Meet the 2020 award recipients
Learn more about the faculty and staff who were recognized for excellence.
Alumni Awards for Excellence
Sponsored by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, the Alumni Awards for Excellence are awarded to faculty and staff annually who exhibit excellence and dedication in their respective fields.
Corey Childs has been with the Virginia Cooperative Extension for the past 30 years and currently serves as a unit coordinator and animal science Extension agent. During his six roles with the VCE, Childs has become known for his cutting-edge approaches, technical knowledge, and great enthusiasm, which have improved the lives of thousands and shaped the region’s landscape. Childs consulted in the region on effective business practices, revolutionary grazing techniques, and new pesticide procedures, and supports Virginia through his numerous seats on industry and state boards.
Joe Hunnings is the director of planning and reporting, professional development, and civil rights compliance for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Virginia Cooperative Extension. Hunnings has been working with the VCE since 1984 and has commited himself to diversity and inclusion. He is responsible for the Diversity and Inclusion Fellows program for the VCE and for orienting new agents. His program is a role-model in civil rights training for other states. In his dynamic career, Hunnings has received five national, six regional, 12 state, and two district awards.
The Alumni Award for Outreach Excellence in the Team Achievement category is presented to Angela Scarpa and Jennifer Pollard Scott for their phenomenal contributions to community engagement through the Virginia Tech Autism Clinic and Center for Autism Research. The clinic serves more than 60 individuals with psychotherapies and supports and provides diagnostic evaluations to approximately 60 additional individuals annually. Scarpa uses personal experience to incorporate science with service to serve families who have been affected by autism spectrum disorder. Scarpa has been recognized for her outreach activities in 2008 and 2014 by the College of Science and received the 2014 Excellence in Access and Inclusion Award by the Office for Diversity and Inclusion. Scott is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a master’s in public health from Tulane University. She has experience applying her skills to marginalized populations in both nonprofit and for-profit sectors, including initiating and coordinating community-based service opportunities, managing a refugee heath/mental health program, and advocating for the rights of college students with disabilities. She now applies this diverse skillset to her work at the autism clinic, where she coordinates efforts to earn grants for the clinic, maintains connections with community partners, and conducts research.
The Alumni Award for Outreach Excellence in Individual Achievement is presented to Paul Quigley for his work with the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. In Quigley’s own words, the center practices “Civil War History, Land-Grant Style.” As the sole faculty or staff member of the center, Quigley has implemented or conducted a variety of programs to engage with community members and share the history of the Civil War, including Civil War Weekend, the Civil War Driving Tour of Southwest Virginia, screening of the Civil War Film Series, and genealogy workshops. The center has expanded exponentially under his leadership. In 2019, Quigley’s work was recognized with the Excellence in Outreach & International Initiatives Award from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.
Martha Ann Bell is a professor of psychology and a College of Science Faculty Fellow who has been with the university for 24 years. In that time, she has created a paradigm shift in the field of developmental cognitive neuroscience. Bell is a leading expert on brain imaging in infants and children, and her work has set the parameters now used by the neuroscience field. She has a scholarly record of 142 papers published in peer-reviewed journals and invited book chapters and 268 peer-reviewed presentations at scientific meetings. She was recently elected to the governing boards of several of the most respected-psychology associations.
Rafael Davalos has been with the university for 14 years and currently is a professor for the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, as well as a prominent researcher. Davalos has more than 100 peer-reviewed articles, 16 book chapters, 26 patents, and 12 journal/book covers in such research areas as biotransport, microfluidics, electroporation, and medical devices. His most recognized invention is Irreversible Electroporation (IRE), an FDA-approved technique to treat patients with unresectable tumors. In 2018, the FDA granted IRE the Expedited Pathway Designation for its promise to treat pancreatic cancer.
The Alumni Award for Excellence in International Education is presented to David Knight for his major contributions to international education at Virginia Tech. Knight has been a prominent leader in the Rising Sophomore Abroad Program, multiple international research experiences for students, and the College of Engineering’s Academy for Global Engineering. Knight is known by his colleagues for his innovation in education and his tireless efforts to improve the College of Engineering’s international outreach programs. He formed partnerships with the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity to recruit an incredibly diverse cohort of students for the Rising Sophomore Abroad Program in regard to gender and minority groups. He is an unwavering advocate for bringing education in a global context to students of all backgrounds.
