to becoming an Alumni Distinguished Professor in 2010, Gardner held the Clifford A. Cutchins III Professorship in English.

He received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, a master’s degree from Syracuse University, and his bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University.

Graduate Commencement Speaker: Dennis R. Dean

A professor in the Department of Biochemistry and a member of the Virginia Tech community since 1985, Dean has established an international reputation for his research on the chemical mechanism of biological nitrogen fixation and how iron and sulfur combine and mobilize to support essential life processes such as nitrogen fixation, photosynthesis, and respiration.

The importance of nitrogen fixation is that the availability of nitrogen-containing fertilizers limits crop productivity worldwide. Also, metabolic defects in the ability to biologically combine iron and sulfur can have profound effects on agricultural production and are linked to a variety of debilitating and often fatal human genetic disorders.

Dean was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in recognition of his contributions to microbiology and bioinorganic chemistry.

He has published more than 180 articles and has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the Journal of Bacteriology. He also served on the publications board for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Dean has received continuous extramural research funding to support his research program since 1975, including awards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Naval Research, and the Department of Energy.

Dean helped provide oversight for the design and construction of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in Roanoke serving as the interim director. He recently served as the interim director of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and is currently the director of the Fralin Life Science Institute.

Dean received his bachelor’s degree from Wabash College and a Ph.D. from Purdue University. He was a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Enzyme Research at the University of Wisconsin and was a research scientist at the Charles F. Kettering Laboratory prior to joining the Virginia Tech faculty.

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.

Jean Elliott and John Pastor contributed to this story.