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Outstanding Student Awards

Each year, the BSE department selects an Outstanding Student from each undergraduate class and from each graduate degree level. Outstanding Students are nominated based on their academic achievement and are invited to submit materials describing their activities and achievements in academics, service to the department and university, service to the community, extracurricular participation, and leadership roles.  The BSE Awards committee evaluates the material and selects the outstanding students to honor. It is a very difficult job for the Awards Committee to select just a few students because there are so many great students in BSE.

Each outstanding student award includes a plaque and a cash award made possible through the generosity of Dr. Saied Mostaghimi, a past department head, and his wife, Dr. Patty Mostaghimi. The Mostaghimis established an endowed fund in 2010 and specified that the proceeds of that fund be awarded to BSE Outstanding students each year.

2020 Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award Recipients

Kate Johnson Picture
Senior Award Plaque

Kate Johnson has an outstanding academic record that has been recognized by inclusion on the Dean’s List with Distinction each semester, as well as by other academic awards and honors. She also serves the university community in many ways. Kate’s service in the BSE department includes mentoring BSE sophomores and representing the BSE program as a BSE Ambassador. As an ambassador, she participates in open houses and other student recruiting events. She and another ambassador redesigned the BSE department presentation for engineering freshmen and interested high schoolers. Kate is Treasurer of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) student branch for 2019-2020. In spring 2019, she and five other students launched the Naughty Scotties Club at Virginia Tech to connect students to a range of student clubs on campus by collaborating with those clubs for a variety of fun events.

Kate is passionate about addressing the need for disease treatment and, thus, seeks to create novel, beneficial medical innovations. Through undergraduate research (three semesters) at Virginia Tech and summer internships at Luna Innovations, Inc. and Hemoshear Therapeutics, Kate has assisted in the development of vaccines, drugs, and drug delivery systems for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, traumatic brain injury, and metabolic disorders. She developed skills in gel electrophoresis, dynamic light scattering, and chromatography.

As a student leader in Reformed University Fellowship at Virginia Tech, Kate leads a weekly bible study, mentors female students, assists in planning and conducting outreach, social, and service events, and directs music for weekly gatherings, including scheduling musicians, choosing songs, and leading rehearsals. Music plays a major role in Kate’s service and activities. She is a volunteer music leader for a monthly worship service at Warmth Hearth Retirement Village in Blacksburg, and each spring beginning in 2017, she has been the music director for the Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church Women’s Retreat. In October 2019, Kate was selected to play the role of “Catherine” in the musical Pippin with the Virginia Tech Department of Theatre and Cinema, which was to be performed in April 2020 but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In describing the end of her senior year, Kate wrote “although my senior year has concluded in unexpected ways, I am incredibly grateful for the experiences that I have had at Virginia Tech.” Following graduation, Kate will begin her full-time position as a Research Assistant at Luna Innovations, Inc. in Charlottesville, VA.

Nichlas Nguyen Picture
Junior Award Plaque

Nicholas Nguyen’s goal is to pursue a career as a physician where he can apply an interdisciplinary approach of medicine, engineering, and music. In addition to his major in BSE, he is pursuing minors in biomedical engineering and music. While maintaining an excellent academic record, which has been recognized by regular inclusion on the Dean’s List and awarding of several scholarships, Nicholas has been active in undergraduate research, service, and extracurricular activities. Since August 2018, he has been an undergraduate researcher in the lab of Dr. Caroline Jones in the Department of Biological Sciences. He is working closely with a Ph.D. candidate to investigate what is happening on a single-cell level in the human body. With tasks that include designing and translating microfluidic devices on AutoCAD, Nicholas models cell decision-making and interactions within the immune system. He presented his research in spring 2019 at the Mid-Atlantic Undergraduate Research Conference and at the Alpha Epsilon (honor society of BSE discipline) hosted Flash Talk event.

Nicholas’ core values center around dedicating his life to service and taking care of those around him. As he seeks to fulfill his version of Ut Prosim while at Virginia Tech, he serves the BSE program as a BSE Ambassador and is a saxophone player in the Marching Virginians and Pep Band. In addition to performing at football and basketball games, he participates in the group’s community service events, such as Hokies for the Hungry and raising funds for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital through community performances and outreach. He also founded The Music Heals Initiative in Fairfax, VA, through which he recruits musicians and organizes musical events at hospitals and care facilities to raise awareness of the healing power of music. 

Preparing himself for a career as a physician, Nicholas has pursued opportunities within the medical field. He gained significant experience during summer 2019 when he completed an observership at The Centers of Advanced Orthopaedics in Tysons Corner, VA, and Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. He was also a counselor for the Brain Injury Association of Virginia at Camp Bruce McCoy, where he worked as a caretaker for adults with brain injuries. He planned and led adaptive activities including aquatics, canoeing, and fishing. Nicholas said he “gained insight into how to balance humor and respect while communicating with injured or disabled individuals.” He plans to apply to medical school and looks forward to representing not only Virginia Tech, but also the BSE discipline.

