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First cohort of diversity scholars from the Graduate School present research


Heba F. El-Shazli makes a presentation. Heba F. El-Shazli moderated a roundtable discussion during each session.

BLACKSBURG, Va., June 27, 2012 – The 2011-12 diversity scholars from the Graduate School at Virginia Tech presented results of their research projects and initiatives during the diversity spotlight event: presentations and dialogue, which occurred on May 2, in the multipurpose room of the Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown.

Diversity scholars are graduate students who specialize in, and advocate for, the awareness, knowledge, and skills associated with diversity and inclusion in the graduate school and greater community. The goal of the diversity scholars program is to generate dialogue, provide advocacy, and implement change to lead to a more diverse and inclusive experience for all graduate students, staff, faculty, and administrators.

The 2011-12 diversity scholars are

  • Kacie Allen of Bakersfield, Calif., a doctoral student in human nutrition foods and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences;
  • Javiera Bahamonde-Azcuy of Valdivia, Chile, a doctoral student in biomedical sciences in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine;
  • Bianca Baker of Portsmouth, Va., a doctoral student in biological sciences in the College of Science;
  • Zhe Bao of Tangshan, China, a doctoral student in biological sciences in the College of Science;
  • Jennifer M. Cook of Denver, Colo., a doctoral student in counselor education in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences;
  • Anibal Concha-Meyer of Valdivia, Chile, a doctoral student in food science and technology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences;
  • Natasha Cox of Durham, N.C., a doctoral student in family studies in human development in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences;
  • Andrew Creamer of Cambridge, Mass., a doctoral student in the department of teaching and learning in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences;
  • Heba F. El-Shazli of Fairfax, Va., a doctoral student in the alliance for social, political, ethical, and cultural thought program, known as the ASPECT program;
  • Franny Howes of Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., a doctoral student in rhetoric and writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences;
  • Shernita Lee of Birmingham, Ala., a doctoral student in genetics, bioinformatics, and computational biology;
  • Yanka Petkova of Varna, Bulgaria, a doctoral student in the ASPECT program; and
  • Marc Anthony Thomas of St. Catherine, Jamaica, a doctoral student in the ASPECT program.

“Graduate students are often the driving force behind policy and curricular changes involving diversity initiatives at Virginia Tech,” said Dannette Gomez Beane, director of the Office of Graduate Recruiting and Diversity Initiatives. “Last fall the graduate school implemented the diversity scholars program as a way to incorporate inclusiveness into research and to help create a more culturally aware graduate student body.”

Students in the program are responsible for conducting research studies and initiatives as part of their program. Research projects included one-on-one interviews; the development of new programs designed to provide safe environments for discussions around issues of race, sexual orientation, gender, and religion; and the development of a mentoring program for incoming freshmen female students.

El-Shazli, conducted research around the general theme of Islam, Diversity, and Tolerance. To eliminate the lack of understanding of Arab, Middle Eastern, and Muslim students on campus, El-Shazli offered three films and dialogue concerning Middle Eastern topics.

The first event began with the film “Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think.” This documentary film explored the expertly gathered opinions of Muslims around the globe as revealed in the world’s first major opinion poll conducted by Gallup. The second event included a film entitled, “Nazrah: A Muslim Woman’s Perspective.” The film offered an intimate look at a diverse group of Muslim women living in the Pacific North West in the U.S. The third event was an interactive two-hour workshop, “De-mystifying the Middle East and its People – a Frank Discussion,” lead by Barbara Petzen, an educator and expert on Middle East affairs.

El-Shazli’s research project was successful in providing a safe, open environment for approximately 150 students, staff, and faculty members to learn about Islamic culture away from stereotypes and stigmas.

Another project submitted by Concha included an initiative to create diversity awareness in the Virginia Tech community by bringing together students from different cultures who share the same Hokie pride. Concha enlisted the services of Gabrielle Minnich, electronic communications supervisor in university relations, to shoot and edit a short video in which the popular chant, "Let's go Hokies," was expressed by different cultures in their native languages. Groups were filmed at locations on campus that are part of the Hokie identity, such as Burruss Hall, Lane Stadium, and the Duck Pond. The video included American and international members of the Virginia Tech community wearing maroon and orange Hokie clothing. Languages included in the video are Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, Spanish, French, Serbo-Croatian, and English.

Concha’s video demonstrated that even though the Virginia Tech community is very diverse and many cultures, religions, and languages coexist here, there is something that unites every single student, staff, faculty, and alumni, and that is the pride of being a Hokie.

The diversity scholars program is only one of many opportunities for graduate students to become advocates. The graduate school encourages students to formally and informally include diversity initiatives in their research and extracurricular interests by submitting ideas and proposals through its Office of Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives.

For information, email Dannette Gomez Beane or call or 540-231-6529.

The Graduate School at Virginia Tech promotes graduate education as a critical component in the transmission of new knowledge, research, ideas, and scholarship. It is responsible for the development, administration, and evaluation of graduate education throughout the university, providing support to faculty, staff, and more than 6,000 graduate students. The Graduate School is committed to building a diverse graduate community and vibrant intellectual environment to help prepare graduates to lead. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.