2015 GPP Alumni

Vanessa Alphonse
PhD Student – Biomedical Engineering and Sciences

Vanessa D. Alphonse is a PhD candidate in the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences at Virginia Tech. She received BS degrees in Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2010, and a MS in Biomedical Engineering from Virginia Tech in 2012. Her interest in blending both disciplines led her to pursue a career in the field of injury biomechanics. Her doctoral research focuses on experimentally modeling potentially injurious scenarios to quantify injuries and injury risk to the eye. She is currently working on developing a synthetic eye for an advanced anthropomorphic head form (“crash test dummy”) and testing personal protective equipment during blunt and blast trauma scenarios.

Vanessa plans to pursue a tenure-track faculty position, and is excited to expand her career as an independent researcher, teacher, and mentor. Her research interests include injury biomechanics, shock wave mechanics, ballistic impacts, human injury tolerance, and the eye, vision and the brain. She plans to continue to conduct research that will ultimately assist in developing safer consumer products and personal protective equipment. She hopes to inspire future students to consider various careers in science, engineering, technology, and math disciplines by engaging the community in age-appropriate outreach activities and research projects.

Vanessa is a 2015 Diversity Scholar. She created and is currently moderating an online blog that focuses on reporting world events that affect higher education. The long-term goal of this project is to help create a more inclusive, diverse, and active Virginia Tech community. Join the conversation: http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/vttalks. Vanessa enjoys backpacking, watching World Wrestling Entertainment, and playing various musical instruments in her free time.

GPP Learning Objectives

  1. Gain firsthand experience with various cultures and attitudes toward higher education outside of the United States,
  2. Develop relationships and partnerships with educators and programs abroad,
  3. Discuss higher education in a more global sense, including implementing and balancing research, teaching, mentoring, and outreach initiatives successfully, and
  4. Examine, acknowledge, and learn from my own biases to cultivate “my voice” as an educator and facilitator.

GPP Research Topic

Vanessa plans to examine national stereotypes in an academic setting. The purpose of this project is to examine how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. Vanessa intends to collect and compare responses from people she meets at home and while in Switzerland and Italy to questions such as; What are five words that describe <American/Swiss/Italian> academics? What is one stereotype of academics in your country that you believe is untrue, and from where do you speculate this stereotype originated? How can international partnerships be strengthened by recognizing differences?

Kenneth Black
PhD Student – Architecture and Design Research

Ken is a first year PhD student in Architecture and Design Research in the School of Architecture + Design at Virginia Tech. He has a Bachelor of Architecture and Masters of Science in Architecture from Virginia Tech.

His current work in vegetated building assemblies stems from work in his undergraduate studies at Virginia Tech involving experimental building sections and claddings through full-scale construction. His current work is in color theory as it relates to the design of vegetated walls.

This work is aimed at changing the way buildings are designed by creating a decision support process (DSP) and prototype frameworks for the representation of vegetated assemblies, in this instance vegetated walls and facades using woody vine species. The scope of the project is limited to the plants of the Appalachian Mountain region in southwestern Virginia, and how these vine species can be selected for use as vegetated architecture. Some limits that have been placed on the selection of vines to be represented include: include: the plant’s native origin, hardiness, environmental tolerances, climbing mechanism, color, texture, growth habit and rate, and compatibility with other species.

A parallel study of vegetated assemblies through the construction of a full-scale electric car garage will be used to test the decision support process for acceptability. By using some of the characteristics outlined by photographic studies and the decision support process through the use of the associated reference, representational, and tutorial tools, the decisions made in the vegetated façade of the electric car garage will test some of the tenets of color theory as applied to vegetated walls and provide a base for further study via continued monitoring.

In his spare time Ken enjoys hiking in the nearby Appalachian and other trails, as well as camera trapping projects. The knowledge from the natural landscapes and the process that nature use to recycle materials serves as an impetus for his engagement in reclaimed materials in other smaller side projects.

GPP Learning Objectives

  1. To once again engage the European Landscape and culture this time through the lens of Switzerland and higher education.
  2. To learn from others as our engagement of the world and phenomena is based on personal experiences.
  3. To take this experience and translate it to a meaningful experience for others

GPP Research Topic

At Virginia Tech and other academic institution in the United States, social media is quickly becoming or has already been a method for communication and outreach. In this mindset, how is social media engaged in various universities in Switzerland and Italy?

