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2017 Outstanding Graduate Students

The college named its 2017 Outstanding master's and Ph.D. students who were recognized for their academic achievements, leadership, and experiences beyond traditional course work. Also listed are students from departments who stand out for their achievements.

Outstanding Graduate Student — Ph.D.

Adam Geiger, the 2017 Outstanding Graduate Student Award winner, began his graduate career in the Department of Dairy Science as a Pratt Fellow in 2013.

In addition to his course work and dissertation research, Geiger served in the Graduate Teaching Scholars program and assisted with course development, published articles in two peer-reviewed journals, co-authored articles for two more journals, presented his research domestically and internationally and even got married and had a son.

Through publications in the Dairy Pipeline and Virginia Dairyman as well as a presentation on basic cow nutrition to fourth graders, he contributed to the Extension mission of the department.

Geiger’s publication and scholarship record includes five refereed journal articles published or accepted, five journal articles in review or in preparation, 21 peer reviewed, published abstracts of presentation at professional meetings (most meetings of the American Dairy Science Association), and 19 extension, newsletter, or popular press articles. Interestingly, one of his articles, published in Hoard’s Dairyman was translated into Spanish for wider distribution.

Kate Vaiknoras, a doctoral student in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, joined the program as a master’s student and began the Ph.D. program in 2014. Vaiknoras is interested in international development and her research has focused on improving the livelihood of smallholder farmers in Africa. She travelled to Uganda to conduct survey work for her master’s thesis dealing with farmers’ adoption of conservation agriculture and published the work as a refereed journal article. She is also taking the Graduate Certificate program in pedagogy and is and co-president (2016-2017) of the AAEC Graduate Student Association.

Lorien MacAuley, a doctoral student in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education, well-respected for her interdisciplinary work related to community viability, particularly as it relates to employee development and training for farm workers. She has six refereed publications and has presented nationally at conferences about sustainable agriculture and support for beginner farmers and ranchers. She joined the program as a master’s student and has also been an integral part of the development and evaluation of initiatives sponsored by the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Ranchers Coalition Program.

Salaiman Matarneh, a doctoral student in the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, has been an outstanding contributor to the research output of the program and relentless supporter of the instructional and outreach activities. Working with fellow graduate students, Matarneh initially co-authored five papers showing conceptually that mitochondria impact postmortem metabolism, a concept breaking with the long-established dogma that mitochondria only function prior to exsanguination. He also has had success in assembling, writing, and reviewing grant applications, resulting in two USDA-NRI awards.

Paul Velander, a doctoral student in the Department of Biochemistry, is researching the molecular link between two epidemic diseases, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Velander published a first-author paper in 2016 in the journal of Biochemistry as a rapid report, which is reserved only for a small percentage of qualified manuscripts with timely topics of unusual interest. He has also authored or co-authored either articles for peer-reviewed publications. He is a CALS Graduate Teaching Scholar and has served as a teaching assistant for departmental courses with high remarks from faculty members and students. As an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska, he was a member of the basketball team.

Weihua (Wilson) Guo, a doctoral student in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, started his career at Virginia Tech with a Pratt Fellowship. Guo has published 10 articles with fellow researchers and presented at seven conferences in his field of metabolic analysis and engineering. He’s also earned a National Science Foundation grant for his research and serves as a teaching assistant.

Elyse Clark, a doctoral student in the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, came from Mary Washington University and was at the top of their noted environmental science program. Clark was awarded a prestigious Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science fellowship based upon her credentials and has been a leader for the past three years within that highly selective group of graduate students. She has been working on a group of related field and laboratory research programs related to mitigating the impacts of Appalachian coal mine excess spoil fills on headwater stream water quality. Clark has published three refereed articles on this work and has several more in preparation in addition to two publications from her undergraduate work at UMW.

Louis Nottingham, a doctoral student in the Department of Entomology, helped to fund his research by writing successful grant proposals to the USDA Southern SARE Graduate Research Program, the Virginia Tech Graduate Research Development Program, and collaborating with researchers from University Maryland and me on a Delmarva Land Grant Research Seed Grant. He also conducted insecticide efficacy work that was contracted by companies. In addition to grant writing, Nottingham has published two peer-reviewed papers from his thesis. Nottingham has also served a teaching assistant and presented talks for the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Jianhui Li, a doctoral student in the Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, obtained a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture from Nanjing Agricultural University and master’s degree in Biology from The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Li is the first author of a paper published in Journal of Cell Science (2016) and a co-author of two other published papers in his research area of virus-host interactions. He also serves as a graduate research assistant and trains junior graduate and undergraduate students.

