Category Archives: College Updates

Food justice advocate visits Virginia Tech

20161025_193135 The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Diversity Council hosted food justice advocate Karen Washington in October. Washington talked to students in a roundtable discussion and also spoke in an open forum at the Fralin Life Science Auditorium. The event was sponsored by the College Diversity Council and Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Listen to her seminar here.

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Battle at Bristol winning photo

Congratulations to Department of Dairy Science students Whitney Bowman and Grace Ott who won our Battle at Bristol photo contest and earned the right to show off some CALS swag.

We asked students to show off their Hokie pride during the run up to this epic college football standoff in Bristol by showing our rivals at the University of Tennessee in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources why studying in our college is the best there is!

Check out Bowman and Ott’s winning photo here.


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Sir Ian Wilmut to speak Oct. 6 on his 20-year legacy with Dolly the cloned sheep

Sir Ian Wilmut with Dolly the sheep. Photo courtesy of The Roslin Institute, The University of Edinburgh.

Sir Ian Wilmut, who in 1996 led the team that cloned the first mammal using an adult cell, will present “The Dolly Experiment: The First 20 Years” on Oct. 6, at 4 p.m. at The Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg.

An embryologist and chair of the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, Wilmut will speak about the legacy of his work to clone a Finnish Dorset lamb named Dolly. The event, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program (IGEP) in Regenerative Medicine, and the Department of Science and Technology in Society in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

“Before Dolly, most scientists — including me — were convinced that an adult cell could never be ‘reprogrammed’ to an embryonic state and then give rise to a clone,” said Will Eyestone, research associate professor of reproductive biology at the veterinary college. “Dr. Wilmut and Dolly proved us wrong and in the process revolutionized our understanding of biology. Since then, cloning and cellular reprogramming have evolved into fields unto themselves, have provided an important tool for agricultural and biomedical research, and have helped to breathe real life into the new and promising the field of regenerative medicine.”

Virginia Tech researchers use cloning and regenerative medicine in their work today. “The announcement of Dolly made me decide to pursue my career in animal sciences and embryology,” said Kiho Lee, assistant professor of animal and poultry sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “The approach Dr. Wilmut used to create Dolly has been widely used in various species. His work is the foundation of my research program, which is to study early development.”

During his visit, Wilmut will also meet with Virginia Tech students and faculty. In addition to giving presentations to undergraduate students in a Humanities, Technology, and the Life Sciences course and a reproductive biology seminar, he will speak with graduate students in the Regenerative Medicine IGEP. Wilmut will also tour the Virginia Tech campus and the veterinary college.

Born in Warwickshire, England, Wilmut studied agriculture at the University of Nottingham before pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, where he worked in the laboratory of Christopher Polge, the scientist credited with developing cryopreservation. After his Ph.D., Wilmut began working at the Roslin Institute, an animal science research institute at the University of Edinburgh. In 1996, he and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute made international headlines for using somatic cell nuclear transfer to create Dolly the sheep. Although researchers still use this technique to investigate regenerative medicine treatments for disease, they have since developed alternative approaches to cloning animals.

Now an emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh, Wilmut was knighted for his contributions to science in 2008.

The Lyric Theatre is located at 135 College Ave. in downtown Blacksburg. Parking is available on nearby streets and public lots. If you are an individual with a disability and desire accommodation, please contact Flavio Carvalho, general manager of The Lyric, at or (540) 951-4771 at least three business days before the event.

Read more about the lasting legacy of Dolly the sheep.

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Small grains board approves funding for 23 projects across the commonwealth

The Virginia Small Grains Board recently met and approved $374,012 in funding for a total of 23 projects from across the commonwealth that are aimed at improving the production, science, marketing, and public opinion of Virginia small grains. Projects such as these drive the innovation necessary to ensure America continues to have the most reliable and affordable food supply in the world.

Below is a list of the projects the Small Grains Board approved for Virginia Tech for FY 2016-17. At the end of this fiscal year, the funding recipients will provide the results and findings of their projects to the Small Grains Board for their review.

