A.L. (Tom) Hammett, associate dean of academic programs and professor of sustainable biomaterials in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment, has been appointed visiting professor at the Agriculture and Forestry University in Nepal.
The four-year appointment, which officially began in March, will allow Hammett to work closely with the Agriculture and Forestry University’s administration and faculty while continuing to teach and conduct research at Virginia Tech.
“I’m very excited,” Hammett said. “I’ve been working in Nepal for a long time, and this appointment recognizes that contribution and allows me to continue working with the faculty and students there.”
After several years of planning, the Agriculture and Forestry University now serves as the first land-grant university in Nepal. Established in 2010 by merging two smaller universities, it is currently home to 800 undergraduate students and 250 graduate students.
According to Hammett, faculty and university leaders hope to model the university after the U.S. land-grant model, which focuses heavily on outreach in addition to teaching and research.
“It’s a great opportunity to work with farmers, entrepreneurs, and landowners who might benefit from a better understanding of the roles of natural resources in economic development or guidance in developing new products,” Hammett said.
In addition to teaching courses, helping faculty develop curriculum, and mentoring graduate students, Hammett’s primary role will be to help the university develop administrative systems and foster a new outreach program.
“The people there are incredibly engaging and welcoming,” he added. “They’re receptive to new ideas, and you really get the feeling that you can help them better their lives.”
Hammett also hopes to help the university move from an education model based around classroom lectures toward a more active, project-based system of learning. Specifically, he plans to engage students and faculty on research projects aimed at developing methods to increase the sustainable production of nontimber forest products, such as fruits, vegetables, fish, and game, and helping the country to rebuild after the 2015 earthquake decimated parts of the region.
Hammett is particularly interested in utilizing cross-laminated timber, an engineered wood product often used as an alternative to concrete, brick, and steel owing to its strength and stability, to rebuild homes and buildings destroyed by the earthquake. He is currently working with his colleague Daniel Hindman, associate professor of wood engineering in the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials, to develop projects that help in the rebuilding effort.
“People in Nepal have been very responsive to the idea of cross-laminated timber, so I’ve been working with Dan and Peter Ozolins, an architect and international development specialist in Blacksburg, to incorporate these materials into rebuilding efforts” he said.
Hammett’s appointment creates a unique opportunity for Virginia Tech faculty and students to become involved in his work in Nepal. Hammett advises the student service organization Service Without Borders. In 2016, he helped organize and conduct a student service trip to Nepal and has plans to return with another group of students during winter break of the 2017-18 school year.
“I really want to get more students and faculty involved in Nepal and the region. There are great opportunities to build on previous projects. I’ve done several projects with other faculty in the past, and I’d like to involve them more, in addition to creating service and educational opportunities for our students,” he explained.
Hammett has a long-standing affiliation with Nepal that dates back to 1974 when he worked with the Peace Corps as a research and Extension technician. Over the past 43 years, he has continued his relationship there, working at various points as a technical coordinator for agriculture and forestry, a technical training coordinator, and helping Virginia Tech students and faculty complete service projects in the region.
“I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been to Nepal,” Hammett said. “I’ve been working there for a long time, and I’m excited to continue the work that I’ve started and see it through to completion.”
Hammett received his bachelor’s degree from the University of New Hampshire and his master’s and doctorate from the University of Georgia.