Outstanding Graduate Student — M.S.

Alicia Everette

Alicia Everette, who received her master’s degree in December 2016, contributed to four peer-reviewed manuscripts and is the first author of two peer-reviewed manuscripts (under review), co-author on one manuscript published in the Journal of Extension, and a co-author on one manuscript under review.

Everette came to the lab as an undergraduate research assistant in the spring of 2015 and, upon successful completion of her bachelor’s degree in HNFE, she immediately began work within the Virginia Cooperative Extension System. She successfully contributed to the Family Nutrition Program’s development of open-access physical activity resources that reflect a more diverse population- in terms of age, gender, race, and body mass index.

In addition, she helped develop research-practice partnerships to enhance physical activity participation in 4-H camps and a statewide walking/fruit and vegetable program while serving as a small group training coach and personal trainer in the Department of Recreational Sports at Virginia Tech.

She has demonstrated scholarly productivity with publications and five research presentations at scientific meetings. Everette is also a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Virginia Academy of The Society of Behavioral Medicine, Alpha Chi Sigma, and the American Nutrition Association. She served as Treasurer for the HNFE Graduate Student Assembly in 2016.

Sydni Jackson, a graduate student in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, spent much of the summer in Cambodia to conduct an interview survey of 400 rice farmers in four districts for her research. Jackson designed the surveys, budget travel, and is analyzing the data. She is also a graduate teaching assistant and serves as vice president of the Graduate Student Association in AAEC and as a Graduate School Ambassador.

Rachelle Purnell, a graduate student in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education, has wholeheartedly exemplified academic, professional, service excellence as a George Washington Carver Scholar and USDA Multicultural Scholar. Purnell has one refereed publication and has presented nationally at conferences about factors that impact students of color academic major choice. She has been influential with student support initiatives, including serving as the departmental representative on the Virginia Tech Graduate Student Assembly and with membership in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Student Organization Council and Virginia Tech Chapter of the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences Society.

Andrew Weaver, a graduate student in the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, has an enthusiastic approach to learning and outreach. Weaver has a blend of basic and applied research that allows him to present information to both stakeholders and students, and has taken an active role in developing his skills as an educator by participating in the Graduate Extension Scholars Program. He has published two abstracts, created seven several outreach presentations, and participated in extension workshops in Virginia and Michigan.

Jonathan Travis Spangler, a graduate student in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, is an active researcher and leader. Spangler has been given a leadership role with the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute for Food and Agriculture Specialty Crops Research Initiative Clean WateR3 (Reduce, Recycle, Remediate) project. This is a high profile project for the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center, requiring much coordination and negotiation with the lead investigators, Clemson University, as well as on site coordination. Spangler was awarded the Walker Fellowship in 2016, will have two manuscripts for publication upon graduation, and has participated in two national conferences.

Kari Estes, a fall 2016 graduate of the Department of Dairy Science, started her research studies as an undergraduate student volunteer. Her contributions to laboratory resulted in several publications including one from her undergraduate work, another from her work between degrees, and two that she prepared from graduate work. She also has a popular press article drafted which will be submitted to a major trade publication after the scientific work is published. In 2016, Estes also presented her research at the International Symposium on Energy and Protein Metabolism and Nutrition in Poland. She has also been active in Phi Sigma and served as a teaching assistant. 

Kara Pittman, a graduate student in the Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, has helped shape and build the program. In addition to graduate research and classes, Pittman is the diagnostician for the Virginia Weed Identification Clinic, which is a service provided to stakeholders to identify unknown plant and weed samples through Virginia Cooperative Extension. She has presented her research at Extension meetings, field days, and scientific conferences. Pittman has curiosity and work ethic to rival any top graduate student, but her outlook is unmatched. She maintains a smile on the longest, hottest days in the field, even when things don’t go according to plan.