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News from 2018


#HNFEstudent Evelien Steendam was one of 14 Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students who traveled to Cusco, Peru, in May 2018 to experience the health care system, language, and culture of the developing country. #CALSGlobal

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For a Hokie Talk presentation, Matthew Hulver highlighted ongoing and future health sciences initiatives in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences that strive to make a difference in the prevention and treatment of lifestyle-related diseases.

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The Board of Visitors has approved a resolution to create a new Master of Science degree program in HNFE. The program will prepare graduates to develop and implement programs that promote dietary guidelines and healthy dietary behaviors for both individuals and communities. Graduates will enter careers in nutrition counseling and will find employment as registered dietitian nutritionists in hospitals and other health facilities, research centers, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, schools, and restaurants. Pending approval from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, the new Master of Science degree program in nutrition and dietetics will be offered starting in the fall of 2019.


Emily Myers

At the annual meeting of the American Dietetics Association in October, Emily Myers was presented with the ADA's Outstanding Abstract award for "The Development of a Urinary Biomarker Method to Detect Non-nutritive Sweetener (NNS) Intake Among Adults." Authors are Myers, Andrew Neilson, and Valisa Hedrick (who is also Emily's mentor).

Graduate student Susan Chen was one of three Nutshell game winners for her talk, "Eat Your Trash: Why Food Waste Matters." The games, hosted by Virginia Tech's Center for Communicating Science and held in conjunction with the Virginia Tech Science Festival, brought 29 research topics to the attention of 230 audience members attending the event.

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Congratulations to graduate students Anna Fausnacht, Cortney Steele, and Stephanie Edwards, who were selected as Fellows of the Academy for Graduate Teaching Assistant Excellence. This academy, known as GrATE, was launched by Dean DePauw in 2014.  Academy members provide support, resources, and mentorship to other GTAs in a variety of ways, including office hours, seminars, and teach-ins. There are three membership levels: member, associate, and fellow; fellows have more than two semesters of teaching experience and/or curriculum development and outstanding teaching evaluations. Selection to the GrATE is highly competitive and reflects hard work and excellence achieved by our students.


HNFE Department Head Matt Hulver was named the assistant dean of health sciences for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He will provide leadership for health science initiatives across the college; work collaboratively with CALS associate deans, department heads, directors, faculty, and others to coordinate efforts across the research, extension, and teaching missions; and will help facilitate collaborations with other university units and external stakeholders.

Eva Schmelz received a three year grant from the startup company CytoRecovery Inc. for "Cell separation by dielectrophoresis: bioelectrical and molecular aspects." She will research separating different cells from tumor samples.

Kevin Davy received a two year grant from the NIH Department of Health and Human Services for "Gut microbiota, trimethylamine N-Oxide, and endothelial dysfunction in middle-aged adults."


Zhiyong Cheng was recently awarded a three-year award from the American Heart Association to study the connection of beige fat and obesity. His proposal, “Examining FoxO1 as a novel target for browning of white adipose tissue” aims to discover new molecular targets and strategies to deliver obesity drugs with the overarching goal of reducing cardiovascular risks in obese individuals. Due to excess food consumption and lack of exercise, many Americans have a positive energy balance, leading to ramifications not only in terms of weight gain but in health and cellular fitness. Eventually, overeating can lead to plaque buildup in arteries and cardiovascular disease, which has a higher prevalence in obese people. Recent research published by Elsevier shows that the activation of beige fat promotes energy expenditure and anti-obesity. Cheng has discovered that the molecule FoxO1 regulates mitophagy, a cellular remodeling process that aids in the activation of beige fat. For this project, his lab will use genetic and pharmacological approaches to examine the metabolic role of adipose tissue in conjunction with high energy diets. If successful, these breakthroughs may eventually reduce the prevalence of cardiovascular disease in the target population.

Carlin Rafie was awarded a grant by the Corporation for National and Community Service for "Participatory Action Planning to Address the Opioid Epidemic in a Rural Virginia Community." The community-based participatory program will be conducted in Martinsville by Rafie, project coordinator Dawn Moster, Co-I Emily Zimmerman (associate professor in the Center on Society and Health at VCU), and community partners Martinsville Opioid Task Force, Piedmont Community Services, the Drug Free Martinsville/Henry County coalition, and the West Piedmont Health District.

Debby Good and Samantha Harden received funding for their National Institutes of Health R25 proposal, "Translational Obesity Undergraduate Research Scholars (TOURS)." Undergraduate research opportunities are linked to improved outcomes for students, faculty, universities, and, ultimately, the scientific field of involving diabetes and digestive and kidney diseases (DDK). In this proposed work, each year, 10 undergraduate research students will be paired with faculty mentors (Ph.D. and/or M.D.) within the Center for Transformative Research on Health Behaviors at Virginia Tech. Through a 10-week, robust program of learner-centered research, curriculum, and experiences, we aim to increase the proportion and representativeness of students who pursue NIDDK related jobs, improve scholars' competencies with research skills (specific to each lab), and explore factors that lead to mentor retention.


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Our students now have access to an Anatomage Table (a visual dissectible, virtual human 3D anatomy system, which allows for exploration and learning of human anatomy beyond what any cadaver offers!


Janet Rankin

Congratulations to Janet Rankin, who received the prestigious ACSM Citation award for her significant contributions to sports medicine and the exercise sciences.  "Citation award winners are selected for their outstanding performance in the areas of research and scholarship, clinical care, administrative services or educational services," said ACSM President Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, MPH, FACSM. We are happy to recognize Dr. Rankin’s outstanding accomplishments." Janet, who retired in May,  has a long history of service to ACSM at the national level and at the Southeast Regional Chapter (SEACSM). She served as president of SEACSM, then served on the Board of Trustees for ACSM and was elected president of ACSM in 2012. She started the ActivEarth initiative during her presidency to advocate for the role of active transport in climate and health on a global level.


