2016 GPP Cohort


Willie Caldwell

Willie Caldwell is a MFA student in arts leadership with a secondary focus higher education administration. He is a graduate of the American Music and Dramatic Academy and Berklee College of Music with degrees in theatre, performance, and music business and management. Willie is committed to the arts integration and transdiciplinary arts and design research within higher education. He explores these areas as a graduate fellow with the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech. Willie has worked as a professional actor and musician in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Nashville. Select credits include: Emcee – TEDx at Virginia Tech, Lancelot –Spamalot, Sebastian – Suddenly Last Summer, Lord Farquaad – Shrek the Musical, Zoser – Aida, Britt Craig – Parade, Roy – A Light in the Piazza, Matt – The Fantasticks, and appeared as a vulture demon on the WB’s Charmed. Willie has recorded and released four solo EPs and provided vocal talent and effects for Disney MGM. Willie has also worked as the Director of Student Services for the School of Audio Engineering Los Angeles, the Assistant Registrar for Berkleemusic online, and as the Business Manager for the Office of Undergraduate Education at Virginia Tech. He currently holds memberships with Americans for the Arts and the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

Ben Chambers

imageBen Chambers is a PhD student in Environmental Design and Planning, an MS student in Entomology, and part of the BioBuild Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program (IGEP). He also holds an MS in Civil Infrastructure Engineering from Virginia Tech. Prior to graduate school, he worked for several years assessing potential sites for utility scale wind power.

Ben is very interested in the built environment as a context for biological systems. His current research is an examination of the behavior of overwintering brown marmorated stink bugs as they respond to structural features and environmental conditions in single-family homes. In the last twenty years, these invasive insects have become significant nuisances in homes, and a major agricultural pest. Ben hopes that the outcomes of his research can be used to help control them. Mostly, though, he’s just happy that he gets to play with bugs.

Natalie Cook


I am a first-generation American as well as a first-generation college graduate. I am pursuing doctoral studies in hopes of engaging in applied research that can translate into the planning, implementation, and evaluation of culturally-competent social programs for low-income or marginalized children, families, and communities.

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I attended middle and high school on the Upper West and Upper East sides of Manhattan, respectively. I lived in Ithaca, New York for four years while attending Cornell University, and in Newark, Delaware for two while attending the University of Delaware for graduate school. I currently reside in Blacksburg, Virginia, where I am a doctoral student at Virginia Tech, studying cultural responsiveness in the context of community education and program evaluation. I mention the places where I have lived because community is very important to me.

Community, however, transcends the boundaries of physical spaces. I conceptualize community as the shared physical, psycho-social-spiritual connections between individuals. That is, community can exist among and between people who share a neighborhood, a paradigm, an identity group, or a belief system. While I believe that social programs have power to enhance and support communities, I advocate for the knowledge and experiences of community members to be included as sources of expertise.

As a scholar, I value research and theory, but I also value other forms of knowledge–such as cultural beliefs, traditions and lived experiences. Thus, as a future applied researcher and professor, I hope to incorporate phenomenological and participatory research in my future work, as I strive to explore how to engage youth, families, and communities in co-creating resilience-promoting programs. Within the university, as a future professor, I hope to promote innovation, inspiration, and inclusion in higher education. I also hope to serve as a bridge between the university and local community. I hope to facilitate collaborative community-university engagement and to help leverage the power of community knowledge paired with research and theoretical knowledge to promote social good.

Chelsea Corkins

chelsea corkinsChelsea Corkins is a third year PhD candidate in the Biological Systems Engineering department. Prior to joining the Virginia Tech community, Chelsea received her Bachelors and Masters degrees from Kansas State University – both in Biological and Agricultural Engineering with an emphasis in water resources. Her masters research focused on gully soil erosion on military training bases and initiated Chelsea’s ongoing interested in soil erosion processes caused by water.

At Virginia Tech, Chelsea’s research involves streambank erosion and how root structures and microbial communities affect the overall erosion rate. This research has required an interdisciplinary team including faculty from engineering mechanics, horticulture, and forestry. This research has also required Chelsea to improve her knowledge regarding stream systems as much of the water in her homeland of the Midwest is hidden underground!

