Meet the 2022 award recipients
Learn more about the faculty and staff who were recognized for excellence.
Alumni Awards for Excellence
Sponsored by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, the Alumni Awards for Excellence are awarded annually to faculty and staff who exhibit excellence and dedication in their respective fields.
Carol B. Nansel has served as Shenandoah County's 4-H Extension agent since 1984. After growing up in the Fairfax County 4-H program herself, she enjoys seeing the impact that 4-H programming has in people's lives. Nansel and her husband train and compete in agility, dock diving, and a few other dog sports with their golden retrievers. They have fostered more than 30 goldens for animal rescue organizations and only kept two of them.
Elena Serrano, director of the Virginia Family Nutrition Program, has served as an Extension specialist and professor at Virginia Tech for 20 years. In 2010, Serrano was named a Healthy School Hero for her work with childhood obesity in schools across Virginia. Driven by a commitment to contribute positively to communities, she finds inspiration in the Hokie Nation’s passion to serve.
Chelsea Haines Lyles, Lisa McNair, and Phyllis Leary Newbill of the Center for Educational Networks and Impacts have created a new educational research entity. That work is strengthening the university’s ability to engage with STEM learning communities in Virginia and ensure that Virginia Tech research is benefitting society through mutually beneficial learning experiences. In tandem with the center’s research goals, the team strengthens the broader impact and evaluation planning for faculty members across more than 20 colleges and centers within Virginia Tech. The team supports the center’s mission through outreach experiences, the center’s signature Educator Liaison Network, an internal Campus Engagement Network of outreach experts, and an innovative evaluation program.
John Gordon Casali '77, M.S. '79, Ph.D. '82, the Grado Chaired Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering, develops innovative engineering systems to prevent noise-induced hearing loss and evaluates the effectiveness of hearing protectors and headphones. He is the founder and director of the Auditory Systems Laboratory at Virginia Tech. He has provided pro bono outreach assistance for acoustics-related problems, consulted with companies and law firms, and presented continuing education workshops and seminars as well as lectures for professional audiences. Additionally, he has procured some $7 million in research funding and $8 million in foundation sponsorship at Virginia Tech, including $1.1 million for doctoral fellowships. Casali has been recognized with numerous awards throughout his career.
As an educational psychologist, Brett Jones, professor of educational psychology in the School of Education, focuses on the theoretical development and practical application of motivation science in educational settings. He developed the MUSIC Model of Motivation, which summarizes motivation research into five principles that instructors can use to intentionally design instruction. His scholarship has been applied around the world and has led to over $2 million in National Science Foundation funding and to the publication of over 100 research articles, several book chapters, and three books.
Maury A. Nussbaum, the Hal G. Prillaman Professor in Industrial and Systems Engineering, conducts research on occupational biomechanics, ergonomics, and work physiology to help prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders and occupational slips, trips, and falls. His recent research has focused on the safe and effective adoption of occupational exoskeletons, or wearable devices that reduce the load of physical work. He has published 235 peer-reviewed journal papers, and his work has been cited nearly 10,000 times. He is a fellow of the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors, the American Industrial Hygiene Association, the Institute of Industrial Engineers, the International Ergonomics Association, and the American Society of Biomechanics. In 2021, he received the Alumni Award for Graduate Advising.
Timothy D. Baird, associate professor of geography and the faculty principal of the Creativity and Innovation District Living-Learning Program, is a human ecologist whose teaching and research focus on global sustainability, environmental conservation, rural development in Africa, and self-regulated learning in higher education. He also directs the Pathways minor in sustainability, which currently enrolls 52 students. Through his work, Baird appreciates being able to work with diverse groups of people across campus, throughout the country, and around the world. In 2018, he was recognized with the XCaliber Award for exceptional high-caliber contributions to technology-enriched learning activities.
Kevin Kochersberger, associate professor in mechanical engineering, has led the Uncrewed Systems Lab and $10 million in funded research since 2007, including an internationally accredited drone training program in Malawi. In 2017, Kochersberger and a student team demonstrated a university-designed drone in Malawi that could be used for medical supply delivery and remote clinical diagnostics. That led to a long-term agreement with UNICEF to support drone education programs in Africa. The African Drone and Data Academy has over 500 graduates from 29 nations. He has received numerous honors, including the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International’s first place Xcellence Humanitarian Award in 2021.
Juan Luis Nicolau, the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Professor of Revenue Management in the Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, focuses his research in the areas of consumer decision-making and the analysis of firm value. He has published more than 140 peer-reviewed articles, mostly in high-impact journals. Additionally, he has been the recipient of nearly two dozen awards throughout his career, including the 2022 Pamplin College of Business Career Award for Research Excellence in recognition of “his exceptional career record of outstanding research that has led to the development of new theories and empirical generalizations.”
