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Experience CALS 2023

Experience CALS: A day behind the scenes for alumni and friends

Friday, March 31, 2023

We invite you to Blacksburg in the spring to learn how the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Virginia Cooperative Extension supports Virginia Tech's land-grant model.

In its second year, Experience CALS is back and better than ever integrating 2022 attendee feedback.

Join us for a look behind the scenes with tours, immersion into student classroom experiences, and faculty-led presentations showcasing our teaching, research, and outreach missions. 2023 will feature ALL NEW programming so make it an annual tradition!

Come spend the day with us so we can show our gratitude to you, our supporters, and welcome all of our alumni and friends to experience firsthand the driving force of impact and innovation that is CALS and VCE. 

Reflections of last year's attendees: What did you value the most about Experience CALS?

  • Opportunity to meet and have organic conversations with faculty in person
  • Learning about the different CALS activities and connecting with CALS friends
  • The faculty and graduate students and the StREAM lab
  • Networking and seeing parts of CALS that I've never seen
  • Interactions with the department representatives (faculty and students)
  • Seeing behind the scenes in the Lyme disease lab. Getting to hear about aspects of CALS that were of interest to me, but I hadn't had access to. Having hands on experience in floral design. Getting to be on campus with others that shared the same interests.
  • Catching up with other Hokies I hadn’t seen in years and learning about interesting programs in the college
  • It was nice to get a better overview of the CALS program and see more of the faculty. We had an amazing experience at the StREAM lab--it was the highlight of our visit. Such a powerful and concrete example of what VT is accomplishing.


Registration is $10 to attend. $5 of your registration is a gift to the CALS Annual Fund.

Cost includes: lunch, dinner, and transportation to all sessions.

Continue to check here for schedule updates.

For a listing of local hotels, please visit our hotel listing page

Schedule of Events (subject to change)
Track will be selected during registration. Some tours have capacity limitations.

Time:   Information:
8:00 - 9:00 AM  Check-in Opens The Inn at Virginia Tech
9:00 Buses to Depart to Session 1     Track Options
    Hokie Track -
Tour of the Food Science & Technology Pilot Plant and Brewhouse
Faculty Lead: Brian Wiersema
Location: HABB1
    Land Grant Track 
Roundtable Discussion with the VT Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation
Faculty Lead: Dr. Kim Niewolny
Location: Litton-Reaves Hall
    Ut Prosim Track 
Leadership and Social Change Residential Community
Faculty Lead: Dr. Rick Rudd
Location: O'Shaughnessy Hall
Lunch at Dietrick Dining Hall
11:00 AM - 1:00 PM 

Panel Discussion: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts in CALS and Virginia Cooperative Extension

Dr. Chevon Thorpe ~ Assistant Dean of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Dr. Crystal Tyler-Mackey ~ Extension Leader for Inclusion and Diversity for Virginia Cooperative Extension
Dr. Erika Bonnett ~ 4-H Programming Specialist for Virginia 4-H
Dave Winston ~ Extension Dairy Scientist, Youth, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences



Time:   Information:  
1:00 PM Buses Depart to Session 2 Track Options  
    Hokie Track -
Data Science for the Public Good
Faculty Lead: Dr. Matt Holt
Location: Hutcheson Hall
    Land Grant Track 
Neural and Molecular Basis of Mosquito Behavior
Faculty Lead: Dr. Clement Vinauger
Location: Steger Hall
    Ut Prosim Track 
Ut Prosim Track – Looking Outside the Brain to Delay Alzheimer’s
Faculty Lead: Dr. Joshua Drake
Location: Integrated Life Sciences Building
3:00 PM Buses Depart to Session 3 Track Options
    Hokie Track -
The Impact of Diet and Exercise on Metabolism
Faculty Lead: Dr. Adele Addington
Location: Integrated Life Sciences Building
    Land Grant Track 
Soil Health and 50 Years of Turfgrass Research
Faculty Leads: Dr. Rory Maguire, Dr. Angela Possinger, Dr. Daniel Sandor
Location: Turfgrass Research Center
    Ut Prosim Track 
Bovine Reproduction: Applied learning for livestock management
Faculty Lead: Rachel Kohl
Location: Plantation Road
The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center
6:00 - 7:30 PM

Reception and Stationed Dinner

         Dr. Alan Grant, Dean of CALS
         Dr. Mike Gutter, Associate Dean and Director of Virginia Cooperative Extension

Track/Bus Tour Descriptions ~

Welcome to Experience CALS 2023! We can’t wait to share with you our exciting teaching, research and outreach initiatives and give you a look behind the scenes at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences!

You will choose one track to follow throughout the day – Hokie Track, Land Grant Track or Ut Prosim Track. 

Please note that each track is limited to 15 people. Also be aware that due to the requirements of our facilities, you are asked to wear closed-toed shoes and long pants. For tracks that are held outside, we have covered facilities at each so you should not have to stand outside in the rain, however we request you keep an eye on the weather and dress accordingly.  