Chelsea holds a strong past in international travel. She studied for one semester at Czech Technical University in Prague, Czech Republic, and traveled to Bangladesh, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic to work on water related research efforts during her undergraduate career. During these trips, Chelsea worked with locals to assess water sanitation issues, water quality improvements, resource allocation, and community engagement. These short-term interactions inspired Chelsea to take a summer internship at the International Water Management Institute in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia after completing her first year at Virginia Tech. This culmination of water ideas and projects have influenced Chelsea’s decision to pursue a career in academics with a strong emphasis on global water relations.

When not focused on schoolwork, Chelsea is heavily involved with the Graduate Student Assembly as this year’s Director of Programs. Chelsea’s role involves planning social and academic events for graduate students, as well as providing research and travel funding to fellow VT graduate students. Outside of Virginia Tech, Chelsea is the Co-founder of the Blacksburg Beer Enthusiasts and actively promotes interest and involvement from women into the heavily male dominated world of craft beer.

GPP Learning Objectives

  1. Examine how European Universities interact with the concept or current existence of teaching faculty within their arena.
  2. Learn about and from innovative and successful teaching styles, including assessment of “why” these approaches thrive and not simply “how” they succeed.
  3. Assess the utilization and atmosphere surrounding interdisciplinary teaching.
  4. Immerse myself in the culture not only surrounding high education, but also in a broad sense, the academic atmosphere and how European entities interact with higher education.

GPP Research Topic

Not every student interested in continuing in academic will pursue a position as a research faculty. In fact, a large majority of academic jobs are not research focused. For my research topic, I would like to examine and assess the utilization of teaching faculty in higher education at European Universities. As such, I would like to pose the following research questions:

  • Do European Universities support and hire faculty with a teaching only or teaching foremost focus?
    • If so, how do students enrolled in European Universities view these teaching faculty?
    • If not, how do students enrolled in European Universities react to the concept of teaching faculty?
  • Are graduate students encouraged to pursue a career as a teaching faculty?

What role, if any, do teaching faculty play with regards to interdisciplinary advancements in education?

Emily Garner

Emily (2)Emily Garner is a PhD student in the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering with an emphasis on Environmental and Water Resources Engineering. She obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering from West Virginia University. Emily is passionate about studying microbiological aspects of water, particularly as they relate to public health. For her graduate work, Emily is studying the presence of emerging microbial contaminants in recycled water systems. Specifically, she is investigating the presence of opportunistic pathogens, such as Legionella and Naegleria fowleri (commonly known as the “brain eating amoeba”), and antibiotic resistant bacteria in recycled water systems and seeking to identify approaches to prevent growth of these organisms during pipeline transport from the treatment plant to consumers.

Emily is a member of the Water INTERface Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program (IGEP) at Virginia Tech. The program provides opportunities for education in developing skills for effective collaboration across disciplines and research opportunities which foster interdisciplinary projects at the nexus of water quality and public health. Emily has also completed the Preparing the Future Professoriate Certificate at Virginia Tech and hopes to pursue a faculty position after graduation where she can apply the pedagogical philosophies and techniques learned to better engage her future students in their education. In her free time, Emily enjoys hiking, gardening, and playing board games.

Amy Hermundstad

GPP pic-HermundstadAmy is currently pursuing a PhD in Engineering Education and a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado State University, and worked as a software consultant for several years before returning to graduate school. While pursuing her degree in Engineering Education, Amy has taught the first year Foundations of Engineering course at Virginia Tech, which covers topics such as engineering design, problem solving, programming, and computer-aided design. She currently works for the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED). CEED provides engineering students, primarily underrepresented populations, support and encouragement as they pursue their engineering degrees. One mission of CEED is to increase the diversity of students who apply to and graduate from the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. Amy’s current research interests include diversity and inclusion in engineering, with a focus on underrepresented engineering students’ participation in engineering support programs and activities. Specifically, she is interested in understanding why students chose to participate, or choose not to participate, in engineering living learning communities (where students live together in communities designed to promote learning). After graduating, Amy hopes to work either in a first year engineering program or in an engineering academic support program.

Jeena Jayamon

Jeena_Jayamon_PicJeena Rachel Jayamon is a Ph.D. candidate in the Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech. Her area of focus in in Structural Engineering and Materials with a focus on Structural Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering. Jeena earned her B.S. in Civil Engineering in 2010 from National Institute of Technology Calicut in India. Later she joined Virginia Tech for her graduate studies in Structural Engineering, completed the requirements for M.S. in 2012 and moved to the Ph.D. program.