Vinodh Venkatesh, professor of Spanish, has taught undergraduate and graduate students in the Spanish program since 2011. By incorporating the cultures and histories of the Spanish-speaking world into his classes, he shows students the importance of cultural artifacts, which allows them to reflect on their own world views. Additionally, he has partnered with colleagues to create outreach and recruiting opportunities throughout Virginia and co-created a Pathways minor on Language and Culture for the Practice of Science aimed at providing language and culture skills for students in the natural sciences. Additional accolades include the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences’ Certificate of Teaching Excellence Award in 2019.
Rachel Arnold, collegiate assistant professor of mathematics, began teaching at Virginia Tech as a graduate teaching assistant 15 years ago and has taught eight different mathematics courses. Today, she designs and leads a professional development program for about 50 mathematics graduate student teachers each academic year. In 2016, she began conducting research in mathematics education, the results of which she implements in her classes. She is currently the principal investigator of a National Science Foundation-funded project for addressing the cognitive and instructional challenges in introductory proofs courses, which are gateway courses for advanced STEM study.
Helene Shine Goetz, an academic advisor in University Studies and Scholarship Support, began advising in 1988 and was one of the original advisors when the University Academic Advising Center formed in 1989. With over 30 years of advising experience, she has worked with diverse student populations, including exploratory students, international students, athletes, and students in transition between majors. In fall 2020, she served as the primary advisor for the university’s VTBound program, a campus initiative for incoming first-semester international students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic that allowed them to start their first semester with remote learning. She has received many accolades during her tenure at Virginia Tech, including Advisor of the Month, Favorite Faculty nominee, Thank-a-Teacher recipient, and Thank-an-Advisor recipient.
Holly M. Matusovich, associate dean for graduate and professional studies in the College of Engineering and a professor of engineering education, is recognized for her research and leadership related to graduate student mentoring and faculty development. She has been a principal or co-co-principal investigator on 19 funded research projects, including a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, with her share of funding being nearly $3 million. She has co-authored two book chapters, 34 journal publications, and more than 80 conference papers, and she is currently the editor-in-chief of the journal Advances in Engineering Education. She has received a myriad of recognition for her research and teaching including being inducted into the Virginia Tech Academy of Faculty Leadership in 2020.
McComas Staff Leadership Award
The McComas Staff Leadership Award honors the significant leadership contributions of a classified or university staff member who has been employed at Virginia Tech for at least one year.
Maryann Cline, technician and technical team lead at the Animal Cancer Care and Research Center, calls animal health her passion. She spent 12 years as a veterinary technician in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s anesthesia department, working on everything from a chihuahua to a clydesdale. Cline notes that, “Fifteen years later, I am still excited to be learning new things in an ever-changing medical environment.” In 2019, she joined the then-new Animal Cancer Care and Research Center. The center’s combination of cancer treatment and research not only enables her to help animal patients, but also to play a role in contributing to the global understanding of oncology treatment.
Sharon Dunn, a hospital process analyst, has worked at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine since 1994. Through the years, she has served in many of the college’s departments, something that helped her understand how each area plays a role in the initiatives and successes of the teaching hospital and the college. Currently, the analyst group develops and supports information systems for the teaching hospital in Blacksburg, the Animal Cancer Care and Research Center in Roanoke, and the Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, which combined provide veterinary care to 65,000+ animals each year throughout Virginia and surrounding states.
Presidential Principles of Community Award
The Presidential Principles of Community Award recognizes faculty and staff members who exemplify and promote a welcoming and inclusive environment in accordance with the university’s Principles of Community.
Melissa Faircloth, director of the American Indian and Indigenous Community Center, started her journey at Virginia Tech as a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in sociology. In 2017, she and alumnae Caylin Stewart and Sarah Woodward organized the university’s first powwow, which is now an annual tradition co-hosted by the center and the student organization Native at VT. Faircloth became the first full-time director of the center in fall 2018. Since then, she has built programming and promoted initiatives to officially recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day on campus, develop the university’s land acknowledgment, and create new historical markers that will offer a more inclusive and nuanced history of our university.
Eric Z. Glenn, a project manager, began working full-time at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in 2016. He also enrolled in the education counseling graduate program and volunteered as an academic support counselor for the Student-Athlete Academic Support Services. His diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work began to take shape when he was approached to develop the institute’s first DEI committee. Glenn employs a combination of lived and educational experiences to develop and support a strong and actionable committee. Today, the committee has more than 60 members. Glenn uses his passion, creativity, charisma, and knowledge to create and foster a culture of psychological safety, acceptance, and belonging for all.
