The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences’ scope and scholarship are highlighted in the 2014-15 issue of Spheres magazine, which celebrates award winners and newsmakers – people whose talent, dedication, and contributions have drawn recognition from their colleagues at Virginia Tech and beyond.

“The college is defined by the range and caliber of its intellectual energy, creative passion, and human understanding,” writes Elizabeth Spiller, dean of the college, in her foreword to the magazine.

The issue’s theme is faculty, staff, students, and alumni honored for exceptional achievement in their fields: teaching, research, local and international engagement. Their stories are set on the campus, across the nation, and around the globe. 

“Our faculty and staff are passionate about inspiring students to invent their futures and, in doing so, change our worlds,” Spiller writes.

Atia Abawi (communication ’04), an international correspondent for NBC News, is also a successful novelist. Her first book, “The Secret Sky: A Novel of Forbidden Love in Afghanistan,” was published this month. 

“Virginia Tech gave me the courage and confidence to chase my dreams,” she wrote in a recent email. For her accomplishments in two fields, she is the 2014 Outstanding Recent Alumna Award winner.

Senior Instructor Trudy Harrington Becker and Associate Professor Andrew Becker, who have led Virginia Tech students on study abroad courses for 16 years, relate how their adventures have changed them. 

Travel to historic sites enriches the traveler by stirring “the emotion necessary to understand how these things felt to those who lived then,” Trudy states. The couple share the university’s 2014 Alumni Award for Excellence in International Education.

Expressing a similar thought, Professor LuAnn Gaskill of the Department of Apparel, Housing, and Resource Management says, “There is little that compares to what you can learn and experience from first-hand field research and travel abroad.” 

Gaskill, who leads the European Fashion Study Abroad program, is recognized with the university’s 2014 Alumni Award for Excellence in International Outreach.

Closer to home, Professor Vernon Burnsed is honored with the college’s Excellence in Outreach Award for 2014. He leads the seven-year-old Virginia Tech String Project, a nonprofit instructional program that offers affordable stringed instrument classes to elementary school students. Burnsed “has influenced the lives of hundreds of elementary-age children and contributed to the development of a string culture at Virginia Tech,” said Associate Professor Wallace Easter, his colleague in the School of Performing Arts.

After a storied career, Professor Emerita Patricia Proudfoot Kelly retired from the School of Education, but she wanted to stay connected. To do so, she made a generous donation to establish the Patricia P. Kelly Teaching and Learning Graduate Fellowship to help graduate students take part in global travel. 

“I love the term ‘legacy,’ ” she says. “Giving back is so important – the university wins and the person wins.” In recognition of her generosity, Kelly is a member of the Legacy Society and the Ut Prosim Society.

All of these stories and more can be found in volume seven of Spheres magazine.



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