The Virginia Tech Alumni Award for International Outreach is presented to Thomas Thompson for his outstanding leadership efforts in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ international programs. Thompson is the associate dean and director of global programs, the first to hold the position, which was created to promote internationalization within the college. Thompson built the program from the ground up, working tirelessly to bring new opportunities to international students within the college, all while managing and participating in scholarly programs across the globe in such countries as Kenya, Haiti, and Senegal. He has forged new partnerships and developed a number of new programs, including the Faculty Partnership Initiative and the Global Opportunity Initiative. He also led the college in a partnership with the African Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Agriculture and Agribusiness.
The Virginia Tech Alumni Award for Excellence in International Research is presented to Ignacio Moore for the major impact he has made on his students, the indigenous peoples he works with, and the scientific community at large. Moore is a professor of biological sciences, but his work and research reach far beyond the Virginia Tech campus. Moore is known for his study of tropical organismal biology in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. His research has earned him recognition across the globe as one of the leading international authorities on hormones and breeding systems in birds of the New World tropics. Moore has a rare skill in working with cultures different than his own.
The 2020 Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching is given to María del Carmen Caña Jiménez. In her eight years at Virginia Tech, Caña Jiménez has established herself as an extraordinary professor teaching Spanish and Latin culture to undergraduate and graduate students. She has taught more than 22 different courses and serves as a pedagogical expert who trains Spanish and French GTAs. Caña Jiménez has been recognized with the 2016 CLAHS Diversity Award and the Presidential Principles of Community Award in 2018.
The 2020 Alumni Award for Teaching Excellence is given to Carolyn A. Copenheaver, who has been an associate professor in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation for two decades. She was recently recognized as the 2020 recipient of the Certificate of Teaching from the College of Natural Resources and Environment. Copenheaver’s courses offer students the opportunity to work in outdoor settings, think critically, work in teams, and communicate effectively. She has also been recognized as the first female to win the Carl Alwin Schenck Award by the Society of American Foresters for her outstanding educational contributions.
The 2020 Alumni Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Academic Advising is given to Maia Greene-Havas. Greene-Havas has been an academic advisor on the Department of Engineering Education’s General Engineering Advising Team since 2016. In this role, she has helped hundreds of students navigate the Department of Engineering’s 15 options for majors and other department opportunities on campus. Greene-Havas also helps international students by serving as an investigator on an IRB-approved research study regarding the first-year experience for international students. She also currently serves as the chair of the Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity Principles of Community Award Committee.
The 2020 Alumni Award for Excellence in Graduate Academic Advising is given to Kostas Triantis, who is the John Lawrence Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, director of the Northern Virginia industrial engineering programs, co-director of the System Performance Laboratory, and the academic director for the Master of Engineering Administration program. Along with his many titles, Triantis has a passion for advising engineering Ph.D. and master’s students. He shows his students and former students, who come from diverse backgrounds, unwavering respect. He constantly pushes them and shows he believes in their potential.
Edward S. Diggs Award
Sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, the Diggs Teaching Scholars Award was established in 1992 and is presented annually to up to three Virginia Tech faculty members to recognize exceptional contributions to the teaching program and learning environment. Diggs Teaching Scholars are invited to lead the Diggs Roundtable, a series of presentations and a discussion of their innovative teaching.
Alejandro Salado is an assistant professor of industrial systems engineering. He holds degrees in electrical engineering, electronics engineering, project management, space systems engineering, and systems engineering. He has also worked more than 10 years in the space industry and uses that experience to inform his research and teaching. In his work, he strives to bridge the gap between academic and industry through real-life practice and include ethics in the curriculum. He has been recognized with the National Science Foundation CAREER Award and the International Fulbright Science and Technology Award. Salado continues to work by helping engineering students address micro-ethical dilemmas in their jobs. Salado’s Diggs Teaching Enhancement Project aims to enable social justice by making ethics omnipresent in the curriculum.
Takumi C. Sato is a clinical assistant professor in the School of Education and works with the science education program. He is also affiliated with Africana studies and has been with the university since 2013. In his role with the School of Education, Sato teaches his self-designed courses focused on social justice for undergraduate and graduate students. His teaching and research aim to break down racial barriers to science learning and career trajectories for students of color. Students cite his courses as some of their favorites at Virginia Tech, and for many, as a turning point in their pedagogy.
Matthew Wisnioski is an associate professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society and has been with the university since 2007. He is an interdisciplinary historian and an innovative mentor and teacher. He has mentored Ph.D. candidates, invented new undergraduate and graduate courses, and taught hundreds of students. His success as an educator led him to co-chair the Preparing Students group of the Beyond Boundaries initiative, and he is currently working on helping those involved in interdisciplinary programs to integrate questions of values, desired outcomes, and objective realities into their teaching.
