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W. Cully Hession, P.E.

  • Graduate Program Director
  • Research areas: Ecological engineering, influence of human activities on streams, stream channel & floodplain interactions, techniques for measuring and improving in-stream habitat, and development of technologies and strategies for successful stream restoration


Ph.D., Biosystems Engineering, Oklahoma State University, 1995

M.S., Agricultural Engineering, Virginia Tech, 1988

B.S., Agricultural Engineering, Virginia Tech, 1984


Professional Engineer, Virginia (License No. 0402022816)

Certified Ecological Designer – American Ecological Engineering Society


2012-Present - Professor, Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech

2005-2012 - Associate Professor, Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech

1999-2005 - Assistant and Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Vermont

1995-1999 - Assistant Curator and Biosystems Engineering Section Leader, Patrick Center for Environmental Research, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia

1992-1995 - Doctoral Candidate and Research Engineer, Biosystems Engineering, Oklahoma State University

1989-1992 - Senior Environmental Engineer and NPS Modeling Coordinator, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

1986-1989 - Assistant Scientist, USDA-Agricultural Research Service (Morris, MN)

Selected Major Awards

UCOWR Education and Public Service Award, 2021

Outstanding Faculty Member, Alpha Epsilon, 2005, 2018

Courses Taught Last Five Years

  • BSE 4125/26 – BSE Comprehensive Design Project
  • BSE 4224/5224 – Field Methods in Hydrology
  • BSE 5404 – Agricultural Nonpoint Source Pollution
  • Director USDA-Research & Extension Experience for Undergraduates Program: Training Leaders to Solve Resource Challenges at the Confluence of Water and Society (2018-21)

Other Teaching and Advising

I encourage faculty from across campus to utilize the StREAM (Stream Research, Education, and Management) Lab for courses. More than 14 classes in 4 colleges have utilized the StREAM Lab for labs and projects. In addition, now that StREAM Lab monitoring data are available online, additional courses will be able to utilize that data for more engaging, real-world homework assignments. In addition, I am the lead PI for a recently-awarded NSF-REU proposal, “Dynamics of Water and Societal Systems – An Interdisciplinary Research Program at the Virginia Tech StREAM Lab,” which involves 14 faculty from 5 colleges and 10 departments who will mentor undergraduates conducting interdisciplinary research at the StREAM Lab.

As BSE Graduate Program Director (GPD) I serve on committees in two colleges (CALS and COE) and the Graduate School. Since becoming GPD, BSE graduate enrollment has increased from less than 40 to nearly 70 students. I do not claim sole credit for this increase, but I have improved our application review process, and have obtained over $50k in funds from COE and CALS for graduate recruitment and improving working conditions for current graduate students. I am also faculty advisor for the BSE Graduate Student Organization (GSO), which was founded with my encouragement.

Program Focus

Sustainable management of water resources is a key global challenge for the 21st century. Maintaining sustainable water supplies to support economic growth, while minimizing the negative effects on water quality, requires an understanding of the underlying processes, mechanisms, and feedback loops within streams and their surrounding land areas. I have established a multi-department, multi-college research, outreach, and education program focused on understanding the fundamental physical processes of streams. Research focuses on the influence of human activities on streams, stream channel & floodplain interactions, techniques for measuring and improving in-stream habitat, and development of ecological engineering technologies and strategies for successfully protecting and restoring streams.

Current Projects

  • StREAM Lab @ Virginia Tech. I am the Director of the StREAM Lab, along 2.1-km of Stroubles Creek adjacent to campus.This is a full-scale natural laboratory equipped with high-resolution hydrologic monitoring capabilities for studying hydrologic, geomorphic, biogeochemical, ecological, and societal questions related to the restoration of streams and their floodplains.
  • Beaver Dam Analogs. We have installed a beaver dam analog (BDA) on Stroubles Creek to study the hydrological changes to streams caused by beaver dams, and the associated changes to water quality. By gaining a holistic understanding of the impacts of beaver activity on stream processes, we can inform management practices that reincorporate beaver dams and ponds, rather than remove them.
  • Drones-Based Laser Scanning of Floodplains. We are using drone-based laser scanning to map topography and vegetation in floodplains. Combined with on-the-ground sensors (depth and velocity) we are developing methods to create high-resolution maps of roughness for improved hydraulic modeling and for assessing detailed stream/floodplain connectivity.
  • Remote Sensing and American Chestnut Tree Restoration. Chestnut tree structure varies between the American chestnut, Chinese chestnut, and hybrid chestnut trees bred for chestnut blight resistance and other traits. We are utilizing high-resolution drone-based laser scanning to develop a novel avenue for faster and more accurate assessment of chestnut tree growth, structure, and (by extension) apparent competitive ability in the forest canopy, as well as unexplored correlations between hybrid ancestry and tree form in the presence of blight.
  • Virtual Watersheds: An Immersive Experience at the Confluence of Water and Society. Understanding community perceptions and values related to water resources is essential to successful management in human-dominated systems. We are developing a Virtual Watershed exhibit will be invaluable for engaging and educating stakeholders as well as helping scientists understand what is important to the public at the intersection of Stroubles Creek-Town of Blacksburg-Virginia Tech to improve education and management at the interface of human and natural systems.

