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Outstanding Graduating Seniors

CALS Class of 2022 Outstanding Seniors

Outstanding Senior group photo

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. We are proud to announce the following seniors have been selected as their departmental outstanding seniors for 2022.


Congratulations to the 2022 Outstanding Seniors! 

Macie Snelson- AAEC

Macie Snelson, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics

“The AAEC Department and CALS have felt like home. I felt welcomed and included and that I belonged. My AAEC coursework has been rich with information on a wide array of topics, piquing my interest in things I did not even realize existed beforehand.”

Macie Snelson is an Agribusiness major in the department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, who is also double majoring in Spanish and minoring in Global Food Security and Health. Of her unique academic program choices, Macie says, “My two concentrations did not overlap whatsoever but provided me with a stark contrast between the rigidity of the science and math of Agribusiness and the fluidity of language. However, I realized how smoothly these two majors go together when I began my minor in Global Food Security and Health as I was able to combine my global knowledge with my agribusiness knowledge.”

Macie has served in many capacities while at Virginia Tech, including the role of being an AAEC ambassador as well as a CALS ambassador, working to inform prospective students and welcome them to the university. She also enjoyed serving low income children in Richmond, VA, and Costa Rica giving them fulfilling camp opportunities, which also earned her the prestigious Aspire! Award for “Embracing Ut Prosim as a Way of Life” from Student Affairs in 2020.

Her leadership roles have been many, and often being ones that enable her to make meaningful connections with other students. A core leader at Christ’s Church, a facilities supervisor at McComas, a business office attendant at McComas, helping with undergraduate research , a facility staff and customer service attendant, and member of Gamma Beta Phi Honor Society,  are all examples of this. Macie has made an impact in many areas, all the while achieving dean’s list, several scholarships, being selected to study abroad to Ecuador, and achieving an impressive 3.73 GPA across two majors. 

Macie’s nominators said about her academics and contributions, “Macie is bright, ambitious, selfless, meticulous, and mature. She loves learning and takes her education seriously, consistently opting for challenging courses that both expand her perspective and strategically prepare her for a fulfilling career. Her wisdom is sought after by her peers and professors. Without a doubt, Macie's impact on our department and the incoming student class is immeasurable.”


Kendall Knicely- ALCE

Kendall Knicely, Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education

 “I have learned--after long hours of reflection--from my previous health issues that our situations find us for a reason; it may be difficult, painful, or challenging, but it serves a purpose: it shapes and develops us into the person we are meant to be. Our mountains equip us for our future endeavors.”

Kendall Knicely will graduate with a degree in Agricultural Sciences, along with a minor in Leadership and Social Change in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education, which will equip her well for her future as a public school educator.  Her goal is to “create a culturally responsive, inclusive, and effective learning environment; regardless of where my students are from or what their identity is, I want each student to feel welcomed and included in my classroom.”

Kendall has a heart for service and began her time at Virginia Tech actually by deferring so that she could serve as the FFA state secretary for one year. She remained heavily involved in FFA while at VT, including attending and organizing conferences, judging local competitions, doing presentations, and more. Kendall is also a member of Sigma Alpha, which is a professional agricultural sorority that promotes leadership, scholarship, fellowship, and service.

Speaking of leadership, Kendall believes that “leadership is a way of life. It requires patience, humility, kindness, and a passion for helping others succeed and grow.” Leadership has been a constant part of her life through FFA, Sigma Alpha, Alpha Tau Alpha, and as a Peer Academic Coach with the Student Success Center. She sees leadership as an opportunity to not just lead, but help others make meaningful connections in their lives. Kendall has also been involved in Cru throughout her time at Virginia Tech, and continues to help other students find fellowship and belonging there while helping the group grow.

Kendall has kept her academics as a priority, achieving a 4.0 in her in-major classes and being selected for a competitive national scholarship. She has dedicated herself to passing along her academic knowledge and skills through her time spent as a peer academic coach, saying, “Through my position, I help students reach their full academic and personal potential through coaching effective learning strategies.”

Her nominators say this of Kendall, “Kendall is a goal-driven individual who has been an outstanding member of our department community. She demonstrates a great deal of promise as a future teacher and we have every confidence that she will excel in her chosen career.”

Marie Piechnik- APSC

Marie Piechnik- APSC

“Leadership means achieving an overall goal while supporting others and helping them be as successful as possible. ”

Marie Piechnik, majoring in Animal and Poultry Sciences, has certainly found ways to support others and help them be as successful as possible, especially through her leadership in Gamma Phi Beta. She served as their financial vice president where she worked to develop 5 new scholarships to support members who demonstrated the chapter’s values and financial need. She has also served with the Big Event, Relay for Life, and was able to help rehabilitate a horse during her time at Virginia Tech.

