After spending five years as a volunteer building efficient wood-burning stoves in Guatemala, recent Virginia Tech graduate Laina Schneider of Alexandria, Va., brought her skills to Blacksburg. 

Schneider, who majored in crop and soil environmental sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, developed and implemented an outdoor stove for the Hale-Y Community Gardens, which is managed by the YMCA at Virginia Tech. The stove is available to gardeners and community members who use the stove to prepare and share community meals.

Schneider's poster on her project was chosen from among 42 projects as one of three top undergraduate submissions at last April's Engagement Poster Showcase hosted by VT Engage. 

Schneider also won a Gwin Parker Gwin award, which recognizes outstanding community engagement projects. 

Nearly a year later, the stove has become integrated into garden life, from enabling members to cook potluck dinners and a host a cooking class, to providing hot cider on cold winter days. The stove has been a hit with community members using the garden, especially with immigrants who used similar stoves in their home countries.

This year's poster showcase will be held April 22 at The Inn at Virginia Tech, where graduate and undergraduate students show conference-quality posters demonstrating results and what they learned from their experiences. From locally implemented projects to international work, the projects can include using technology to expand current programs or discussing the impact of volunteer work or community learning coursework. 

"Our showcase is an ideal opportunity for students to discuss their service and engagement projects," said VT Engage Director Gary Kirk. "Every year, I am impressed with the ingenuity, perseverance, and passion that our students take to communities around the globe. These events give us an opportunity to stop and reflect on the breadth and depth of this impact."

This year's posters will be divided into the VT Engage core value that the project most closely aligns with. Those values are social and ethical reflexivity, authentic community investment, and responsible action grounded in scholarship. Interested students are invited to submit proposals by March 15.

Following the showcase, VT Engage will recognize outstanding student, faculty, and community partner work at their end-of-year awards ceremony. In addition to poster showcase awards, winners of the John E. Dooley Student Engagement Grant will be announced. Funded by private donors, each year the grant offers two Virginia Tech students or teams $750 to implement civic engagement projects.

Last year's grant winners, Tana Schiewer, a doctoral student in rhetoric and writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and Nina Miller, a first-year student majoring in agricultural sciences and psychology, used their seed funds to implement their innovative projects. 

Schiewer designed a workshop that teaches messaging strategies to nonprofits and Miller planned a community garden that will grow produce for a local food pantry. 

In addition to grant applications, VT Engage is currently accepting award nominations for students who have demonstrated a commitment to community engagement. The deadline to apply for the grant or to submit nominations is March 28.

VT Engage offers service, student leadership, and community learning opportunities that focus on engaged learning and encourage reflection.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

Written by Lindsey Gleason.
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