Virginia Tech Graduate School’s 2019 Diversity Scholars will discuss their projects to the university community and the public during the Diversity Spotlight program on May 2 at noon in the Graduate Life Center multipurpose room. Each of the 10 scholars will provide a five-minute presentation about their work in lightning-round format. The Graduate Life Center is at 155 Otey St. and the program is free and open to the public.

The Graduate School developed the Diversity Scholars program in 2012 to help students develop and implement projects to improve inclusion and diversity through dialogue, advocacy, and change in programs, units, and colleges across the university’s campuses. Past projects have included holding the university’s first powwow, creating support groups and mentoring programs for underrepresented students, producing films and multimedia displays, hosting discussion groups and more.

“This year’s cohort put forth tremendous effort to design and implement projects to improve diversity, inclusion, and equity,” said Shernita Lee, Graduate School director of recruitment, diversity, and inclusion. “The variety of projects, support from the scholars’ departments and other campus units, and the innovation and creativity of each project reiterate the need for such a program that embodies our motto, Ut Prosim.”

The 2019 scholars are:

Trichia Cadette, of St. Lucia, is a master of fine arts candidate in the arts leadership program in the School of Performing Arts, part of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Her focus area is community engagement in the arts, using creative arts as tools for shifting cultures and diffusing tensions by bringing people together. Her project is a public artwork, which will bring students of different backgrounds together in a workshop to create a mural design. Once the design is complete, students will be invited to paint the mural on a wall in Squires Student Center. Cadette earned a bachelor’s degree from Grambling State University.

Lehi Dowell, of Sutherlin, Oregon, is a doctoral student in the planning, governance, and globalization program in the School of Public and International Affairs. His project was a symposium held on April 2, 2019, that included featured speakers who have been personally affected by gun violence, and a 30-minute round-table discussion led by trained facilitators. The primary purpose of the symposium was to give space for stories from differing vantage points to be heard and to allow the audience to feel and hear the passion embodied by each speaker’s experience. Dowell earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of La Verne, California, and his master’s degree from Florida International University in Miami.

Mahtot Gebresselassie, of Toronto, Canada, is a Ph.D. student in the planning, governance, and globalization program at the university’s Alexandria, Virginia, campus. Her research interest focuses on the intersection of information and communications technologies and transport for persons with disabilities. Her project looks at how inclusive, hospitable, and welcoming Virginia Tech’s Alexandria campus buildings are for persons with disabilities. She earned bachelor’s degree at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia; her master’s degree at the University of Waterloo, Canada; and has a graduate diploma in media studies from the Sheridan Institute in Oakville, Canada.

Syeed Md Iskander, of Bangladesh, is a Ph.D. candidate in the civil and environmental engineering department of the College of Engineering. His research focuses on innovative technologies for resource recovery and contaminants removal from wastewater. His diversity project aims to determine international graduate students’ perception of Virginia Tech Graduate School. This project is based on a questionnaire survey to better understand diversity, equity, and inclusion at the graduate school. Iskander earned his bachelor’s degree from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and his master’s degree from Washington State University.

Devin Koch, of Eustis, Nebraska, is a master of fine arts degree student in creative writingin the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. His work explores topics of gender and queerness. Koch created Q*Creatives, a program dedicated to showcasing queer artistry within the Virginia Tech community. Panel discussions and interactive workshops led by LGBTQ+ faculty members, students, and VT employees from multiple art disciplines provided opportunities for the participants to talk about their work and its importance and role in society. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska.

Taylor Lightner, of Columbia, South Carolina, is a Ph.D. student in the engineering education program of the College of Engineering. She is interested in the intersection of engineering practice and society in rural communities. The goal of her project, “It’s not you, it’s me,” is to encourage intergroup dialogue among graduate students about implicit bias present within common interactions at the university.  The goal of the sessions is to provide an opportunity for participants to express their frustrations, identify their personal contributions to conflict, and create strategies aimed at creating a more inclusive environment. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Clemson University.

Sarah Plummer, of Ripplemead, Virginia, is a doctoral student in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Her research focuses on critiques of form as they pertain to aesthetics, ritual, radical ecology, performance, and daily life at Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont. Her project, “Fat at Virginia Tech,” aims to introduce the interdisciplinary academic field of fat studies to the campus and to spark conversations about the ways in which fat people are discriminated against and marginalized. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Berea College and a master’s degree from Virginia Tech.

Patrick Salmons, of Bassett, Virginia, is a Ph.D. student in the ASPECT program. His research explores the impact music and religion, particularly hip-hop and bluegrass music, and Christianity have on unlike groups in terms of creating a social movement. He is working on an Appalachian Awareness group, with the ultimate goal of creating an outreach program to make students from Appalachia aware of the opportunities at Virginia Tech. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Virginia Tech.

Senam Tamakloe, of Palmdale, California, is a master’s degree student in materials science and engineering in the College of Engineering. Her work concentrates on the processing and characterization of aluminum matrix composites using a newly synthesized carbon material as the strengthening reinforcement. Her project, “Inclusion series,” will foster a conversation among 25 College of Engineering graduate students to highlight marginalized voices and perspectives. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Merced.

Ashley Taylor, of Fort Chiswell, Virginia, is a doctoral candidate in the engineering education program. Her work advocates for listening to communities, particularly underrepresented and underserved student communities, to reduce educational inequities in engineering and education systems. Her project, FEAT (First Generation Engineers Advocating for Transformation) aims to create a community of support for undergraduate engineering students who are the first in their families to go to college. The project is working with the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity to collaboratively identify areas where the College of Engineering can better support first-generation students, both in pre-college outreach and undergraduate programs. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and a master of public health degree from Virginia Tech.

Written by Cathy Grimes