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Outstanding Graduating Seniors

CALS Class of 2021 Outstanding Senior Nominations

Each year, The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech proudly graduates over 800 seniors across 17 majors. We are always in awe of the accomplishments our students are able to achieve, the obstacles they are able to overcome, the impact they have on our community, and the growth that they experience across the years that they spend with us in the college.

Prior to commencement, each department takes on the significant task of recognizing one graduating senior who stands out amongst their peers in one way or another. This student is selected as their departmental outstanding senior. Each of these seniors are honored by their department, given a special stole to wear at graduation, and featured on the college website. These seniors are then placed into consideration for being recognized as the Overall Outstanding Senior of the college. This student traditionally carries the college banner into the graduation ceremony and is recognized in the program.

This year, we are excited to announce the opportunity for self-nominations in addition to the departmental nomination process to determine the departmental outstanding seniors and thus, the overall outstanding senior. Reflecting on the diversity of experiences our students have and ways they contribute to our community, the addition of self-nominations will strengthen our college and allow us to honor many additional creative and meaningful experiences and impacts our students have on our university community and beyond.

If you are interested in being considered for your department’s outstanding senior, please fill out the following form.  Selection criteria are as follows:

  1. All candidates must be seniors scheduled to graduate next May, summer, or December (a minimum of 96 hours must be completed).
  2. All candidates must have a GPA of 3.4 or higher based on all work through Fall 2020.
  3. No student currently (at the time of nomination or subsequent violation in future terms) on probation as a result of University Honor Code violations is eligible. 
  4. Applications will be evaluated in the following areas: service, leadership, engagement, personal growth and development, and academics.  

  CALS Outstanding Senior Nomination Form

Applications are due by midnight, Jan. 14.

Your application will be forwarded to your departmental committee for consideration. The outstanding senior award information can be downloaded here.

Any questions? Email Lisa Racek, Student Development and Engagement Coordinator, at

Spring 2020 Outstanding Graduating Seniors

The college recently named its 2020 Outstanding Seniors who are recognized for their academic achievements, leadership, and experiences beyond traditional coursework.

Picture of Colburn Hassman

Colburn Hassman of Kilmarnock, Virginia, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics

Colburn Hassman is obtaining a degree in Agribusiness. He has excelled academically with Dean’s List recognition each semester at Virginia Tech and is the recipient of several scholarships including the Commodities Investing by Students Scholarship and the Verlander Scholarship.

In his first year at Virginia Tech, Colburn was one of the few first-year students admitted into Commodity Investing by Students (COINS), the nation’s only student-run commodity investment group. He currently serves as the CEO of COINs, where he mentors and trains junior members and also had the opportunity to intern with the Virginia Tech Foundation, which provides funds for COINS portfolio. Colburn has served the students at Virginia Tech in a multitude of ways, including as a teaching assistant for the Agricultural Futures and Options course where he developed tutoring sessions for students.

After studying management and finance at one of Europe’s top universities in Munich, Colburn returned to campus to serve as a speaker for the Global Education Office. In this position, Colburn participated in several information sessions and worked with students during preflight orientation. Beyond the Virginia Tech campus, Colburn volunteers with Give to the World, a veteran-founded organization that provides food, medicine, and other critical supplies to underserved communities.

Colburn continued his stellar accomplishments as the first intern at Perdue Agribusiness, a leading agricultural company, where he had access to the risk

management desk and helped producers and consumers manage their price risks. Upon graduation, Colburn will join the graduate program in the Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics and ultimately plans to pursue a career in commodity price analysis.

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Abby Hemby of Leesburg, Virginia, Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education

Abby Hemby is obtaining a degree in Agricultural Sciences with minors in Civic Agriculture and Food Systems, Leadership and Social Change, and Horticulture. Abby was first introduced to the field of agriculture through the Virginia Governor’s School for Agriculture and has since returned to the school as an instructor, mentor, and researcher.

Abby recently presented her research at the Southern Region for the American Association for Agricultural Education Conference and was awarded AAAE Southern Region Outstanding Poster Presentation. In addition to her extensive work with Governor’s School, Abby supports youth in agriculture through her involvement with Collegiate Young Farmers, Collegiate 4-H, and her volunteer work with Blacksburg and Christiansburg middle schools, where she assisted with Agriscience classes.

At Virginia Tech, Abby continues to pursue servant leadership opportunities to support her fellow Hokies. She was awarded Residential Assistant of the Year for her impactful work as a Resident Advisor. As a peer mentor for the CALS First-Year Experience course, Abby supported transfer students and developed a curriculum for the course. Abby continued to develop curriculum as an intern for the Office of Learning Partnerships, where she focused on the connections between students’ experiences at Virginia Tech and the Aspirations for Student Learning Model.

