Ben Davenport with Savanna Gwynn, a Davenport Fellow and Patrick Henry Community College graduate. She’s one of the pilot program he funded. Courtesy of Virginia Community College Foundation.

Here’s a round-up of news briefs from around Southwest and Southside Virgnia. Send yours for possible inclusion to

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Davenport named chair of community college foundation board

The Virginia Foundation for Community College Education announced Ben Davenport as chairman of its board of directors.

A native and lifelong resident of Chatham, Davenport is chairman of Davenport Energy, a company founded in 1941 by his father. He also serves as chairman of First Piedmont Corp., a full-service waste management company, and holds numerous leadership positions for other organizations, including on the GO Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board, and on the boards for Hargrave Military Academy, the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, the Future of the Piedmont Foundation, and Mid Atlantic Broadband. Davenport attended Hargrave Military Academy, served in the U.S. Coast Guard and graduated from Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in business.

In 2016, Davenport and his wife, Betty, invested $1 million through VFCCE to engage four community colleges in a pilot program, providing 150 early childhood professionals with access to high quality early childhood programs at their local community colleges. In addition, these students were supported with academic coaching, supportive services, and onsite workplace mentoring. As the foundation’s new chairman, he now turns his focus to community colleges and community college students.

While most public and private support for secondary education goes to universities and four-year institutions, “I think the community college system, by and large, has been taken for granted,” Davenport said in a statement. “I decided that I needed to get involved and that maybe this was one of the best ways to redevelop the workforce and the level of education in our region and across the state.”

As companies face severe labor shortages and a need for new skills, and students find it harder than ever to afford degrees and credentials, Davenport sees supporting Virginia’s community colleges as a critical component to the commonwealth’s labor force and the economic well-being of its citizens. Since 2006, the foundation has supported hundreds of students with such things as tuition, fees and books, as well as services ranging from technology to child care and transportation.

With greater help from VFCCE’s donors and programs, “Virginia’s workforce problems and labor shortage could be solved,” Davenport said, by giving more Virginians the opportunity to further themselves through development of skills and community college education. For more information on VFCCE and its mission, and to provide your support, visit

Disclosure: Davenport is one of our donors but donors have no role in news decisions; see our policy.

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International Guitar Festival returns to Radford on April 1-2

 Last year, COVID-19 restrictions meant Radford University’s 20th Annual International Guitar Festival had to go online. This year, master classes and performances return to Davis Performance Hall at the Covington Center for a two-day event April 1 and 2.  

Gohar Vardanyan. Courtesy of Radford University.

The event features highly acclaimed Armenian guitarist Gohar Vardanyan, a graduate of both the Peabody Conservatory and Juilliard. She will teach a master class Friday beginning at 4 p.m. and will perform a solo concert the following evening at 8 p.m. Vardanyan has been praised in the press for her combination of technical skill and emotional performance. 

On Friday at 7 p.m., guitarist, arranger and educator Andy Jurik will perform a wide variety of music including popular favorites from The Police, Radiohead and The Beatles in unique arrangements. Jurik is the co-director of the Asheville Classical Guitar Society and will also teach a master class on arranging for the guitar beginning at 4 p.m.  

Andy Jurik. Courtesy of Radford University.

Saturday evening will also offer an Alumni Showcase featuring two recent graduates who have extended their education and becoming teachers as well. Kareem McCullough and Max Hiner will perform classical and jazz pieces as well as a few compositions of their own.  

All events are free and open to the public. No tickets or registration are required. More information is available by searching for the International Guitar Festival at

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Physicist James Gates to present virtual talk as part of Tech lecture series

The Virginia Tech College of Science’s J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series will host its third virtual event with Brown University theoretical physicist S. James Gates Jr. presenting a talk.

S. James Gates. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

Gates is the director of the Brown Theoretical Physics Center, the Ford Foundation Professor of Physics, an affiliated professor of mathematics and a faculty fellow with the Watson Institute for International Studies and Public Affairs at Brown University. His talk is titled “From SyFy and Marvel Comics to Superstring Theory, Evolution, and the CMB.”

He is a past president and fellow of the National Society of Black Physicists, and is a fellow and past president of the American Physical Society. He also is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Institute of Physics in the United Kingdom. He is also an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

In 2013, Gates was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, becoming the first African American theoretical physicist so recognized in the organization’s 150-year history. President Barack Obama awarded Gates the National Medal of Science at a White House ceremony, also in 2013.

The online talk will take place at 7:30 p.m. March 28. Registration is required.

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Forest Service to conduct prescribed burns in Wise County March 28-30

The U.S. Forest Service has released the following information about a controlled burn in Wise County March 28-30:

Location: Portions of the control lines around two prescribed fire units near Pound, VA will be burned next week in preparation for burning the larger units later this spring. The Cable Gap unit is located three miles northeast of Pound, VA, 2.7 miles Southeast of Jenkins, KY and approximately 1.8 miles southwest of Gaskins and Burdine, KY. The North Fork Pound burn unit is located two miles west, northwest of Pound, VA and 3.2 miles south of Jenkins, KY. 

Date and Time: Forest Service fire specialists will conduct the burns Monday, March 28 through Wednesday March 30. You may see smoke from these prescribed burn operations for several days. 

Purpose: This burn operation will burn a small portion of the larger burn unit which will act as a safety control line during the prescribed burn later this spring. Ultimately, prescribed burns improve wildlife habitat by restoring open woodlands and grasslands to the forest landscape. 

Additional Information and Road/Trail Closures: Sections of the Pine Mountain Trail (Forest Trail #201) and the Red Fox Trail (Forest Trail #205) that are within the burn area will be temporarily closed. For your safety, please follow posted signs and trail closures when they occur. The controlled burn is expected to have lingering smoke effects in Wise and Letcher counties. Depending on wind direction, residents and travelers in these areas may see or smell smoke.

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