McComas Staff Leadership Award
The McComas Staff Leadership Award honors the significant leadership contributions of a classified or university staff member who has been employed at Virginia Tech for at least one year.
The McComas Staff Leadership Award is presented to Laura Hagy for her work with the PageUp project implementation in 2019. Hagy is the Human Resources Applications Systems administrator and is constantly demonstrating her unwavering commitment to customer service and conflict resolution. During the PageUp implementation, Hagy led the initiative that trained more than 500 university employees. Throughout the process, she was notably receptive of recommendations from her colleagues and trainees and constantly sought to ensure the training process was beneficial for all parties involved. Hagy combines compassion with authority in order to always bring a project to completion as efficiently as possible.
Presidential Principles of Community Award
The Presidential Principles of Community Award recognizes faculty and staff members who exemplify and promote a welcoming and inclusive environment in accordance with the university’s Principles of Community.
The 2020 Presidential Principles of Community: Individual Contribution - Recent Award is given to Mae Hey. Hey is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology. Her dissertation, “Situating Indigenous Worldview within Western Academic Traditions,” details her experience as an indigenous woman in the STEM educational system. She has completed a two-year InclusiveVT Postdoctoral Fellowship under the Office of Inclusion and Diversity with the American Indian and Indigenous Alliance (AIIA) to introduce and nurture existing relationships with tribal communities in Virginia to aid in experiential learning and applied research programs at Virginia Tech. Finally, Hey created bonds with the Pamunkey Tribe and works on a number of grants for major community viability projects with the Pamunkey’s extension educator.
The 2020 Principles of Community: Individual Contribution - Long-Term Award is given to Carlos Evia. Evia serves as a member and chair on the Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity. He also played an important role in the preliminary stages of the creation of a Latino American studies minor, as well as serving as the co-organizer of the VT Latinx Symposium in 2019. Evia has worked to overcome micro and macro aggression during his career and has preserved while also tirelessly advocating for Latinx and other underrepresented students. Evia’s unwavering support has positively affected numerous students and their families.
The 2020 Principles of Community: Team Contribution Award is given to Latin Link. This organization aims “to unite the Latinx community by putting on cultural performances, executing thought-provoking programs, and creating bonds between people.” This year they developed a homecoming court platform focusing on climate change in the New River Valley and worldwide for Virginia Tech’s first Latina Homecoming Queen, Désirée Velez. Every day, Latin Link advocates for and spreads awareness of various social issues affecting marginalized populations on campus and around the world. They inspire their members to create change and fulfill their purpose as future leaders.
President's Award for Excellence
The President’s Award for Excellence is presented annually to up to five Virginia Tech employees who have made extraordinary contributions by consistent excellence in the performance of their job or a single incident, contribution, or heroic act. The five employees - Margie Murray, Gladys Sartin, Sherry Schoolfield, Robert Sebek, and Anthony Watson — for 2020 were announced on June 4. Read the story
Margie Murray served as the special events coordinator for the Office of the President and has worked with the university for a dedicated 38 years. She was essential in planning and executing the University Commencement ceremonies, Staff Appreciation Days, and government-relations receptions. In her role as lead coordinator of Staff Appreciation Day, she provided 3,000 staff members a chance to relax and be rewarded. In her work with the President’s Suite, she managed the construction of a database that compiled the information on thousands of the president’s special guests. Murray even worked deeply with the selection process for this award over the years - and now that she recently announced her retirement, we can think of no better way to celebrate her years of service to the university then by finally selecting her for the President’s Award for Excellence.
Gladys Sartin is the lead housekeeper for the Summit Community, working primarily with New Hall West for the past 13 years. She oversees the care of the facilities and meticulously manages their appearance, inside and out. Her attentiveness extends to her peers, as she is consistently recognized for fostering community and connection among students and staff. She provides support and mentorship for new housekeepers as though they were her own family. She has been described as the “heart of the building because she always has a kind word for students or colleagues and goes out of her way to accommodate other’s needs.” For her work to create a positive environment, both physically and emotionally, we are proud to present Gladys Sartin with the President’s Award for Excellence.
Since the opening of McComas Hall in 1998, Sherry Schoolfield has served as the housekeeping supervisor, making 2020 her 22nd year in service to Virginia Tech. Schoolfield ensures that facilities like McComas are maintained safe and spotless, even as they may see upwards of 4,000 students per day. Once a year, Schoolfield leads all Recreational Sports staff through a major cleaning project that requires scrubbing 21,000 square feet in a single day. This has turned into a team-building day for the staff because of how much fun Schoolfield makes the experience. Sherry balances all work while helping raise her six grandchildren, and we are so lucky to have her in our Virginia Tech family.
