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2010-11 Alumni Award Recipients

James “Jimmy” Graves, a 1961 graduate of Virginia Tech in agricultural economics, returned home to carry on his family’s tradition in the hospitality business. Today, the Graves family owns and operates Graves’ Mountain Lodge, a rustic retreat in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Graves Family
The Graves Family

Jimmy, his wife Rachel, and their sons Lynn and Lucky have diligently served the college, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and the agriculture industry in many ways. They have hosted numerous Extension meetings, including the annual Virginia Extension orchard meeting. Jimmy has served on the college’s Leadership Council for many years, and Lynn, a 1995 agricultural technology graduate, is an active Alpha Gamma Rho alumnus and serves on the Madison County Extension Leadership Council. Both Jimmy and Lucky have served as president of the Young Farmers of Virginia and they, along with Lynn, have been on the Virginia State Apple Board.

In 2010, Graves’ Mountain Lodge was recognized as the Agribusiness of the Year by the Virginia Agribusiness Council, and Jimmy Graves was named Hotelier of the Year by the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association.

Michael Miller
Michael Miller (center), Kevin Boyle, department head of Agricultural and Applied Economics (right), and Alan Grant, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Michael Miller graduated from Virginia Tech in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics and went on to receive his master’s in business administration from Virginia Commonwealth University. In 1990, he founded MGMiller Valuations in Richmond and remains its president and CEO. The company is now the largest independent appraisal company in Virginia and is well-recognized for its professional appraisals — including historic and agricultural properties — and for providing litigation support. Miller chaired the Virginia Housing Development Authority board and consults on low-income elderly and family housing.

At Virginia Tech, Miller served on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors and held leadership roles within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Alumni Organization. He has presented guest lectures for the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and provided employment opportunities for several of the department’s graduates. Miller has co-chaired the department’s Distinguished Chair Fundraising Committee since 2008. His financial contributions led to membership in the Ut Prosim and William Preston societies, and he was recognized as the 2007-2008 Outstanding Alumnus for the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.

Paul Saunders, a 1954 graduate in agricultural engineering, is the owner of Saunders Brothers Inc., a wholesale nursery and fruit market in Piney River that began as a partnership between five brothers in 1915. The business thrives under the leadership of Paul, his wife Tatum, and four of their seven sons. Paul and all of his sons are Virginia Tech graduates.

The Saunders Family
The Saunders Family

Saunders has spent more than 50 years growing and observing boxwood varieties. He authored Best of the Best: Boxwood Cultivars Manual in 2001 and is nationally recognized as a leading authority on boxwoods.

He has maintained a strong commitment to Virginia Tech for many years as past president of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and served on the agriculture alumni board of directors and the College of Agriculture and Life Science’s Leadership Council.

Saunders has also served on the Regional Campaign Committee, the Virginia Tech Foundation Board, and the Class of 1954 Reunion Committee. In addition to his service, Saunders is a benefactor of the Ut Prosim Society. In 1996, he was honored with the university’s Alumni Distinguished Service Award.

Lire Ersado
Lire Ersado (center), Tom Tillar, vice president of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association (right), and Alan Grant, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Lire Ersado (agricultural and applied economics M.S. '96, '97, '98, Ph.D. '01 ) of Washington, DC, received the College's Outstanding Recent Alumni Award. Lire left Virginia Tech in 2002 and took a post-doctoral position at the International Food Policy Research Institution and then entered the highly competitive World Bank Young Professional Program in 2004.  He is now a senior economist at World Bank who leads teams to assist countries in their poverty-reduction and social protection strategies.  He has devoted his career to the design and analysis of policies to benefit the poor and vulnerable in developing countries.

His dedication to those less fortunate spills over into his day-to-day life. He is a founding executive board member and treasurer of Kambata Development Network in Washington, DC. This nonprofit public benefit network is dedicated to providing services to poor people in Ethiopia.He manages the network’s fund and chairs its scholarship committee. He also has founded and is now Executive Board Member and Auditor of Hosanna and Environs Self-Help Association, a nonprofit self-help organization based in the Greater Washington area and supports development work in Ethiopia and the United States.

Mollie Blythe
Mollie Blythe (center ), David Gerrard, department head of Animal and Poultry Sciences (right), and Alan Grant, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Mollie Blythe of Franklin, Va., has been recognized with the Outstanding Ambassador Award. Mollie has been a college ambassador since 2009 and is currently the service chair and co-led the Spring Retreat  in 2011.  Her assistance to recruitment and alumni relations in the college through this organization has been exceptional as she continuously shines as one of the program’s most dependable and enthusiastic members, volunteering to assist with a broad range of events and activities.

Her commitment to helping recruit students to the college doesn’t stop at the borders of campus.For several breaks, she has “Taken Tech Home” and met with classes at her former high school to talk about Virginia Tech and the College. She developed the PowerPoint presentation that now all of the ambassador membership uses when visiting schools in their hometowns.

She was appointed to the Alumni Organization board of directors as the Ambassador Representative 2010-11.  Mollie been very involved in Virginia Tech Relay for Life since 2008 serving on the University Fundraising and Survivorship committees, and as the Ambassador Team Captain for the last two years. She is also an activie member of the Campus Crusades for Christ. Mollie will graduate in spring 2012 with a bachelors of science in Animal and Poultry Sciences.

Carol Papillon
Carol Papillon (center), Susan Hutson, department head of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise (right), and Alan Grant, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Carol Papillon of Blacksburg, Va., was recognized with the Outstanding Faculty Service Award. A senior instructor and the dietetic internship director, Carol directs over 40 undergraduate dietetic students and eight graduate students in their internship program. The program is recognized as a leading program for training students in the area of dietetics.