Active in several clubs, Marie made the most of her time while here. The Pre-Vet Club, APSC ambassadors, Equestrian Club, Bonding with Animals through Recreation on Campus (BARC) club, the Bugle, and Bagel club are just a few. Gamma Phi Beta also gave her the opportunity to volunteer with Girls on the Run, an effort that encourages local youth in the field of running and health.

Her academic and study habits have always been impressive, though Marie recalls a class where her study methods weren’t working for her anymore. She says, “I had to re-learn the way I learned, but I’m glad I did. I was set in my habits but had to adjust to a new style of teaching to understand the new concepts. I’ve grown to enjoy learning so much that I’m considering making it my career and becoming a researcher/professor.” Marie holds an impressive 3.9 GPA, achieving the Beyond Boundaries Scholarship from 2018-2022 and various other scholarships. She has also had several experiential learning opportunities through an Independent Study of Modifying Equitation, serving as an undergraduate TA in three different courses, and embarking on a study abroad to Germany.

Marie’s nominator says this: “Her scholastic and service accomplishments on multiple levels are clear indicators of her commitment to excellence, hard work, enthusiasm for learning, and her high level of maturity…She possesses a great combination of innate academic ability, a ‘think outside the box’ mentality, and a passion for hands-on work that is perfect for her plans for the future."




“True empathy comes from recognizing a part of yourself in the suffering of others.”


Madelynn Todd is graduating with a near perfect GPA from Animal and Poultry Sciences, and a minor in Biological Sciences, but when you look at her time at Virginia Tech, her impact reaches far outside of her department and college. Madelynn’s service to the university ranges from membership on the Disability Alliance & Caucus, Campus Accessibility Working Group, and the Virginia Tech Food Security Task Force, as well as serving as the undergraduate representative on the university Board of Visitors, the University Council, the President’s Advisory Group, Order of the Gavel, the commission on Student Affairs, and Vice President for Student Affairs Core 5, even participating in Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s Student Town Hall on reopening Virginia universities during COVID-19. Her nominator, Department Head Dr. David Gerrard, says of Madelynn, “This type of representation is absolutely amazing, all while maintaining an impeccable academic standing. We should applaud and herald such achievement, after all she epitomizes the very motto of Virginia Tech “Ut Prosim” in everything she does.” Her service and leadership have earned her the 2020 Access and Inclusion Award for Innovative Service, and the Michael J. Quillen Leadership scholarship in recognition of outstanding leadership potential. 


One of Madelynn’s most impactful initiatives was organizing a Campus Safety & Accessibility Walk in Oct., 2019. Along with university and facilities officials, Madelynn conducted a successful survey of the campus and noted such issues as insufficient lighting and limited, or non-existent, accessibility to certain buildings or areas. Madelynn has also given input into improving spaces in CALS buildings, as well.


Madelynn has never shied away from academic challenge, rather, welcomed it as she has been a member of the Honors Residential College all four years, the recipient of numerous scholarships, a member of the academic honor society Phi Kappa Phi, and assisted in various research labs. Madelynn’s commitment to academic success also extends to her fellow students, as she set up numerous face-to-face and virtual study groups over the years to help ensure the success of others.


Madelynn has used every bit of time she has been at Virginia Tech to help improve life for others, and that will not stop after graduation. “my own health challenges have served as motivation for a career in veterinary pathology. Because I was born with a disease of the connective tissue that presents significant mobility challenges, I was frequently told by others that there was no place in veterinary medicine for someone like me. However, I feel my disease makes me uniquely suited. I understand how devastating medical issues can be – both to people and animals; and because of this, I have developed empathy for those who suffer. True empathy comes from recognizing a part of yourself in the suffering of others, and it cannot be taught.”

Molly Simek- BCHM

Molly Simek- Biochemistry

“I have learned that leadership is more than having authoritative responsibilities over a group. Rather, it is the use of communication, experiences, and privilege to collectively guide a group toward a specific goal.”

Molly Simek has found a path at Virginia Tech uniquely suited to her academic strengths and personal passions, double majoring in Biochemistry and Chemistry with a minor in Disability Studies. It is worth noting that Molly admits an early struggle in chemistry- but by reaching out for help from the professor, she was able to not only excel but discover a passion she didn’t know she had. Molly says, “as I continued with my education, I discovered a deep passion for chemistry and its medicinal applications. This academic track has allowed me to learn about chemistry, see its therapeutic role in medicine, and learn ways to advocate for people with disabilities.”