  • Who is using these services and how are they used (consumption or dissemination)?
  • What are the perceived benefits of these types of social media, or any actual recorded benefits?
  • Is there a perceived potential for such technology in higher education in the future?
  • With the design or use of social media is there a perception of efficacy for the university?
  • Are there signs of dependence on social media; for example using during work hours?

Ryan Cook
PhD Student – Counselor Education and Supervision

Ryan Cook is a second year PhD student in the Counselor Education and Supervision and a graduate assistant in the Office of Assessment and Evaluation. Ryan holds two degrees from Virginia Tech: a B.S. in psychology and a M.A. in Counselor Education.   Ryan is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Virginia who worked at multiple community mental health agencies in Virginia prior to returning to Virginia Tech to continue his educational pursuits.

It is his passion to teach and to conduct research that guided Ryan to pursue his PhD. He believes faculty members have the unique privilege to mentor and to educate future counselors while researching questions that will impact the profession and community.   Currently, Ryan is interested in studying supervisory relationship and the impacts on supervisee disclosure. He feels honored by the unique opportunity to be a part of the Global Perspectives Program.   Ryan believes this program will help him to better understand educational practices both in Europe and in the United States. This increased understanding will impact his teaching, research, leadership, and advocacy efforts as a future faculty member.

GPP Learning Objectives

  1. To be able to analyze the European model of higher education and how that relates to the model in the United States.
  2. To be able to describe what it means to be a faculty member in Europe (e.g., teaching, advocacy, mentorship, leadership).
  3. To be able to articulate a more enriched understanding of the cultures in Switzerland and Italy.
  4. Through this experience I hope to be both professionally and personally inspired by something I did not know existed.

GPP Research Topic

I plan to learn more about the path from being a graduate student to faculty member in Europe.  I am interested in the perceptions and value of the tenure review process for future and current faculty members.   Also, I am curious in what is valued in the promotion process.  For example, in the United States, service, research, and teaching are important.  How does that compare to the promotion process in Europe?

Ray David
PhD Student – Civil and Environmental Engineering

Ray David is a PhD candidate in the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Ray received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Purdue University – West Lafayette. Ray has experience as a Civil Engineering consultant focused on the design of water and wastewater treatment facilities. As part of his M.S. studies, Ray examined the relationship between incoming freshmen’s resistance to change their viewpoints about environmental issues and their existing environmental knowledge while working within the Department of Engineering Education. At Virginia Tech, Ray is interested in understanding the atmosphere around us including the constituents within the air we breathe as well as the transport of biological particles between the terrestrial, aquatic, and atmospheric environments.

In his graduate work, Ray is examining the long-range transport of pathogens in the atmosphere and determining how meteorological variables may influence the release of the pathogens (specifically, a plant pathogen). Ray is focusing on a fungus that is ubiquitous globally, a plant pathogen, and a risk to cereal crops such as wheat and barley. Atmospheric transport of this fungal spore includes release, transport, and deposition events. Ray is investigating the relationship between environmental conditions and spore release to improve the understanding of temporal variation and spore emission rates. The ultimate goal is for this knowledge to inform growers’ management decisions, such as the decision and timing of fungicide application.

Ray is a trainee in the MultiSTEPS (Multiscale Transport in Environmental and Physiological Systems) Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program at Virginia Tech. The program provides educational and research opportunities with a focus on investigating dynamic transport processes in biological systems. Ray believes that interdisciplinary research is important in fostering creativity within higher education and necessary to answer pressing global questions.

Within the Global Perspectives Program, Ray would like to expand his understanding of higher education in both the United States and in Europe. Ray is interested in learning about how graduate students are prepared for the teaching and mentoring aspects expected of them at the next level of their careers. Additionally, Ray would like to learn about interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research in Europe and to what degree they support or foster its growth.

Outside of the academic sphere, Ray enjoys running, hiking, skiing, traveling, and reading.
GPP Learning Objectives

Examine how European Universities prepare graduate students for the challenges associated with the teaching and mentoring aspects of being a professor? How do they compare within departments and colleges? How are they compared to the United States’ methods?

I would like to gain an understanding of how the overall educational system is structured in Europe with a special focus on the pre-University system. I would like to compare that to the United States’ system and examine how a student’s prior educational experiences impact their approach and success in higher education.

