2019-2020 Bios

Hani Awni – President

Hani Awni is a Mechanical Engineering Masters student focused on engineering design of sociotechnological systems. His current research adapts software from autonomous robotics, as both a wearable package and a web server, to map accessibility barriers on campus and provide accessibility-constraint-respecting navigation to all varieties of human and robot bodies. This information can then be used by autonomous robotics researchers on campus, by disabled users to navigate campus, and by different offices in the university to better address campus inaccessibility. Hani also taught or co-taught the Mechatronics two-course sequence in Mechanical Engineering for the past two academic years, and is starting an educational outreach channel on the livestreaming website Twitch.tv. In his downtime, he’s very active in several online communities, spanning disability spaces, pen-and-paper roleplay, educational content creators, and Twitch streamers.

In the past, Hani has been a software engineer in silicon valley, worked on augmented reality in Los Angeles, led a 25-person intentional community in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, and worked as a specialty soda sommelier. His previous research work has been in brain-computer interfacing, modeling of human abstract reasoning, and fall prediction.

His primary focus this year as President is in improving the GSA’s efficacy in its advocacy role to address student needs by whatever means available. This will entail improving the organization’s capacity for discovering graduate students issues, educating the student body about both the official and unspoken forms of the decision-making structure of the university, and actively collaborating with organizations and offices with aligned interests to address different issues facing graduate students.

Alexis Hruby – Vice-President and Director of Legislative Affairs

Alexis standing on a beach, smiling at the camera
Vice President

Alexis Hruby is a direct PhD student in dairy science with a strong chemistry and biology background. A Florida native, she graduated from the nearby Auburn University with a degree in Animal Science in 2017. Passionate about agriculture, she moved to Blacksburg in hopes of furthering her studies to one day have a direct and positive impact on food production as a dairy nutritionist. Her current research project is in working with bovine primary epithelial cell transporters through cell culture, continuing the work in understanding how amino acids will interact with these transporters and each other. Further understanding these transporters is key to increasing efficiency of the dairy industry by lowering the environmental impact caused by nitrogen output. She also works as an undergraduate mentor with those who have interest in undergraduate research by assisting in developing and executing in-vitro experiments. In her free time, Alexis is often packing/planning for an international journey (she’s been to nineteen countries and counting), trying out new restaurants, reading a good book, struggling on a hike on the Appalachian trail, or simply grabbing a craft beer with great friends!

Sharon Stidham – Director of Programs

Sharon looks confidently at her audience with shoulder length hair and glasses
Director of Programs

An almost-3rd year Ph.D. student in the Instructional Design and Technology program, Sharon Flynn Stidham came to Virginia Tech after enjoying a variety of careers, spanning Financial Analysis, Marketing, Product Management, Irish Dance, and Teaching. In each of her endeavors, she quickly became known as a leader who could span a breadth of technologies and industries, transforming processes and paradigms for the better.

Sharon began her studies at VT in January of 2018, and has served as the treasurer of the Instructional Technology Student Association (ITSA) for the 2018-2019 academic year, and as the Co-Chair of the 2019 Graduate Research Symposium. She was voted President of ITSA and as the Director of Programs for the VT Graduate Student Assembly, both for the 2019-2020 academic year.

She holds a master’s degree in Business Administration and a BA in Mathematics, both from Rider University. She is also a Board Certified Hypnotist, a formerly certified Teacher of Secondary Mathematics (Texas), a certified Irish Dance Instructor, and a certified Irish Dance Adjudicator. Aside from being certifiable, she is a painter (acrylics), a writer (published), and an avid reader. Her favorite view in Blacksburg is the one out of her bedroom window, overlooking the cow farm.

Maruf Hoque – Director of Finance

Martina Svyantek – Director of Communications

Martina stands smiling at the camera, in front of a green-painted wall with a large photo of a field of flowers. She is in the gender-neutral bathroom on the first floor of the GLC
Director of Communications

Martina V. Svyantek is a doctoral candidate in a self-designed and highly-individualized interdisciplinary program exploring Disability identity situated within higher education. Her research focuses on Disability-related institutional policies, accessibility, and campus activism.She earned her Bachelor of Science in civil engineering in 2011 from Auburn University, complemented by her MS from Virginia Tech in May 2018. Martina curates an ePortfolio (martinasvyantek.com), tweets into the internet void (@svyantek), and generally keeps to herself in large crowds. Ultimately, Martina aspires to continue working with the discipline-agnostic view of learning, research, and impactful service, weaving together connections and resources related to campus communities.


Cortney Steele – Director of Events

Cortney is a 5th year PhD and dietetics student in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise here at Virginia Tech. She currently works in the Human Integrative Physiology Laboratory under Dr. Kevin Davy.  Prior to coming to Virginia Tech, she completed her undergraduate degree in Health and Human Performance at Messiah College in 2013 and her master’s degree in Exercise Science at Bloomsburg University, Pennsylvania in 2015. Over the past 4 years she has served as a teaching assistant for the HNFE department. Her current research interests involve the influence of dietary behaviors and associated biomarkers affects  on vascular health in adults. Outside the lab you will more than likely find her on a hiking trail.

This is her 3rd year of involvement with the Graduate Student Assembly. As the Director of Events of the GSA, she plans to listen to the wishes of her fellow graduate students and implement events to involve the whole graduate community.