On Reading Day (May 3), 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 2018 scholars and their projects are as follows:

Nada Berrada, of Morocco, is a Ph.D. student in the ASPECT program (Alliance for Social Political, Ethical and Cultural Thought). She earned a master’s degree at Virginia Tech and a bachelor’s degree from Ecole de Gouvernance et d’Economie de Rabat in Morocco. She currently teaches for the political science department and serves as a board member of the International Student Advisory Board (ISAB).

For her diversity project, Berrada will survey international students to collect perceptions and experiences of inclusion and diversity at Virginia Tech and then discuss the survey findings with interested international students, members of the Graduate School administration, Cranwell International Center, and the Office of Recruitment, Diversity, and Inclusion to help identify and address the needs of the international student community.

Chelsea Corkinsof Hutchinson, Kansas, is a master’s student in the agricultural, leadership, and community education department. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Kansas State University. She researches interdisciplinary curriculum development in formal and informal settings and is program coordinator for Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results.

Corkins plans to spearhead the sustainable establishment of an LGBTQ+ organization, Students for Cultivating Change to value and elevate LGBTQ+ agriculturists and naturalists through advocacy, education, and community.

Will Culver III, of Christiansburg, is a doctor of veterinary medicine candidate and a student in the master of public health program at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine (VMCVM), and is a Cherokee Nation tribal citizen.

For his Diversity Scholars project, he is working to expand the VMCVM’s Vet Training and mentorship, Realistic experiences, Active and hands-on learning, and Career exploration (VetTRAC) summer program to include a Native pre-veterinary pathway program that fully funds two Native American students in need to spark a greater interest in the VetTRAC program and expand Native students’ exposure to veterinary medicine.

Angela Dahiya-Singh, of the San Francisco Bay Area, is a Ph.D. candidate in the clinical science  program in the psychology department. She earned her bachelor’s degree from University of California and her master’s degree at Pepperdine University. Her research interests include parenting and family stress and its impact on treatment outcomes of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Her diversity project aims to assess the prospects for improving the delivery of ASD services in rural communities using a hybrid telehealth technology-supplemented approach via a mobile autism clinic.

Lehi Dowell, of Blacksburg, is a Ph.D. student in hospitality and tourism management at the Pamplin College of Business.  He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of La Verne and a master’s degree from Florida International University. Dowell has extensive industry knowledge and expert mastery of the subject matter at hand.

His project focuses on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ+) customer market segment of the hospitality industry, with a half-day symposium focused on academic research, future research needs, and a roundtable discussion on the topic.  

Matthew Ferby, of Charlotte, North Carolina, is a master’s degree student in the civil and environmental engineering department, focusing on environmental engineering.  He earned his bachelor’s degree from North Carolina A&T State University.  His current research focuses on nutrient recovery from wastewater using coupled microbial fuel cell and forward osmosis systems. 

Ferby plans to develop a program to help students strengthen interpersonal skills that contribute to the productivity of team-based work and help dismantle academic presumptions associated with certain groups with a goal of promoting better, more-engaging work environments and produce professionals suitable for diversifying teams across all fields.

Mohammad Habibi, of Blacksburg, is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics. He received his bachelor’s degree from Isfahan University of Technology, and a master’s degree from Wichita State University. His research interests include understanding and modeling the wet traction of tires.

For his diversity project, Habibi plans to introduce the Arbaeen walk, which marks the 40th day after the martyrdom of revered leader Hussain ibn Ali, to the Virginia Tech community through an exhibition of photographs.

Erin Heller, of Richmond, Virginia, is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Virginia Tech and her master’s degree from Old Dominion University. She studies the effects of climate change on the federally threatened red knot (Calidris canutus rufa).

For her diversity project, Heller aims to increase awareness about academic bullying and to discuss what methods students can use to both prevent and combat academic bullying within her department.

Erika Hernandez, of Blacksburg, is a Ph.D. candidate in Developmental Science in the Psychology Department. She earned her master’s degree from Virginia Tech and her bachelor’s degree from Baylor University. Her research focuses on familial conversations about emotion and children’s social competence from early childhood to adolescence, with a focus on race/ethnicity and culture as contexts for development.

Hernandez plans to create a mentorship program to pair underrepresented undergraduate students in psychology with underrepresented graduate students to help combat stereotype threat.

