Four members of the Virginia Tech community -- Associate Professor Akshay Sharma; Michael Diersing, staff member in the College of Engineering; graduate student Christina Lidwin; and undergraduate student Austin Larrowe -- have been selected to receive the university's 2014 Illuminator Award.

The award is presented annually to a faculty member, staff member, graduate student, and undergraduate student who have outstanding abilities, innovative ideas to fuel the future, well-honed leadership skills, and a commitment to service. The awards will be presented on June 3.

"Illuminators are members of our university community who demonstrate what it means to 'invent the future' by creating, researching, or developing a new or better idea that will enrich the future," said Melissa Richards, assistant vice president for marketing and publications. "These award winners may also be community members who go above and beyond the call of duty by way of stellar customer service for the betterment of the university or exemplary leadership for the betterment of the future of society or a charitable cause."

Sharma, who will receive the faculty award, serves as program director for the Design for the Bottom of the Pyramid initiative in the School of Architecture + Design. Sharma developed a software platform for an application that makes it easier for children in developing countries to receive life-saving vaccinations. 

Called IMMUNE, the tool will be used by the Jaipur Foot Organization based in India. His work has been recognized in a number of prestigious international venues, including Innovation, the journal of the Industrial Designers Society of America. Sharma’s international outreach work, as presented on his Designing for Empowerment website, employs design as a way to creatively address some of the most critical issues being faced by societies around the world, especially for those below the poverty level.

Diersing is a media specialist for the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics. A volunteer photographer for the Highty-Tighties, Diersing spends hours serving the band and the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. He has served corps families by providing them with a way to see their cadets in action and has taken personal leave to photograph as many corps events as possible.

Christina Lidwin of Chantilly, Va., is pursuing a master’s degree in creative technologies. The first student member of the Mirror Worlds Project, which uses sensors in the Moss Arts Center to study human behavior and emotion in both the physical and virtual environment, Lidwin is committed to building a collaborative environment containing elements from reality and the digital realm. 

Lidwin serves as Virginia Tech Google Student Ambassador and works at FourDesign, the university’s student-run graphic design firm.

Austin Larrowe of Woodlawn, Va., is a senior majoring in applied economic management and agriculture sciences. Larrowe, Virginia Tech’s first Presidential Fellow at the nonprofit Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress in Washington, D.C., is the founder, president, and CEO of Feed by Seed, a nonprofit organization aimed at providing agriculture development advice to developing countries. 

To date, Feed by Seed has organized more than 60 public service experiences in Nicaragua, provided food distribution for more than 3,200 villagers, and aided a U.S. effort aiming to package 1.2 million meals in a single day. His other accomplishments include steering committee member of TEDx at Virginia Tech and a 2011 Aspire Award winner.

The Illuminator Award recipients were selected from a group of 21 nominations submitted before March 24.

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.

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