Virginia Tech School of Education (SOE) doctoral students Jordan Westcott and Clint Whitten were selected to receive the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award, recognizing their commitment to academic innovation in the areas of equity, community engagement, and teaching and learning in higher education. The award honors graduate students who show exemplary promise as future leaders of higher education and who are committed to academic innovation in the areas of equity, community engagement, and teaching and learning.

Wescott’s research as a doctoral student in the SOE's counselor education and supervision program focuses on LGBTQIA+ health equity, seeking to understand how systems influence health outcomes and health care access. Much of her work is related to later life experiences of LGBTQIA+ people. She also explores earlier developmental transitions, such as adolescence and emerging adulthood. This work is inherently grounded in the community and serves to identify ways that healthcare providers can better serve this population.

"One of my aims when I teach is to ensure accessibility in our classes, including through multiple ways to demonstrate engagement,” said Wescott. “I’m also a huge proponent of advocacy and helping students develop advocacy skills. This is one of the primary ways I help my students engage with the community: they have the potential to create systemic change!”

Whitten’s work as a doctoral student in the foundations of education program is rooted in his personal experiences growing up on a small farm in central southern Virginia with an hour-long bus ride to and from school. His research focuses on the intersections of rurality and queerness in education. During his tenure as a middle school English, creative writing, and theatre teacher, he worked to create a social justice driven classroom that engaged students in discussions on race, gender, sexuality, class, and ableism. After completing his doctoral studies, he hopes to create partnerships involving rural communities and queer advocacy groups, and to be part of the discourse that serves to advocate for a love of self and community.

“Receiving this award furthers a conversation on a sense of mattering and belonging while being rural and queer in educational settings," said Whitten. “This work relies on love, acceptance, and community coming together in critical conversations.”

Wescott is currently an adjunct instructor with the SOE's counselor education and supervision program, and hopes to continue being a faculty member in a counselor education program, doing research in LGBT+ health equity, and teaching future counselors about multicultural competence and social justice. Whitten serves as a graduate assistant in the Center for Rural Education at Virginia Tech and an instructor for the School of Education. He hopes to work in community action initiatives supporting and celebrating rural queer populations.

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