Molly has given a lot of her time to serving the community in ways that were deeply needed during COVID-19. Volunteering at the campus testing center, designing a more effective check in process, providing resources and education, serving teachers by making at-home science kits for kids, and creating video content for virtual learning in science classes are all ways she has done so. She has also committed to volunteering her time with organizations that provide the New River Valley with education a resources within the science and health fields such as American Chemical Society, Hokie Health Club in the American Medical Student Association, Pre-Pharmacy Club, Best Buddies Delaware Special Olympics, and also serving as a CALS ambassador helping with recruiting events for prospective students to Virginia Tech. Molly also enjoyed helping her fellow students by serving as a TA, and delving into two research opportunities in the Cognitive and Developmental Science Lab and the Meyers Lab.

Molly’s nominator says, “Molly has made an impact on students at Virginia Tech, on students in the surrounding community, and on members of her community in her hometown over the summer. Her selection of Biochemistry, Chemistry, and Disability Studies, together with her participation and leadership roles in other activities in the college, university, and community, have prepared her well for her career as an excellent, compassionate Pharmacist.”



Claire Cunningham- DASC

Claire Cunningham, Department of Dairy Science

“Effective leadership fosters a sense of mutual respect and allows for an open and honest line of communication. Strong leaders inspire and encourage others to be the best they can be.”

Claire Cunningham, a Dairy Science major with a minor in Medicine and Society, started at Virginia Tech with one goal- to become a veterinarian. With a passion for animals and public health, this seemed like the perfect fit. But she found that she felt something was missing, and soon discovered her passion for helping people gain equitable access to healthcare. Claire’s goal now is to become a physician. Claire took the opportunity to serve in many capacities while at Virginia Tech, including working and volunteering at the covid-19 testing and vaccination clinics giving her invaluable experience. Also a member of Gamma Phi Beta, she was able to help coordinate Girls on the Run for local elementary children which encourages running and good health. She also served with Micah’s Backpack while here at VT.

Her leadership roles are many and include executive board of the Dairy Club, where she served as the social coordinator and reporter. Her goal was always to help people feel welcome and that they belonged. She was also the New Member Educator for her sorority, which gave her an opportunity to mentor new members. She also was able to get involved with the Dairy Judging Team, Homecoming Royalty, and advocated extensively for Midwives for Haiti where she worked to help provide healthcare for women and children in Haiti.

Balancing many roles and responsibilities, Claire has learned when to push hard and when to pull back, a valuable lesson for any busy college student! Through everything, Claire has maintained an impressive GPA of 3.87. She served as tutor through the Student Success Center including courses like biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry. She participated in research in the Dairy Science Department, and was grateful to be able to add the Medicine and Society minor, which she feels has truly rounded out her education. Claire says, “This minor has made me realize that using a biosocial approach to medicine is crucial to producing well rounded physicians. Medicine is inherently human; it cannot be treated strictly as a lab science. This is one of the many reasons I strive to be an incredibly well-rounded student, because I hope to be the best doctor I can be in the future.”

Claire’s nominator praises this inherent well-roundedness that Claire possesses: “Claire is a polished speaker and strong team builder. Her life goal is ambitious, to help close the equity gap in healthcare. Of all of the students I’ve worked with in my 20+ year career, Claire is the one I’d bet on to achieve this goal. In summary, Claire Cunningham is a really neat combination of ability, personality, ambition, and intelligence.”


Jakob Baker- FST

Jakob Baker, Department of Food Science and Technology

“I hope to pioneer innovative and preventative measures to mitigate infectious foodborne diseases and collaborate with regulatory agencies to streamline expectations and hazard analysis plans.”

Jakob Baker is graduating with dual degrees in Food Science and Technology, and Biological Sciences, two degrees that have prepared him to pursue a graduate PhD tract in food safety this upcoming year. These degrees also drove his service pursuits as he worked with Micah’s Backpack learning to combat local food insecurity amongst school children, working as a StepUp leader with VTEngage restoring rest sites along the Appalachian Trail, and working with the Big Plant to help plant tree saplings throughout Stroubles Creek.

His leadership endeavors included two years of Board membership with VT Orientation, peer mentoring with the CALS FYE class, and serving as Vice President with the food science club. To Jakob, “Leadership represents the opportunity to positively encourage the perspectives and actions of others towards a growth mindset.”