Beyond her commitment to her local community, Abby traveled to Mali, West Africa on an Agricultural Project Mission trip and learned about culturally appropriate agricultural practices. Upon graduation, Abby plans to attend graduate school to focus on agricultural education and facilitation.


Picture of Jeffrey Estienne

Jeffrey Estienne, Agricultural Technology Program

Jeffrey Estienne is obtaining his applied agricultural management degree from the Agricultural Technology program. After serving four years in the United States Marine Corps Infantry, Jeffrey worked at the Virginia Tech Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center (AREC) where he conducted reproductive and nutritional research with the swine department.

This experience led Jeffrey to pursue an Agricultural Technology degree and has excelled academically with Dean’s List recognition while serving the university and his community. As an Agricultural Technology Ambassador, Jeffrey represents the program to future students, the industry, and the public. Jeffrey also supports current students in his position as a teaching assistant for the Livestock Reproduction palpation labs.

This past summer Jeffrey worked with Silver Spur Ranches in Wyoming on a large scale cow/calf operation. Jeffrey currently works at the Virginia Tech Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in Teaching and Research Animal Care Support Services (TRACSS) and plans to work there full-time upon graduation while developing a new cow/calf operation in the area with his wife Jett and daughters Khalia and Jacy.

Picture of Sarah Vest

Sarah Vest of Natural Bridge, Virginia, Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences

Sarah Vest is obtaining a degree in Animal and Poultry Sciences along with a minor in Agribusiness Management and Entrepreneurship. She has excelled academically with Dean’s List recognition and was named an American Society of Animal Science Scholar. Sarah’s dedication to serving others through education began as a child when Sarah often helped her mother train horses on their family horse farm.

On Virginia Tech’s campus, Sarah serves as Lead Tutor at the Student Success Center, President of Virginia Tech Collegiate Young Farmers, and ambassador and a peer mentor for the Animal and Poultry Science department. In her work with the Student Success Center, Sarah went beyond her role of tutoring and developed programs for tutors to build community and ensure they were operating as a cohesive support unit.

As an ambassador for Animal and Poultry Science, Sarah led efforts to donate fundraising proceeds to the Farm Town Strong program, which works to overcome the opioid crisis in rural America. Sarah also supports youth in agriculture through her leadership for the Bit-N-Bridle Equine 4-H Club which focuses on educational programming in the equine industry. In her position as an Equine Management Extern, Sarah helped to manage both horse farms at Virginia Tech.

In addition to serving her community through education, Sarah began coursework in the online Masters of Agriculture and Life Sciences during her senior year.

Upon graduation, Sarah plans to pursue a career as an Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension Agent for the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Picture of Kaitlyn Gallagher

Kaitlyn Gallagher of Poquoson, Virginia, Department of Biochemistry

Kaitlyn Gallagher is obtaining degrees in Biochemistry and Spanish. She has excelled academically with Dean’s list recognition each semester and is the recipient of several scholarships including the John R. Dawkins Scholarship and the Tidewater Chapter of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association Scholarship. Kaitlyn’s time at Virginia Tech has focused on developing connections with her peers, faculty, and community, and these experiences have led her to pursue a career in academia.

As a Biochemistry Peer Mentor, Kaitlyn supported first-year and transfer students during orientation as they transitioned to Virginia Tech and continued to support students in the Biochemistry First Year Experience course where she helped students overcome academic challenges. Kaitlyn continues to combine leadership and service beyond the college in her role as a worship minister at VT Wesley.

As a member of VT Wesley, Kaitlyn has also participated in several community engagement events, including repairing houses in communities recently affected by a crisis. Kaitlyn continued to serve others when she traveled to Ecuador and Spain, where she was able to combine her Biochemistry and Spanish majors in research settings.

In Spain, Kaitlyn served as an English tutor for local families. In Ecuador, she served as a Sustainable Development Research Intern and partnered with the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics to develop a culturally relevant survey to analyze agricultural practices in Ecuador. Upon graduation, Kaitlyn plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and ultimately become a

professor. In her words, “I want to help students become more confident in their knowledge and research skills as my professors and lab instructors have guided me and fostered my love for science.”

Picture of Rachel Kanefsky

Rachel Kanefsky of Bristow, Virginia, Department of Dairy Science

Rachel Kanefsky is obtaining degrees in Animal and Poultry Sciences and Dairy Science. Rachel was not involved in agriculture before coming to Virginia Tech and credits the strong community of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) in supporting her success in the field. Rachel has sought out service opportunities to support the university as well as local and international communities.

As a Hokie Ambassador, CALS Ambassador, and Dairy Science Ambassador, she provides tours to prospective students and represents CALS at recruitment events. Rachel’s dedication to mentorship shows up in her roles in the Sigma Alpha Professional Agricultural Sorority, Honors College Student Representative, and Life Sciences Mentorship program, which serves underrepresented students as they transition to Virginia Tech.

