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CENI Newsletter — July/August 2021

July/August 2021 Newsletter

July/August 2021 Newsletter

Here in August we can reflect with Emily Dickinson: 

And thus, without a wing,
or service of a keel,
our summer made her light escape
into the beautiful. 

This month we are announcing our new associate directors, introducing new liaisons from the Virginia Tech Roanoke Center, and sharing liaison and CENI partner updates. 

One of my summer outings was attending the Science Museum of Western Virginia's open house on July 14, along with ICAT Director Ben Knapp and C+I Director Ico Bukvic. We explored newly installed exhibits featuring research by Virginia Tech faculty and facilitated by our CENI Educator Liaison Network! 

As we turn to fall semester preparations, please let us know how we can partner with you!

Lisa McNair 
Director, CENI
Professor, Engineering Education

CENI is growing

The Center for Educational Networks and Impacts (CENI) is growing in its mission to inspire, connect, and impact through outreach and engagement. This week, we begin a collaborative leadership initiative with two new Associate Directors: Dr. Phyllis Newbill (Associate Director of Educational Networks) and Dr. Chelsea Lyles (Associate Director of Broader Impacts).

Chelsea's focus is to enhance the quality of university broader impacts through educational, research, and evaluation activities conducted by the Center and its partners. She brings rich experience to our outreach and engagement networks and is committed to promoting inclusion and data-informed decision-making in educational spaces. Prior to completing her PhD in Higher Education at Virginia Tech, she implemented advising, enrollment management, and administrative operations for the now ranked Program in Real Estate, facilitated co-curricular assessment and professional development programs in Student Affairs, and conducted research exploring funding policy impacts in STEM graduate education for the DEEP Lab within the Department of Engineering Education. She brings expertise in preK-12 and higher education finance and policy, strategic planning, quantitative and qualitative research, culturally responsive assessment and evaluation, and grant-writing. For the past year she has served as a post-doctoral scholar working in preK-12 outreach and engagement for CENI, ICAT, and the NSF RED grant based in The Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. 

Phyllis’ focus in the Center is to grow and maintain the educational networks that make our work successful. She has been with CENI and its predecessors since 2007. Her background includes undergraduate degrees in English and geology, a master’s in environmental and engineering geosciences, and a PhD in instructional design, plus extensive experience in a rental tool store, scout camps, and community theatre. This wide range of disciplinary backgrounds helps her facilitate transdisciplinary and trans-organizational conversations. Since 2016, Phyllis has served as the liaison between Virginia Tech and the Science Museum of Western Virginia. In this role, she has facilitated the addition of seven new faculty exhibits to the museum floor. In addition to exhibits, she has facilitated many camps and special events, and the relationship has produced internships, grant collaborations, and speaker engagements. After being involved in the leadership of the Virginia Science Festival in 2014 and 2015, Phyllis has led the Virginia Tech Science Festival since 2016. This annual event involves approximately 100 exhibits, 500 volunteers, and 3,000-6,000 participants. This popular event includes coordinating and supporting field trips with up to 10 school systems visiting campus each year.  

CENI and ICAT are committed to sharing research with the community as we collaborate in a culture of creativity across the university and among school systems, museums, and other learning sites. Please join us in congratulating Chelsea and Phyllis and contact us if you'd like to collaborate!

Welcome Don and Ashley

CENI is pleased to add Don and Ashley to our Educator Liaison Network!


Don Pizzullo has been working at Virginia Tech for almost 20 years. In that time he has completed his Master of Public Administration, helped launch STEAM Day in Roanoke, and was instrumental in the completion of the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab at the Virginia Tech Roanoke Center. “Over the years I realized I had a passion and talent for developing and sharing K-12 STEM activities and outreach. I am fortunate that my position at the Virginia Tech Roanoke Center has afforded me the opportunity to do this”. Don serves as manager of the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab at the Virginia Tech Roanoke Center and as Senior Program Manager for the VT Roanoke Center.

Ashley Sloan has been working in informal science education for five years and is beginning her third year as the lead instructor for the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab at the Virginia Tech Roanoke Center. Her journey as an educator began when she discovered a passion for inspiring curiosity in others.