Robert Sebek exemplifies dedication to his work and to his community. He currently serves as a research guide and information technology specialist for the University Libraries, and his longtime service to the library has made him a respected consultant for students and faculty alike. However, his reach extends far beyond the walls of Newman Library. Sebek also has 15 years of experience in the shared governance system, including serving as the president of Staff Senate from 2017-19. He advocated for affordable housing and childcare and was essential in the efforts to increase the minimum wage for full time wage staff. Sebek has been a powerful voice and representative for the community.
A community member his entire life, Anthony S. Watson graduated from Blacksburg High School and began working for Virginia Tech as an apprentice carpenter in 1989. Thirty-one years later, Anthony now serves as the director of building and grounds and oversees a team of 300. His work is essential for keeping Virginia Tech one of the most stunning college campuses. His team is responsible for managing grounds, housekeeping, and the Hokie Stone Quarry. Watson keeps the ship steady day-to-day and during times of crisis. When inclement weather arrives, Watson will be on site for countless hours until the campus is safe, sometimes even behind the wheel of one of the plow trucks.
Provost’s Award for Excellence in Advising
The Provost’s Award for Excellence in Advising is given annually to a Virginia Tech faculty or staff member who serves undergraduate advisees in exemplary ways.
The 2020 Provost's Award for Excellence in Academic Advising is given to Vern Ferguson. Ferguson is a beloved academic advisor in the School of Architecture + Design who helps students in the architecture program find their own answers with just the right amount of guidance. To help students, Ferguson introduced the Student Success Collaborative, an advising appointment and recording system, to Virginia Tech. He was awarded the “Best Conference Presentation” at the 2018 NACADA Virginia State Drive-In. The presentation demonstrated Ferguson’s use of the Navigate online advising platform to connect with students studying abroad or in other off-campus study programs in locations including Chicago and San Francisco. with the Navigate online advising platform.
University Sporn Teaching Award for Excellence in Teaching Introductory Subjects
Sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and the Virginia Tech Academy for Teaching Excellence, the Sporn Award for Teaching Introductory Subjects recognizes a Virginia Tech faculty member nominated and selected by undergraduate students.
The 2020 Sporn Award for Excellence in Teaching Introductory Subjects is given to Buddy Howell. Howell is an advanced instructor in the Department of Communication. His love for his students has been shown in his roles as a mentor, advisor, and counselor. Howell has been recognized by students for making larger lecture classrooms feel smaller, as they easily create a relationship with their professor. Howell also created the Undergraduate Ambassador Teaching Assistant Program and the Hokie Undergraduate Group Leaders Program for students to expand their collaborative and leadership abilities.
Staff Career Achievement Award
Created in 2011 to recognize retiring staff members, the Staff Career Achievement Award is presented annually to individuals who retired the previous year and who distinguished themselves through exemplary performance and service during their university career. Nominees must have worked a minimum of 10 years at Virginia Tech.
The Staff Career Achievement Award is presented to Barbara T. Angelotti, general administrator in the Occoquan Monitoring Lab. Nicknamed “Mama of the Lab,” Angelotti maintained a warm and friendly personality throughout her 34 years as a Virginia Tech employee despite the multitude of obstacles that she had to overcome. She maintained relationships with stakeholders, successfully encouraged a sustainable donation income, and played a crucial role in the transition of directors. Throughout her lengthy tenure at the lab, Angelotti became known for her dedicated relationship with Virginia Tech students. Though students might not traditionally be seen as a priority in a research lab, she made sure they had a seat at the table. She took this quite literally, often inviting students over for a home-cooked meal, and even finding a fully furnished housing for a Chinese Ph.D. student before she arrived in the U.S.
The Staff Career Achievement Award is presented to James Long, senior vice president for operations and administration in the police department. Countless performance reviews and letters from visitors and Virginia Tech employees are evidence of his unparalleled commitment to customer service, comfort, and satisfaction. Long began his career in 1979 as a Fleet Services employee, where he remained for 29 years until transferring to the role of security guard in the police department. He made friends with as many students, staff, faculty and professors he possibly could and knew the Virginia Tech campus in a way that many students would envy. In his time at the police department, Long became an expert at figuring out the best ways to blend authority with having a good old time, whether it was leading the Residence Life Resource Officer “Fermented 500” Drunk Goggle Cart Race program or breaking a record in the annual Special Olympics hot dog sale.