I would like to become immersed in the culture and learn from the citizens about how life is in these areas. I think gaining this perspective would help better appreciate the similarities and differences between Europe and the United States in higher education and beyond.

GPP Research Topic

Interdisciplinary research has gained quite a bit of traction in the United States and has resulted in novel research projects and unique approaches. I am curious to what degree interdisciplinary research is stressed within the European educational systems. Are there IGEP programs to the same degree as those found in the United States? How do faculty/students feel about interdisciplinary research?

Noha ElSherbiny
PhD Student – Computer Science

Noha ElSherbiny is a fourth year PhD student in Computer Science at Virginia Tech, from Alexandria, Egypt and is part of the Virginia Tech, Middle East and North Africa (VT-MENA) program. The VT-MENA program is a joint program that started in 2008, between Virginia Tech and the Egyptian ministry of higher education, in the fields of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science.

Prior to starting the PhD program, Noha was an assistant lecturer in the Arab Academy for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Egypt where she developed her research interests in education. She’s currently researching how to detect students’ misconceptions in online introductory programming classes and developing material to correct these misconceptions.

Noha is active in university governance at Virginia Tech, in her role as the president of the Council of International Student Organizations (CISO) she is an advocate for international students and their concerns on campus. Recently she has been working closely with other campus entities to provide more food options for students with dietary restrictions on campus.

Noha enjoys spending time with friends and family, learning languages and cooking. Her friends and her constantly dream about opening a restaurant in Blacksburg instead of completing their PhDs. They’re all still in their PhD programs!

GPP Learning Objectives

  1. I would like to explore the differences and similarities between European, Egyptian and US universities, looking at what works well and how it can be translated to the other educational system.
  2. I’m curious about the various computer science departments in Europe. I’d like a chance to examine the ways in which they select and retain their students, look at their curricula and how it changes and how the faculty maintains relationships with industry partners.
  3. I love exploring new places and different cultures. I’d like a chance to experiences the different cultures and cuisines in Europe.

GPP Research Topic

US institutions have academic support and enrichment programs for students, this is not available at all in Egyptians institutions. I’m curious to explore whether European institutions provide academic support for their various student populations.

Claudia Howell
PhD Student – Counselor Education and Supervision

Claudia is a second year doctoral student studying Counselor Education and Supervision. She holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Clemson University and is a National Certified Counselor.   Claudia’s research interests include multicultural competence of clinical supervisors and counselors as well as pedagogical practices that incorporate social justice and advocacy practices.

Through her Master’s and PhD programs, Claudia has held graduate assistantships in several university departments, including student conduct and academic advising. Through these experiences, she has gained a better understanding of the operational characteristics of higher education. As a member of the Global Perspectives Program, Claudia hopes to expand her knowledge of higher education beyond the context of the United States.

GPP Learning Objectives

  • Understand student/professor relationships. Are these relationships professional, collegial, friendly, mentor/mentee?
  • Learn about the emphasis that European higher education places on the mental health of students.
  • Understand more about the majors or courses of study that are present and explore which are perceived as popular, prestigious, etc.

GPP Research Topic

For my research topic, I would like to examine the area of Student Conduct. In the United States, universities address issues of student conduct for students that live both on and off campus. Do the universities in Switzerland address infractions in student behavior? Does the university or the public judiciary system address infractions? What types of violations commonly occur? Most specifically, I would like to examine the rates of sexual assaults on European university campuses and the ways in which they are being addressed.

Erin Lavender-Stott
PhD Student – Human Development

Erin Lavender-Stott is a second year PhD student in the department of Human Development with a Family Studies focus. Erin is a native of Blacksburg, VA and comes from a line of academics. She has a psychology degree from Hollins University, as well as a master’s degree in general psychology from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her research broadly focuses on sexual minority couples and families. In her free time Erin likes to quilt and go to movies with friends.

She has a passion for teaching, pedagogy, and student engagement. She regularly teaches Human Sexuality and Human Development 1 (Child and Adolescent Development). Erin was recently selected to be one of the founding graduate student members of the newly developed Academy of Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) Excellence through Virginia Tech’s Graduate School.

