The Virginia Tech Graduate School has named Richard R. Rodrigues and Mary E. Tackett as the 2016 graduate students of the year. The two doctoral students were recognized at the Graduate School’s awards dinner on March 24.

Richard Rodrigues, of Kolhapur, India, is a doctoral student in the Genetics, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology interdisciplinary program. He earned his master’s degree in bioinformatics at the Rochester Institute of Technology and his bachelor’s degree at Kolhapur Institute of Technology in India. During his academic career he has made more than 15 professional presentations, published six publications, and currently is preparing at least six more manuscripts.

Additionally, he serves as the treasurer and director of finance for the Graduate Student Assembly and has mentored students in the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program. His advisor, Horticulture Professor Mark Williams, called him “a servant to Virginia Tech” in his nomination letter.

“He is very well-rounded in his academics, social interactions, and service to the university,” Williams wrote. “In his academic efforts he exemplifies an interdisciplinary scientist who is capable of merging research elements from disparate and sometimes boundary-heavy academic fields. He works well with others by empowering them. [His] ability to give and receive advice, and to utilize the talents of others to answer new questions is a foundational leadership characteristic.”  

Rodrigues said his main research goal is to improve the quality of human health and the environment. He wrote, “I will forever strive to serve the community every day of my life.” Rodrigues said he will carry the spirit of Ut Prosim (That I may serve) with him wherever he goes after graduation.

Mary Tackett, of Winchester, Virginia, is a doctoral candidate in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Scienceseducation, curriculum, and instruction program in the School of Education. She earned her master’s degree in the same field and her bachelor’s degree in English at Virginia Tech.

Tackett has nine peer-reviewed conference presentations, has contributed to two books, and currently has several manuscripts under review. Her nomination letters describe her as an experienced and dedicated teacher, tutor, and mentor whose enthusiasm for learning is contagious in every environment, whether it be in a first-grade classroom or in a university setting. Her work has been recognized with many awards, including the Virginia Scholars Award, a Blue Ridge Writing Project Fellowship, YMCA Outstanding Graduate Volunteer of the Year, Outstanding Community Outreach, and Outstanding Graduate Student Leader.

Education Professor Amy Price Azano, co-chair of Tackett’s dissertation committee, described her as “a standout in every way” and a person she values and respects as a researcher, instructor, and colleague. “She is, without a doubt, one of the most dedicated students I have ever worked with,” Azano wrote.

According to a colleague at Fallon Park Elementary School in Roanoke, Virginia, Tackett believes in the importance of education and all students’ right to be treated with dignity and respect.

Tackett said she hopes to be remembered at Virginia Tech “as someone who enthusiastically embraces every opportunity to enrich the lives of those she encounters through her unwavering dedication to equity, understanding, and appreciation of all individuals.”

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