As part of her PhD research, Jeena is developing a novel framework to predict the structural response of wood buildings (specifically with a shear wall structural system) to earthquakes through accurate computational modeling and analysis. Wood buildings are widely used for many commercial and residential applications and these buildings has a unique response to earthquakes. The research evaluates the seismic performance of different configurations and designs of wood buildings in terms of strength and repair / replacement cost for a minor level of building damage to all the way up to the collapse level. This research helps to identify the best practice of developing analytical model of wood building so as to predict the building response close to a real behavior.

Jeena is part of several professional organizations in Virginia Tech. She worked as Vice President of Structural Engineering Institute chapter, secretary of Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, delegate to Graduate Student Assembly. Jeena completed the graduate certification program on Preparing the Future Professoriate and also worked as Instructor of Record for Theory of Structures course at Virginia Tech. She also aspires to become a university faculty significantly contributing to reduce seismic hazard effects on building systems.

Learning Objectives for GPP

  1. I would like to learn about the class room teaching strategies followed for engineering design classes. Is it more theory oriented or will there be practice sessions?
  1. To interact with professors and graduate students working in the field of earthquake engineering in couple of universities
  1. To know more about the college life style of undergraduate and graduate students, their learning style, professional goals, social interactions etc.

GPP Research Topic

By taking part of GPP, I am interested in investigating on the differences in the course curriculum and pedagogical practices in Civil Engineering major degrees.

  1. How do they balance between the lecture hours on teaching theory, practicing design and experimental lab work during an undergraduate degree level?
  2. What is the transition of this to the graduate level?
  3. What is the extend to which undergraduate and graduate students participate in research?

Jordan Laney

IMG_9897 (2)Jordan Laney is from Marion, North Carolina. She is a third year doctoral student in the interdisciplinary Alliance for Social Political Ethical and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) program, studying cultural and social theory. Her current work focuses on bluegrass festivals as sites of identity construction. Before coming to VT, Jordan earned her M.A. in Appalachian Studies with a concentration in music from Appalachian State University and a B.F.A. in creative writing from Goddard College. In 2013 she became a graduate of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Leadership Bluegrass Program. At VT Jordan serves as the co-editor of SPECTRA, teaches for the Department of Religion and Culture, and is a member of the GTA Academy for Excellence. Jordan serves as the co-chair of Young Appalachian Leaders and Learners (Y’ALL), a sub-committee of the Appalachian Studies Association Steering Committee. She also works to represent Appalachian-identifying and first generation students at VT as a Diversity Scholar (2015). Jordan’s research has been presented to the Appalachian Studies Association, the International Country Music Association, the South Atlantic Modern Language Association, and many other regional groups. After graduation from VT Jordan hopes to continue serving the region through educational initiatives and community based learning. She also hopes to spend more time learning banjo tunes, farming, and hiking with her two dogs, Lady and Cowboy.

Liz Liguori


Liz Liguori works in photography, lighting, sculpture, installation and performance. A transplant from Brooklyn, New York Liz Liguori is currently a second year MFA student in Virginia Tech’s Creative Technology program. She earned her BA in studio art from Drew University in 2001.

Liguori’s participation in the “Transformative Graduate Education” certificate program, “Preparing the Future Professoriate” has greatly influenced, and informed her thesis research in Creative Technologies. In particular she is interested in how the technological evolution of arts education will affect traditional art programs in the future.

Global Perspectives Learning Objectives

  1. To garner a better understanding of how academic institutions abroad compare with the United States.
  2. To investigate how historic institutions of higher education are generally incorporating technology, especially pertaining to the humanities.
  3. To better comprehend how institutions of higher education abroad compare to the United States.
  4. Explore how interdisciplinary programs abroad are including the arts.

Global Perspectives Research Topic

  1. How are advancements in communication technology, and new media arts affecting the way traditional and indigenous methods for art making taught, and practiced in Europe, especially in regions with such a rich historical influence?
  2. How are institutions of higher education incorporating these contemporary methods for art making into their pedagogical practices?
  3. How are creative technologies incorporated into interdisciplinary programs?