Erin is interested in pursuing a tenure-track position at a university with the long-term goal of obtaining a senior administrative position within a university. Within these goals and aspirations, she believes that it is important to build a strong personal learning network. She is excited to be able to broaden this network with the Global Perspectives Program both within Virginia Tech and with individuals who are working in Switzerland and Italy in higher education. Additionally, the knowledge of the global view of higher education will be useful in gaining a fuller understanding of where higher education is currently at and where it can, and possibly should, go.

As someone who values teaching and bringing diversity into the classroom, having the chance to explore cultures outside of the United States, will allow Erin to take what she has learned in Switzerland and Italy to bring it back to the classroom.

Always a proponent of student leadership and student involvement, Erin is active in the Graduate Honor System (GHS) as an investigator and is the interim president of the Human Development Department Graduate Student Association (HDGSA) as a part of her duties to bring the HDGSA back to active status.

GPP Learning Objectives

Though you can never truly know what you will learn when embarking on an experience such as this, some of what Erin is interested in learning about includes:

  • What are the scopes and limits of university administration? Does the government influence or have control over the institutions?
  • What does work-life balance look like for faculty and administrators and the different institutions? Is the tenure-track (or equivalent) as competitive as it is in institutions in the United States?
  • What are some pedagogical practices that are popular? How is technology used within the classroom for education?
  • How are academic ethics discussed, including cheating or plagiarism? How are cases of alleged ethics violations handled?
  • How do universities prepare for or handle emergencies?

GPP Research Topic

How do the universities in Switzerland and Milan discuss diversity and inclusion? It is a topic that is frequently being discussed within higher education in the United States, including at Virginia Tech. What are the discussions being had abroad? In particular, how are discussions had about sexuality and gender variations/spectrums?

Christian Matheis
PhD Student – Ethical and Political Thought

Christian Matheis, Ph.D. in Ethical and Political Thought and M.A. in Applied Ethics, teaches in the departments of Philosophy and Political Science at Virginia Tech, and in the department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Radford University. He specializes in ethics, political philosophy, and philosophy of liberation with concentrations in feminism, race, and global justice. His research focuses on philosophical conceptions of solidarity in liberatory movements, problems of recognition and identity politics in models of social justice, moral criteria for regulating how state administrative agencies treat refugees, critiques of immigration and border policies, and the aesthetics of race. He was named the 2013 Outstanding Doctoral Student in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and in 2015 he was inducted as a member of The Edward Alexander Bouchet Graduate Honor Society. During his time at Virginia Tech he has conducted research in South Africa and Morocco. Christian’s professional history includes work as a community organizer, human relations facilitator, university faculty, and consultant. He has spent over twelve years training facilitators and community organizers, including specializations in communication strategies, conflict resolution, institutional equity, grassroots policy advocacy, and lobbying at the state and federal level. Among his broader activities he includes his work in anti-poverty advocacy, advocacy for trans*gender rights, as a trainer with the Safe Zone program at Virginia Tech, and his work with the VTAction community and grassroots organizing project.

GPP Learning Objectives

  • To profile the way domestic and transnational social movements do and do not influence institutional policies and practices.
  • To better understand how faculty working in different cultural and institutional contexts address factors such as xenophobia, cultural hegemony, and ideological intolerance.
  • To categorize different pedagogical, research, and administrative strategies used to counter nationalist (stateist) isolationism.

GPP Research Topic

  • Migration, immigration, refugee policies, flexible citizenship, and post-secondary education.
  • Given ongoing changes in migration, labor conditions, economic patterns, technological innovations, and other factors influencing contemporary societies, I would like to learn more about the role educational institutions might play in fostering transnational solidarity.


Emilia Munoz
Masters Student – Creative Technologies

Emilia Munoz is a second year Master’s of Fine Arts candidate in Creative Technologies and graduate teacher of New Media and Design studies. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The University of South Carolina at Columbia in Media Arts Production and Graphic Design. Emilia has worked in The Smithsonian Institution’s 3D Digitization lab to create a digitized replica of The Nation’s T.Rex and 3D printed multiple fossils to be used for public education. Her research interests include 3D photogrammetry and LiDar scanning of architecture and artifacts, as well as the implementation of 3D digitization, virtual, and augmented reality in museum and higher education settings. Her thesis involves the creation of an immersive virtual reality experience in which participants are motion tracked in space and interact with 3D replication of Romanesque Lombard architecture from Castile and León, Spain.