Tamarah Smith’s service to the university is shaped by a deep commitment to equity, justice, fairness, and mutual respect. A business operations specialist with the Office of Summer and Winter Sessions, she has earned the reputation of a committed colleague whose perspective is valued by decision-makers because of her approach to advocating for staff. She brings an acceptance for others and a willingness to ensure that marginalized faculty, staff, and students are supported at Virginia Tech. During her 33 years at the university, she has received numerous accolades, including the President's Award for Excellence in 2011 and 2019.
The Black Caucus of Virginia Tech was established in 1981 to provide support to Black faculty and staff members, students, and the university community. It is the oldest caucus at Virginia Tech, and its work has been described as “extraordinary” over the past 40 years. The group’s leadership directly affects the quality of life for the Black campus community through events and programs such as the Affordable Housing in NRV Diversity Scorecard, Policing in Communities of Color, and The Blackout Dinner and Trivia Night. Caucus members serve well beyond the formal requirements of their employment, and they are continually challenged to move forward with their agenda of assistance to and advocacy for Black faculty, staff, and students.
President's Award for Excellence
The President’s Award for Excellence is presented annually to up to five Virginia Tech employees who have made extraordinary contributions by consistent excellence in the performance of their job or a single incident, contribution, or heroic act. The employees — LaTawnya Burleson, Julie Carlson, Connie “Lynn” Heffron, and Max Ofsa — for 2022 were announced on April 12. Read the story
LaTawnya Burleson, advancement associate senior in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences dean’s office, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2012. As president of the college’s Staff Association, she helped acknowledge and elevate staff roles throughout the college by implementing a Staff Member of the Year Award. Also, she has provided significant leadership to the university on the Staff Senate. As a senator for nine years, she served and advanced important initiatives on numerous committees including the Virginia Tech Appalachian Caucus, Energy and Sustainability Commission, and the Committee on Equal Opportunity and Diversity.
Julie Carlson, administrative support specialist for Hokie Wellness, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2018. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she stepped up to ensure the university responded to its employees and students with certainty and compassion. She altered her work schedule, made time to verify vaccination statuses, worked at vaccination clinics, and answered questions about the ever-changing pandemic landscape. She was one of many frontline employees who have helped the university weather COVID-19 with success.
Connie “Lynn” Heffron is a laboratory specialist senior for the Meng Lab of Molecular Virology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. She has worked for Virginia Tech since 2003. As a lab specialist, she uses creative problem-solving skills and has helped countless students and postdocs with their research projects by performing various experiments. Since joining the virology lab in 2012, she has co-authored more than 25 scientific publications, including a co-first author paper. Such a high level of contribution to scholarly activities is rare for a lab specialist.
Max Ofsa, 3D Design Studio manager for the University Libraries, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2013. He brainstormed the idea for the studio, which became one of the University Libraries’ most popular services. The space, which provides free 3D printing for all of campus, enables numerous projects and hands-on experiences with additive manufacturing technologies to students from all majors. His proposal provided a strong groundwork for the space. When the University Libraries acted on building it, he was involved with all the steps of seeing the space come to fruition, including service design, tool selection, space construction consultation, staff hiring and training, and, finally, the actual opening and management of the space.
Provost’s Award for Excellence in Advising
The Provost’s Award for Excellence in Advising is given annually to a Virginia Tech faculty or staff member who serves undergraduate advisees in exemplary ways.
Holly Belcher has served in an advising role since 2014. She began her career advising students studying philosophy and politics, philosophy, and economics. In 2020, her focus shifted to politics, philosophy, and economics students when she started at the Kellogg Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. As an advisor, Belcher helps students achieve educational goals throughout their academic careers and encourages them to explore Virginia Tech’s resources to foster further growth and development. In addition, she serves as the business and marketing manager for the Kellogg Center.
University Sporn Teaching Award for Excellence in Teaching Introductory Subjects
Sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and the Virginia Tech Academy for Teaching Excellence, the Sporn Award for Teaching Introductory Subjects recognizes a Virginia Tech faculty member nominated and selected by undergraduate students.
Candace Wall came to the Department of Chemistry after serving as an ocean chemist with the United States Antarctic Program. Originally, she helped develop a transitional chemistry curriculum for first-year students. She officially joined the department as an instructor of general chemistry in 2018. Large lectures can feel distant and impersonal, so she began incorporating active-learning strategies and reflection techniques to improve the classroom experience for her students. “Once students begin attending a course out of desire and not duty, they engage with the material at a deeper level.” She later worked to translate that individualized student experience into a virtual learning format.
Staff Career Achievement Award
Created in 2011 to recognize retiring staff members, the Staff Career Achievement Award is presented annually to individuals who retired the previous year and who distinguished themselves through exemplary performance and service during their university career. Nominees must have worked a minimum of 10 years at Virginia Tech.
