Kathleen Alexander named William E. Lavery Professor
Kathleen Alexander, professor of wildlife conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech, has been named the William E. Lavery Professor by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.
The William E. Lavery Professorship is named in honor of the 12th president of Virginia Tech to support his great interest in international programs and his advocacy for extending the benefits of the nation’s land-grant universities into the international arena. An extensive nomination and vetting process involved department and college honorifics committees, a specially convened university committee, Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke, and President Tim Sands.
A member of the Virginia Tech faculty since 2007, Alexander has garnered a significant international reputation as an expert in wildlife diseases. She has been the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on more than $10.9 million in external research funds, most of which funded or is funding her work in Africa. More than 65 percent of her publications involve co-authors from institutes or organizations outside of the United States. She has been prolific in sharing her research, averaging eight peer-reviewed papers per year over the past five years, appearing in top scientific journals such as Science, Nature, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Alexander has an established presence in Botswana, Africa, having co-founded a nonprofit conservation organization where she carries out her scholarship, outreach, and service activities: the Centre for Animals, Communities, and Land Use (CARACAL), which includes the Chobe Research Institute.
A registered veterinarian in Botswana, Alexander has worked closely with the Office of the President of Botswana and served in an advisory capacity during the pandemic as part of the Botswana Presidential COVID-19 Task Force. She also provides technical assistance as well as wildlife veterinary and forensic support to the country’s Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation, and Tourism.
In response to the AIDS epidemic, Alexander established small business enterprises to assist vulnerable women and children in Botswana. She discovered a novel tuberculosis pathogen in wildlife related to human tuberculosis and has recently been active in linking diarrheal diseases, a leading cause of death of children under 5, to environmental drivers and the decline of water quality.
Her scholarship is diverse and includes studying emerging viral and bacterial diseases in humans and animals, antibiotic resistance dynamics, community livelihood strategies, and environmental sustainabiliy. She has also consulted during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and studied cholera in Haiti.
Paul M. Winistorfer, dean of the College of Natural Resources and Environment, summarized Alexander’s global achievements and impact: “We are proud of Professor Alexander’s recognition by the institution and awarding of the Lavery Professorship. Kathy’s decision to anchor her fieldwork in Africa has proven impactful in ways beyond typical measures of scholarship and success. Maintaining a competitive research program while maintaining significant field resources in Botswana has required a significant effort beyond normal. The impacts of her work on the scientific community and the social, political, and environmental networks of Botswana and beyond are a testament to her vision, passion, and commitment to a better world.”
In addition to her research and outreach work, Alexander has said that “teaching is a way of inspiring the next generation to develop a passion for science and service.” She has developed interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate-level courses and challenges her students by immersing them in an international research environment that integrates both laboratory and field-based research, framed within community outreach at her Botswana study site.
Alexander has developed a six-credit-hour study abroad course focused on international public and wildlife health. She has been awarded three supplementary grants from the National Science Foundation to support underrepresented minorities in educational activities she leads in Botswana, including a study abroad opportunity for African American high school students and their teachers in 2019. These activities are part of a broad environmental educational program that she operates across 11 different schools in her field site in Northern Botswana.
According to Joel Snodgrass, head of the Department Fish and Wildlife Conservation, “Kathy Alexander holds a deep respect for the people of Botswana and puts in the extra effort to make sure her team’s research results, as well as those of other researchers, are translated into management and policy actions that directly benefit the citizens of Botswana. Moreover, she is committed to instilling in her students the same scientific ethic; she truly embodies the university’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), from an international perspective.”
She has received several awards in her career, including Virginia Tech’s Alumni Award for Excellence in International Research and Alumni Award for Excellence in International Outreach. In addition, she is a member of Phi Beta Delta Honor Society for International Scholars and Iota Delta Rho Interdisciplinary Research Honor Society, received the Pfizer Award for Outstanding Scholastic Achievement and Contribution to Veterinary Medicine, and was nominated as a TEDx Virginia Tech speaker.
Alexander received a bachelor’s degree, a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine degree, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis.