When COVID-19 transformed the world just a year ago, the fields of medicine, public health, and biomedical research all mobilized as part of the international crisis response. Yet those disciplines were not the only ones with important contributions to offer. The pandemic is multifaceted, and a full range of expertise is needed for essential insights into both its immediate and enduring impact.

During the fall 2020 semester, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences joined with the College of Science in hosting “COVID-19 in Context: A Deans’ Forum on Living with a Pandemic,” a series of virtual explorations of the pandemic from a range of academic disciplines. 

Now, for the spring 2021 semester, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences is once again hosting “COVID-19 in Context: A Deans’ Forum on Living with a Pandemic,” this time in partnership with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Pamplin College of Business.

The spring series of virtual events — which will take place on March 15, 22, and 29, as well as April 5, from noon to 1 p.m. — will illustrate how a range of fields are contributing to our understanding of the pandemic. Advance registration is required to attend the sessions; click here to register for any or all of the four events.

Laura Belmonte, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, will chair the March 15 session. Panelists on that day will include:

  • William Becker, an associate professor in the Department of Management in the Pamplin College of Business, who researches emotions related to organizational behavior, turnover, leadership, organizational identification, and human resources management.
  • John Bovay, an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who specializes in food and agricultural policy.
  • Jonathan van Senten, an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, who works in the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Hampton. His primary focus is on aquaculture, aimed at understanding and quantifying the costs and impacts of the regulatory environment at the farm level.
  • Anna Zeide, an associate professor of history and founding director of the Food Studies Program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. She studies food as a way of understanding environmental change, dynamic cultural practices, consumer behavior, technology, health, and justice.

Robert Sumichrast, dean of the Pamplin College of Business, will chair the March 22 event. Panelists will include:

  • Katrina Powell, a professor of rhetoric and writing in the Department of English and the founding director of the Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies. Her research focuses on displacement narratives and the ethical dimensions of archiving those narratives in alternative spaces; she also serves as director of the Center for Rhetoric in Society.
  • Ann Steensland, who coordinates the Global Agricultural Productivity Report Initiative of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Her research involves small-scale agriculture and farming in the areas of sustainable approaches for increasing productivity, improving livelihoods and nutrition, market-based strategies for reducing post-harvest loss and waste, and connecting small-scale and emerging farmers to markets.
  • Viswanath Venkatesh, Verizon Professor in the Department of Business Information Technology in the Pamplin College of Business. His research focuses on understanding the diffusion of technologies in organizations and society.
  • Donna Wertalik, a professor of practice and director of marketing strategy and analytics in the Department of Marketing in the Pamplin College of Business. She  studies social media, data analysis, community management, and marketing and real-world applications.

Alan Grant, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, will chair the March 29 session. Panelists will include:

  • Kim Niewolny, an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of the Virginia Tech Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation. Her scholarship focuses on multi-actor collaborations for sustainable food systems; community food security in central Appalachia; the nexus of technology, disability, and farmworkers; and participatory and cultural cummunity development approaches to community food work possibilities. Through the center, Niewolny and her team have launched the Food System and COVID-19 initiative, which includes identifying spaces of crisis and resiliency in the region’s food system.
  • Duygu Pamukcu, a Ph.D. student in the Pamplin College of Business, who researches disaster operations management, nonprofit supply chains, risk management, disaster resilience, and logistics.
  • Liesel Ritchie, a professor in the Department of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and an affiliate of the Center for Coastal Studies at Virginia Tech. Her focus is on the social impacts of disasters and community resilience, with an emphasis on technological hazards and disasters, social capital, and renewable resource communities.
  • Chris Zobel, the R.B. Pamplin Professor in the Department of Business Information Technology in the Pamplin College of Business. His research interests include disaster operations management, humanitarian supply chains, and supply chain resilience, as well as sustainability and environmental decision-making.

Matthew Holt, professor and head of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, will chair the April 5 event. Panelists will include:

  • Nicholas Copeland, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology, who focuses his research on political imaginaries, governance, indigenous politics, Guatemala and Latin America, democracy, and social theory.
  • Pankaj Kumar, an assistant professor in the Department of Management in the Pamplin College of Business, whose research interests lie at the intersection of strategy and organization theory, with a focus on innovation, interfirm relationships (networks), strategic alliances, and geography.
  • Shilpa Madan, an assistant professor in the Department of Marketing in the Pamplin College of Business. Her focus is on leveraging consumers’ lay beliefs and cultural differences to help people live better, more fulfilling, and more sustainable lives.
  • Reza Ovissipour, an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology and the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center. His research focuses on food and seafood safety and quality and value-added products with applied engineering and novel technologies.

“The pandemic has affected virtually every aspect of our lives,” said Belmonte. “I look forward to the partnership of all three of our colleges in hosting engaging and enlightening conversations among experts in such disparate fields.”