from left to right: Virginia Western President Dr. Robert H. Sandel, STEM Dean Amy White, Julie Clark, Rick Clark. Courtesy of Virginia Western

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

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Virginia Western engineering professor wins top award

Richard “Rick” Clark Jr., engineering professor at Virginia Western Community College, received the Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence on April 6 at the VCCS New Horizons Conference at the Hotel Roanoke.

The award is given annually to one teaching faculty member in the Virginia Community College System who distinctly represents teaching excellence. Award criteria are instructional effectiveness, student focus, discipline competence and personal attributes. The recipient receives a stole and a $5,000 award. 

In her nominating letter, Virginia Western STEM Dean Amy White praised Clark’s student-centered approach, his energy in seeking federal grant funding and his embrace of new technologies such as the electron microscope, water jet cutters and robotics – all to enrich the classroom environment. 

Former student Melina DeLaHunt credited Clark with encouraging her interest in engineering classes, which she began taking as a Virginia Western dual enrollment student in high school. “He provided excellent insight and knowledge that served me well as I moved beyond high school to pursue Engineering at Virginia Tech,” Hunt wrote in her nominating letter. She eventually received a bachelor’s and master’s degree at Tech.

Elizabeth Wilmer, Virginia Western’s vice president of academic and student affairs, praised Clark’s work in strengthening an engineering transfer program that prepares students to succeed at Virginia Tech, one of the nation’s top engineering schools. Virginia Western offers “a rigorous program with strong foundations in several engineering pathways, including construction engineering and engineering computer science. Rick has ties to Virginia Tech and has built an effective transfer relationship that has helped Virginia Western’s engineering students gain seamless access to VT’s engineering programs.”

Wilmer noted that Clark’s online classes now draw students “from all over the nation. Rick’s online classes are unique in their use of technology to create an interact and engaging online experience.”

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Maryam Shakiba. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech professor receives National Science Foundation award to study microplastics pollution in oceans

Maryam Shakiba, assistant professor in the Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech, has received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development award. Her resulting project will investigate how macroplastics degrade into microplastics under the highly coupled effects of weathering and mechanical stresses.

According to the National Park Service, plastics account for up to 90% of trash found in oceanwaters and along shorelines. This includes unsightly straws and bottles floating in the water that we commonly associate with ocean pollution, but these macroplastics, defined as anything larger than 5 millimeters, only touch the surface of the environmental damage. Large pieces often degrade into microplastics, which can cause even greater ecological harm in our oceans, according to Shakiba.

“Plastic items gradually degrade into smaller pieces through a combination of weathering and mechanical load. This plastic pollution is a global concern,” Shakiba said in a statement. “I aim to discover the path that macroplastics take as they degrade into microplastics and how long those particles persist in the ocean.”

The CAREER award is the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for early-career faculty, encouraging them to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their organization. 

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Radford University honored for supporting transfer students

Radford University is among 171 colleges and universities to be named to the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society (PTK) 2022 Honor Roll in recognition of the dynamic pathways they have created to support transfer students.

The Transfer Honor Roll is determined by 40 key metrics related to the support and success of transfer students, including college cost and financial aid, campus life for transfer, admission practices, and bachelor’s degree completion. The Transfer Honor Roll was based on analysis from the National Student Clearinghouse, and on data submitted through the four-year institution’s profile on PTK Connect, Phi Theta Kappa’s online tool designed to help students find their best-fit colleges and career pathways.

Colleges completing the PTK Connect profile are given a Transfer Friendliness Rating. The Honor Roll is chosen from among the top 25 percent highest-rated colleges.

Spotlighted at the 2022 American Council on Education (ACE) conference, the Transfer Honor Roll recognizes the importance of creating strong transfer pathways that lead to excellence and success among community college transfer students, and this year’s winners had exceptional outcomes, and several of these included:

Average percent of transfer in undergraduate population – 60%
Average bachelor’s degree completion rate among transfers – 77%
Average credit transferred toward a degree major and/or plan – 91%
Average percent of transfer students receiving merit-based financial aid – 84%

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Forest Service announces funding for projects in Alleghany, Bath, Shenandoah and Smyth counties

The U.S. Forest Service and the Virginia Resource Advisory Committee announce funding for local projects on the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests to improve forest conditions for the public in four Virginia counties.

The committee made these recommendations at its March 15 meeting:

  • Shenandoah River access rehabilitation (Page County)

Funding will repair and upgrade visitor access and restrooms at two primary access points along the South Fork of the Shenandoah River: $11,218.

  • Alleghany and Bath 50-mile trail project (Bath and Alleghany counties)

Funding to clear approximately 50 miles of hiking trails in the two counties: $38,860          

  • Alleghany Highlands blueway river mile markers (Alleghany County)

Mile markers will be located on the Jackson and Cowpasture rivers to provide a safe and enjoyable experiences: $10,000

  • Hidden Valley Nature Watch Trail maintenance (Bath County)

Trail bridge improvement, stream channel stabilization and signage along the 1.4-mile loop: $5,000

  • Dry Run stream restoration (Smyth County)

Restoration work on the floodplain and stream stabilization with native vegetation and in-stream structures: $24,794.

The committee also recommended for future funding:

  • Wildflower/Discovery Way Trails and parking area repair (Page County)

The project goal is to repair the Wildflower and Discovery Way Trails and make targeted upgrades to the parking area for visitor safety.

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Forest Service sets prescribed burns in Wise County

The U.S. Forest Service will hold two prescribed burns in Wise County Monday, April 11 and Tuesday, April 12.

One is near Keokee:

Location:  The High Butte burn unit is located in the Keokee Lake area, approximately ten miles southwest of Appalachia, VA, 2.8 miles southeast of Keokee, two miles south of Exeter, and 4.75 miles west of Big Stone Gap. 

Date and Time:  Forest Service fire specialists, The Nature Conservancy, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources and the Virginia Department of Forestry, among others, are planning to begin the 3,368-acre burn on April 11, 2022. Ignitions could last through Saturday, April 16th.  

Purpose: This burn helps keep the public and homes safe by reducing the buildup of dried leaves and wood in nearby forest land that can lead to uncontrolled wildfires. This burn will improve wildlife habitat by restoring open woodlands and grasslands to the forest landscape. 

Additional Information and Road/Trail Closures. Keokee Lake and its trail systems, and Keokee Lake Road may be 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 parts of Wise County including the town of Keokee, and Exeter and surrounding areas. Depending on wind direction, residents and travelers in these areas may see or smell smoke

Firefighter and public safety is our number one priority. For the most up-to-date information visit Inciweb: and follow us on Twitter: and Facebook:

The other is near Pound:

Location: North Fork Pound burn unit located two miles west, northwest of Pound and 3.2 miles south of Jenkins, Kentucky. 

Date and Time: Forest Service fire specialists are planning to begin the 5,033 acre burn on Monday, April 11 and continue on Tuesday, April 12. You may see smoke from this prescribed burn 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. Firefighter and public safety is our number one priority. For the most up-to-date information visit the inciweb site: and follow on Twitter: and Facebook: