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CENI Newsletter — April 2022

April 2022 Newsletter

As with every year, April continues to fly by! I hope you will find the time to come see Phyllis and me, along with all the amazing projects featured at ICAT Creativity + Innovation Day on May 2. Local preK-12 students have been experiencing the Blacksburg campus and the Virginia Tech Roanoke Center through STEM education outreach experiences - check out our Liaison Corner to learn more! As always, if we can be helpful in facilitating engagement opportunities, please let us know! 

Chelsea Haines Lyles
Associate Director of Broader Impacts

Vibrant Virginia Book

Phyllis Newbill, Sue Magliaro, and a team of STEM educators from across Virginia collaborated to write a chapter in the recently released book Vibrant Virginia: Engaging the Commonwealth to Expand Economic Vitality. You can purchase on Amazon or download the PDF from the Virginia Tech Publishing site. You can read a nice review from Cardinal News, who said that the book “ought to make its way onto the reading list of every local official in the state…” 

Wonder Universe Photosynthesis Exhibit

The Wonder Universe Children's Museum has relocated and expanded in the last couple of years. Now located in Uptown Christiansburg, it displays up to 18 current exhibits and growing! Their latest Photosynthesis exhibit enables a playful way to learn about the needs of plants: carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight. How to play? You throw bean bags onto an interactive board of raw materials until you have successfully struck all three required elements of photosynthesis to light up the tree. Amanda Morris, the Vice-Chair of Wonder Universe and a chemistry professor at Virginia Tech, collaborated with experts to design this interactive approach to learning that engages children. Her current research focuses on creating artificial photosynthesis. Using her expertise, she found an amusing and educational way to contribute to the local community. She says the work has “opened my eyes to different ways kids learn across different age groups.” She put kids to the test before and after playing, and to no surprise, they seem to retain the knowledge of photosynthesis even after days of playing! The Photosynthesis exhibit was supported by a CENI Jones SEAD Grant.

Similar to Morris, the new Executive Director Shelby Koninckx states that the best part about working there is the exciting moments of watching children make their own discoveries and learn. Wonder Universe values the "learning through play" experience. Children get a chance to be just kids while exploring different interests and careers. The space is structured to have a “little town feel” with a fire department, post office, bank, dental care, veterinary station, outdoor exhibits, etc. Many parts of the museum were locally donated, including the hand-painted murals on the wall by a local teacher. With the sponsorship of the Blacksburg Breakfast Lions Club, the possibilities are endless for the children. What is next for Wonder Universe? They are looking to offer demonstrations of concepts for kids, recruit volunteers, plan new exhibits, and give back to the community!

Getting to Know the Campus Engagement Network  

This month's featured member is Dr. Pamela Gilchrist, the newly appointed director of K-12 Programs for the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus.  

As an award-winning leader, advocate for equity and STEM education, and published researcher, Gilchrist is more than qualified to be the director of K-12 programs. Gilchrist will be a valuable member of the Innovation Campus team by helping to facilitate connections with the surrounding community and expanding student engagements with technology. Part of Gilchrist's goal is to ensure that every student, regardless of their background, socioeconomic status, or race, has equal access and opportunities to STEM education. She introduced programs across several continents, including North and Central America, Europe, and East Asia.

Gilchrist has worked on producing numerous multidisciplinary K-12 programs across the United States for 20 years. She directed programs in technology, engineering, and mathematics for students in underserved communities across the state of North Carolina. Further, she was the president of the North Carolina Science Leadership Association and the North Carolina Science Fair Foundation. She has also obtained a Ph.D. in educational research and policy analysis from North Carolina State University, an M.S. in instructional technology, and a B.S. in middle grades education.

CENI and CENI Partners in the News

  • Experience the latest research by Virginia Tech faculty and students at ICAT Creativity + Innovation Day. Read more
  • High-tech exhibits wow Smithsonian visitors at the third ACCelerate Festival. Read more
  • Researchers David Knight, Walt Lee, Jacob Grohs, Bevlee Watford, and Sarah Rodriguez were awarded the S-STEM-Net grant, the largest ever received in the engineering education department! The NSF funds will advance projects that promote interest in STEM education and career fields in low-income students. Read more
  • Shima Shahab received the NSF CAREER Award to develop innovative methods for delivering ultrasound treatments. She explores new ways to direct energy waves using the acoustic lens. Alongside research, Shahab will collaborate with CENI to implement STEM career awareness and a comprehensive evaluation of the broader impacts. Read more.

Broader Impacts 101

Broader Impacts 101

Learn about processes and support available to Virginia Tech researchers to develop and evaluate broader impact plans that help meet funding agency requirements and that are mutually beneficial to researchers and the public. The Center for Educational Networks and Impacts (CENI) housed within the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT) leverages established networks of university faculty and staff who do educational outreach, as well as formal and informal educators from organizations such as preK-12 school districts, museums, maker spaces, and the Virginia Tech Science Festival. These networks help faculty share their research with public audiences in ways that benefit communities.

Date: Thursday, May 5 (Reading Day)
Time: 12:30-2:00 pm
Description: In this session, Associate Director of Broader Impacts Dr. Chelsea Lyles will share processes and support available to Virginia Tech researchers, followed by a panel that will share their experiences with successful collaborations. Contact Chelsea Haines Lyles, PhD ( 
Register here

NASA Funding Opportunity

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) entitled Engagement Opportunities in NASA STEM (EONS) – 2022, solicits proposals for competitive funding opportunities in support of the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program (Space Grant) administered by NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement (OSTEM). For more information regarding this opportunity, please visit the ENGAGEMENT OPPORTUNITIES IN NASA STEM (EONS-2022) page on the NASA Solicitation and Proposal Integrated Review and Evaluation System (NSPIRES) website and click on ‘List of Open Program Elements’. Required Notices of Intent due May 5.