Gary Nave

IMG_4121Hi there! My name is Gary and I am a Ph.D. student in Engineering Mechanics at Virginia Tech. I was born and raised in Virginia and decided to attend Virginia Tech for college. As I neared the end of my B.S. in Engineering Science and Mechanics, I was presented with the opportunity to stay for a Master’s degree. As I started to get into the research, though, I realized that I actually wanted to pursue a Ph.D. and continue working with the wonderful people in the Engineering Mechanics program at Virginia Tech. Instead of just going to Virginia Tech for college, though, I’ve made it my home for nearly a decade.

When I decided to pursue the full Ph.D., I accepted an offer to join the MultiSTEPS Interdisciplinary Research program. I am interested in bio-inspired research questions in the realm of fluid dynamics and dynamical systems. After doing a series of three short-term research projects last year, I am currently working with Mark Stremler and Shane Ross on understanding how objects interact with their wakes as they move through fluids.

As much as I enjoy research, the reason that I am in graduate school is to be able to teach at the college level and mentor college students. The Preparing the Future Professoriate and Contemporary Pedagogy classes by the graduate school have afforded me the opportunity to spend time learning about higher education as a part of my graduate coursework. I am excited for the opportunity to learn about higher education in Europe through this Global Perspectives Program!

Kasey Richardson

IMG_2076Kasey Richardson is a PhD Candidate in the Educational Psychology program, and he has also completed Graduate Certificates in Educational Research and Women’s and Gender Studies. His research interests lie primarily at the intersections of gender, sexuality, and learning processes. He is largely focused on how formal, public sex education can differ drastically from the ways in which youth learn and teach one another about sex and sexuality in informal contexts such as peer-to-peer interactions, pseudonymous digital spaces, and the media.

Kasey is also actively involved in student governance and leadership at Virginia Tech through the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA), formerly serving as a Departmental Delegate as well as Chair of the university’s student Travel Fund Program. Currently, he is the Administrative Director of the organization, providing support for the Executive Council as well as acting as a liaison between the organization, the Graduate School, and the Division of Student Affairs. Each year, he directs the annual Graduate and Professional School Fair, the organization’s largest fundraiser, and the only annual opportunity of its size and caliber for undergraduate students to be recruited into graduate and professional studies by Departments at Virginia Tech and other institutions around the globe.

Kasey has always had an interest in international travel and studies. This passion was sparked by several undergraduate experiences in Spain and Mexico. He believes that the Global Perspectives Program ’16 will afford him opportunities to network with potential colleagues internationally who are also interested in education. He is also curious to see how student governance differs (and if it even exists at all) within higher education at the universities he will visit during the program. Last, he is extremely interested in discovering how definitions of informal learning processes and contexts are shaped by cultures different than his own.

In his free time, Kasey enjoys socializing and debating with fellow graduate students, advocating for mental health awareness and LGBT equality, going to amusement parks, writing creatively, playing computer games, and watching and discussing good films.

Micah Roediger

PhD Student – Industrial and Organizational Psychology

micahMicah D. Roediger is a PhD candidate in the Virginia Tech Psychology department concentrating in industrial and organizational psychology. He received his BA degree in psychology from Ohio University in 2013 and a MS in industrial and organizational psychology in 2015. An interest in improving the workforce by optimizing the corporate safety culture, training programs, and employee development practices inspired Micah to pursue an advanced degree.

Micah plans to follow his passion for teaching after graduation, pursuing a tenure-track faculty position including a post-doctoral position if necessary. Although a heavy emphasis on teaching is important, Micah plans to continue to conduct research to improve organizations, with a strong focus on improving employee well-being through training and development.
In his free time Micah enjoys playing and watching various sports. Despite a love for many diverse sports, his favorite is football (soccer). In addition, Micah enjoys hiking the many beautiful trails around Blacksburg and hanging out with his friends. Even with all the time spent outside Micah can occasionally be found inside perfecting his gourmet grilled cheese recipe.

GPP Learning Objectives

    1. Discover the opportunities for a career in higher education abroad
    2. Gain a more global perspective of higher education
    3. Further investigate the differences between university funding abroad
    4. Begin to understand differences between pedagogical strategies used abroad

GPP Research Topic

In the United States students are often expected to participate by answering questions or providing their opinion in course lectures. This view is propagated by the ideology that participation helps to foster student engagement and improve student achievement. Yet, this is often not the case in Switzerland. Micah will explore the differences in pedagogical strategies to improve student engagement between the United States and Switzerland.