Heidi Hertz (B.S. '04) has been appointed Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry by Governor Ralph Northam. Prior to her appointment, she served as Obesity Prevention Coordinator with the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, where she developed initiatives and partnerships throughout Virginia to increase access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity. Heidi has previously held roles in the Office of the First Lady of Virginia Dorothy McAuliffe and for the Virginia Department of Health. Heidi serves as the Vice President of the Alumni Board of the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for Shalom Farms. In addtion to her B.S. from HNFE, she has a Master of Science degree from James Madison University and serves as an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Congratulations to Debby Good, who is a recipient of the 2018 Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award! The award is presented annually by Virginia Tech's Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning to recognize faculty members who have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of scholarship addressing teaching and learning in higher education. Since arriving at Virginia Tech in 2006, Debby has been invested in providing experiential learning opportunities to students. Experiential learning through undergraduate research is one of the high-impact practices that she believes helps all students, and especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, succeed.

Dietetics seniors, graduate students, and alumni have success in Dietetics supervised practice placement! 97 percent of our students and alumni who applied to dietetics supervised practice programs in spring 2018 were accepted! Of the 2018 eligible graduating students, 20 applied to programs to move forward on the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist career path, and another 18 alumni applied to programs to become RDNs. In addition to the VT Internship Program in Nutrition and Dietetics (both sites), our alumni will be heading to a wide variety of excellent programs including UVA, VCU, VSU, Johns Hopkins, Beth Israel Deaconess, Cornell, Veterans Affairs-Tampa and Houston locations, University of Maryland College Park, Messiah College, East Tennessee State University, Solmaz Institute Lenoir Rhyne East Carolina University, University of New Hampshire, Montana State University, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Sodexo Philadelphia, Southwestern Phoenix Indian Medical Center, Meredith College, Morrison Chartwells, and University of Maryland Eastern Shore!

Undergraduate researchers represented Virginia Tech at ACC Meeting of the Minds: Six undergraduate students were selected to present their research at the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Meeting of the Minds Conference held recently at Boston College. HNFE senior Momina Khan (who completed a minor in political science) gave a poster presentation titled "Perinexal Expansion in Patients with Atrial Fibrillation." Her mentor is Steven Poelzing, associate professor at VTCRI in the Department of Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health.


Matt Hulver presented "Transforming Metabolism and Obesity Research at Virginia Tech" during the HokieTalks held in conjunction with Ut Prosim Society weekend. Watch his talk, as well as others.

Two dietetic interns in Northern Virginia received awards this spring from the local nutrition and dietetics associations:

Alison Webster was honored with the Cindy Reeser Award from the DC Metro Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This $1,000 award recognizes the emerging leadership and achievement of an undergraduate student or dietetic intern who volunteers with DCMAND. 

Holly Johnson was honored with the Jeanette Hilger professional development award from the Northern Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This $500 award is given to one dietetic intern in Northern Virginia to pursue a professional development opportunity of their choosing.


HNFE's Ashley Cooper and Civil Engineering's Isabelle Stern are running across America this summer to raise awareness and funds in the 4K for Cancer with the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults! Donation pages are in the article link.

Alex Hyler

The research of Eva Schmelz and graduate student Alex Hyler was featured in VT News. Their research is examining the role of fluid flow in ovarian cancer progression, moving physicians closer to pinpointing a predictor of ovarian cancer, which could lead to earlier diagnosis of what is known as the "silent killer."

Congratulations to Debby Good, who was one of two recipients of a scholarship of teaching and learning award. Since arriving at Virginia Tech in 2006, Debby has been invested in providing experiential learning opportunities to students. Experiential learning through undergraduate research is one of the high-impact practices that Good believes helps all students, and especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, succeed. Diana and Debby will be recognized at the CETL’s Recognition of Teaching Excellence Reception on April 25 at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center. Each will receive a plaque commemorating the award and a $500 prize.

Virginia Tech researchers compare apples and pears, discover link between sex and fat: A team of HNFE researchers has found that a fat cell remodeling (termed as autophagy) pathway was regulated by an estrogen receptor (ERa), which sits on the cell membrane and played a major role in the difference among men and women when it comes to fat build-up. The study, led by Zhiyong Cheng,  was recently published in the journal Cell Death and Disease.


Alexandra Hyler

Congratulations to Alexandra Hyler for winning the 2018 Graduate Student of the Year award! Alex is a student in the VT Biotrans program and is co-mentored by Eva Schmelz, Rafael Davalos, and Mark Stremler; she is investigating the role of fluid shear stress on ovarian cancer transformation and progression. In a truly interdisciplinary approach, Alex projects include the engineering of devices that can apply controlled fluid shear stress onto cells, the mathematical modeling of the fluid shear stress, and the biological ramifications on benign and cancer cells. Alex has previously received a Fulbright scholarship and has spent time in the lab of Dr. Henrik Bruus, a specialist in microfluidics and biophysical theory, to generate mathematic models for shear stress on cells and cell aggregates.


College of Agriculture and Life Sciences duo Matthew Eick, a professor in the Department of Environmental Soil Chemistry, Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, and Renee Eaton, instructor and undergraduate program director in the Department of Human Nutrition teamed up to lead their second South American expedition into some of the most diverse regions Ecuador has to offer. Here, Eaton (right, forefront) floats with students on the Tiputini River.

During the Winter Session, Matthew Eick (CSES) and Renee Eaton teamed up to lead a study abroad in their second South American expedition into some of the most diverse regions Ecuador has to offer.