On Reading Day, the Virginia Tech Graduate School's 2017 Diversity Scholars will discuss their projects during a Diversity Spotlight program beginning at noon in the multipurpose room of the Graduate Life Center on Otey Street.

Students will give five-minute presentations about their work in lightning round format. The program is free and open to the public.

The Diversity Scholars program was established in 2012 to help students develop and implement projects to improve inclusion and diversity through dialogue, advocacy, and change in programs and colleges across the university’s campuses. This year’s projects included the university’s first powwow and Appalachian student support groups, and have taken multiple forms, from events to programs to analysis.

The 2017 scholars and their projects are as follows:

Sreyoshi Bhaduri, of Pune, Maharashtra, India, is a Ph.D. candidate in engineering education. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Manipal Institute of Technology, India, and her master’s degree from Virginia Tech.

For her doctoral dissertation, she is exploring ways in which machine learning algorithms can be used by instructors in engineering classrooms. She and Diversity Scholars Tara Reel and Teneil Sivells are developing a brief history of diversity milestones at Virginia Tech to be converted into a curriculum for a graduate teaching assistant (GTA) workshop. 

Melissa Faircloth, of Goldsboro, North Carolina, is a Ph.D. student in sociology. She earned her bachelor’s and her master’s degrees from East Carolina University. She serves as co-advisor for Native at VT, a native and indigenous student organization.

She organized the first powwow on Virginia Tech’s campus to create visibility for underrepresented groups on campus, increase cultural education and competencies throughout campus and the greater Blacksburg community, and to provide a point of interest that might assist with indigenous student recruitment.  

Amanda Halliburton, of Yorktown, Virginia, is a sixth-year Ph.D. candidate in the psychology department, with a concentration in clinical science. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Mary Washington and a master’s degree at Virginia Tech. Her research focuses on adapting cognitive-behavioral interventions for developmentally appropriate use with youth, as well as investigating key mechanisms of change in these programs.

Her Diversity Scholars project, “Home Away From Home,” is a gathering space for first-generation Appalachian undergraduate and graduate students at Virginia Tech to discuss issues that concern them and to offer opportunities for mentorship and social support.   

Soo Jeong Jo, of Seoul, South Korea, is a second-year Ph.D. student in architecture and design research program. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Ewha Womans University, a master’s degree from Ecole d'Architecture de Paris La Villette, and a master’s degree from Georgia Institute of Technology.

Her research focuses on building science. Her Diversity Scholars project aims to organize international cooking classes for graduate students. 

Jameson Jones, of Tazewell, Virginia, is a middle school Spanish teacher and a Ph.D. student in education curriculum and instruction. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Roanoke College and his master’s degree from Appalachian State University. He is committed to community advocacy and development, as well as engaging in dialogue that bridges cross-cultural differences.

His project seeks to provide members of the Virginia Tech community a forum to share and learn from experiences related to Appalachian culture on campus and in our community. Natives and non-natives of the region are invited to participate to provide a holistic glimpse into life on a campus located in Appalachia.  

Darren Maczka, of Leverett, Massachusetts, is a third year Ph.D. candidate in engineering education. He earned a bachelor’s degree from University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Committed to inclusion within engineering, he is interest in the ways technology used in engineering courses impacts students' sense of belonging to the field.

For his project, Maczka will facilitate a series of activities and discussions with people from diverse backgrounds to co-construct a resource that engineering educators might easily integrate into their teaching practices to help students to think critically about how their profession is connected to society. 

Elizabeth Leigh McKagen, of Riner, Virginia, is a second year Ph.D. student in the ASPECT (Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought) program. She received her master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Virginia Tech.

Her research interests include cultural studies, media studies, critical theory, popular culture, and science fiction studies. She plans to develop an event series that screens examples of popular science fiction television shows and create a space for discussion on diversity in popular culture and our academic environment. 

