Lauren Childs. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

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

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Tech professor gets National Science Foundation grant to create improved models for tracking spread of disease

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how infectious diseases can wreak havoc on modern society and magnified how important it is for scientists to find ways to understand, predict, and better control them.

With a five-year $550,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award, Lauren Childs, an assistant professor with the Virginia Tech Department of Mathematics, seeks to develop mathematical frameworks that can decipher the dynamics of disease and suggest earlier, more effective interventions to mitigate the spread of disease.

“Simple mathematical models are useful tools in understanding patterns of disease spread, particularly in homogeneous populations,” Childs said in a statement. “However, real world populations are more complicated. We need to take into account factors like age, genetics, and prior exposure to disease to better identify groups where the disease is most likely to spread, which groups are at the most risk, and how long we should expect epidemics to last.

“Applications could include, for example, how does the pattern of invasive plant species spread across a landscape, how do mosquito species disperse in a specific area, or how do immune cells, which vary in location and function, effectively organize a response.”

Childs is one of four Virginia Tech College of Science faculty members to recently win a coveted NSF CAREER grant, considered one of the most prestigious awards of its kind, that supports creative junior faculty who are expected to become future academic leaders. Sujith Vijayan of the School of Neuroscience, Satoru Emori of the Department of Physics, and Frank Aylward of the Department of Biological Sciences are the three additional awardees.

Childs has done extensive work with the goal of halting the spread of disease. In 2019, she collaborated with a team of infectious disease experts from Harvard University’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health to study the role of natural mosquito behavior on transmission of a disease that threatens half the world’s population. Their paper, published in Nature, resulted in using atovaquone — also used to treat the malaria parasite when a person gets sick — to coat mosquito bed nets. When mosquitoes ingest the anti-malarial drug, the medication “cures” the mosquito so it cannot spread the disease.

Childs earned dual bachelor’s degrees in science and chemistry from Duke University in 2004 and master’s and doctoral degrees in applied mathematics from Cornell University in 2007 and 2010, respectively. She joined Virginia Tech in 2016. She has written more than 35 articles in leading research journals and has given more than 75 invited professional presentations.

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Virginia Western names two distinguished alumni

The Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation has named Elvir Berbic, founder of its Refugee and Immigrant Scholarship, and P. Jason Peters, Roanoke County Board of Supervisors vice chair, as recipients of the college’s 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award. The award was established in 2006 by the Virginia Western Alumni Association and recognizes Virginia Western Community College alumni and former students who have attained extraordinary distinction in their professional field or life.

Elvir Berbic. Courtesy of Virginia Western.

In addition to supporting the Refugee and Immigrant Scholarship, Berbic (’06) is a member of the Educational Foundation’s Scholarship and Grants Committee and leads a partnership between the college and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine that provides for a postgraduate career forum between medical school students and Virginia Western STEM students. He also championed Roanoke’s first futsal court as part of his efforts to give back and to improve the lives of immigrants in the community. 

Berbic’s path to Roanoke passed through a refugee camp in Croatia, where his family resided after they fled the civil war in Bosnia. At that camp, Berbic first began to learn English, and his family moved to Roanoke in 1995 when he was 14. 

Through sports, Berbic found ways to belong. He played on the William Fleming High School soccer team and joined the football team as a placekicker. Twenty years later, the Virginia Western and Radford University master’s degree graduate is employed as the VTC School of Medicine’s student affairs manager.

Jason Peters. Courtesy of Virginia Western.

A native of Roanoke, Peters began his service to the citizens of Roanoke County by volunteering as an emergency medical technician with the Vinton First Aid crew when he was 16 years old. He has served in that capacity for 29 years and is the current president. In 2010, Peters was appointed to the Roanoke County Planning Commission, serving for three years before being elected to his first term on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors in 2014. Peters currently serves as vice chair of the board.

While serving as board chairman in 2016, Peters was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which ultimately required surgery. While the surgery improved his condition, his cancer is still present. Despite this challenge, Peters has continued to serve Roanoke County in his various roles on the board.

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P&H holds registration May 7 for Summer Discovery Institute

This summer, the Summer Discovery Institute will return to Patrick & Henry Community College. SDI is a free college prep and leadership camp for area high school students rising ninth through twelfth grades. The camp will run Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The camp starts June 21 and will end July 22.

An information and registration session for those interested in learning more about the camp or signing up will be held May 7 at 9 a.m. or 10:30 a.m. in the Frith Exhibit Hall on P&HCC’s main campus.

The Summer Discovery Institute is an intensive college and readiness and leadership camp designed specifically to increase high school success and college admissions. The institute combines hands-on leadership, career and college prep courses Monday through Thursday. On Friday, students can attend field trips to visit college campuses and participate in volunteer and cultural enrichment experiences.

All camp activities and trips are offered at no cost to families. Transportation to and from camp will be provided throughout the city and county. Breakfast and lunch will be provided daily to students.

Rising seniors may also take classes on completing college applications, admissions and scholarship essays, resumes, and SAT/ACT preparation. Through these courses, seniors will craft a personalized plan to navigate the admission process for the college of their choice.

Applications and additional information for course registrations will be available at the information session. Interested individuals may also call MHC After 3 at 276-656-5489 or email mhcafter3-P& or call Upward Bound at 276-656-5488 or email

The camp is made possible through a partnership between Patrick & Henry Community College, MHC After 3, Talent Search, Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math and Science programs. The Summer Discovery Institute is provided through a partnership of programs that are generously funded by 21st Century Community Learning Centers in the amount of $692,143 for MHC After 3 and the U.S. Department of Education in the amounts of $277,375 for Talent Search, $312,480 for Upward Bound and $312,480 for Upward Bound Math and Science.

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NRCC offering free computer tune-up

New River Community College will hold a Cyber Day event on May 7.

Anyone can bring their laptops, desktops, tablets and phones for a free tune-up and virus scan. The NRCC Computer Club is hosting the event from 9 a.m. to noon in room 127 at the college’s Christiansburg site located in Uptown Christiansburg.

There will be several students and David Filer, NRCC information systems technology professor and club advisor, working on the systems at the event. Any Windows or Android device is welcome.

The NRCC Computer Club focuses on the skills of repairing and creating computers for campus and community use.For more information about Cyber Day, contact Filer at or 540-674-3600, ext. 4272.

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W&L had podcasts with faculty members

Megan Hess, associate professor of accounting at Washington and Lee University, discusses her passion for teaching, how she grew up to love accounting, and what it’s like to investigate corporate fraud in a new episode of “W&L After Class: The Lifelong Learning Podcast” titled “Accountant or Detective: A Credit to Her Profession.”

Hess, a 1997 graduate of W&L, focuses her research and teaching on the intersection of ethics and accounting, exploring topics such as fraud risk management, ethical leadership, whistle-blowing and sustainability accounting.

To listen to the full episode of the podcast, which is hosted by Ruth Candler, assistant director of Lifelong Learning visit

The “After Class” podcast series began in spring 2020. Listeners hear from W&L faculty members about topics they know and love, meet new professors and learn about their research. Previous topics include poetry, beer, tea, witches, poverty, politics, theater and free speech.

Listeners in the W&L community and beyond are invited to listen to archived episodes for free at or wherever they listen to podcasts (e.g., iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher). Other episodes include:

“W&L After Class” is a collaboration of W&L’s Office of Lifelong Learning, Alumni Engagement and the Office of Communications and Public Affairs.