By Rachelle Kuehl

This blog article was originally published by the Center for Rural Education at Virginia Tech.

March 16, 2023

In recent months, I have been flying much more regularly than I have in the past. In general, I’m one of those people who prefers to smile politely at my seatmate, then proceed to ignore the fact that I’m sitting in very close proximity to a complete stranger for the duration of the flight, quietly keeping my attention on whatever book or article I brought with me to read. At times, though, it’s lovely to discover a connection with someone you happen to be traveling beside, and on rare occasions, polite conversation on a plane ride can even lead to long-lasting personal or professional relationships. This was the case for Dr. Barbara Lockee, Virginia Tech Professor of Instructional Design & Technology and Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs, in 2015, when she met a fellow Hokie alum who would come to play a significant role in initiatives about which she cares deeply.

Dr. Lockee graduated with a PhD in Curriculum & Instruction from Virginia Tech in 1996 and has worked for the university ever since, rising from her position as a postdoc through all the ranks of professor to her current role as Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs. Dr. Lockee has gained national and international attention for her influential scholarship in online education pedagogies, an area of expertise which proved especially critical three years ago at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when she helped educators throughout the world in providing guidance related to emergency remote instruction.

Prior to her start at Virginia Tech, Barbara grew up in rural North Carolina near Winston-Salem. As a student at Appalachian State University for her undergraduate and master’s studies, Barbara connected with an Indigenous student group where she found support and mentorship. Upon arriving at Virginia Tech to begin work toward her doctorate in 1993, Barbara hoped to find similar camaraderie with fellow Indigenous students but found there was no such group in existence. Instead, she joined a multicultural student organization founded by Dr. Barbara Pendergrass, former VT dean of students, and continued to press for more attention to and support for the needs of Indigenous Hokies. In the late 1990s, Virginia Tech established the American Indian and Native Studies minor within the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, directed by Dr. Sam Cook, but it took much longer to move the needle on the creation of a designated Indigenous student support network. Finally, in 2016, with the support of President Timothy Sands and Dr. Menah Pratt, Vice President of Strategic Affairs and Diversity, Barbara and Sam helped launch the American Indian and Indigenous Community Center (AIICC), led by Dr. Melissa Faircloth (Coharie of Eastern North Carolina). The AIICC provides space, resources, and a chance to connect with fellow Indigenous scholars, many of whom are also connected through the Native@VT student organization that helps to run important programs such as VT’s annual Spring PowWow.

“A successful university experience depends on many factors, not the least of which is a sense of belonging and reliable support for reaching individual goals. At Virginia Tech, the American Indian and Indigenous community provides a strong network of peers and mentors so that Native students feel welcome and supported within and outside of the walls of the classroom. Through opportunities for cultural engagement, social interaction, and celebration of heritage, our Indigenous students, staff, and faculty form a vibrant and visible presence on campus, strengthened by our critical connections with tribal communities in Virginia and beyond.” -Dr. Barbara Lockee

The person Barbara met on that serendipitous plane ride in 2015 was Hokie alum Dr. Jeff Rudd, who had been flying out of Roanoke after meeting with VT colleagues and stakeholders whose initiatives he had been supporting. Jeff and Barbara got to talking about Barbara’s work in online learning and her collaboration with the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) at Cal Tech, and that conversation led to Jeff providing funding for three IDT master’s students to engage in an experiential learning project with JPL, developing e-learning safety training for the lab’s manufacturing division. As their professional relationship has continued, Barbara has shared more about her work with the Indigenous community at Virginia Tech, and after learning about the crucial need to increase access to higher education for Indigenous students, Jeff became interested in providing financial support for Indigenous Virginia Tech students. In a recent address to National Academy of Education/Spencer fellows, Dr. Amanda Tachine (Navajo), author of Native Presence and Sovereignty in College: Sustaining Indigenous Weapons to Defeat Systemic Monsters (2022), said that “many people have the misconception that Native people go to college for free. That’s false.” In fact, due to historical factors such as the U.S. government’s removal of Native peoples from their lands and mandating boarding schools for Native students meant to “kill the Indian…save the man,” Indigenous people have a higher incidence of poverty than non-Indigenous Americans, and paying for higher education opportunities remains a significant challenge. Even at land-grant institutions like Virginia Tech, which was built on the land of the Monacan/Tutelo people and was created under the Morrill Act of 1862 (a federal law allowing states to sell Indigenous land it had claimed through coercive and fraudulent means to raise funds for land-grants), Indigenous students do not automatically attend the university for free.

In conversation with Monacan Chief Kenneth Branham, President Sands established the new Virginia Tech Tribal Match scholarships for Virginia Tech students who receive scholarships from one of Virginia’s 11 recognized tribes or the Virginia Tribal Education Consortium. The University then matches those funds up to $2,500 per student. Now, inspired by Dr. Lockee, Rudd has established the Dr. Barbara Lockee Native American Tribal Honors Scholarship as a way to complement these efforts and to allow students enrolled in any federally- or state-recognized tribe to receive scholarship support as well. When I asked Dr. Rudd why he chose to name the scholarship after Barbara, he spoke of her accomplished scholarship in Instructional Design and Technology, her proud Native ancestry, and her commitment to using technology to help preserve Indigenous languages, which was the focus of her doctoral dissertation. “She is passionate about her students’ education, her colleagues’ professional opportunities, and AIICC’s students having the best and broadest experiences at Virginia Tech.”

barbara lockee gives a TED-style talk - she wears a black suit trimmed with white

Undergraduate Indigenous students who have completed at least one year at Virginia Tech (rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors) can apply for one of five $2,000 scholarships named in honor of Dr. Lockee. As a part of the award program, recipients are required to participate in AIIIC activities. When asked about this stipulation, Dr. Faircloth mentioned that research in student affairs has shown that early engagement in campus communities can positively impact student retention, and incentivizing students to participate in AIICC programming “is simply an effort to orient students to the resources and programs within the Center and to connect them with a community.” Dr. Faircloth also shared her personal reflections about Barbara’s trailblazing efforts to provide space, resources, and opportunities for connection among VT’s Indigenous students, noting the ways Barbara’s mentorship has been instrumental in establishing her own identity as an early-career Indigenous scholar. “Our current class of students probably do not realize how far back Barbara’s advocacy extends,” she said.

Personally, I could not agree more with Dr. Rudd’s and Dr. Faircloth’s perceptions of the way Dr. Lockee has gone above and beyond to support VT students and faculty. I had the pleasure of meeting her during my first semester as a doc student in 2016, when my advisor suggested I seek her advice about a project I was launching. Since then, I have known Barbara to be exceptionally kind, gracious, and supportive. As interim director of the Office of Educational Research and Outreach, she assisted my transition from student to postdoc, and in her current role as Associate Vice Provost (and as a scholar with both rural and Indigenous roots), she has been a champion of the Center for Rural Education, which launched in the fall of 2022 and of which I am now a part.

Dr. Lockee told me she loves being connected to this way of supporting Indigenous students, and she is both humbled and honored to have her influence on their behalf recognized.

Applications for the Dr. Barbara Lockee Native American Tribal Honors Scholarship are due April 1, 2023. To apply, please click here:

Rachelle Kuehl is a 2022 National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow and a research scientist in the Center for Rural Education at Virginia Tech.

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