Papillon oversees and maintains the accreditation requirements of the department for the Commission on Dietetic Registration.   She has been the recipient of two prestigious awards received from the American Dietetic Association:  Outstanding Dietetic Educator for Region VI of Dietetic Educators of Practitioners and the Public Policy and Advocacy Award in Dietetics Education awarded to the Virginia Tech Dietetic Internship.

In 2007, Carol independently initiated, edited, produced, and distributed the department’s alumni newsletter, “HNFE Happenings”.She continues to produce the newsletter on an annual basis.  In addition to the newsletter, Carol has been an avid supporter of involving alumni on and off campus.She planned an alumni reception in conjunction with the Virginia Dietetic Annual Meeting in 2007 and is planning another reception when the meeting occurs on campus again in 2012. Carol also was a  member of the planning committee for HNFE’s 50th Anniversary Celebration in April 2011.

Keith Long
Keith Long (center), Michael Akers, department head of Dairy Science (right), and Alan Grant, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Keith Long (dairy science B.S. '84) of Manquin, VA, received the Outstanding Alumnus in International Programs Award. Keith has served as the Director of International Marketing for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service since 2000 where he provides strategic direction to Virginia agribusiness firms on expanding export sales in key global markets.  He manages full-time staff in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and the United States as well as an international network of consultants.  Keith has been successful in obtaining USDA funding for expanding exports of agricultural products in Mexico. Specialists and Extension agents have been involved in international marketing programs promoted by Keith resulting in strong recognition of Virginia Tech as a technical resource for agricultural development.  Keith is a member of the Boards of the US Livestock Export Genetics Council, the Virginia-Washington, DC, District Export Council, and the US Poultry and Egg Export Council.

Gene Copenhaver

Gene Copenhaver (animal science B.S. '83) of Meadowview, VA, received the Outstanding Alumni Leadership Award. Gene has been with The First Bank and Trust Company since 2004 as the Vice president, regional supervisor for agricultural lending, and managing supervisor for the agriculture division in Southwest Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, which has grown to over $150 million in agricultural loans.

He has supported the college and university in numerous ways: two terms on the CALS Alumni Organization Board of Directors, four years on the Dean’s Leadership Council, Virginia Tech Colligate Beef Council Interview Committee, Southwest Virginia (Glade Spring) Agricultural Research and Extension Center advisory board, Virginia Tech 4-H Project Leader, 10 Years on the board of the Southwest Chapter of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, and 20 year Hokie Club member and football season ticket holder.

Gene is a member of the America Bankers Association Agricultural Committee, President of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, Treasurer of the Virginia Cattlemen Association, and Past Chairman of the Virginia Cattle Foundation Board.

Outstanding Departmental Alumni Awards


Agricultural and Applied EconomicsKristi RowsellB.S. '88 and M.A. '89Glen Ellyn, IL
Agricultural and Extension EducationJay PooleB.S. '78Glen Allen, VA
Agricultural TechnologyDavid CaudellA.A. '94 and D.V.M. '00Blacksburg, VA
Animal and Poultry SciencesWilliam FlowersB.S. '82Raleigh, NC
BiochemistryWilliam HuckleM.S. '81Blacksburg, VA
Biological Systems EngineeringJoseph HarnerB.S. '79, M.S. '81 and Ph.D. '83St. George, KS
Crop and Soil Environmental SciencesHunter RichardsonB.S. '91West Point, VA
Dairy ScienceWilliam HarrisonB.S. '60Leesburg, VA
EntomologyJoan LasotaPh.D.‘85Ringoes, NJ
Food Science and TechnologyW. Payton PruettM.S. '90 and Ph.D. '93Cincinnati, OH
HorticulturePeter MurrayB.S. '82Herndon, VA
Human Nutrition, Foods and ExerciseCarolyn MilesB.S. '69, M.S. '71 and Ph.D. '77Alexandria, VA
Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed ScienceJeffrey JonesM.S. '74 and Ph.D. '80Gainesville, FL
Outstanding Departmental Recent Alumni Awards


Agricultural and Applied EconomicsLire ErsadoM.S. '96, '97, '98 and Ph.D. '01Washington, DC
Agricultural and Extension EducationRyan AndersonPh.D. '07Ames, IA
Agricultural TechnologySteven LoweA.S. '04Shawsville, VA
Animal and Poultry SciencesMelinda CepB.S. '05 and  D.V.M. '09Washington, DC
BiochemistryJessica KraszewskiB.S. '02 and M.S. '07Wilmington, DE
Biological Systems EngineeringCheryl ZaronB.S. '01 and M.S. '02Ellicot City, MD
Crop and Soil Environmental SciencesMatthew LewisB.S. '99 and M.S. '01Lancaster, VA
Dairy ScienceMatthew NuckolsB.S. '00Beaverdam, VA
EntomologyJarrod LelandB.S. '93, M.S. '98 and Ph.D. ‘01Blacksburg, VA
Food Science and TechnologyJanet WebsterB.S. '84, M.S. '94 and Ph.D. '06Blacksburg, VA
HorticultureMark MaslowB.S. '04Evington, VA
Human Nutrition, Food and ExerciseNicolin Girmes-GriecoM.S. '01Blacksburg, VA
Plant Pathology, Physiology and Weed ScienceSelester BennettB.S. '88 and M.S. '93In Memorium