  • Herbicide Sensitivity, Herbicide Resistant Mouse-Ear Cress and Intercropping Wheat with Forage Radish – Michel Flessner
  • Residual Herbicides for Season-Long Management of Italian Ryegrass – Charlie Cahoon
  • Small Grains Research Program Support – Bob Pitman
  • Improving Efficiency of Cultivar Development Through Aerial Remote Selection – Maria Balota
  • Integrated Management of Scab & Foliar Diseases of Wheat – Hillary Mehl
  • Accelerated Breeding for Scab Resistance in Soft Red Winter Wheat – C.A. Griffey
  • Improvement and Development of Barley for Use in Feed, Malt & Fuel – C.A. Griffey
  • Development of Specialty Wheat Varieties with High Value End-Use Properties – C.A. Griffey
  • Characterization and Mapping Native Scab Resistance in Virginia Tech Barley Varieties – C.A. Griffey
  • Marker Assisted Breeding to Enhance Cultivar Development in Small Grains – C.A. Griffey
  • Identification of Diagnostic DNA Markers for Genes Governing Quality Trains in Soft Red Winter Wheat to Aid in Breeding Cultivars Having Improved End-Use Quality – C.A. Griffey
  • Determination of Earlier Planting Date and Potential Cultuvars for Fall Planted Winter Wheat to Optimize the Soybean/Winter Wheat Double Crop Rotation for Increased Yields in Virginia – C.A. Griffey
  • Breeding Wheat for Improved Nitrogen Use Efficiency – C.A. Griffey
  • Development of Doubled Haploid Wheat Lines to Accelerate Cultivar Development – C.A. Griffey
  • FY2016 Mycotoxin Testing Services for Virginia Wheat & Barley- David Schmale
  • Detoxification of Mycotoxin in Virginia Wheat & Barley – David Schmale
  • Virginia FFA Foundation – Brian Walsh
  • Improving Nitrogen Use Efficiency in Wheat: Time-Course Observation of Flag Leaf Physiology – Takeshi Fukao
  • Small Grains Extension Program, Variety Testing and Market Development – Wade Thomason

The Virginia Small Grains Board manages and approves the allocation of small grain check-off funds to eligible programs throughout the state & nation on an annual basis. The funds the Board allocates are provided through a checkoff of one-half of one percent of the net selling price per bushel, collected by the buyer at the first point of sale and then remitted on a quarterly basis to the Virginia Department of Taxation. The check-off assessment is collected only on small grains that are sold by the producer.


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Travis Mountain presented national awards for research and Extension work

Travis Mountain, assistant professor of agricultural and applied economics in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist, has received two national awards for his outstanding work that examines family and consumer finances.

Mountain was presented the 2016 Robert O.Hermann Ph.D. Dissertation Award and the AARP Public Policy Institute’s Financial Services and the Older Consumer Award, both from the American Council on Consumer Interests.

His area of concentration is the financial and economic well-being of the households and communities of Virginia. His research interests include life insurance adequacy, food security, and mortgage selection decision behavior.

“This recognition is very humbling,” said Mountain. “Consumers in the United States face challenges at every step of their financial lives and it is a great privilege to be allowed to educate consumers on personal financial management as well as be recognized for my research.”

He won the AARP and Robert O. Hermann awards for his paper entitled “Life Insurance and Financial Vulnerability.”

ACCI is the leading consumer policy research and education organization consisting of a world-wide community of researchers, educators, and related professionals dedicated to enhancing consumer well-being.

Mountain received his bachelor’s degree in consumer science and his master’s degree in consumer behavior and family economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his Ph.D. in family resource management from Ohio State University. He has been a faculty member and Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences since the fall of 2015.

He is also a member of the NC 2172 multistate research team focusing on “behavioral economics and financial decision making and information management across the lifespan.” The team is currently working on a post-secondary education financing project and has future plans to examine Social Security and retirement.

He is the recipient of the Ruth Jane Yauger Scholarship 2014-2015 and placed third in the Hayes Forum Research Competition in 2014. He is a member of the American Council of Consumer Interests and the Academy of Financial Services.

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VALOR program graduates twelve new agricultural leaders

Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results, the state’s premier agricultural leadership training program, celebrated the graduation of its second class of leadership fellows at the Hotel Roanoke on July 16.

The three-day event was marked by graduating fellows completing a service project with hunger relief organization Feeding America and culminated with an evening reception and dinner ceremony at the historic hotel. The ceremony closed with an alumni breakfast to matriculate graduating fellows into their new roles as agricultural leaders in their  respective communities.

VALOR is one program of about 40 active agricultural leadership programs in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia that promotes culturally appropriate agricultural leadership training that uses a research-based experiential learning approach to build professional leadership skills. The program is housed in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education.

Graduating fellows include:

  • Marilyn Adams, a Farm Credit branch manager from Purcellville, Virginia;
  • Lauren Arbogast, a digital learning designer and poultry producer from Harrisonburg, Virginia;
  • Shelley Barlow, a cotton and row crop farmer from Chuckatuck, Virginia;
  • Timothy Durham, Ferrum College assistant professor of agronomy from Callaway, Virginia;
  • Basil Gooden, state director of Rural Development (USDA) and Virginia’s incoming secretary of agriculture and forestry from Buckingham, Virginia;
  • M. James Faison, President, Milton’s Local from Hopewell, Virginia;
  • Jennifer Leech, a dairy herdsperson from Lexington, Virginia;
  • Albert Reid, a Virginia State University 4-H specialist from Ettrick, Virginia;
  • Adam Shiflett, Farm Credit lending team leader from Staunton, Virginia;
  • Josh Stephens, a petroleum sales manager from Quicksburg, Virginia;
  • Joe Wilkerson, landscaping business owner from South Boston, Virginia; and
  • Cliff Williamson, regulatory affairs with the American Horse Council from Culpeper, Virginia.