Session 1:

Tour of the Food Science & Technology Pilot Plant and Brewhouse

Brian Wiersema, Pilot Plant Manager, Food Science & Technology 
Location – Human and Ag Biosciences Building 1
Assisted by Dr. Herbert Bruce, professor; Dr. Sean O'Keefe, professor; and Kyle Carmody, student

Tour the Food Science & Technology Pilot Plant with a special look at the Industry Engagement Space. We will discuss previous and potential industry opportunities, have a brief discussion on the brewing process, courses and recipe development for the Virginia Tech beers, look at the raw Ingredient materials used in VT beers available for organoleptic evaluation, and perhaps taste some of our special brews. 

Session 2:

Data Science for the Public Good

Dr. Matt Holt, Professor and Head, Agricultural and Applied Economics 
Location – 302 Hutcheson Hall
Assisted by professors Dr. Susan Chen, Dr. Chanit’a Holmes, Dr. Elinor Benami; postdoctoral associate Briana Posadas; undergraduate student Taj Cole; and graduate student Samantha Ripley 

The Data Science for the Public Good (DSPG) program was developed in partnership with Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia State University. The mission of the DSPG program is to provide experiential learning opportunities to students through the Young Scholars Program (YSP). The YSP is implemented through the Data Science for the Public Good (DSPG) young scholar’s platform. The DSPG platform promotes team science, where undergraduates and graduate students collaborate with faculty members to address current social issues locally and nationally. In the summer, the teams are brought together to conduct research at the intersection of statistics, computation, and the social sciences to determine how information can be leveraged to improve quality of life and inform public policy. 

 Our team-based experiential learning approach develops the problem-solving, leadership, and technical skills necessary for a new generation of workers in food, agriculture, and community development. The project-focused program provides all participating undergraduates with an opportunity to experience how data science tools are applied to meaningful research problems confronting agriculture and rural communities. The hands-on, minds-on applied research experiences help students to understand how to formulate a research question and then how to obtain, use, analyze, and present data in meaningful ways to policymakers, decision-makers, and the public. The student-stakeholder project collaboration involving Virginia Cooperative Extension specialists and other policy stakeholders provides an important form of professional mentoring for the student interns. That is, students will gain insights into potential career opportunities in the agricultural and public policy sectors. 

 The DSPG program is funded by the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment." We have several Shinny Apps developed over the past three years in the student-based projects that we will demonstrate. Shinny Apps are unique, user-friendly ways to visualize the essential features of complex data used in public policy analyses and decision making. 

 Session 3:

The Impact of Diet and Exercise on Metabolism

Dr. Adele Addington, Lab Manager and Dr. Josh Drake, Assistant Professor, Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise 
Location – Integrative Life Sciences Building 
Assisted by students Jacob Bond and Rebecca Mammel 

 Our lab is interested in the molecular signaling underpinning beneficial adaptations to exercise with a particular focus on vasculature. We will give a broad overview of our research and conduct a few "experiments" with our graduate students to demonstrate the general concepts we study in the lab.  

Session 1:

Roundtable Discussion with the VT Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation

Dr. Kim Niewolny, Associate Professor and Director, Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation, Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education 
Location – 1810 Litton-Reaves Hall
First floor access with ramp available so mobility is not an issue 
Assisted by Eric Bendfeldt, VCE Area Specialist; Dr. Katie Trozzo, Program Associate; and Garland Mason, AgrAbility Virginia Coordinator and undergraduate students Nicole Nunoo, Kasey Owen, and Justice Madden  

In this interactive roundtable discussion, the VT Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation will provide a brief overview of the goals and activities of the Center, how that works aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and examples of community engaged scholarship.  Examples of this work include a) highlights from our "4 the Soil" Podcast, b) "Soil, Conservation, and Place" on farm-video series, and c) "Stories of Community Food Work" in Roanoke story-art project.   We will have active group discussion of current university-community projects and the role VT CALS serves in interdisciplinary food systems research, extension, and teaching programming that addresses the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  Also, food items from local farms and businesses will be showcased. 

Session 2:

Neural and Molecular Basis of Mosquito Behavior

Dr. Clement Vinauger, Assistant Professor, Biochemistry 
Location – 374 Steger Hall 
Assisted by Karthikeyan Chandrasegaran, postdoctoral fellow; graduate students Lan Lou, Shajaesza Diggs, Nicole Wynne; and undergraduate student Spruha Rami.

 To find us and bite us, mosquitoes rely on behaviors guided by their sense of smell, their vision, and their ability to detect our body temperature. In the Vinauger lab, we investigate how these sensory cues are encoded by neural circuits to produce epidemiologically relevant behaviors. We are specifically looking for the genes that regulate these neural circuits, in the hope of identifying ways to disrupt mosquitoes' ability to be such efficient vectors of diseases.  

