Being an Undergraduate Fellow means more than assisting Student Affairs leadership and implementing new projects. To Imani Gainey and Sherlock Banks II, it means continually improving the campus atmosphere and enhancing the college experience for their fellow students.

“My role as an Undergraduate Fellow is how I uphold our motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), and am able to give back to the Hokie community through ideation and implementation,” Gainey said.

Working closely with Vice President for Student Affairs Frank Shushok Jr. and other Student Affairs leadership, Gainey and Banks are ambassadors for the student body. The year-long role allows the fellows to gain not only administrative and leadership experience, but to also serve the on- and off-campus student body. 

“We view Imani and Sherlock as full partners and colleagues working with us in accomplishing the mission of Student Affairs. They’re incredibly bright, hardworking, and tenacious individuals, and they bring with them an impressive set of technical skills. It has been energizing to watch them put their engineering minds to use as they tackle problems that impact students,” Shushok said.

Banks is a senior majoring in civil engineering, planning to pursue a master’s degree at Virginia Tech in either construction engineering and management or civil infrastructure engineering. He also emphasized his love for finance. In addition to being a 2021-22 Civil and Environmental Engineering Alumni Board Scholarship recipient, Banks will return to Hampton, Virginia, as a construction management intern next summer. As an Undergraduate Fellow, he interacts with the Shushok's office daily, assisting with Student Affairs projects and tasks. He explained that he leverages his student experiences to find solutions for student-centered projects. 

“Two projects I’m working on are creating a year-by-year student climate survey and building solutions that will benefit our valued off-campus students,” Banks continued, “I see my role as being a liaison between the student perspective and interactions with administration.”

Banks’ Off-Campus Student Life Working Group project is currently in the research phase. Both Shushok and Dean of Students Byron Hughes assist in overseeing Banks’ project. Banks’ work investigates the overall success and well-being of off-campus students by understanding what communication practices work best to stay connected to these students, what additional resources, organization structures, or initiatves off-campus students need, and how Virginia Tech can best support these students.

“From our various meetings, this semester our team of two outstanding Hokie students and eight passionate Virginia Tech faculty members will leverage their knowledge and technical expertise to answer these questions,” Banks said.

Gainey is in her third year at Virginia Tech, majoring in industrial and systems engineering. She is a Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity peer mentor, Black College Institute staff leader, and a Housing and Residence Life office assistant. She also served on the Isolation/Quarantine Student Experience committee.

“My role allows me to explore potential career paths in higher education, gain field experience, develop applicable knowledge, mature as a professional, and grow as an individual,” Gainey said.

Gainey is currently working on two projects. The Student Wellness Needs Assessment is a survey that gauges students’ thoughts and input upon their arrival to campus. Gainey then analyzes common themes in these responses and identifies areas of growth for Virginia Tech to facilitate students’ on-campus transition. Her other project is a Student Employment, Internships, and Graduate Assistant focus group. This focus group provides Gainey an understanding of various student employee experiences and allows her to create areas of focus for the university regarding future employment opportunities for students. Her goal is to build a new system of finding and applying for employment opportunities, opening many possibilities for future students. Assistant Vice President for Administration Martha Glass oversees Gainey’s projects.

The fellows’ everyday work aligns with the campuswide initiative, ExperienceVT. This initiative provides students with the opportunity to create a personalized plan and engage in purposeful, ongoing conversations, allowing students to experience Virginia Tech in a meaningful way. ExperienceVT also encourages students to explore, practice, and live the Student Affairs’ Aspirations for Student Learning and to capitalize on their CliftonStrengths throughout their professional and academic journeys.

Inspired by these aspirations, both fellows have devoted themselves to engaging with the Virginia Tech community and remodeling current systems. Gainey committed herself to extracurricular activities that promote diversity and inclusion and to activities where she can serve her community. She proactively seeks to participate in conversations that call for change and break down modern stereotypes and practices. Banks has concentrated on improving the college experience of both on- and off-campus students, striving to alleviate transitional and communicative barriers between students and the university.

“I am a student who has been blessed enough to receive a platform to share my ideas and perspectives and have the ability to take actions on those thoughts,” Gainey said.

The dedication of these Undergraduate Fellows shines through in their academic and professional duties and in their passion to serve their community.

Written by Tayten Allison

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