BLACKSBURG, Va., June 18, 2010 – A chemistry professor at Virginia Tech has been recognized for her contributions to diversity at the university.
Judy Riffle, professor of chemistry in the College of Science, has been named the winner of this year's College of Science Diversity Award. Riffle was recognized for her role in facilitating the university's participation in a national alliance to attract more minority students to the research fields of polymer science and medicine. She was also cited for her leadership in building relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and her success in expanding a summer research program for minorities at the Macromolecules Interfaces Institute.
"Progress in the area of materials science in medicine is dependent on assembling interdisciplinary research teams of young scientists and engineers to understand the scientific and societal issues involved in discovering new systems for delivery of advanced therapeutics," said Richard Turner, professor of chemistry and director of the institute. "Judy is a leader in recognizing the need for recruiting underrepresented minority students into this growing strategic research area for the university."
Through her work, Riffle learned of the Virginia-Nebraska (VA-NE) Alliance, a partnership which, at the time, included five HBCUs and four other universities in Virginia as well as the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
"Because of Judy's efforts, Virginia Tech is now a member of this important alliance and network for outreach," Turner said.
Riffle has included St. Paul's College in Lawrenceville, Va., in a National Science Foundation (NSF) Partnership for Innovation project.
The project entitled, "Polymeric Membranes for Energy and the Environment," encompasses a special outreach segment to St. Paul's, including a "Research Experiences for Teachers" segment the college's faculty to come with their students to Virginia Tech to establish lasting collaborations.
"Joining the alliance and the resulting follow-up activities would not have happened without Judy's initiation of the process and relentless follow-through," Turner said.
Riffle has also been leading force in expanding the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at the Macromolecules Interfaces Institute. This NSF-sponsored project recruits students from around the country to participate in research in the design and delivery of polymer drugs.
Many participants in this summer program later return to Virginia Tech for their graduate studies. Riffle has directed many of the program's resources toward underrepresented advanced science and engineering minorities. She was recently awarded a four-year, $500,000 grant with a special $46,000 allotment for specific outreach to minority students via the VA-NE Alliance.
"This is a remarkable recognition by NSF given the fierce competition for these grants," Turner said.
Riffle said she believed higher education teachers had an obligation to educate students in methods to communicate and work with people across diverse and interdisciplinary boundaries.
"Today's scientific and technological workplace is diverse in every way, and that includes race, culture, country and ethnic backgrounds," Riffle said. "I consider mentoring our diverse research group an opportunity to learn from others as we strive to make scientific discoveries, and I am grateful for the recognition of our efforts that comes with this award."
Riffle earned her bachelor's degree and Ph.D. in chemistry from Virginia Tech and has been a member of the university's faculty since 1988.