GPP Learning Objectives

During her time in Virginia Tech’s Future Professoriate program, Emilia has become increasingly interested in the use of innovative technology, particularly interactive 3D applications in the classroom. She hopes to gain an understanding of how universities internationally are using contemporary advancements, such as virtual environments and augmented reality devices in technology to improve learning and information accessibility. Emilia is also interested in the funding and access to grants for students in visual arts and design programs abroad, as well as the integration of new technologies in art departments. Emilia is interested in exploring how the use of creative coding, 3D animation, and interactive applications are altering methods of learning in the classrooms. She hopes to gain an overall understanding of how innovative technologies are impacting the arts in higher education abroad.

GPP Research Topic

I aim to gain an understanding of how, and in which departments, immersive technologies are being used in universities abroad. My research focuses on the development of PI (Place Immersion) and the use of virtual reality technologies as innovative educational tools. Additionally, I am interested in exploring whether VR is being used as an artistic or educational medium in classrooms abroad.

GPP Learning Objectives

  1. What types of innovative technologies are being implemented in classrooms?
  2. In which department are immersive technologies included in the curriculum?
  3. Are immersive technologies being used in historical or architectural education abroad?


Homero Murzi Escobar
PhD Student – Engineering Education

Homero is a doctoral student and graduate research assistant in the Engineering Education department at Virginia Tech. He has a Master and Bachelor degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Tachira State in Venezuela. Homero worked for 7 years as a faculty member in Venezuela where he taught organizational management theory and human resources. In 2011 was awarded with a Fulbright Scholarship to attend Temple University in Philadelphia. In 2013 he received his Master in Business Administration degree and after graduation enrolled in the PhD program at Virginia Tech. Homero has also 5 years of industry experience working as HR director in several companies in Venezuela and as talent manager specialist for the South American region at Johnson & Johnson. Homero was a Diversity Scholar for the 2013-2014 academic year. He currently serves as the graduate student representative at the graduate curriculum committee at Virginia Tech, and as ambassador of the department of engineering education.

Homero’s research is in understanding cultural differences and institutional culture. More specifically, he want’s to use Hofstede’s theory of cultural dimensions and apply it to determine disciplinary cultures in engineering majors, as well as, contrast those engineering cultural dimensions with disciplines outside engineering. The ultimate goal is to understand how students perceive their disciplinary culture to be able to develop more welcoming engineering classrooms.

GPP Learning Objectives

  • To understand different educational systems around the world
  • To explore international higher education administration in Europe
  • To explore perceptions about diversity and inclusion in universities in Europe
  • To understand life/family/work balance in the university system in Europe
  • To analyze support systems for international faculty and students in Europe
  • To explore the engineering education field (when possible)
  • To develop a network for possible international collaboration in global engineering education

GPP Research Topic

The purpose is to understand the status of the conversation about diversity and inclusion happening in different Universities in Europe, including the status of the international community (faculty and students) as a part (or not) of those conversations. Some research questions to be answered by the experience will be:

  1. What are diversity numbers, and indicators defined?
  2. How is the international student and faculty community?
  3. How is the universities support system for international students?
Scott O’Neal
PhD Student – Entomology

Scott O’Neal is a native of Indiana and earned his B.S. in genetics and microbiology, with a minor in Spanish, from Purdue University in 1999. After graduating, he worked in Purdue’s Department of Entomology and then at the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab. In 2002, he moved to Richmond, Virginia in order to continue his education. Scott took a job at Virginia Commonwealth University and worked full time in a research laboratory in the Department of Physiology during the day while taking classes at night. He earned his M.S. in forensic science in 2003 and then put his education on hold to pursue his passion for the Olympic sport of fencing.
Over the next decade, Scott worked as a lab manager in a drug research lab in VCU’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology while pursuing his goal of competing in the Olympics. During that time, he competed at the national and international level and reached a top ranking of 16th in the country. He also helped to build one of the largest and most successful fencing clubs in Virginia. After sustaining an elbow injury that ended his Olympic aspirations, Scott transitioned to primarily coaching and teaching and he spent several more years managing the non-profit Richmond Fencing Club. In 2013, after fifteen years of working in academic research and eighteen years as a competitive fencer and coach, Scott made the decision to return to graduate school.
Scott is currently in his second year as a Ph.D. student in the Department of Entomology at Virginia Tech where he works in a lab that studies insect physiology, pharmacology, and toxicology. The goal of his research is to better understand the physiological mechanisms that regulate antiviral immunity in honey bees. He aspires to a career in academic research and is an enthusiastic supporter of Virginia Tech’s Transformative Graduate Education initiative. Scott gives considerable credit to Renée, his loving and supportive wife of six years, as well Ainsley, his absurdly cute two-and-a-half year old daughter, for inspiring and enabling him to return to school after such a long hiatus.