The Staff Career Achievement Award is presented to Thomas McAvoy. McAvoy was quarantine officer for the Beneficial Insects Laboratory at Price’s Fork Research Station as a member of the Entomology Department for all 42 years of his tenure at Virginia Tech. McAvoy has been responsible for a long list of successes at the research center, and his accomplishments surpass his contributions to the research station and the scientific community. He was instrumental in the removal of weevils in pastureland, allowing native vegetation to return. McAvoy also traveled across the United States, Japan, and China to study biological control agents for the hemlock woolly adelgid. He is known by his colleagues for his easy-going nature and an unparalleled commitment to Virginia Tech research students.
The Staff Career Achievement Award is presented to Brian Squibb for his exceptional professionalism in his 22-year career at Virginia Tech as an occupational safety engineer. Squibb served Virginia Tech on the Occupational Safety and Health Committee, a member of the Blacksburg NWS SkyWarn Advisory Committee, NWS Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador, and many more. Squibb is known by his colleagues and supervisors for his determined nature and his ability to complete a task in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible. His determination to complete a job with utmost accuracy and efficiency in no way compromised his easy-going personality. In his 22 years, Squibb forged friendships and working relationships with everyone he possibly could, from students to faculty.
William E. Wine Award
The William E. Wine Award was established in 1957 by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association in memory of William E. Wine, Class of 1904, who was a former rector of the Board of Visitors and Alumni Association president. Following a college-level selection process of candidates nominated by students, faculty, and alumni, each college may put forth one nominee. From this group, three faculty members are selected annually. Each Wine Award winner receives $2,000 and automatic induction into the Academy of Teaching Excellence.
The W.E. Wine Award is presented to Jessica A. Folkart for her extraordinary skill and effort in teaching and mentoring. Folkart takes a new approach to teaching. She understands that her career is teaching Spanish, yet she states that the language is only the “vehicle.” She uses Spanish to help students “learn to think critically about language, life, and themselves.” This mindset has served Folkart and her students well. Her SPOT evaluation scores are off the charts, and she has created four new Spanish courses, revamped the outdated curriculum of five courses, refocused six Spanish courses on issues of diversity, and led multiple study abroad programs. She is an example of excellence to her colleagues and a role model of dedication for her students.
The W.E. Wine Award is presented to Mary V. Lipscomb for her teaching excellence and tireless efforts to enhance student learning. Since joining the Virginia Tech faculty in 1993 as an instructor, Lipscomb has reached over 29,000 students in more than 120 sections of seven different courses. In 2008, she was promoted to senior instructor. Lipscomb is known by her colleagues and students for seeking out new ways to deliver material, using student feedback and creativity to continually improve her practice of teaching. She was one of the first on campus to bring the iClicker into the classroom and presently uses her expertise to apply the “flipped classroom” concept to a freshman biology curriculum.
The W.E. Wine Award is presented to Stephen J. Skripak for his achievement in course design, unparalleled service to the university, and his passionate dedication to student learning. Skripak had a successful business career of his own before bringing his talents to Blacksburg “with one simple mission: to positively impact the lives of the students at my alma mater.” Skripak has earned a variety of accolades during this time; he received the Sporn Award, three Faculty of the Year awards, the Certificate of Teaching Excellence, and more. He is committed to easing the transition from high school to Pamplin, and thus developed the First-Year Experience course that has since become part of the core curriculum for the college and an essential tool for first-year business students.
XCaliber Award for Excellence in Technology Assisted Teaching and Learning
Established in 1996 by the Office of the Provost, the XCaliber Award is presented annually by Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies to recognize individual faculty members or teams of faculty and staff who integrate technology in teaching and learning. The award celebrates innovative, student-centered approaches.
Diana Bairaktarova is an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Education, an affiliate faculty in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and faculty in the Human-centered Design Program. She has more than 15 years of experience working as a design and manufacturing engineer. Her current research projects investigate how mechanical aptitude and spatial ability, interest, and manipulation of physical and virtual objects influence learning and performance in engineering. By providing applications of real-world engineering tasks in the exploration of new designs that stimulate creativity and visual reasoning, Bairaktarova aims to prepare her students with innovative thinking, helping them to face rapidly changing technologies.
Carol Mullen is a professor of educational leadership in the School of Education. She has been named twice as a recipient of the J. William Fulbright Senior Scholar for research. Mullen teaches masters and doctoral courses exploring innovative uses of technology to improve student learning among cohorts of physically distributed graduate students. Her pedagogical research on mentoring, international education, and other topics in the social sciences is from a social justice lens. Her exceptional record of scholarship has attracted 24 award recognitions from educational agencies, professional associations, and universities, such as Virginia Tech’s Alumni Award for Excellence in Research and the Excellence in Research and Creative Scholarship Award from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.