Emily Warwick had pictured herself in New York City, spending her final summer as an undergraduate pursuing a passion for service. She’d already landed a fellowship at an economically disadvantaged middle school.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

With her fellowship canceled, Warwick decided to explore another one of her passions: research. She contacted several Virginia Tech faculty members with the hope of joining at least one project.

“I looked for any research opportunity I could find,” said Warwick, now a senior.

But she didn’t find one. She found four — all while working part-time as a barista.

Warwick double majors in international relations in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and public and urban affairs with a concentration in global development in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.

While the summer of 2020 didn’t go at all how she imagined, it led her to discover her call to service after graduation.

The experience is one of many examples of Warwick’s determination to grow — no matter the obstacle. From participating in research projects to serving as director of the Student Government Association’s First-Year Leadership Experience (FLEX), Warwick accepted and excelled in a range of opportunities.

In recognition of her efforts, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences has honored Warwick with its annual Outstanding Senior Award.

Warwick received a nomination from Yannis Stivachtis, a professor of political science and the Jean Monnet Chair at Virginia Tech.

“Emily’s involvement in university life has gone beyond the traditional classroom,” wrote Stivachtis.

Warwick points to her time with the FLEX program as one of her most rewarding and consequential experiences. In addition to serving as director, she mentored fellow students.

“Getting to invest heavily into such a one-in-a-million type of community and then having the honor of watching the growth, service, and love that happens as a result is an experience that means more to me than any other accomplishment or award,” she said.

As part of her director responsibilities, Warwick led the creation of a capstone service project and curriculum. The pandemic forced her and the FLEX assistant director to move the program fully online.

“It was a challenge not only to redesign months of planning and curriculum for the program, but also to figure out how to best facilitate such a unique and special sense of community over Zoom,” she said.

Warwick is no stranger to challenges. Losing her fellowship last summer amid the pandemic was just one hurdle she’s cleared.

For most of her college experiences, Warwick managed personal health issues that proved debilitating at times.

“I know the frustration of not being able to do everything my peers were able to do physically and mentally, from experiences like being able to jump to ‘Enter Sandman’ to struggling with memory issues that affected my coursework,” said Warwick. “These experiences were humbling, and I’ve had to learn the hard way not to take things for granted. I’ve also learned to fall back on my values, support system, and what fundamentally grounds me in who I am.”

Warwick’s passion for research emerged through her transdisciplinary learning.

She served as a research assistant for Stivachtis and fellow faculty members in the Department of Political Science, including Karen Hult and Edward Weisband. She also served as a research assistant with Paulo Polanah, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology.

Warwick participated in a Diplomacy Lab research project and served as an associate with the Hume Center for National Security and Technology. She took part in the Virginia Tech Virtual Undergraduate Research Program and the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Skills Program. She’s presented her research in several undergraduate conferences.

Above and beyond all of her accomplishments, Stivachtis wrote, Warwick made notable contributions to the DataBridge Research Lab and the Virginia Tech Policy Destination Area COVID-19 Database Project. He also commended her for interning at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and her commitment to a range of service roles.

Warwick served as a delegate at the Atlantic Coast Conference Student Leadership Symposium, a student government representative at the University Commission on Research, and an ambassador of the Virginia Tech Office of Undergraduate Research. She mentored fellow students in the Department of Political Science. She also served as associate editor of Philologia, an undergraduate research journal in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

As if all of these accomplishments weren’t enough to qualify for the Outstanding Senior Award — there’s more.

Warwick conducted research in the computational modeling and data analytics program in the College of Science and completed an independent study in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.  

Oh, and she taught and performed music through the Virginia Tech String Project.

“One of the most valuable aspects of my education at Virginia Tech has been the abundance of opportunities for interdisciplinary learning,” said Warwick. “Along with my classes and research in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, I was able to pursue such a wide variety of experiences in so many areas of campus that were truly invaluable to my learning and growth.”

Outside of the classroom, Warwick has made wonderful memories with friends. Last summer, she explored the beauty of Southwest Virginia, from tubing down the winding New River to biking mountainous trails.

“I can’t recommend doing the ‘quintessential Blacksburg summer’ more to future Hokies,” she said.

Following commencement, Warwick said she’ll pursue a career in social science research with the long-term goal of earning a doctorate in political science and becoming a professor. She’s interested in researching international development and political economics and exploring questions about subnational governance, distributive politics, and food insecurity.

Warwick said she has an immense gratitude for her countless mentors at Virginia Tech.

“They believed in me before I did,” she said. “My family, friends, and teachers have facilitated so much personal development for me in the last four years and inspire me every day to never stop growing.”

Written by Andrew Adkins