Thomas Murray, of Chicago, Illinois, is a second year M.F.A. candidate in directing and public dialogue in the School of Performing Arts. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Ball State University. He is writing a docudrama about the conflict between motorists and bicyclists on shared city streets. 

For his Diversity Scholars project, he will partner with Alpha Psi Omega, the undergraduate theater honorary society, to lead a forum on queer and gender-based theater. 

Meagan O’Neill, of Tonawanda, New York, is a fifth year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology with a concentration in biological psychology. She earned a master’s degree from Virginia Tech, a master’s degree from Medaille College, and a bachelor’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. 

Her doctoral research focus is the neural comparison of false memory paradigms. Her Diversity Scholars project involves follow-up on a previously conducted department diversity survey. 

Tara Reel, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, is a master’s degree student in both urban and regional planning and public administration in the School of Public and International Affairs. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Davis and Elkins College. Prior to attending Virginia Tech, she worked in local government for the City of Virginia Beach, serving as the assistant to the legislative liaison for intergovernmental relations working with government at the local, state, and federal levels.

She and Diversity Scholars Sreyoshi Bhaduri and Teneil Sivells are developing a brief history of diversity milestones at Virginia Tech to be converted into a curriculum for a graduate teaching assistant workshop. 

Karis Boyd-Sinkler, of Hampton, Virginia, is a first-year Ph.D. student in engineering education. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia in 2014. Her research interests includes outreach, recruitment, and retention efforts for underserved and underrepresented populations in STEM.

In particular, she is interested in looking at formal and informal forms of engineering student support. She plans to create a support group for female African-American engineering graduate students. 

Teneil Sivells, of Prince George’s County, Maryland, is pursuing a master’s degree in biological systems engineering. She earned her bachelor’s degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

She and Diversity Scholars Tara Reel and Sreyoshi Bhaduri are developing a brief history of diversity milestones at Virginia Tech to be converted into a curriculum for a graduate teaching assistant workshop. The project emphasizes the integral role of the university’s history to understand the historical legacy of diversity and inclusion and its impacts on the current campus climate.

Emma Stamm, of Hudson Valley, New York, is a writer and Ph.D. student in the ASPECT program. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Bard College and a master’s degree from The New School.

Her research deploys continental philosophy and media theory to critique emerging Internet technologies. In her free time, she likes to pet cats and play piano. Her project ─ an art exhibit and panel discussion ─ brings attention to female and nonbinary digital and electronic artists at Virginia Tech. 

Manasia Sturdivant, of Greensboro, North Carolina, is a second-year Ph.D. student in the industrial/organizational psychology program. She received bachelor’s degrees at Wake Forest University in 2014. Her research interests are in discrimination and stigma in the workplace, diversity and its influence on motivation and productivity, and psychological testing and other forms of personnel selection.

Her Diversity Scholars project involves analyzing internal data that was previously gathered at/about Virginia Tech to look into any outcomes that SAT scores have on performance once a student is admitted to the university. The purpose of the project is to make a case for de-emphasizing SAT scores in the admittance process.  

Andrew Valdespino, of Miami, Florida, is a Ph.D candidate in the clinical science area of the Department of Psychology. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Ekerd College and two master’s degrees from Virginia Tech.

Valdespino will work with O’Neill to develop and implement a series of diversity focus groups within the psychology department community.  

Michele Waters, a New York native, is a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering who works in the Nanostructure Biopolymer Engineering Lab, Center for Injury Biomechanics.  She attended State University of New York Stony Brook and City University of New York City College for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

She is investigating the role of inflammation (macrophage differentiation) in traumatic brain injury, and also evaluating the potential of human hair-derived keratin biomaterials to promote an anti-inflammatory environment, thereby improving clinical outcomes for patients. She plans to create a host program for underrepresented undergraduates to shadow graduate students in STEM labs.   

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation for the Diversity Spotlight event, please contact Dannette Gomez Beane at 540-231-6529 or email gomezds@vt.edu during regular business hours at least three business days prior to the event.