You’ll also get a look at a demonstration of 3D-printed ""helmets" used to record the activity of neurons in the brain of mosquitoes, a demonstration of our mosquito virtual-reality environment, observations of mosquitoes under the microscope, and explanations of the mosquito life cycle.  

Session 3:

Soil Health and 50 Years of Turfgrass Research

Dr. Rory Maguire, Professor and Extension Specialist; Dr. Angela Possinger, Assistant Professor; and Dr. Daniel Sandor, Collegiate Assistant Professor - Turfgrass Science 
School of Plant and Environmental Sciences 
Location – Turfgrass Research Center 

CALS research farms and facilities support a wide range of work to address management challenges across agricultural systems. This session is made up of three sections: 1) turfgrass research, 2) crop production and soil health, and 3) interactive soil testing activities. In this tour, you will visit the VT Turfgrass Research Center (TRC), which over the past 50 years has provided significant contributions to stakeholders in the golf-course, sports-field, lawn-care, sod-production, and highway-roadside industries here in the Commonwealth, and across the entire globe. Attendees will explore current turfgrass research projects, learn about interdepartmental collaborations in teaching programs and research labs within CALS/VT that occur at the TRC, and will discover future research and university-extension efforts at the TRC. Attendees will then be able to learn more about multiple research and outreach programs in CALS linked to soil health (a key element of long-term agricultural sustainability), starting with a presentation covering the benefits of soil health for farmers and water quality, the Virginia Soil Health Coalition, farmer-to-farmer mentoring programs and integrating graduate student education with on-farm field trials. You’ll then get to see excavated soil pits that enable you to have an interactive experience in describing a soil profile, recording soil color and texture, and conducting example soil health metrics in the field, with an emphasis on measurements related to soil organic matter. Activities will include demonstrations and measurements of active carbon, infiltration tests, compaction analysis, and aggregate stability. 

Assisted by Mary Sketch (Director Virginia Soil Health Coalition), Lydia Fitzgerald (Soil Health Agronomist), Dr Michael Flessner; Sapana Pokhrel (Soil Health PhD candidate), Soni Ghimire (Soil Health MS candidate) Derek Hilfiker (Manure management and soil health PhD candidate); Dr. Ryan Stewart; SPES graduate and undergraduate students in soil science; Dr. Mike Goatley (Professor and Turfgrass Extension Specialist), John Hinson (TRC Manager), Dr. Daniel Sandor (Turfgrass Teaching/Experiential Learning); PhD Graduate Students Aaron Tucker (Turf Pathology) and John Peppers (Turf Weed Science); and Adam Webb (undergraduate).

Session 1:

Leadership and Social Change Residential Community

Dr. Rick Rudd, Professor and Community Viability Chair, Director, Workforce Education and Development, Center for International Research Education and Development 
Dr. Donna Westfall-Rudd, Associate Professor, Teaching and Learning 

Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education 
Leadership and Social Change Residential Community 
Location – O'Shaughnessy Hall 

Learn more about the Leadership and Social Change Residential College (LSCRC) from faculty principal, Dr. Rick Rudd. LSCRC is a leadership development program maintained through a collaborative effort of the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Office of Living-Learning Programs, and VT Engage: The Center for Leadership and Service Learning whose mission is to offer students a theoretical foundation combined with the practical knowledge and skills necessary to lead in a complex global environment.


Session 2:

Looking Outside the Brain to Delay Alzheimer’s

Dr. Joshua Drake, Assistant Professor, Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise 
Location – Integrative Life Sciences Building 
Assisted by – Matt Brisendine, HNFE PhD Candidate 

 Alzheimer's disease develops along a continuum, with the earliest events in the pathology occurring years prior to development of cognitive impairments that are observed clinically. One early event linked to the development of Alzheimer's is an early decline in skeletal muscle mass. Using per-clinical models, we are investigating how muscle dysfunction develops in relation to Alzheimer's neuropathology and the efficacy of exercise as an early interventional strategy to delay disease development. A primary measure we use in our studies is monitoring mitochondrial function in intact skeletal muscle fibers. We can demonstrate this process and attendees will be able to view this procedure.  

 Additionally, we use state-of-the-art microscopy methods to visualize mitochondrial structure in skeletal muscle. We will host a tour of this facility and demonstrate examples of data collected. 

Session 3:

Bovine Reproduction with the Agricultural Technology Program: Applied learning for livestock management
Rachel Kohl, Agricultural Technology Program 
Location – Etgen Livestock Pavilion
Assisted by – Agricultural Technology Students
Artificial insemination of cows can increase production efficiency and provide access to a broader pool of genetically superior bulls. Successful artificial insemination programs for cow herds require a clear understanding of the estrous cycle, as well as the anatomy and physiology of the reproductive tract. Participants will have the opportunity to watch the dissection of cow’s reproductive tract, practice passing an AI gun through a cervix, and learn about the cow’s estrous cycle with a method that is both interactive and memorable!

     CALS Advancement
     (540) 231-5532