In 2018 the team at the Virginia Tech Roanoke Center learned of an initiative from Qualcomm in San Diego called the Thinkabit Lab. The Thinkabit Lab curriculum consists of career exploration, student self- exploration, coding, creating and fun. Don Pizzullo saw the opportunity to partner with Qualcomm as a Thinkabit Lab host and the transformation of an outdated computer classroom into an exciting learning environment began. The Thinkabit classroom would be part lab, part makerspace, part classroom. It would serve primarily title I schools and provide an opportunity to do needed STEAM outreach to K-12 students across the region. Don quickly got to work transforming the space with bright colors, crafting stations and collaborative work areas. Another room was given a fun makeover with bean bag chairs to serve as classroom space for part of the activities. In spring of 2019 we had our grand opening and by the end of 2019 we had over 750 visitors participate in the Thinkabit Lab at the Virginia Tech Roanoke Center.

Like many programs the pandemic forced the team to pivot and develop ways to bring the Thinkabit Lab experience to the students. In the past few months, we have delivered over 80 kits to schools across Virginia. This summer we will deliver a weeklong camp to 50 students with Project Discovery and are always looking for future collaborators for the Thinkabit Lab.

“STEM skills can enhance every student’s future - regardless of their field of study - and we want to prepare both students and teachers for addressing the complex challenges of tomorrow,” said Lesa Hanlin, former executive director of Roanoke Regional Initiatives for Virginia Tech. “The Thinkabit lab will allow synergistic work with school divisions to create opportunities and lower barriers. We are excited to be able to fill this need in our region.”

CENI and CENI Partners in the News

  • Robust research and outreach efforts help the School of Education reimagine the future - read

CENI Educator Liaison Corner

Floyd County Public Schools

Wednesday, Aug. 11 - First day of school

Montgomery County Public Schools

Thursday, Aug. 12 - First day of school

Dr. Julee Farley concluded her service as the CENI Virginia Tech/preK-12 Liaison with Montgomery County Public Schools on Jun. 30. At CENI and beyond we have benefitted from her pioneering work in creating this new role and building networks that connect teachers and learners both within Virginia Tech and in communities throughout southwest Virginia. We are appreciative of Dr. Farley’s invaluable contributions and wish her the best in her next adventures! 

Radford City Public Schools

Monday, Aug.16 – First day of school for grades PreK, 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11
Tuesday, Aug. 17 – First day of school for grades K, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12

Radford City Public Schools is developing a virtual reality platform that focuses on computer science and career exploration as part of Radford’s Advancing Computer Science Education grant award. Stemming from their prior experience working on Radford High School’s new Hip Hop Studio, liaison Dr. Jamie Little and Virginia Tech assistant professor Dr. Frederick Paige discovered a mutual interest in exploring the use of Virtual Reality in education. This connection led to the hiring of Joseph James, a member of Dr. Paige’s STILE Research Group and a graduate student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering to consult with RCPS on this project.

Science Museum of Western Virginia

The Science Museum of Western Virginia hosted an Open House on Jul. 14 to share new exhibits with museum members and board members. Five researchers with exhibits on the museum floor attended the event to share insights about their work with visitors. CENI Director Lisa McNair and ICAT Director Ben Knapp also attended to see the newly installed exhibits and visit with museum board members and Center in the Square staff.

There are currently seven exhibits highlighting Virginia Tech faculty and student research on the museum floor! Be sure to check out the four new ones: 

  • Snakes can fly?! is based on the research of Jake Socha and his collaborators in Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics. 
  • Microorganisms: The good, the bad, and the beautiful is based on Dana Hawley’s research exploring microorganisms present in songbird eyes.
  • Virginia Tech Helmet Lab illustrates Stefan Duma and Steve Rowson's research on helmet effectiveness through an exhibit co-created by outreach director Barry Miller and museum staff. 
  • Propolis, the master's thesis work of Virginia Tech Creative Technologies student Renee Alarid, explores the lives and habitats of bees.

