Here’s a roundup of briefs from around Southwest and Southside. Send items for possible inclusion to

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Biomedical innovations take center stage during ‘Shark Tank’-style pitch competition

Virginia Tech students pitched commercialization ideas for biomedical innovations to a “Shark Tank”-style panel of judges during the annual Health Sciences and Technology Hokie Pitch at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC in Roanoke.

The competition involved students from the Translational Biology, Medicine and Health graduate program, who selected intellectual property, worked with real-world business mentors and created an entrepreneurial plan to develop and commercialize biomedical discoveries as new companies. 

In the process of the Hokie Pitch exercise, students identified a biomedical need, researched undisclosed intellectual property for a solution, and made a case that would appeal to investors.

Winning teams split $4,500 in cash prizes:

  • First place, $2,000: team illuminostics presented an optical imaging agent for enhanced colonoscopy screening; team members, Mikel Cawley, Mary Frazier, Collin Gregg, Seun Imani, Mona Safari; mentor: Victor Iannello; IP consultant: Jonathan Joyce.
  • Second place, $1,500: CTCapture team members pitched a device to capture and detect circulating metastatic cancer cells; team members, Catie Burgess, Zach Hutelin, Renesa Tarannum, Noor Tasnim, Elliana Vickers; mentor: Francis Farrell; IP Consultant: Amanda Hensley.
  • Third place, $1,000: DialAssist team members planned a portable in-home dialysis; team members, Kari Stanley, Haylee Downey, Manali Patwardhan, Shah Rukh, Blake Flinchum; mentor, Cynthia Lawrence; IP Consultant: Meghan Sedovy.

Additional teams pitching ideas were:

  • Team AdenoGuard presented an adenovirus-based vaccine that allows the immune system to recognize and respond to the highly addictive opioid fentanyl; team members, Paige van de Vuurst, Colin Kelly, Sahitya Biswas, Walt Tatera, Nazia Bano; mentor: Rocco DiSanto; IP Consultant: Zach Williams.
  • Lambda Solutions team members proposed a wearable device for detection of pre-eclampsia in pregnancy; team members, Ruhul Amin, Megan Evans, Breana Turner, Mason Wheeler, Kenneth Young II; mentor: Sarah Snider; IP consultant: Kevin Pridham

Pitches were judged by Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute; Maria Clarke of J.P. Morgan Private Bank, and a member of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute advisory board; Fourd Kemper, an attorney and principal at Woods Rogers law firm; Troy Keyser, director of Carilion Innovation; Mary Miller, director at the Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program; and James Ramey, managing director and fund manager at Middleland Capital’s VTC Innovation Fund. 

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Amy Thompson Ferguson

Retired teachers aim to establish scholarship at P&H to honor former colleague

A small group of retired educators are banding together to establish a scholarship at Patrick & Henry Community College in memory of their friend and former colleague, Amy Thompson Ferguson. Ferguson passed away earlier this year due to complications from COVID-19. For 32 years, Ferguson taught sixth and seventh grades at Carver Middle School and Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School. The scholarship, which is being seeded with a $250 donation by Ferguson’s friends, will be awarded to a student pursuing a degree in either math or art. The donors chose these two majors because both disciplines were close to Ferguson’s heart. While she was a math instructor, she also raised two girls who are now teaching in art in Richmond.

The retired teachers who are spearheading this effort are Kathy Thacker, Cindy Boyles, Amberlyn Sordelett and Sybill Landreth. They worked in the school system with Ferguson before her passing.

“Not only were we all teaching colleagues, but we also became close friends,” Landreth said in a statement distributed by Patrick & Henry Community College. “Amy had that effect on people and students alike. She wrapped you up in her love and caring.”

The organizers say that this scholarship will allow Ferguson’s heart for her students to continue. For many students, $300 could help cover extra expenses or unexpected costs that might otherwise hinder them from completing their education. This scholarship will allow Ferguson’s legacy of helping students achieve their goals. The organizers chose to donate the money to Patrick & Henry Community College because the family has many ties to the college. Amy Ferguson and both of her daughters attended P&HCC and her husband, Randy, has worked for P&HCC for more than a decade.

“Amy gave to the community with her teaching, her coaching, and her support of the community college. She would want students to have the opportunity to follow their dreams,” says Landreth.

This group’s goal is to raise at least $2,500. However, with enough support, their dream would be to endow the scholarship which would require $25,000.

To raise the funds, Landreth says they “are asking each person who knew Amy or whose child was taught by her and each person who knows Randy or their girls.” She says with enough support, “our goal to reach out to students struggling financially will happen.”

The P&HCC Foundation is accepting donations for the Amy Thompson Ferguson Art and Math Scholarship. Donations can be made online at or by cash or check to the Patrick Henry Community College Foundation. For additional information, call 276-656-0250.

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Wornie Reed. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech grants Reed emeritus status

Wornie Reed, director of the Race and Social Policy Research Center and a professor of Africana studies and sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech, has been conferred the title of professor emeritus by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

The emeritus title may be conferred on retired professors, associate professors, and administrative officers who are specially recommended to the board by Virginia Tech President Tim Sands in recognition of exemplary service to the university, according to a release from the school.

A member of the Virginia Tech faculty since 2009, Reed made significant contributions to the fields of sociology and Africana studies and specialized in the areas of health, race relations, criminal justice, and social policy. His scholarship included nine books and numerous articles, chapters, and research reports. Among the books he has written or edited are “Racial Profiling: Causes and Consequences” (with R. Dunn, 2011); “Handbook of African American Health: Social and Behavior Interventions” (with A.J. Lemelle and S. Taylor, 2011); “Blacks in Tennessee” (2008); and “African Americans: Essential Perspectives” (2003).

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Blue Ridge Parkway honors volunteer

The Blue Ridge Parkway has announced awards for three of its volunteers. One of those is in Southwest Virginia.

Libby Wilcox is Lead Volunteer in the Rocky Knob Area. The parkway said in a statement: “As the Lead Volunteer in the park’s Rocky Knob area, Libby Wilcox facilitates the work of numerous dedicated volunteers who support a wide range of areas including campground, picnic area, trail and roadside maintenance and visitor service. Through her many years of service, Libby has built and incredible team of volunteers to support park operations and enhance the visitor experience in a 50-mile stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.”

She received the Enduring Service Award. To learn more about volunteer opportunities on the Blue Ridge Parkway and to watch the 2021 Virtual Volunteer event visit the park website at