Beginning July 1, two new student representatives will join Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors, the university’s governing body, each bringing a unique view of the university to the table.

Madelynn Todd and David “Ryan” King will represent undergraduate and graduate students, respectively, for 2019-20. They represent all students at the university’s highest level of governance and are also ex-officio members of the Commission of Student Affairs and University Council.

“I welcome Madelynn and Ryan to the board and look forward to working with them in the coming year,” said Dennis Treacy, rector of the Board of Visitors. “Student representatives bring an important and valued perspective to our meetings and deliberations.”

Todd, a sophomore majoring in animal and poultry sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, applied for the undergraduate seat in part to foster dialogue and understanding with the board and the campus community in general about acceptance and inclusiveness of all people, but more specifically those with disabilities, and to pass along student concerns about other topics.

“I am very humbled and honored to be selected and will do my absolute best to communicate student thoughts and concerns to the board,” Todd said.

Todd, who once played travel soccer and was an equestrian, said she is who she is today because she was diagnosed at age 12 with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a genetic disease of the connective tissue that interferes with the body's ability to synthesize collagen, which helps support structures in the body.

In Todd’s case, this has led to frequent, painful dislocations of her shoulders, hips, fingers, knees, and jaw because her ligaments and tendons cannot hold her bones in place. She uses a wheelchair because of nerve damage and partial paralysis in her right leg. She was recently diagnosed with epilepsy.

“Today, I am stronger because EDS has forced me to let go of what could have been to make room for what can be,” said Todd, who once thought she would be a pro athlete. “I think resiliency is the greatest ability I have developed from living with a disability. I have also developed a true empathy, understanding, and tolerance for others and realize differences should be embraced and celebrated.”

Virginia Tech was Todd’s only choice for college, and while she has been impressed with the way Virginia Tech has made strides in accepting people who are racially, ethnically, religiously, or sexually diverse, “I am not sure the same can be said for those students with physical and mental disabilities.

“In some ways, disabled individuals face a set of challenges that other underrepresented groups do not. The same acceptance is not always extended to them, and rarely will anyone proudly proclaim, ‘I am disabled!’ I want to change that,” said Todd, who has talked to Services for Students with Disabilities and an international company to develop a program that would pair abled and disabled students for off-campus activities and study-abroad programs.

“I hope that accepting and being open about my own limitations will foster honest and meaningful dialogue among all Virginia Tech students.”

Todd is in the Honors College, recipient of the T.J. & C.W. Marlowe Scholarship, and member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and CommonWEALTH of Scholars. Todd hopes to go on to the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine to become a clinical pathologist.

King brings his own unique perspective to the board – that of a graduate student whose main academic base is in Roanoke rather than in Blacksburg. He is working on his Ph.D. in translational biology, medicine, and health through the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.

King conducts research in Steven Poelzing's lab, investigating how changing salt concentrations in perfusion fluids (such as IV fluid) can influence cardiac function in an effort to improve survival following cardiac arrest. He has received a prestigious National Institutes of Health pre-doctoral fellowship that will fund his research for two years.

“Being selected for this position is certainly an honor, and I'm looking forward to helping relay student-derived solutions to the members of the board,” King said. “I am excited for the opportunities to come.”

King said that being a graduate student at Virginia Tech is a great experience, but there are also many challenges, including some particular to studying on a campus other than Blacksburg. King hopes to work toward assuring that graduate students on all campuses have a rewarding experience.

“I have had the opportunity over the past two years to work with the Graduate Student Assembly in Blacksburg as well as the Roanoke Graduate Student Association, and in both occasions, I've been fortunate to see graduate students time and time again devise innovative solutions to overcome the challenges of graduate school,” King said.

As a Board of Visitors representative, King intends to create new lines of communication between students, on both the main and satellite campuses, and university administration and board members.

“I feel often times that student think their feedback is unappreciated because they never hear what actions are taking place as a consequence of their feedback,” King said. “In order to create change in a university system, a certain amount of patience is required, but it is important for students to receive assurance that their feedback has been received and acted upon.”

King earned his bachelor’s in biology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and a pre-health post-baccalaureate program at Meredith College. He intends to finish his Ph.D. in April 2021.

The board is composed of 14 members, 13 of whom are appointed by the governor and serve a four-year term. The 14th member, who serves ex-officio, is the president of the Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  There are four non-voting constituent representatives to the board who serve one-year terms and include the student representatives and presidents of the Staff and Faculty Senates.

— Written by Richard Lovegrove