As with many freshmen, his first year at Tech brought some anxieties. Pushing himself during freshman year out of his comfort zone towards new groups and opportunities proved to strengthen his self-confidence, interpersonal skills, and showed him that he could succeed within many opportunities through consistent effort, purshing his interests, and expanding his support systems. He also found ways to support other students just as he found support when he needed it.

Jakob’s academic endeavors have always been a priority, and with two degrees, has had quite impressive results including a 3.8 GPA, dean’s list, and achieving several scholarships. Jakob has also participated in research projects that investigate the water quality and physicochemical characteristics of 30 sites over 20 sampling events, and says his “undergraduate research fosters my curiosity and leadership within leadership because it motivates me to independently research complex concepts information, learn extensive technical skills, ad and collaborate within a cohesive team.”


Lauren Provinsal- HNFE

Lauren Provinsal, Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise

““I realized it is not how smart one thinks one is, but how determined one is to succeed. My whole experience at Virginia Tech changed when I found a major I was passionate about, and I credit all my academic success to how interested I am in what I am learning.”

For HNFE senior Lauren Provinsal, Human Nutrition Foods and Exercise were not what drew her to Virginia Tech. Like many students, she started in one major, and quickly found she might be a better fit for another. In Lauren’s case, it was her supervisors in a campus job who encouraged her to pursue her passion for health and fitness as a major, changing from the very different world of design and the arts. Lauren’s switch has paid off in many ways, not the least being ranked the number one senior amongst all 9,683 of her peers, and achieving a perfect 4.0 in her time here.

But academics aren’t the only thing that drives Lauren. She has dedicated many, many hours to service opportunities that reflect her spirit of “ut prosim” including the Big Event, serving over 100 hours at the Blacksburg Farmers Market with the SNAP nutrition program and later with covid-19 mitigation efforts, at Warm Hearth retirement community hosting yoga sessions for seniors and later writing letters to residents, weekly phone calls with a veteran through covid-19 for companionship, packing food for Micah’s Backpack, and more.

Lauren held several leadership positions within Delta Epsilon Mu, the national pre-health fraternity including secretary and president where she empowers members to grow both personally and professionally to optimize their readiness for their post-graduation goals as future healthcare providers. She also took part in VT Engage’s “Lead for Good” program, served as a leader with CALS’ own Hokie HighFive mentoring program, and as assistant director for the Blacksburg Farmers Market.

Lauren’s time at VT, while full and empowering, wasn't always without its challenges. Coming from England prior to her enrollment, many barriers to understanding the US’ educational system threatened to discourage her. Persevering through these challenges, Lauren found her first organization where she felt at home, and says “My perseverance to stay at Virginia Tech and attempt to find a supportive community allowed me to learn the importance of getting out of my comfort zone to try new things.”

Lauren was named a 2020 TOUR Scholar which led her to take part in an extensive research opportunity where she spent 300 hours in a lab over the course of 10 weeks researching the U.S. government's progress to implementing the Lancet Commission recommendations to mitigate the common system drivers of The Global Syndemic of obesity, undernutrition, and climate change. She was also one of three VT premedical students chosen to be an intern for the Global health Leadership field study at the Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Lauren’s nominator says, “Perhaps even more important than Lauren’s impressive record of achievements is her beautiful personality. Lauren is incredibly humble, thoughtful, kind, compassionate, ambitious, inquisitive, and always genuine. While she has excelled in all five areas of achievements throughout her unique undergraduate tenure at Virginia Tech, her character is arguably her greatest asset. Lauren Provinsal leads and serves as only a Hokie can. Ut Prosim is her life motto. It is why she found her home at Virginia Tech, coming all the way from London, and why she is committed to serve in the medical profession when that need has become more urgent and more challenging than ever before.”

Caroline Vasquez- SPES

Caroline Vasquez, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences

“I think that Ut Prosim is something that is more meaningful when we incorporate it into our daily lives, so I believe that I demonstrate Ut Prosim by always looking for little ways that I can improve the lives of the people around me, even if it is something as small as a smile or a batch of cookies.”

Caroline Vasquez may be an Environmental Science major with minors in Biology and French, but she is excited to apply that science understanding to becoming a highschool teacher in the future.  Her time at Virginia Tech has been marked by enjoying and pursuing opportunities to support and help others with their academics in places like tutoring through the Student Success Center, peer mentoring for the CALS FYE class, and teaching in the Teach for Madame program where she helped elementary-aged kids learn a foreign language, and developed several lesson plans including worksheets, games, and other activities that future volunteers/teachers can use.