Kathy Dowdy, a program specialist with Student Affairs, retired after 10 years at Virginia Tech. Throughout her time at the university, she welcomed the opportunity to interact with a team of wonderful and supportive people. Dowdy started her career with the university as an office assistant and then moved into an office specialist’s role. From there, she became the program specialist in the administrative office of Dining Services, a position in which she remained for six years. She enjoys spending time outdoors and with friends and family, as well as traveling.
Thomas Edward Hines, a research specialist senior in plant pathology, physiology, and weed science, worked at Virginia Tech for 48 years, providing research that is vital to agriculture and teaching students the proper procedure in applied field and greenhouse studies. Hines said, "Working at the Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center, it was always something new. Technology was changing almost every day with chemistry, equipment, or a new student to train in weed science. Having students from all types of backgrounds was the best part. Some came with no agricultural experience so working together was always a great pleasure to see them succeed.”
Lynne Tolbert Jones started working at Virginia Tech in 2007 as an emergency hire and was soon brought on board permanently as a fiscal tech. She worked in several departments across campus before landing at the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech as the office manager. “I knew when I interviewed at the women's center that this department was where I wanted to be. I spent my final six years in this department working with the best group of folks possible.” Handling financial duties and staffing receptionist positions with students kept her on her toes, but also gave her the opportunity to learn more about a diverse group of co-workers.
Melissa Wilson Obenhaus, program coordinator for health professions advising in the Office of Career and Professional Development, retired with nearly 20 years of service at Virginia Tech. During her eight years in health professions advising, she provided program and administrative support for faculty and students, including project planning, coordination, and follow-up for projects and activities. She developed plans and provided the structure for moving paper files and processes online, removing access barriers for both students and faculty, and streamlining programming. Obenhaus, who enjoyed seeing growth in the students with whom she worked, appreciated being part of a team working to promote the best interests of the students.
William E. Wine Award
The William E. Wine Award was established in 1957 by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association in memory of William E. Wine, Class of 1904, who was a former rector of the Board of Visitors and Alumni Association president. Following a college-level selection process of candidates nominated by students, faculty, and alumni, each college may put forth one nominee. From this group, three faculty members are selected annually. Each Wine Award winner receives $2,000 and automatic induction into the Academy of Teaching Excellence.
Gena E. Chandler, associate professor, serves as the director of Graduate Studies in English and director of the Master of Arts program in English. For nearly 17 years, she has taught a variety of subjects at Virginia Tech, including African American literature and post-colonial literature, and she has received numerous accolades for her work. Her research examines contemporary African American fiction, poetry, and African American literary history. In 2006, she established the first undergraduate research conference for the Department of English. Through a partnership with her undergraduate alma mater, Florida A&M University, she is working to help increase the number of underrepresented students in graduate programs at Virginia Tech in the field of English.
Michael Kender, professor of practice in finance, joined the Pamplin College of Business in 2009 after a 21-year career working in Wall Street finance jobs. Since then, he has taught 11 different undergraduate and MBA courses, where he strives to bring the real world, as well as the expertise of an alumni network, to the classroom to better prepare students for career opportunities. In addition to teaching, he has served as a faculty advisor to SEED, a student group that manages a $5 million stock portfolio as well as served on a number of faculty committees and leading three study abroad trips to China.
James Spotila, a professor of geosciences, works on research related to active tectonics, geomorphology, and geohazards and has taught more than 60 courses — from Introduction to Earth Science to classes at the graduate level — during his 23 years at Virginia Tech. He supervised over 20 master’s and doctoral students, published over 60 peer-reviewed research articles, and contributed extensively through service activities, including serving multiple years as associate department head, graduate program director, and on the Faculty Senate. “I love working with a team that is universally committed to excellence in teaching, discovery, and global service.”
XCaliber Award for Excellence in Technology Assisted Teaching and Learning
Established in 1996 by the Office of the Provost, the XCaliber Award is presented annually by Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies to recognize individual faculty members or teams of faculty and staff who integrate technology in teaching and learning. The award celebrates innovative, student-centered approaches.
The Production Game, affectionately known by students as The Game, is designed to teach students in industrial systems engineering about the interactions between decisions and the resulting performance measures for a production system. Developed at Le Moyne College, it has been tailored and expanded as part of a spring course, ISE 4204 – Production Planning and Inventory Control, with an enrollment of 220 students. Associate Professor Kimberly Ellis and Associate Collegiate Professor Natalie Cherbaka initiated an effort to digitize and improve The Game in spring 2020, collaborating with then-students Andrew Thomas, Matthew Garlington, Ben LaBine, and Melissa Tilashalski. The Game was well-received by students during the alpha and beta implementations in 2020 and 2021. This spring’s run will test additional software enhancements and capture student engagement measures.