Roanoke College logo. Courtesy of Roanoke College.

Here’s a roundup of education briefs from around Southwest and Southside:

Roanoke College adds disability studies concentration

Roanoke College has announced it’s now offering a concentration in disability studies. The curriculum is designed to blend interdisciplinary coursework and experiential learning to give students a deeper understanding of the growing population of people with disabilities, according to a release from the school.

“The creation of a dedicated concentration puts Roanoke College at the forefront of the disability studies movement,” the statement said. Students in the concentration include future health and human services professionals, research students, education majors and more.

“The rates at which people are being diagnosed with a disability increases every year; especially autism and dementia,” said Andréa Burchfield, assistant professor of psychology in a statement. “As numbers rise, students entering many career fields are more likely to encounter clients, patients and employees who live with a disability. Understanding the wide-ranging nature of disabilities will enable future professionals to provide better services.”

The concentration requires five courses, including two foundational courses focusing on disability theory and lived experience. It culminates in a final capstone project. The opportunities for disability-related classes and real-world internships span departments and disciplines across campus. The initiative was led by a multi-department faculty team: Burchfield (Psychology), Frances McCutcheon (Biology), and Teresa Milbrodt (English & Communication Studies).

Other additions in Roanoke College’s curriculum in recent years include the establishment of an engineering science major, a comprehensive department for education majors, and an innovative health studies partnership with Carilion Clinic.

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Zhiwu “Drew” Wang (at left) and Ph.D. student Xueyao “Kira” Zhang in Wang’s lab in the Human and Agricultural Biosciences Building I, where the applied research on bioplastics is conducted. Photo by Max Esterhuizen for Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech gets grant to turn food waste into biodegradable bioplastics

Researchers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech received a $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create bioplastics from food waste diverted from landfills. 

The three-year grant will test the scalability and feasibility of the conversion of these wastes into bioplastics on a national and global scale, with the target of keeping costs for the produced bioplastics as low as possible. Unlike traditional plastics made from petroleum-based materials, bioplastics are made from biological elements such as plant or animal oils and naturally degrade in compost and waterways.

Zhiwu “Drew” Wang, the principal investigator, is an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, and director of the Center for Applied Water Research and Innovation.

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Ivana Bartoletti. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

Pamplin College of Business names Ivana Bartoletti as inaugural visiting cybersecurity and privacy executive fellow

Ivana Bartoletti, global data privacy officer at Wipro, will serve as the inaugural visiting cybersecurity and privacy executive fellow at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business.

During her two-year appointment, Bartoletti will collaborate closely with Pamplin faculty and Ph.D. students, providing unique insights and expertise from her distinguished career as an international thought leader in the fields of privacy, data protection and responsible technology. She also will participate in seminars and events and contribute to cybersecurity research at the college.

Bartoletti has many years of experience serving in large organizations, leading privacy policy, strategy and programing related to digital transformation, the cloud and automation. Since 2021, Bartoletti has served at Wipro, a prominent international information technology, consulting and business process services company based in India.

She is co-editor of “The AI Book,” a handbook for investors, entrepreneurs and fintech visionaries, and is author of “An Artificial Revolution, on Power, Politics and AI.” Bartoletti is founder of the influential Women Leading in AI network that brings together female thinkers, scientists, academics, businesswomen and politicians to influence the future of artificial intelligence on a global scale.

For the last two years, Bartoletti was visiting policy fellow at the University of Oxford, where she focused on furthering global sharing of information through the context of privacy, security, data protection and human rights.

In 2022, Bartoletti received the Privacy Leader of the Year, Technology Awards at the UK PICCASO Privacy Awards.