GPP Learning Objectives

  1. I am of the opinion that there is a lot of potential for improvement in the realm of higher education in the United States. It is very easy to take the path of least resistance and stick to what you know, or to teach as you were taught. I hope to break out of this cycle, and so I want to learn more about higher education both here and around the world. I hope to engage with other like-minded individuals and come home with new ideas, new connections, and an even stronger desire to be a force for change.
  2. I believe that one of the most important skills for any teacher is to be adaptive. In order to quickly respond to the needs of any given audience, teachers must possess a metaphorical toolbox of approaches to facilitate learning. This toolbox may be filled not only through training and experience, but also through exposure to new ideas and cultures, as well as interacting and building relationships with peers worldwide. I hope that this experience will provide me with an opportunity to learn about the types of tools used by educators in a setting that I might not otherwise be able to observe.
  3. I am interested to learn how academic research is conducted in Switzerland and other European countries. How are students and professors funded? How is scientific research in general funded? Are there organizations comparable to the NSF or NIH? I am also interested to learn about the challenges of collaborating with researchers in the U.S. from the perspective of European research institutions.
  4. Finally, I am looking forward to experiencing the food and drink of a new country, learning about the culture and history, and observing everything that I can, from the smallest insects to the magnificent Swiss Alps.

GPP Research Topic

As a non-traditional student, I struggle with the challenge of integrating the demands of research and school work into a lifestyle that is dominated by the joys and frustrations of parenting and family life. Given the nature of work habits in the United States, the idea of finding what many refer to as a “work/life balance” is a serious topic that happens to bear considerable relevance to my life. I am interested in learning how our Swiss (and other European) counterparts integrate their personal and professional lives. What role do universities play in facilitating the ability of students to integrate these aspects of their lives? I would also like to learn what it is like for someone in my position to return to graduate school after being away from school for many years to work and start a family.

Adam Phillips
PhD Student – Civil and Environmental Engineering

Adam Phillips is a 2nd year PhD student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and is part of the Structural Engineering and Materials Program area. He earned both a B.S. and M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Virginia Tech. His graduate research focuses on resilient seismic structural systems. Specifically, his dissertation is on the development of a novel steel plate shear wall system through experimental validation and computational modeling. At the conclusion of his degree he hopes to become a university professor with research focusing on seismic structural systems. He is most interested in low cost structural steel systems, composite steel-wood seismic systems, and low cycle fatigue of steel members.

Adam’s other academic interests outside of structural engineering are applying modern pedagogy to engineering education and increasing diversity in engineering education. Participating in the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) courses is what motivated him to pursue university faculty employment after graduation over professional engineering practice. Outside of school, Adam enjoys cooking, wine, reading, weightlifting, and cycling. The Global Perspectives trip will be his first journey out of the country and he is very excited to experience Switzerland and Italy.

GPP Learning Objectives

  1. To explore Swiss and Italian culture. Specifically, to identify how they prioritize family, health, fitness, and work. Switzerland and Italy have lower rates of obesity, chronic disease, and divorce. I am curious to explore if it has something to do with lifestyle choices.
  2. To take advantage of networking opportunities both with my fellow Virginia Tech students and with faculty from the Universities we visit.
  3. To interact with colleagues outside of my field. It has been my experience that interdisciplinary study broadens and enhances both my personal perspectives and professional opinions.
  4. To learn about Swiss and Italian University structure. How do they prioritize research vs. teaching? What type of pedagogical practices do they use?

GPP Research Topic

I would like to study the relationship between Architectural and Structural Engineering education. The professions of Architecture and Structural Engineering are closely tied together. However in the US, the degrees of Architecture and Civil Engineering are very separate. They are in different colleges, there is no coursework overlap between engineering and architecture students, and little to no collaboration is encouraged. In my previous interaction with Japanese faculty, I learned that their education process does not separate architecture and structural engineering. I would like to know if the Swiss institutes encourage collaboration and joint coursework. Furthermore, how much engineering knowledge is taught to Architecture students and how much artistic design is taught to Engineering students?

