AdvanceVT, a comprehensive program that promotes and enhances the careers of women in science and engineering, has awarded its first three Ph.D. fellowships as part of an ongoing effort to increase the number of women electing to pursue academic careers.

The fellowships went to Megan Elwood Madden, a graduate student in the Department of Geological Sciences in the College of Science; Olga Pierrakos, a graduate student in the biomedical engineering program in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering; and Miriam Stewart, a graduate student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, also in the College of Engineering.

Madden, a native of Jacksonville, Ill., is developing new isotopic methods to measure the nature of aqueous environments in the solar system and the impact of meteorites on fluid-bearing materials and is examining chemical weathering patterns on Mars. Now a third-year Ph.D. student, she has been a teaching assistant, is an active member of the Graduate Student Association, and serves as a graduate representative to a number of university commissions.

Pierrakos, whose hometown is Richmond, Va., is modeling the flow-past mechanical heart valve prostheses and the left ventricle of the heart to gain a better understanding of prosthetic hardware and to help doctors improve the clinical procedures associated with these prosthetic devices. A third-year Ph.D. student, she has been a teaching assistant in both math and mechanical engineering and is a representative for the graduate honor system.

Stewart, whose hometown is Blacksburg, Va., is looking at a new technology called columnar reinforcement, which stabilizes roadway embankments, thereby speeding up the roadway construction process and minimizing impacts on society and the environment. She is using existing data sets from field applications to model these elements with the goal that her research will result in the development of new and improved practical methods for designing these systems. She is a third-year Ph.D. student who has taught courses at Virginia Tech as part of the Department of Education GAANN program and has been an adjunct instructor at Montana State University.

“The vision for Virginia Tech’s AdvanceVT program is to encourage cultural changes and to remove barriers to success so that all members of the Virginia Tech community—faculty, students, and staff—can reach their greatest potential. These three women have all been productive in teaching, research, and service, and it is important for graduate students anticipating academic careers to develop their resumes as students around these integrated missions in higher education. Our goal with the first round of recipients was to target women graduate students who had made significant progress in their graduate work and demonstrated significant promise for successful academic careers,” said Nancy G. Love, team leader of the Pipeline Element for AdvanceVT and associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. The fellowships were awarded through AdvanceVT’s Pipeline Element.

A faculty panel reflecting diverse disciplines reviewed the fellowship applications, and selection was based on the quality of each applicant’s career plan and potential for success, academic and professional record, and letters of recommendation. Nominating departments or academic units were required to propose a plan for mentoring each nominated student in ways that would prepare the student for success as a faculty member.

The fellowship awards resulted from a collaborative effort between the Pipeline Element of AdvanceVT and the Graduate School.

The NSF Advance program awarded Virginia Tech a $3.5 million institutional transformation grant in fall 2003 to identify barriers that can keep women faculty members from choosing, remaining in, or advancing in science and engineering. The overall goal of the NSF program is to get more women involved in the scientific and engineering workforce by increasing the representation of women in academic science and engineering careers at all levels, particularly in leadership roles.

Founded in 1872 as a land-grant college, Virginia Tech has grown to become the largest university in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Today, Virginia Tech’s eight colleges are dedicated to putting knowledge to work through teaching, research, and outreach activities and to fulfilling its vision to be among the top 30 research universities in the nation. At its 2,600-acre main campus located in Blacksburg and other campus centers in Northern Virginia, Southwest Virginia, Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Roanoke, Virginia Tech enrolls more than 28,000 full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries in 170 academic degree programs.

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