Maria Jernigan, a philosophySpanish, and theatre arts major, was named the 2018 Undergraduate Student of the Year; she is also the winner of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Outstanding Senior Award.

Travel and exploring new ways of thinking have been hallmarks of Jernigan’s four years at Virginia Tech. Observing teaching practice in Finland led her to discover project-based learning, which involves students solving real-world problems collaboratively; she subsequently interviewed educators in Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore as well as in different regions of the United States about this type of learning.

Through a Fulbright Summer Institute at the Globe Theatre in London, she became acquainted with Shakespearean theatre practices, and she took part in discussions regarding human rights violations on two occasions at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway.

Participation in a Presidential Global Scholars project involving asylum seekers allowed Jernigan to put her Spanish language skills to use as an interpreter during interviews. As a Fellow for Summit.Ahead., a California-based non-profit, she traveled to Iceland to engage in projects about the future of learning and the workforce. She has created her own educational startup (see below), which is focused on motivating students to learn in new ways.

The Undergraduate Student of the Year award is the most prestigious non-academic undergraduate award at Virginia Tech; among the criteria are achievements in academics, leadership, and service. In addition, Jernigan was a member of one of four student teams whose projects were selected for funding from the Creativity and Innovation Strategic Growth Area. The Redshift: Virtual Reality Project-Based Learning team is creating virtual reality software and project-based lessons that teachers can use in their classrooms. The four-student team also includes students from Computer Science, Computer Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering; the faculty advisor is Joseph Pitt, a professor in the Department of Philosophy.