The Graduate School at Virginia Tech has recognized Stephanie Voshell from Floyd, Va., a doctoral candidate in biological sciences in the College of Science, with its 2012 Graduate Teaching Assistant Excellence Award, and William Collins from Chesterfield, Va., a doctoral candidate in civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering, with its 2012 Graduate Student Service Award.
Each award signifies outstanding achievements made by the recipient during his or her course of graduate study at Virginia Tech. Each winner receives $1,000, funded by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association.
Voshell is a doctoral student working on the biodiversity and biogeography of canary grasses and has assisted in teaching several courses, including plant taxonomy, principals of biology, and cell and molecular biology. She has published part of her dissertation in an international scientific journal and has received a fellowship in recognition of her excellence in teaching and research.
“In Stephanie, I saw a teaching assistant who is very organized to the point that she goes way out of her way to make the lab subject easy to comprehend and liked by the students,” said Khidir Hilu, professor of biology and Voshell’s major advisor. “It is quite easy to see both her love for teaching and her desire for interacting with the students.”
Voshell’s scores for teaching ranged from 3.5 to a perfect 4.0 on the Student Perception of Teaching evaluation. One student said “Stephanie is an amazing instructor! She was helpful, patient, and always came to lab with a smile and gave me extremely helpful feedback.”
A student in fall 2010 molecular biology lab said “This course is challenging and time consuming. Stephanie was always willing to answer question and made herself available to meet to discuss lab reports or other items.”
Further evidence of her dedication to teaching, Voshell revised the department’s plant taxonomy lab manual to make it more user-friendly. She also produced a series of videos relating to plant systematics, which will be re-used to help students understand recent advances in the field as it relates to molecular biology and informatics. Her efforts prompted Hilu to add a new subject to the lab syllabus.
As part of her teaching philosophy, Voshell said “Regardless of the reasons and extent of a person’s desire to learn, it is the job of the instructor to facilitate this process. We must contribute to the development of flexible learners who can think for themselves and adapt their knowledge to current events and situations.”
Collins was recognized for his dedication to serving others through programs both locally and internationally. After earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Virginia Tech, Collins is pursuing a doctorate in civil and environmental engineering. He has put his education to use to serve others in many ways, one of which is his involvement with “Bridges to Prosperity (B2P),” a non-profit organization that builds footbridges in third-world countries.
In many of these rural areas, villagers are separated from the necessities found in their local village by a river, but very few of these villages have a bridge spanning the river. Individuals who need the services of their village have to cross the potentially dangerous water by foot. Because of this, markets, schools, churches, and medical care are frequently inaccessible.
In 2010, Collins became involved in the university’s student chapter of B2P. He worked on bridge projects in two different villages in Haiti and made a total of three trips to the country. Collins worked alongside Haitians offering knowledge of construction and structural engineering.
Collins also formed a research group to perform materials testing on different aspects of a typical cable-suspended footbridge and put the findings to use when assisting with bridge design in Haiti. He was able to change the design of the bridges to will increase their safety.
In addition to his B2P work, Collins assists with a local project that assist people with small construction and landscaping needs, as well an outreach project with middle and high school teachers to help them introduce engineering in their classrooms. He is also a deacon at Blacksburg Baptist Church.
“The idea of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) is one that I try to live by every day,” Collins said, “and one that I try to instill in my son as I teach him about selflessness, hard work, and compassion for others.”
Honorable mention for the Graduate Teaching Assistant Award was Megan Elizabeth O’Neill of Midlothian, Va., who is a doctoral candidate in rhetoric and writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Megan A. Stuart of Pulaski, Va., who is earning a degree in the Master's of Public Health program in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine received Honorable mention in the Graduate Student Service Award.