Fall 2021 courses

ENGE 2984: SS: Critical Service Learning
Students from all majors are invited to live out Virginia Tech’s motto Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) while gaining practical skills and experience desired by future employers. Students will explore the differences between traditional service learning and critical service learning experiences, and work in interdisciplinary teams to develop preK-12 STEM educational experiences that meet needs identified by community partners. Students will examine social identities, power, privilege, and inequities with a focus on preK-12 education systems in the United States. This course, piloted in the Honors Program last Spring, is also an approved substitute for UH 3204: Honors Service Learning.
Pre: Sophomore standing.
TR 2-3:15 pm, 220 Williams Hall 
Instructor: Chelsea Lyles ( 

EDHE 6094: University Leadership
Students in this course discuss college and university leadership and administration from a variety of perspectives. Invited speakers focus on a range of topics related to executive leadership, governance, development, research, outreach, and engagement.
Pre: Graduate standing.
T 4:00-6:50 pm, 124 Newman Library Anthenaeum Room
Instructor: Chelsea Lyles (

The Virginia Academy of Science seeks research mentors and high school science teachers

The Virginia Academy of Science has launched an effort in recent years to promote learning science by doing science in the Commonwealth’s middle and high school classrooms. We have sponsored a mentorship initiative that matches classrooms with one or more mentors to guide students through the design and implementation of a long-term research project.  We are looking to recruit both mentors (undergraduates, grad students, postdocs, instructors, scientists, etc.) and high school teachers who would like their students to participate in a virtually-driven long-term research project.  We have partnered with the Virginia Junior Academy of Science ( in this endeavor in the hopes that this project will encourage participation in their 2022 Annual Research Symposium and give students the juried research experience necessary to earn the Virginia Department of Education’s new Seal for Excellence in Science and the Environment on their diploma.  Mentorships may be in-person, virtual, or hybrid, and we would like to offer middle and high school instructors the opportunity to either do a project of local interest or to participate in a “Citizen Science” type initiative in which their class will work with others across the Commonwealth and (sometimes) the nation in the collection and analysis of data.

If you are interested in serving as a mentor in this project, please fill out this form

If you are a high school teacher with an interest in having a mentor work with your class, please fill out this form.

Moss Arts Center school-day matinee series, Fall 2021

Contact for matinee series: Jon Catherwood-Ginn (


Thursday, Oct. 14, 10 am-12:15 pm 
Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, Street and Davis Performance Hall 
Free; registration required. 
Open to public, private, and homeschool students in grades 9-12. 
Written and performed by DeLanna Studi, And So We Walked: An Artist’s Journey Along the Trail of Tears is a frank, heartwarming and inspiring story about a contemporary Cherokee woman and her father who embark on an incredible 900-mile journey along the Trail of Tears to truly understand her own identity and the conflicts of her nation. For more information and to reserve seats, visit

IMANI WINDS AND CATALYST QUARTET, (im)migration: music of change
Wednesday, Oct. 27, 10-11 am 
Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, Street and Davis Performance Hall 
Free; registration required. 
Open to public, private, and homeschool students in grades 4-8. 
Two leading chamber ensembles renowned for their joyful educational work join forces for a program highlighting the experience of migration. Catalyst Quartet features alumni from the internationally acclaimed Sphinx Competition, while Grammy-nominated Imani Winds leads a revolution of the wind quintet. For more information and to reserve seats, visit
Bonus: Would you be interested in hosting Imani Winds or Catalyst Quartet in your classroom? Limited opportunities are available for in-school presentations and workshops by the musicians. If this interests you, contact Jon Catherwood-Ginn at

Tuesday, Nov. 16, 10-11 am
Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, Street and Davis Performance Hall 
Free; registration required. 
Open to public, private, and homeschool students in grades 4-8. 
Experience the evolution of Western European classical dance through the decades in representative works performed by Southwest Virginia Ballet. Excerpts from Chopiniana, Menuet, Pavane, Coppelia, Swan Lake, Romeo & Juliet, Can Can and The Nutcracker. Following the performance, dancers in the company will engage with the students in a Q&A. For more information and to reserve seats, visit

VT Engage service learning and community engagement consults

VT Engage supports service learning and community engagement courses by helping to match courses with  opportunities in the NRV and surrounding region. 