Cherice Hughes-Oliver, of Cary, North Carolina, is a master’s and doctoral degree student in biomedical engineering and mechanics studying human biomechanics. She plans to become a faculty member at a research institution and is passionate about reaching out to underrepresented populations and making science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields accessible to and representative of them.

As a Diversity Scholar, she will form a graduate and faculty book club to investigate the “third shift” that is often faced by women of color. The “third shift” is described as the additional burden faced by women of color to explain their often differing points of view, experiences, and opinions to others.

Audra Jenson, of Blacksburg, is a master’s degree student in the philosophy program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Northwest Nazarene University. Her research focuses on moral and political philosophy and metaphysics, especially as they intersect with social and feminist philosophy.

Jenson is working with Lindsay Whittaker to promote an atmosphere in which the participation of women and gender minorities is encouraged at all levels of philosophy education at Virginia Tech and to build mentorship relationships between philosophers at different stages in their careers as well as engage a broader audience in discussion about the particular plight of women and gender minorities in philosophy.

Mark Marinoble, of Bristow, Virginia, is a Ph.D. student in education leadership policy studies on the Falls Church campus. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech. He has been an elementary school principal in Prince William County Public Schools since 2002.

For his diversity project, Marinoble wants to do more to ensure there is equity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education by giving all students the opportunity to learn about STEM careers and is partnering with Virginia Tech and Qualcomm to build a unique makerspace lab called the Tech Lab to reach underrepresented and underserved students.  

Ezgi Seref, of Turkey, is a Ph.D. student in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT)program. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Marmara University, Istanbul, Turkey, and two master’s degrees from Sabanci University. Her research interests include legal politics, globalization, professional identity, legal policy, and legal culture.

Her project focused on how Virginia Tech students conceive the concept of security and how their perceived security conception reflect on their everyday encounters within campus space.

Jyotsana Sharma, of India, is a Ph.D. candidate in the counselor education program. She earned her master’s degree from Boston University. She is a licensed clinical mental health counselor in the state of New Hampshire and a national certified counselor. Her research interests lie in the area of trauma recovery and adversarial growth.

Her diversity project — called Bridging the gap between curiosity and ignorance: Asking effective questions for equity, inclusion, and diversity — involved creating and facilitating workshops where emerging educators, graduate teaching assistants, and graduate students could engage in discussions covering a range of topics related to diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Faith Skiles, of Pilot, Virginia, is a Ph.D. student in ASPECT. She earned an master’s degree from Virginia Tech and a bachelor’s degree from Mary Baldwin College. Her research interests include cross-cultural studies, gender studies, feminist theories of space/place, Korean and East Asian history, and American religious history.

Her diversity project attempts to address concerns and wishes voiced by international students by facilitating deliberate action on the part of local students to form an outreach to international students.

Lindsay Whittaker, of Blacksburg, is a master’s degree student in the Department of Philosophy. He earned his bachelor’s degrees from the University of Vermont. He specializes in ethics, epistemology, and philosophy of liberation with concentrations in food ethics, pet food, epistemic injustice, and feminism.

Whittaker is working with Audra Jenson to promote an atmosphere in which the participation of women and gender minorities is encouraged at all levels of philosophy education at Virginia Tech and to build mentorship relationships between philosophers at different stages in their careers as well as engage a broader audience in discussion about the particular plight of women and gender minorities in philosophy.

Marjorie R. Willner, of Briarcliff Manor, New York, is a Ph.D. candidate in the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. With broad interests in the environment and innovation, her research is focused on the development of a nanotechnology enabled microfluidic platform for the detection and study of pathogens. She also has been an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community through several leadership roles and a prior Diversity Scholar project.   

Her project, “Self-Advocacy Through Scientific Entrepreneurship,” is a one-day event for first- and second-year undergraduate students where they will learn entrepreneurial skills, get connected to on-campus projects and activities, discuss barriers they face on campus at the intersection of identity and entrepreneurship, and hear from underrepresented founders in the local area.

Lane Woodward, of Blacksburg, is a Ph.D. student in the agricultural, leadership, and community education department. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Georgia. Her passions encompass many areas of agriculture, including teaching and learning with an emphasis in teaching practices that yield student success.

For her project, Woodward plans to develop a self-assessment instrument to be used to identify an individual’s tendency to be complacent with the actions or behavior of an academic bully, and then make the instrument available online as part of Virginia Tech’s materials regarding academic bullying.