Hokies graduating this fall will celebrate with the ideal person to provide guidance on safe post-ceremony hugs.

Linsey Marr, the Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has been selected as the speaker for Virginia Tech’s fall commencement exercises.

Since March, Marr has helped lead the global conversation about the airborne transmission of COVID-19. She’s shared research and advice on topics ranging from how the virus spreads indoors and the impact of different face coverings to how to grocery shop safely and embrace loved ones with a lower risk of contagion.

Despite having been interviewed hundreds of times and quoted thousands more since the global pandemic began, the invitation to speak for the university-wide ceremony was a surprise.

“I thought, ‘Who me? Who me? Aren't commencement speakers usually dignitaries of some sort?’,” said Marr, one of only a handful of worldwide experts on aerosol transmission of viruses. “But it’s a huge honor to be selected as this semester's speaker. I realized that it shows how the pandemic has come to dominate everyone's lives, and it reflects the importance of my research and outreach at this moment in time.”

Fall commencement will be held online Friday, Dec. 18, at 6:15 p.m. ET. During the online broadcast graduates will be honored, degrees will be conferred, and special guests and student leaders will also speak — plus there will be opportunities for friends and family to participate and offer well wishes.

Other speakers offering the Class of 2020 well wishes include alumnus Homer Hickam, famed former NASA engineering and bestselling author; alumna Queen Harrison-Claye, an Olympian, Pan American Games Champion and championship record holder; Grant Bommer, president of the Class of 2021; and Nikki Giovanni, poet, University Distinguished Professor, and namesake of the Class of 2020 ring.

Marr, who came to Virginia Tech in 2003 after earning her bachelor's in engineering science from Harvard and her doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley, has racked up numerous honors during her time at the university. They include a National Institutes of Health New Innovator Award in 2013 and an appointment to a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine board in January.

In 2019, Marr earned the Excellence in Teaching Award from the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, which recognizes a faculty member's effective, engaged, and dynamic approaches and achievements as an educator.

“My teaching style combines rigorous theory with practical applications and current events,” said Marr in a 2019 Virginia Tech News story. “To emphasize the relevance of course material to real life, I begin most of my lectures with a news story, and then I try to weave personal connections into the ensuing discussion.”

Taking a similar approach to sharing complex information related to the airborne spread of COVID-19 has helped Marr become renowned, both in media circles and in the social media sphere. For example, she’s used the visual of cigarette smoke to explain viral plumes, illustrated mathematically proven safer ways to hug with photos of her and her daughter, and regularly shares practical safety tips for everyday life in the pandemic era.

A June article in The New York Times said, “her Twitter feed is a daily exchange of ideas among fellow scientists, and it’s also peppered with questions from followers, which she tries to answer. Part of the reason Dr. Marr has become so popular in public forums is her ability to explain difficult scientific concepts in easy-to-understand terms.”

Marr’s following on Twitter has grown from about 3,000 in February to more than 28,000. At the top of her feed there’s a pinned Tweet from March 5 warning of the virus’ airborne transmission, showing just how far ahead of many others she was on the topic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t permanently publish a position accepting the virus could be spread by tiny particles lingering in the air until October.

Marr said she aims to convey two basic messages to the graduates the power of curiosity and community.

“Our students have done a great job of following public health guidelines, enabling us to keep the disease under control on campus,” she said. “They’ve seen first-hand that collective action and a strong sense of community can make a difference.”

“And I hope to say to them, let your curiosity get the better of you, and use all the knowledge at your disposal to explore those burning questions. Do it humbly, work with others, and you can make a difference,” Marr said.

Graduate School celebrates

While there will be one virtual ceremony for all graduates, there will be an opportunity to recognize those who earned a master’s degree or doctorate from Virginia Tech.

Cortney Steele recently earned her doctorate in human nutrition, food, and exercise (HNFE) in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Steele selected HNFE’s option in clinical physiology and metabolism for her doctoral degree due to the diversity the program offered as well as for their experienced and dedicated faculty. She will deliver opening remarks during the commencement ceremony. Read more about Steele.

James L. Moore, the vice provost for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer at The Ohio State University and the executive director of the Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male, will be recognized with the Graduate School’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

Moore received his master’s degree and doctorate in counselor education from Virginia Tech.  He is internationally recognized for his research and work on African American males and has been quoted and featured in major newspapers and was named one of the top 200 most influential scholars in the United States who inform education policy, practice, and reform by Education Week.

More information and details on commencement can be found at vt.edu/commencement.