Highlights from the Campus Engagement Network  

Residential Counselors Needed this Summer
We are seeking engaging and responsible college students to serve as residential counselors for the Summer Enrichment Experience at Virginia Tech. This camp is designed for rising 6th and 7th grade gifted students from rural schools and communities. Students will have rigorous and engaging STEM and Humanities enrichment courses during the day - and fun social programming (with their counselors) in the evening. Counselors will live in the dorms with students and support their development throughout the week. Earn $1000 and gain valuable work experience! Questions? Email us at

New Fall 2022 Course: Special Topics in Rural Education

ICAT Creativity + Innovation Day

ICAT Creativity + Innovation Day traverses the boundaries of science, engineering, arts, and design as it both amplifies and unplugs the voices, the arts, and future of Virginia Tech. 

Each spring, ICAT celebrates creativity and innovation at the convergence of science, engineering, arts and design. ICAT is planning to hold the event in person this year. The celebration includes a day of project exhibits, a panel discussion, and an experimental computer music concert.

Schedule of Events

May 1

7 PM
BioTech Couture Fashion Show
Creativity + Innovation District Living Learning Community (CID LLC) Performance Hall

May 2

10 AM-2 PM
Exhibits open at the Moss Arts Center

3 PM
BioTech Couture Fashion show
CID LLC Community Assembly

3:30 PM
Panel Discussion to Amplify {voices, arts, future} Unplugged
CID LLC Community Assembly

4:15 PM
Awards Presentations

CID LLC Community Assembly

6 PM
Virginia Tech New Music + Technology Festival
Squires Recital Salon

May 3

6 PM
Virginia Tech New Music + Technology Festival

Moss Arts Center Cube 

May 4

6 PM
Virginia Tech New Music + Technology Festival 

Moss Arts Center Cube

Upcoming Events and Deadlines

4/7-5/14: ICAT: "Open (at the) Source"
4/22-5/14: Monuments by Craig Walsh celebrates unsung community members by projection installation on Drillfield's towering trees from 8:30-11 pm. The monument heroes include Jacob George, Tara Orlando, and Debbie Sherman-Lee. 
4/23: CHOIR! CHOIR! CHOIR! Don't Stop Believin': Epic Anthem Singalong
5/1-5/2: ICAT Creativity + Innovation Celebration: BioTech Couture Fashion Show
5/2: ICAT Creativity + Innovation Day
5/3-5/4: ICAT Creativity + Innovation Celebration: Virginia Tech New Music + Technology Festival
5/5: Broader Impacts 101

CENI Educator Liaison Corner

Floyd County Public Schools

Floyd County Public Schools teamed up with faculty and staff at University Libraries to provide an engaging day on campus for eighth grade students this spring. University Libraries staff, along with Kim Keith, VT-FCPS Liaison, and FCPS educators began laying plans for this trip pre- pandemic as part of the Why CS? Advancing Computer Science Education grant, awarded to FCPS by the Virginia Department of Education. Kayla McNabb,  Assistant Director, Teaching & Learning Engagement, University Libraries was pivotal in orchestrating and facilitating a successful experience. While on campus, students rotated through sessions, many of which connected to students’ current study of The Diary of Anne Frank. Experiences included:

  •  exploration of misinformation and propaganda during WWII through a workshop led by Julia Feerrar and the Digital Literacy Team;
  • hands-on construction at the prototyping studio while learning  more about the advanced makerspace area;
  • expansion of historical knowledge through touring the  "Americans and the Holocaust"  traveling exhibit from the American Library Association’s Public Programs Office and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum;
  • a session on media creation at VTDITC & ICAT’s True School Studios hosted by Craig Arthur and the Community Engagement Fellows. Many students were able to participate in creating a digital work as a means of personal or group expression;
  • a campus tour, led by Kim Keith, highlighting the War Memorial Court, academic region, and student life.

Radford City Public Schools

Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering (ME) Dr. Al Wicks and ME graduate student Joe Mensch conduct a drone-building workshop for Radford High School (RHS) technology students. Wicks and his students will meet regularly with RHS students for the remainder of the spring semester.

RHS students explored the discipline of biomechanics at National Biomechanics Day on the Virginia Tech Blacksburg campus. Students toured various lab spaces and participated in a number of hands-on activities under the direction of Virginia Tech undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty members. 

Virginia Tech Roanoke Center

From Monday, June 27 to  Friday, July 1 the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab at the Virginia Tech Roanoke Center will host a weeklong Tech for Good camp. The Tech for Good program draws inspiration from Qualcomm efforts to advance worldwide communities socially and economically. Students learn about Qualcomm's Wireless Reach Initiatives, programming sensors, and will design and build a solution to a real-world problem. Students learn that they can use technology to solve societal challenges at any age. The free camp is open to all middle school students. The camp includes lunches and snacks. Parents or guardians will be responsible for transporting their kids to the camp but everything else is provided at no charge. Spaces are limited so apply today!

Science Museum of Western Virginia

  • In addition to Phyllis’ regular visits, service learning undergraduates, faculty researchers, and CENI students have visited the museum this month.
  • Two Science Museum of Western Virginia staff members served on discussion panels at Virginia Tech this month.
  • Congratulations to Shima Shahab, whose CAREER award was announced via VT News this month! Shima’s grant will fund work at the museum.