Mohammed Seyam

Bio PicMohammed Seyam is a Computer Science doctoral student in the College of Engineering. Seyam received his Bachelor’s degree in Information Systems from Mansoura University and his Master’s degree in Information Systems from Cairo University, both in Egypt.

Among his activities on campus, Seyam served as a Global Ambassador, helping welcome new international students to the Virginia Tech community. He was a member of the Computer Science Graduate Council, as well as the Center for the Arts international advisory board. In 2014, he represented Virginia Tech at Hokie Day at the Virginia state capitol in Richmond. He won a scholarship to travel to Washington DC to take part in OpenCon 2014, a conference for researchers on open access, open data, and open educational resources. He also received a scholarship to attend the 2015 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing in Boston MA, where he participated in conversations and workshops with domestic and international diversity scholars and advocates.

On March of 2015, Seyam was appointed as the 2015-16 Graduate Student Representative to the Board of Visitors, where he works as a liaison between the graduate student population at Virginia Tech and the governing authority of the university. By virtue of his position, Seyam serves as member of the University Council, Commission on Student Affairs, and Commission on Graduate Studies and Policies. He’s also a member of Graduate Students Assembly (GSA) Executive Board, Virginia Tech Order of the Gavel, President’s advisory group, and other student groups and organizations. He is interested in learning about different governance structures for universities both inside and outside USA, how students’ voices are heard, and whether students have effective roles in the different types of governance structures. He’s also working on developing more inclusive environments for international students, where they not only feel welcomed, but also thrive as active community members and student leaders.

Michele Waters

michele watersMichele Waters is a third-year PhD student in the Biomedical Engineering (SBES/BEAM) department at Virginia Tech. Originally from New York, Michele attended SUNY Stony Brook and CUNY City College (Grove School of Engineering) for her B.S. and M.S. in Biomedical Engineering. Michele is currently investigating the role of inflammation (macrophage differentiation) in traumatic brain injury; she is also evaluating the potential of human hair-derived keratin biomaterials to promote an anti-inflammatory environment, thereby improving clinical outcomes for patients.

Michele is a member of the New Horizons Graduate Scholar program and has served on the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) Selection Committee at Virginia Tech for the past year. As part of the committee, Michele has had the opportunity to find deserving young people from diverse backgrounds, with latent potential, and provide them with the agency to pursue bright futures in science and research. In the future, Michele hopes to continue recruiting women and minorities into STEM fields and to find new opportunities to mentor students. She hopes to continue in her current field as a primary investigator at a university or government research facility, investigating the role of inflammation and cell signaling in human disease and developing potential drug, biomaterial, or tissue engineering treatment alternatives. Michele believes that being part of the Global Perspectives Program will provide her with the foundation and skills she will need to initiate an international dialog regarding diversity in her field and will ultimately help her fulfill her long-term goal of becoming a more worldly and successful researcher, mentor, and teacher.

Ayesha Yousafzai

ayeshaAyesha Yousafzai is a PhD Candidate in Higher Education at Virginia Tech. She was born and raised in Pakistan and has been living in the U.S. for the past 16 years. She received her undergraduate degree in Communications and Information Systems from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and completed her Master’s in Student Affairs and Higher Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She pursued her passions for working/helping students and worked for seven years at Duke University as a Residence Coordinator and Academic Advisor.

Her graduate assistantship is at the Student Success Center at Virginia Tech. Some of her tasks include working with Presidential Scholarship Initiative students and teaching a Student Success Strategies class to undergraduate students. Ayesha is passionate about student development and is exploring multiple dimensions of identity of Muslim women pursuing their graduate studies at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) in the U.S. In her free time she enjoys baking, cooking and traveling.

Learning Objectives for GPP

  1. To learn about European higher education systems and to compare and contrast models of higher education in Europe and the United States of America.
  2. Explore what student development and learning outside the classroom looks like in some European countries.
  3. Interested in learning about the ways in which European institutions are meeting their academic goals, in other wards what accountability measures are used by institutions to meet their academic goals.
  4. Learn the roles students play in furthering their education.

Research Topic

Internationalization of higher education has become a hot topic in recent years. One aspect involves recruitment of international talent and students. Despite this focus, international students in the U.S., receive limited financial aid from the universities, thus it places the responsibility of covering the cost of education on the students. Is Internationalization a goal for European Universities? What kind of financial incentives exist for international students in Europe? How does the cost of attendance impact student retention? How do universities in Europe remove financial barriers for international students?