Caroline maintained an impressive 3.99 GPA while at Virginia Tech, and this academic success is what motivated her to become a tutor with the student success center. She wanted to be able to use her experiences in certain classes and share some of her strategies for success so that she could help others be successful as well.  She was also able to extend her learning overseas on an environment, health, and culture study abroad trip to Ecuador where she was able to learn concepts such as sustainable agriculture, rainforest deforestation, and plastic pollution in the oceans, and the consequences of each. An internship at the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Maryland gave her the opportunity to design and carry out an original research project.

Caroline says, “I truly think that the community and my experiences at Virginia Tech are the reason that I want to teach. I come from an environment that is very individualistic, where you succeed or fail on your own, so the contrast between that and the community at Virginia Tech and in CALS was drastic. Here, I truly feel like the faculty are not just doing their jobs, but that they actively care for their students.”

Her nominator says this of Caroline, “I have observed Caroline’s growth both as a student and a person since arriving at VA Tech. [Her] gregarious nature, natural leadership skills and positive attitude made her an integral part of our study abroad cohort. She maintained a positive attitude no matter how difficult the excursion and helped to support other students that were struggling. Caroline is an outstanding student, a team player, and natural leader.” 

Zack Schwarz

Zachary Schwarz, Agricultural Technology

“My success throughout my time here at Virginia Tech is a direct result from the open and caring community that CALS and Virginia Tech provides. The network and support system will carry forward throughout my career. I’m proud to be a Hokie”

Zachary Schwarz, a landscape and turfgrass management student in the Agricultural Technology Program, has excelled during his time at Virginia Tech. His emphasis is in golf and sports turfgrass management, and he took many opportunities during his time here to experience this exciting field.

Faculty of the program praised his accomplishments. Jonathan Dickerson said, “I have had the pleasure of serving as Zack’s advisor as well as having Zack in multiple classes over the last year. During this time, Zack has demonstrated many qualities which make him a deserving Outstanding Senior of Agricultural Technology.  While in the classroom, Zack’s leadership skills are quite evident as his valuable participation sets a great example for each class.  Additionally, he has accepted leadership responsibilities while working and interning with Virginia Tech Athletics. His leadership has also been displayed while serving as Vice-president of the Turf Management Program at Brentsville High. During his service, their program won the STMA’s Stars and Stripes Award, Field of the Year for Football, National STMA Mowing Pattern, and the 2019 Pioneer Field of Excellence awards.”

His determination and commitment is reflected during his time in Blacksburg through several experiences with which he was involved. He served as treasurer of Virginia Tech’s Turf Club, which competes in multiple competitions at industry conferences each year. Zack challenged himself during his summer internship experience by traveling outside of his comfort zone to the Denver Country Club where he learned about the turfgrass industry in a new climate. This not only enriched him as a student and aspiring turfgrass professional, but also made for great discussions in class! Additionally, Zack represented the program by serving as a student ambassador on multiple social media outreach events, all of which have made a vital impact to the AgTech program.

Zack has also demonstrated determination and commitment academically, as he earned Magna Cum Laude honors, was awarded the Dr’s BJ & RE Schmidt Turfgrass Scholarship, and has been accepted to pursue a bachelor’s of science in the Agriculture and Applied Economics Department this fall. The faculty and staff of the Agricultural Technology program are grateful for Zack’s contributions and are excited to see what his future holds.

Additional award Winners


Madisyn Dalton was selected as the The Madelynn Todd Trailblazer Award winner for her work with Brush Up.  Madisyn was both the founder and president of Brush Up, a local nonprofit dental hygiene program. 

Lauren Wildman was selected as the Hokie Helpers Award Winner for her work assisting community members with vaccinations during the pandemic.  She went above and beyond to help the NRV community.

Claire Cunningham was selected as the 2022 Randolph L. Grayson Outstanding CALS Diversity Scholar Award winner. 

Damian Rories was chosen to be the Outstanding Transfer Student. Damian is a non-traditional student who started at NVCC, passing only 4 of 9 classes in his first 3 semesters and stopped attending. He worked for 8 years before returning to NVCC. After his return, he achieved a 4.0 in every semester at NVCC from Spring 2018 through Summer 2019, earning an Associates in Science. He worked another year and started in FST in fall 2020, earning a 4.0 every semester and will graduate in spring 2022. He has a incredible work ethic and a great quest for knowledge.