Gregory Purdy
PhD Student – Industrial and Systems Engineering

Greg Purdy is a fifth year PhD candidate in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. His research is related to applying modern traditional manufacturing models to genetic manufacturing systems to reduce cost, time, and increase efficiency in the production of synthetic DNA fragments.

Greg was born and raised on the west coast and earned a B.S. in Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering from Oregon State University (2010). He then began his graduate work at Virginia Tech and attained a M.S. in Industrial and Systems Engineering. In addition to his academic endeavors, Greg is also the president of the Graduate Student Assembly which is the governance organization for graduate students at Virginia Tech. In this role, he is able to advocate and represent the interest of graduate students at all levels of university governance.

Following graduation, Greg hopes to become a tenure-track faculty member and apply the knowledge he has learned from both his research and involvement with the Preparing the Future Professoriate program offered through the Virginia Tech Graduate School.

GPP Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the structural differences of higher educational systems in Switzerland and Italy with those found in the United States.
  2. Better understand the cultural atmosphere between administrators, faculty, staff, and students at the university campuses visited throughout the GPP trip.
  3. Identify alternative funding mechanisms used by other universities within Europe to offset the increasing costs of higher education.

GPP Research Topic

Due to significant involvement with the graduate student government at Virginia Tech, I am interested in how administrators, faculty, staff, and students interact on governance issues within different universities in Switzerland and Italy. Our institution uses shared governance which allows for a great deal of representation and interaction across these demographic groups. However, I am curious if this type of system translates to the European educational model and what other methods of governance they use in terms of structure.

Daniel Tekiela
PhD Student – Weed Ecology

Daniel Tekiela is a 4th year PhD candidate at Virginia Tech in the department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science. His dissertation research investigates the ecological impacts of some of the worst plant invaders in the U.S. Specifically, he is looking at how different species may impact similar habitats differently, how the same species may impact different systems uniquely, and the potential synergistic or antagonistic effects of multiple invaders.

Other work he is involved in includes understanding stand dynamics and demography of different weedy species, studying unique dispersal vectors of invasive plants, determining the most economically viable methods for controlling and managing forest understory invaders, and using risk assessment to determine risk of new potential invaders.

Dan is originally from Illinois where he earned his B.S. in Fish and Wildlife Conservation at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign (2011). During his time at UIUC Dan worked with the Student Conservation Association in collaboration with Invasive Plant Control Inc. to manage and restore invaded landscapes. It is at this position where he became interested in his current work of managing and understanding the ecology of invasive plants. As an inaugural member of the Graduate Teaching Scholars program in CALS, Dan has co-instructed Biological Invasions for the past two years, and strives to not only be a good researcher, but to become a strong educator/facilitator.

GPP Learning Objectives

  1. Tenure is an unavoidable topic in the U.S. higher education system. I want to understand the similarities and differences in job security, freedom of speech, and the tenure process outside the U.S.
  2. Outreach and extension to the public is an incredibly important but difficult role of universities. How do other systems of higher education disseminate information to the public?
  3. Much of basic and applied science is supported by large funding organizations in the U.S. What is the expectation of faculty to obtain their own research funding and what are the new directed interests of funding agencies (i.e., interdisciplinarism)?
  4. As an individual whom has never been to Europe and works daily in ecology, the perception in the U.S. is European natural areas are less prevalent and greatly disturbed. Is there a difference in appreciation for the natural sciences outside the U.S.?

GPP Research Topic

Perceptions of Faculty: The general public’s perception of higher education in the U.S. is tenuous with increasing distrust in the research being produced by universities, especially in the natural sciences. Additionally, even within many universities there is an unequal appreciation for faculty from different fields and with different appointments; specifically, the suggestion that extension faculty are less valued for their contributions to science. Are these perceptions similar in other systems of higher education and if not, are there other perceptions of faculty that are prevalent?

Michael Stewart
Global Perspectives Fellow
PhD Student – Human Computer Interaction
Dean Karen DePauw
Karen P DePauw
Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education

  1 comment for “2015 GPP Alumni

Leave a Reply