  • Partner Matching: Community organizations reach out to us with ideas and initiatives and/or faculty and instructors reach out with their course topics and learning objectives.
  • Course Development: VT Engage has a wealth of resources to support (p)reflection and students’ understanding of sustainable and positively impactful community engagement.

Reach out for connections and support any time, but know that the month before classes begin is ‘crunch time’. We’re happy to help you think about spring semester as early as September, and Fall semester as early as May/June!
Contact: Catherine Cotrupi (

Service learning and leadership opportunities

Campus Kitchen at Virginia Tech 

Campus Kitchen at Virginia Tech (CKVT) is currently recruiting delivery leaders. Our student leaders make CKVT a reality and we'd love to have you join the team! Read below to learn more about what it means to be a CKVT delivery leader.

  • CKVT delivery leaders commit to a semester-long shift. They are the ones loading food into our delivery bags, transporting it to community partners, and engaging student volunteers; they are the "face" of CKVT. 
  • To become a delivery leader, students will complete a driving record check and commit to serving the same shift for a full semester. Generally, shifts are from 9-11am on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. 
  • We’ll provide you with all the resources you’ll need to do those things! We plan for there to be two co-leaders for each delivery shift.

If you're interested in being part of the team, fill out our survey. If you have questions, contact Kas at

The Market of Virginia will be hosting service learning opportunities throughout the year. Students engaged in service with The Market of VT will play a vital role in increasing food access on campus. 

  • Students will package grocery bags for program pickup while learning more about food insecurity among college students. 
  • Each 2-hour opportunity will include time for reflection and dialogue. 
  • Service learning opportunities with The Market of VT will be posted on the VT Engage GobblerConnect page.

Leadership and Social Change Minor seeks course additions

Austin Council, an instructor in the Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education Department (ALCE) is seeking to expand the number of courses that could be counted as social change electives in the Leadership and Social Change Minor. Here is the link to the current check sheet. The first page provides some context for what “social change” means. If you have any questions please reach out to Austin at and he will be happy to meet with you.

Call for proposals

14th Annual Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy™
Feb. 9-11, 2022, The Inn At Virginia Tech & Skelton Conference Center

Proposals are due by Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021 at 11:59 pm (EDT). Proposals are sought for sessions focused on effective instructional practices and research aimed at improving the quality of teaching and learning in higher education. Four types of conference sessions are offered: Practice Sessions, Research Sessions, Conversation Sessions, and Poster Sessions. For more information about proposal types or to submit a proposal visit

Registration will open in mid-Oct. 2021. For information about conference registration and associated fees, visit the conference website

Community Foundation seeks grant reviewers

The Community Foundation of the New River Valley (CFNRV) is seeking reviewers for its current Responsive Grant Program. Reviewers commit to using the CFNRV's online system to read and score 20-30 applications submitted by New River Valley nonprofit organizations and to attending a small group meeting (by Zoom or in person) to discuss and prioritize those applications for funding. Both the online evaluations and group meetings should be completed between Aug. 12 and Sept. 3. Reviewers may also participate in meetings to help allocate specific funds in September and October, though this is not required. The CFNRV will award grants of up to $4,000 to NRV nonprofits in numerous areas of interest including animal welfare, arts and culture, civic affairs, health, poverty, the environment, and more. The CFNRV anticipates awarding more than $150,000 in total through this program. Reviewers gain insight into regional needs and the organizations addressing those needs in innovative ways. To volunteer or learn more, contact the CFNRV's CEO, Jessica Wirgau, at by Friday, Aug. 6.

Roanoke STEAM Day

Save the date for Roanoke STEAM Day! The event will be live virtually on Friday, Oct. 29, in addition to pre-recorded content and online resources. Don Pizzullo ( is offering virtual exhibitor “open houses” for anyone who is interested in providing exhibitor content. Two virtual open houses will be held: Tuesday, Aug. 24 at 4 pm and Thursday, Aug. 26 at 6 pm. Register for an open house here.

CENI is now on Instagram! Follow us @ceni_vt.

Upcoming Events and Deadlines

Please submit items to Chelsea ( for CENI newsletters.