In addition to her mentoring and ambassador roles, Rachel provides academic support as a teaching assistant for Intro to Animal and Poultry Sciences and as a tutor for Student-Athlete Academic Support Services. Beyond the Virginia Tech campus, she continues service in international communities. Rachel was selected as an Odyssey fellow and as part of her service project, she traveled to Senegal and developed and implemented 4-H curricula that can be adapted to Senegalese culture.

In addition to her outstanding service and leadership achievements, Rachel has excelled academically with Dean’s List recognition each semester and is the recipient of numerous scholarships, including the Horace E. and Elizabe

Scholarship and the Virginia Beef Corporation Scholarship. Rachel’s long-term goals are to become an army veterinarian and serve her country and global community by providing veterinary care for those with limited access.

Picture of Colleen Dommel

Colleen Dommel of York, Pennsylvania, Department of Food Science and Technology

Colleen Dommel is obtaining degrees in Food Science and Technology and Spanish. She has excelled academically with Dean’s List recognition and was awarded the 2019 Catherine Poindexter scholarship due to her dedication to academics and agriculture.

During her time at Virginia Tech, Colleen realized how diverse scientists can be, which guided the opportunities she pursued. She participated in undergraduate research where she investigated food science concepts and completed the chemical analysis of dried soybeans.

As Fundraising Chair of Sigma Alpha, a sorority that focuses on the personal and professional development of women pursuing careers in agriculture, Colleen plans and executes fundraising events. Her membership in Sigma Alpha also enabled her to partner with the 4H Gardening Club at Pulaski Elementary School, where she discusses planting and maintaining a home garden with students.

Through her membership with the Food Science Club, Colleen volunteers at the Hahn Horticulture Garden where she helps to maintain the facility. In addition to supporting her local community, Colleen has participated in internships with Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) and Hershey Foods. In her position as a lab technician in the Foods Innovations Program with VCE, Colleen tested food products and shared food safety data with producers.

Colleen’s ability to communicate with diverse audiences increased during her internship with Hershey Foods. Colleen has accepted a full-time position working for Hershey. She will live in Hershey and travel around to do projects at the plants, with future opportunities to complete projects at plants in Mexico.


Picture of Katelyn Barker

Katelyn Barker of Lynchburg, Virginia, Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise

Katelyn Barker is obtaining a degree in Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise with a concentration in Dietetics. She strives to educate her community through preventative and corrective nutrition therapy, which influenced the experiences she has pursued on and off-campus.

On-campus, Katelyn serves as a Virginia Tech Nutrition Counselor, Administrative Dietitian Assistant, and shift leader for the Virginia Tech Campus Kitchen, which delivers food from Virginia Tech Dining centers to Radford. Katelyn continues to provide nutrition education to the local community through her positions as an Employee Health Specialist at the University of Virginia, Patient Ambassador at Lewis-Gale Montgomery Hospital, and as a Family Nutrition Program intern, where she researched the SNAP doubling program.

Katelyn provides leadership as Vice President for the Student Nutrition and Dietetics Association (SNDA), as Newsletter Chair for the Alpha Chi Sigma Professional Chemistry Fraternity, and as a graduate teaching assistant. Through these leadership experiences, Katelyn honed her skills as a mentor and supported students in working towards personal and professional goals. Katelyn’s interest in research led her to enroll in the accelerated HNFE BS/MS graduate program. Upon completing her master’s degree, Katelyn plans to complete a dietetic internship and become a Registered Dietitian.

Picture of Dana Mulligan

Dana Mulligan of Falls Church, Virginia, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences

Dana Mulligan is obtaining a degree in Crop and Soil Sciences with minors in French, International Studies, and Global Food Security and Health. As a child, Dana learned about food insecurity in her local community as well as on an international level during a trip to Senegal.

These early experiences influenced the opportunities Dana sought out while at Virginia Tech, including internships with Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) at North Carolina State University, where she studied sustainable agriculture practices and community engagement. Dana has also traveled internationally to learn more about international agricultural development.

In Peru, Dana studied with the Green Program and learned about water resource conservation. As a 2018 Austin Michelle Cloyd Odyssey Senior Fellow, Dana traveled to Kenya to work with a village on agricultural practices to improve food security for children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. She worked with Seed Programs International to develop the Safe Space Garden project, which uses gardening to provide low-income women in rural areas of Senegal with supplemental income and therapeutic space.

Dana continues to practice mindfulness through her development and leadership of the meditation club at Virginia Tech. In addition to her stellar accomplishments outside of the classroom, Dana was named a Virginia Tech Stamps Scholar and has received Dean’s List recognition each semester. In writing about Dana’s

accomplishments, her nominator noted that her “strong principles motivate her to improve life for others through community service and her desired career path in international development.”