Stroubles Creek Coalition (Blacksburg, VA; 2010-current). I have worked with this mostly-student group to obtain ~ $5,000-15,000/yr from the VT Sustainability Office to plant over 50,000 trees along the banks of Stroubles Creek and added livestock exclusion fencing to over 2 km of stream channel. Each year we support The Big Plant.

Selected Recent Publications

(* undergraduate student, ** graduate student, *** post-doc)

  • Sumnall, M.J., Albaugh, T.J., Carter, D.R., Cook, R.L., Hession, W.C., Campoe, O.C., Rubilar, R.A., Wynne, R.H., & Thomas, V.A. (2023), Estimation of individual stem volume and diameter from segmented UAV laser scanning datasets in Pinus taeda L. plantations. International Journal of Remote Sensing, 44:1, 217-247.
  • Sumnall, M.J., Albaugh, T.J., Carter, D.R., Cook, R.L., Hession, W.C., Campoe, O.C., Rubilar, R.A., Wynne, R.H., & Thomas, V.A. (2022), Effect of varied unmanned aerial vehicle laser scanning pulse density on accurately quantifying forest structure. International Journal of Remote Sensing, 43:2, 721-750. doi/10.1080/01431161.2021.2023229
  • Prior, E.M.*, C.A. Aquilina*, J.A. Czuba, T.J. Pingel, and W.C. Hession (2021), Estimating floodplain vegetative roughness using drone-based laser scanning and structure from motion photogrammetry. Remote Sensing, 13, 2616. doi/10.3390/rs13132616
  • Resop, J.P., L. Lehmann, and W.C. Hession (2021), Quantifying the spatial variability of annual and seasonal changes in riverscape vegetation using drone laser scanning. Drones, 5, 91. doi/10.3390/drones5030091
  • Govenor, H.*, W.C. Hession, T. Keys*, N. Jones*, R. Stewart, and L.H. Krometis (2021), Evaluating rare earth elements as tracers of fluvial processes: Fine sediment transport and deposition in a small stream. Transactions of the ASABE, 64(3), 905-918. doi/10.13031/trans.14358
  • Wind, L.*, I. Keenum*, S. Gupta*, P. Ray*, K. Knowlton, M. Ponder, W.C. Hession, A. Pruden, L.H. Krometis (2021), Integrated metagenomic assessment of multiple pre-harvest control points on lettuce resistomes at field-scale. Frontiers in Microbiology, 12, 683410. doi/10.3389/fmicb.2021.683410
  • Wind, L.*, L.H. Krometis, W.C. Hession, and A. Pruden (2021), Cross-comparison of methods for quantifying antibiotic resistance in agricultural soils amended with dairy manure and compost. Science of the Total Environment, 766, 144321. doi/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.144321
  • Lakoba, V.T.*, L. Wind*, S.E. DeVilbiss*, M.E. Lofton*, K.A. Bretz*, A.R. Weinheimer*, C.E. Moore*, C.A. Baciocco**, E.R. Hotchkiss, and W.C. Hession (2020), Salt dilution and flushing dynamics of an impaired agricultural−urban stream, ES&T-Water, 2021(1), 407-416. doi/10.1021/acsestwater.0c00160
  • Hession, W.C., L.T. Lehmann, L.L. Wind*, M.E. Lofton*(2020), High-frequency time series of stage height, stream discharge, and water quality for Stroubles Creek in Blacksburg, VA, USA 2013-2018 ver 1. Environ. Data Initiative. doi/10.6073/pasta/42727d38837cb4bdf04ce4e0d158ea92
  • Jacobs*, K., L. Wind*, L. Krometis, W.C. Hession, A. Pruden (2019), Fecal indicator bacteria and antibiotic resistance genes in storm runoff from dairy manure and compost-amended vegetable plots, JEQ, 48, 1038-1046. doi:10.2134/jeq2018.12.0441
  • Resop, J.P., L. Lehmann, W.C. Hession (2019), Drone laser scanning for modeling riverscape topography and vegetation: Comparison with traditional aerial lidar, Drones, 3(35). doi:10.3390/drones3020035
  • Govenor*, H., L. Krometis, L. Willis, P.L. Angermeier, W.C. Hession (2019), Macroinvertebrate sensitivity thresholds for sediment in VA streams, IEAM, 15(1), 77-92.
  • Keys*, T., H. Govenor*, C. Jones*, W.C. Hession, E. Hester, D.T. Scott (2018), Effects of large wood on floodplain connectivity in a headwater Mid-Atlantic stream, Eco Eng, 118, 134-142.
  • Wind*, L., L. Krometis, W.C. Hession, C. Chen*, P. Du, K. Jacobs*, K. Xia, A. Pruden (2018), Fate of pirlimycin and antibiotic-resistant fecal coliforms in field plots amended with dairy manure or compost during vegetable cultivation, JEQ, 47, 436-444.