“This class brought a new level of diverse backgrounds and ideas to VALOR,” said Director Megan Seibel.  “As a collective voice, representing individual strengths and interests, they join the alumni in gaining recognition for the profound potential of our program and its fellows.”

This year’s graduates come from myriad fields of the agriculture industry and run the gamut from policymakers to producers, including row-crop and dairy farmers, bankers, agricultural lenders, government officials, and local food purveyors. The youngest graduate manages her family’s 300-head Shenandoah Valley dairy herd and another raises cotton and soybeans near Suffolk.

On a farmer-friendly schedule, these fellows have met every other month for two years to train, network, and travel throughout Virginia’s nine distinct agricultural regions.

As they travel, the fellows are hosted by agricultural leaders who illustrate regional realities, challenges, and innovations on their family farms, dairies, vineyards, orchards, urban greenhouses, soybean fields, fishing boats, and forests.

Course-based learning and hands-on experience throughout the state prepare fellows to lead their own communities in civic discourse and decision-making, guiding and engaging others in community action and problem-solving.

In addition to boots-on-the-ground agriculture production, agricultural policy and communication are part of the training when fellows visit the state and nation’s capitals. An international experience crowns each VALOR program by couching Virginia agriculture in the context of world trade, cooperation, and global connectivity. This spring the class visited Vietnam to gain a global perspective on agriculture.

Agriculture is Virginia’s largest industry, employing 400,000 farmers and workers and generating approximately $70 billion annually. Agriculture  supports biological and cultural diversity, while protecting water and soil quality.

“VALOR prepares people to engage in community discourse,” said Josh Stephens, graduating fellow and family farmer who raises beef and goats in Quicksburg, Virginia. “Keeping agriculture a viable industry in our county is beneficial, and all forms of agriculture need to be embraced.”

Support for VALOR comes from the Farm Credit of the Virginias and the Virginia Farm Bureau, small businesses, foundations, and generous individuals.

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Take a look at how #VTFirstdays shaped up for one student in CALS

Follow horticulture major Laura Yuhase through the start of her fall semester in a photo essay on the college’s Facebook page. 

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Benjamin Corl named interim head of Department of Dairy Science

Benjamin Corl, associate professor of dairy science, has been named interim head of the Department of Dairy Science in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Corl follows Mike Akers, the Horace E. and Elizabeth F. Alphin Professor of Dairy Science, who recently stepped down after 12 years as department head to focus on research.

“This is an opportunity to build upon the foundation laid by those who have gone before me and try to build on the robust legacy in the department,” said Corl. “I look forward to working with the college leadership to advance the department and the college.”

No stranger to Virginia Tech, Corl received his B.S. in biochemistry in 1997 from the Department of Biochemistry, located in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Science. He received his Ph.D. in animal science from Cornell University in 2003. Corl returned to Virginia Tech in 2005 as a faculty member after a two-year post-doctoral appointment at North Carolina State University.

Corl’s research focuses on milk synthesis in the mammary gland of dairy cows. Currently his lab studies the local regulation of milk production by studying factors that influence the number and activity of mammary epithelial cells in glands. He examines how this local control can be used to increase the efficiency of milk production, and how it is mediated within the mammary gland.

Corl received the Cargill Animal Nutrition Young Scientist Award for outstanding research in the area of Dairy Cattle Production at the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Dairy Science Association in 2012.

He is a member of the American Dairy Science Association.

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VALOR finds a spirited Central Virginia

VALOR fellow and Coastal Plains cotton farmer, Shelley Barlow, recounts the spring seminar and her experience with the niche market agriculture of Central Virginia. 

While sharing a meal, I never miss an opportunity to remind all who are gathered that every bite they enjoy, with only a very few exceptions, started out on a farm somewhere. If it weren’t for farmers and agriculture, we would all be hungry, thirsty, and naked.

How lucky are we that Virginia agriculture does it all. It’s clear that the counties of Central Virginia are doing their share to fill our needs and wants for food and drink with business acumen and leadership.

But it isn’t just luck, of course. Central Virginia is capitalizing on our cravings for good food and drink in new and innovative ways. Wine, beer, cider, grass-fed beef, and ice cream, all produced from Virginia grown grapes, hops, apples, cattle, and milk are just a few of the products we sampled.


On this trip, we enjoyed creative meals at area restaurants made from many locally-sourced foods. It was an enticing and delicious show of the variety and diversity of the region’s agriculture. Actually seeing the whole process from field to glass or plate gave us a greater appreciation of the drinks and foods we enjoyed. From seeing acres of wine grapes and cider apples grown by John and Ruth Saunders at their Silver Creek Orchards, we went on to taste delightful wines at Emily Pelton’s award winning Veritas Winery and fine ciders at Albemarle Ciderworks. We also enjoyed meals at the Silver Mill Grille, Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie, and South Street Brewery, where they grow hops for their craft beers.

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Strategies for Better Communication is a blog where you can find information and resources about public relations, marketing, branding, photography, Web best practices, and other communication tools that can help you be a more effective communicator.

It is published by the Office of Communications and Marketing.

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