Each year, the Graduate School offers a challenge to graduate students: Create and implement a project that connects your research with a community.
Students who accept the challenge and develop such projects are recognized as Citizen Scholars. The Graduate School offers a Citizen Scholar course each year to help students fulfill this goal, but students can be nominated for recognition by their programs.
“I consider the Citizen Scholar program to be an example of the outreach and service exemplified by Virginia Tech’s land-grant mission, as well as an informing students’ research,” said Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education Karen P. DePauw. “It is an example of what we call 'the public good' and helps build strong links between the community and the university.”
Associate Dean and Professor William Huckle, who taught the Citizen Scholar course, said the projects were excellent examples of linking work to the needs of a greater community. “What has impressed me the most is the enthusiasm and passion they brought to their work,” Huckle said.
This year the Graduate School saluted six graduate students who completed community-focused projects. Megan A. Lorincz, Joanna Papadopoulos, Fadoua El Moustaid, Nicole Hersch, Sarah Bush, and Shelby Ward were recognized during Graduate Education Week for their work.
Lorincz, of Williamsburg, Virginia, who is earning a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs from the School of Education, focused on living-learning and leadership for her project. She said the idea arose from thinking about how she could use her degree to give back to the local community. She combined her work with the student-led Oak Lane Community Council to create a service-learning project that coordinated several clothing drives to benefit the Radford Clothing Bank, which gives free clothing to families who otherwise could not afford them.
“I facilitated the development of the philanthropic service plan from its inception to implementation,” she said.
Papadopoulos, of Ewing, New Jersey, is a Ph.D. student in the School of Education’s Curriculum & Instruction in Integrative STEM Education program. Her project, Hands-on Science with a Dash of Math Night, created a community science evening at Antheil Elementary School in Ewing Township. There were games, demonstrations, activities, and a grand finale soda and Mentos geyser show, performed by the school’s principal and assistant principal.
“Hundreds of Ewing students, parents, and staff who have a passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) attended this event to explore many different STEM activities,” she said.
El Moustaid, of Marrakesh, Morocco, is a Ph.D. student in biological sciences, part of the College of Science. She mentored an undergraduate student using computer modeling to track disease and helped the student develop biological models to study the transmission process of West Nile Virus.
“We met once a week to go over what he learned together and I explained to him the mathematical and statistical methods he needed to develop a model,” she said. That effort led to a new mentorship project with two undergraduate students.
“Coming from a quantitative background myself, I understand their struggle and what they need to succeed and hopefully pursue a graduate degree,” she said.
Hersch, of San Diego, California, is earning a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. She created a case study of the Stroubles Creek Watershed focused on restoring its aesthetics. The project aims to support the current Stroubles Creek Restoration Initiative established in 2014 by starting a native plant propagation program.
“My goal is to propagate 500 hundred plants for the Stroubles Creek Watershed and utilize my landscape architecture training to find locations for these plants,” she explained “This project will only be successful by building relationships and through community mobilization.”
Bush, of St. Marys, Pennsylvania, is a Ph.D. student in the Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education program. Her project focused on creating a Teen Excellence in Leadership Institute (TELI) Handbook for youth programs in Virginia and across the country. She served as a leadership team member for the institute and worked with 4-H and FFA members across the state and found a need for such a handbook among Virginia programs and for those in other states wishing to replicate the commonwealth’s TELI model in their own programs. The handbook will be published by the Cooperative Extension Press.
“I gained a great deal of insight into leadership program development, implementation, and evaluation,” Bush said of the process.
Ward, of Bluefield, Virginia, is a student in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Her work focused on participatory tourist mapping and autoethnography in Sri Lanka. This arose from talks with people who were affected by the tourism industry in that country.
“I asked individuals to draw or map what they wanted tourists or strangers to know about Sri Lanka,” she said.
Themes that emerged from the exercise included culture, former war zones, and nature. She hopes the data associated with the study will help illustrate “how maps influence social understandings of a country, including geopolitical implications of mapping a country, even, or especially, in tourist maps,” she said.