Selected Recent Funding

  • Filegar, Hession, Reed. 2022-23. Riparian Canopy Cover of Native and Invasive Species at Stroubles Creek. $7,400. Virginia Tech-Stephen H. Schoenholtz Water Undergraduate Research Fund
  • Krometis, Hession. 2022-23. Building Resilience to Extreme Weather Events in Appalachia. $12,258 (of $90,000). NOAA (subaward from Ohio University/Kruse Daniels).
  • Chandel, Hession. 2022-23. Supporting American Chestnut Hybridization for Restoration with State-of-the-Art Remote Sensing and Machine Learning. $10,000. Virginia Tech-CAIA.
  • Hession, Kobayashi, Resop. 2022-23. Investigating the Impact of Genome Content on Hybridized Chestnut Trees for Growth Form Utilizing Remote Sensing Techniques: Lesesne State Forest (Nelson Co., VA). $10,000. The American Chestnut Foundation.
  • Cambridge, Hession. 2022-23. Hydrologic and Biogeochemical Impacts of Beaver Activity on Stream Restoration. $7,462. Virginia Water Resources Research Center's (VWRRC) Student Competitive Grant Program.
  • Hession, Kobayashi. 2022. Characterizing Chestnut Tree Structure through Remote-Sensing Applications. $4,500. The American Chestnut Foundation.
  • Hession, Polys, Sforza, Meaney, Drape. 2020-22. Virtual Watersheds: An Immersive Experience at the Confluence of Water and Society. $25,000. Virginia Tech-ICAT.
  • Thompson, Hession, Entrekin. 2020-21. A Case Study for Prioritizing Stream Restoration Efforts in the City of Roanoke. $68,250. City of Roanoke, VA.
  • Hession, Krometis. 2020-21. Monitoring Peak Creek, Pulaski, VA – Project Based Work with Local Employers. $5,000. Virginia Tech-OVPLSI.
  • Hession, Polys, Sforza, Meaney, Drape. 2020-22. Virtual Watersheds: An Immersive Experience at the Confluence of Water and Society. $25,000. VT-ICAT/Cube Project.
  • Stewart, McGuire, Hession, Polys. 2020-21. Innovative Particle Tracking to Quantify Soil Erosion and Sediment Transport Processes Under Global Change. $20,000. VT-GCC/Seed Grant.
  • Hession, Krometis, Badgley, Ling. 2018-22. Training Future Leaders to Solve Resource Challenges at the Confluence of Water and Society. $278,911. USDA-AFRI/Research and Extension Experience for Undergraduates.
  • Hession, Temu. 2018-19. Drone-Based Lidar for Measuring Forage Quality in Small Animal Production Systems. $9,700. VT-ICTAS/Diversity Seed Grant.
  • Hession, Czuba, Brown, Hotchkiss, Polys, Sforza, Resop. 2018-19. Unlocking New Insights into Riverscapes with Drone-based Laser Scanners. $7,500. VT-GSS DA/Freshwater Systems Seed Grant.