BSE graduate student Hannah Patton was selected as the College of Engineering’s Masters Student of the Year for 2019. Her thesis research focuses on describing motivations for “water scavenging” in Appalachia and she is mentored by BSE Associate Professor Leigh-Anne Krometis and Virginia Tech Mining and Minerals Engineering Associate Professor Emily Sarver. Hannah has proven adept both in assessing the potential technical challenges of existing water systems and in truly listening to and connecting with the people this project aims to serve. She spends long hours on the road traveling through southern West Virginia learning about the landscape of spring water and historical environmental and infrastructure challenges from local community members and stakeholders, returning to Blacksburg to analyze water samples for microbial and chemical contaminants. In order to recruit participants and establish community connections, she has established a working relationship with local organizers working with Appalachian Voices. Her interest lies deeper than simply tracking contaminant co-occurrence or geological linkages with source water; she truly cares for the people dependent on this resource. Following completion of her MS this Fall, she intends to work towards a PhD focused on this area, broadening her efforts to look both at characterizing the microbial exposome of community water sources at the molecular level and examining potential linkages between local economic drivers and infrastructure re-investment. A monologue by Hannah describing her work is available as a podcast hosted by the US Water Study Team, which was produced by Virginia Tech Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Marc Edwards and Postdoctoral Associate Siddhartha Roy: http://www.uswaterstudy.org/podcast/.
Hannah’s commitment to community and the people around her extends beyond her research to those that she works with every day at Virginia Tech. In order to create a sense of belonging in our department she created a club called “BSE BSE” (BSE Being Sporty Engineers) that meets every Wednesday and pairs an accessible athletic activity (e.g. walking, kickball, yoga, etc) with dinner together in downtown Blacksburg. Together with her international classmates, she has raised funds to buy and install a ping pong table in the graduate lounge to facilitate community between domestic and international students.