Anna Picture
Award Plaque

Anna Christovich began her studies at Virginia Tech in fall 2017. She has excelled in every aspect of her college experience. Her outstanding academic record has been recognized through being on the Dean’s List each semester and membership two honor societies at Virginia Tech, Phi Kappa Phi and Gamma Beta Phi. Anna has co-oped two semesters (spring and fall 2019) with Dupont™ Tyvek® in Richmond, VA. She has been active in research, serving as an undergraduate researcher for one semester in Dr. Carlier’s lab focusing on the synthesis of anti-malarial drugs. She is currently a member of Dr. Luo’s research group, working on several projects related to the multi-system autoimmune disease, Lupus. Anna is a member of the Society of Women Engineers and Newman Catholic Community at Virginia Tech. She was a member of the SERVE Living Learning Community at Virginia Tech during her freshman year. Anna’s volunteer service includes Brandermill Woods Retirement Center, Campus Kitchen at Virginia Tech, and Feeding America – Commodity Supplemental Food Program and Powhatan Food Pantry.

2020 Outstanding Graduate Student Award Recipients

Lauren Wind
PhD Award Plaque

Lauren Wind began her Ph.D. studies in May 2017, immediately after completing her M.S. degree in BSE. She is co-advised by Dr. Leigh-Anne Krometis and Dr. W. Cully Hession, who were also her co-advisors during her M.S. program. Lauren is a member of Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Xi, and Gamma Sigma Delta national honor societies in recognition of her outstanding academic achievements. She has been an Interface of Global Change Fellow at Virginia Tech since 2017, and was awarded a Global Change Center-IGEP Doctoral Fellowship for 2019-2020.  

Lauren’s research focuses on characterizing the Agricultural Antibiotic Resistome by evaluating the spread of antibiotic resistance from “Farm to Fork.” She is analyzing the effects of common agricultural practices (antibiotic usage, manure management) and matrixes (soil, runoff, vegetables) on the potential occurrence of antibiotic resistant bacteria and genes that are critical to human and animal health. Lauren has demonstrated that resistance genes associated with antibiotics wholly absent from agricultural production can be elevated simply through field fertilization, and that soil metal content may be used to predict patterns of resistance. This work has required Lauren to develop an understanding of molecular biology and ecology as well as the ability to statistically analyze trillions of DNA base-pairs via high performance computing, or bioinformatics. 

Lauren’s publication and communication record is excellent. She is corresponding author on two refereed journal articles and a co-author on two additional refereed articles. Lauren has presented her work at multiple conferences with widely varying disciplinary foci, including invited presentations at the 2019 ASA-CSSA-SSSA International Annual Meeting and a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) webinar and volunteered presentations at the 2018 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting; 2018 American Society for Microbiology Annual Meeting; and the International Symposium on the Environmental Dimension of Antibiotic Resistance in Hong Kong in 2019 and in Lansing, MI, in 2017; and 2016 and 2017 American Ecological Engineering Society Annual Meetings. 

Lauren has strong teaching and mentoring skills. She has served as a graduate teaching assistant for four semesters, receiving high marks from both students and instructors. She actively mentors undergraduates in both of her research groups, and enjoys assisting other graduate students with their field and lab research projects when needed. In summers 2018 and 2019, Lauren served as a mentor for undergraduate fellows participating in the Confluence of Water and Society Research and Extension Experience for Undergraduates (REEU) at Virginia Tech funded by USDA. 

Lauren is a leader in serving the BSE department. She is an active member of the local chapter of our discipline’s honor society (Alpha Epsilon), serving as President in 2018-2019, and of the BSE Graduate Student Organization (GSO), serving on the board as well. Lauren is a member of the BSE Alumni Engagement Committee.

In anticipation of completing her Ph.D. degree by the end of 2020, Lauren is pursuing opportunities to continue studying antibiotic resistance through bioinformatic related research that incorporates a One-Health lens.

Award Plaque

Charles Aquilina entered the BSE graduate program in fall 2018 to pursue a Master of Science degree with Dr. W. Cully Hession as his advisor. Charlie’s research focuses on using utilizing drone-based laser scanning (DLS) to measure floodplain roughness for improved flood modeling (2-D modeling). He has excelled in coursework, learned several complex software packages for analyzing large laser point clouds and 2-D hydraulic modeling, and obtained his FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate to legally fly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones). Charlie has given two poster presentations of his research, at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Ecological Engineering Society (AEES) in Asheville, NC, and at the 2019 OGIS Symposium hosted by the Organization of Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing Research at Virginia Tech. In addition to pursuing his research and coursework, Charlie has served each semester as a graduate teaching assistant for BSE courses in hydrology, geographic information systems (GIS), and computer-aided design (CAD). He has received high praise from course instructors and students for his work.

Charlie serves as the BSE Departmental Representative to the Virginia Tech Graduate Student Association and is the volunteer liaison for the BSE Graduate Student Organization. He led efforts to clean-up, and to plant trees along, Stroubles Creek. As an undergraduate, Charlie was a member of The Marching Virginians and has continued to perform in the Virginia Tech Symphony Band and the Blacksburg Community Band during his graduate studies.

Prior to entering the BSE graduate program, Charlie earned a B.S. in Environmental Science and a B.A. in Geography at Virginia Tech in 2016. He then gained experience as a GIS intern with the City of Roanoke Stormwater Unit, as a GIS Technician with Timmons Group, and as an Environmental Scientist with Sol Solutions in Fort Gordon, GA. After completing his M.S. degree in summer 2020, Charlie will join Klienschmidt Group in Strasburg, PA. He will work on projects in dam removal, stream restoration, and drone surveying.