Each year during Graduate Education Week, the Graduate School honors a student who has been singularly outstanding as the Graduate Student of the Year. This year, two students will receive the award. Additionally, the Graduate School recognizes students for service excellence and for teaching.

2020 Graduate Students of the Year

Monika Gibson, Graduate School assistant dean and director of Graduate Student Services, said the student of the year award recognizes not only academic excellence, but contributions to the larger university community and a commitment to the University’s Principles of Community.

“The selection committee also looks for characteristics such as charisma, creativity, curiosity, humility, integrity, or thoughtfulness when interviewing candidates,” Gibson said.

The award winners were chosen by a selection committee comprised of students from four colleges, a representative from the Graduate Student Assembly, and professional staff members from the Graduate School, the greater Washington, D.C. metro area, and from Student Engagement and Campus Life, a division of Student Affairs. To ensure fairness, the representatives from the four colleges rotate each year. The students of the year will be honored later this spring at Virginia Tech’s annual awards celebration. 

image of Awad Abdelhalim at a podium wearing a mask
Awad Abdelhalim, 2020 Graduate Student of the Year

Awad Abdelhalim, Ph.D. candidate, Transportation Systems Engineering, College of Engineering. Abdelhalim has been a graduate student at Virginia Tech since 2016 and plans to defend his dissertation in August. He has been actively engaged in research and teaching, and has been involved in the Center for Enhancement of Engineering Diversity. He has been active in the Graduate Student Assembly, a member of the Graduate Academy for Teaching Excellence, and involved with numerous boards and extracurricular programs. His advisor, Monty Abbas, professor of civil and environmental engineering said he was deeply impressed with Abdelhalim’s “dedication and exceptional capabilities.” Susan Christian, Associate Director for CEED, said, “He has been engaged in many efforts beyond CEED to make a difference at the university in student organizations and also research.” 

Ayella Maile-Moskowitz smiling at the camera wearing a black jacket
Ayella Maile-Moskowitz, 200 Graduate Student of the Year

Ayella Maile-Moskowitz, Ph.D. candidate, Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering. Maile-Moskowitz’s co-advisors, Peter Vikesland, Nick Prillaman Professor, and Amy Pruden, W. Thomas Rice Professor, called her a truly special student. After a year of focus on her primary research project, she “was tapped to take the lead in establishing a sewage sampling network across campus, pulling up sewage samples from 15 manholes twice a week for SARS-CoV-2 testing.” In addition to her critical work on this project, they noted “her heart for people through the many outreach activities that she engages in.” She has mentored undergraduate students in their research and has inspired others “to make similar commitments to step up and serve their communities when duty calls.”

Graduate Service and Teaching Excellence awards

The Service excellence award honors the winner’s outstanding work for the graduate community and the larger university, and for a commitment to Ut prosim (That I may serve) and the Principles of Community. The two teaching awards recognize stellar work in the service to one of the university’s core missions.  

Image of Adam Masters wearing glasses and smiling at the camera
Adam Masters, winner of the 2020 Service Excellence award

Service Excellence Award

Adam Masters, Doctoral student in Engineering Education, College of Engineering. Masters was instrumental in the effort to increase access to all-gender restrooms across campus, working with the LGBTQ+ task force. Kelly Oaks, assistant vice president for equity and accessibility, wrote of Master’s efforts, “Over the past 4 years, I have worked with Adam to advance the creation of all gender restrooms on campus. Adam has proven to be an excellent collaborator and an exceptional champion of this cause. Adam’s tenacity, skill in synthesizing data, and commitment to improving campus life for all trans individuals helped Virginia Tech to make significant progress in increasing access to all gender restrooms on our campus.” Ashleigh Bingham, director of the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, agreed: “I know I am not alone when I say that I am in awe of what Adam has been able and willing to take on in the short time I have known them.”

Mostafa Mohammed smiling at the camera outdoors
Mostafa Mohammed, winner of the 2020 Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) Instructor of Record Excellence Award

Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) Instructor of Record Excellence Award

Mostafa Mohammed, Ph.D. student, Department of Computer Science, College of Engineering. Clifford Shaffer, professor in computer science, noted that Mohammed taught four different courses during his first two years at Virginia Tech, then took over as instructor for a senior level theory class that usually was not the first choice of undergraduates due to the daunting material. “Since Mostafa took over, enrollment as a fraction of students has gone through the roof, and we now teach three sections a year instead of one (all by Mostafa),” Shaffer wrote in his nomination letter. “This outcome would not have been believed before it happened, and it is entirely due to Mostafa’s teaching and the quality of the teaching materials that he has developed.” Schaffer said Mohammed also has been supervising undergraduate students with independent study course “but he has created one of the most innovative eTextbooks in the world.”

Brittany Nackley with a student
Brittany Nackley, winner of the 2020 Graduate Teaching Assistant Excellence Award, with a student (photo taken before March 2020)

Graduate Teaching Assistant Excellence Award

Brittany Nackley, Ph.D. student, Department of Psychology, College of Science. Nackley has excelled as both a lecturer and a lab instructor for physiological psychology, according to Bruce Friedman, associate professor of psychology. “This course has been transformed through Brittany’s zeal and tireless efforts,” Friedman wrote. “Brittany emphasizes the application of physiological data to relevant psychological topics such as emotion and cognition. All the while, she conveys the value of the scientific method. Accordingly, they come away from the course with a greater appreciation of psychology as an empirical science.” Heather Kissel, the department’s teaching peer mentoring graduate assistant, said she had observed Nackley in action and applauded the way she transitioned the course to a virtual platform when the university responded to the pandemic. “In addition to helping students during class, she has created many supplementary tutorials posted on YouTube to further guide students through the material and issues they may face with the at-home kits in fall 2020 and spring 2021. Each semester she has continuously innovated and improved the course.”

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