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President's Report: 2005-2006 University of Virginia
From the President
A Year at a Glance
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University of Virginia
The University of Virginia Student Experience
 
Students giving dance performance.

The University has achieved its excellent reputation by dedicating talent, energy, and resources to sustain and enrich its academic and research programs. U.Va. also has worked efficiently with public and private sources to create superb facilities that more effectively support these efforts. In February 2008, the final report of the President's Commission on the Future of the University presented strategies to strengthen three core areas of the University: student experience, science and technology, and global programs. The report recommends directing resources for student experience initiatives, including funding for scholarships, fellowships, professorships, public service and study abroad opportunities, leadership programs, and financial aid to enable the University to keep pace with the demands of society's future leaders.

The Class of 2008

While faculty honors and high rankings in national surveys are notable achievements representing years of hard work, the University's success can best be measured by the superior quality of the students who come here. They are diverse, smart, and engaged, the equal of students anywhere in the nation. U.Va. students contribute to the intellectual, cultural, and social life of the University as they pursue their studies to expand their own horizons — and they take full advantage of the opportunity.

A cross-section of students who graduated in May 2008 highlights the special qualities of U.Va. students and their determination to realize their individual visions. Elizabeth Wesner, for instance, overcame obstacles to become the first student certified by the Curry School of Education to teach Chinese. Facing limited opportunities to student-teach Chinese in Charlottesville, Ms. Wesner moved to Fairfax County for a semester, lived with a family there, and taught four classes at a local high school.

Having grown up in the inner city of Detroit, James D. Erickson, a studio art major, has long been aware of the conditions of poverty and now has dedicated himself to making the humanity of the homeless impossible to overlook. His work in the studio includes a series of dramatic, monumental portraits of Charlottesville homeless people, painted on cardboard and incorporating other discarded materials often used by the homeless. These paintings express the greater bond that Mr. Erickson formed with his subjects, having lived with them and worked with them as they sought employment.

Inspired by her own mother, Valarie Lynne Morton, a pastor's wife and mother of five, had long planned to become a nurse manager. She had worked in health care for twenty years, which gave her the advantage of applying her coursework to her own work experiences. She also completed the School of Nursing's flexible RN-to-BSN program even though it meant taking more than a full load of courses for a year while working as an RN at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg. Ms. Morton will return to U.Va. in 2009 to work on her master's degree in health systems management.

A Record of Accomplishment

Students at the University are not only bright and talented. They are motivated by a deeply felt sense of curiosity and are undeterred by hard work. This combination can produce an extensive record of accomplishment — and national recognition.

Xiao Wang (College '08) received national recognition rewarding three years of the dedication that characterizes leadership. He received a Truman Scholarship, awarded to college juniors exhibiting leadership potential and commitment to careers in public service. Mr. Wang, who received his bachelor's degree in economics in three years, will pursue a master's degree in the newly created Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy in fall 2008.

An Echols Scholar and a Jefferson Scholar, he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in his third year. In addition to publishing two papers on the democratic transition in Hong Kong to communist rule, Mr. Wang served as founding editor of the U.Va. student-produced journal in economics, Virginia Policy Review. He joined the Miller Center Public Service Fellows Program, the Madison House community service organization, and the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society. He also served as a teacher's aide at local pre-kindergarten and elementary schools.

The scholarships and research support undergraduates earn often lead to educational experiences that can shape their careers. Environmental sciences major Michelle Henry (College '10) received a 2008 Udall Scholarship that will allow her to go to South Africa to pursue research on the relationship between climate and diet. Dana M. Hecht (College '09), a distinguished major in human biology, was awarded a National Society of Collegiate Scholars Scholarship. She is using the funding to attend a four-month international program in Switzerland, India, China, and South Africa to study the policies and practices of public health initiatives.

Other students received awards that helped defray the costs of their education and offer valuable career opportunities. Two chemistry majors specializing in biochemistry, Courtney M. Schroeder (College '09) and Adam C. Nichols-Nielander (College '09), received Goldwater Scholarships. Sarah Buckley (College '09) and Grayson Lambert (College '09) received inaugural Senator John W. Warner Public Leadership Awards. The Warner awards, established by the University through an unrestricted gift from Senator Warner, are given to third-year undergraduate students who exhibit a serious, convincing ambition to seek future election to public office.

Student sitting on lawn.

Graduate Students of Great Promise

The University increasingly attracts graduate students whose work is recognized for its top quality even before the completion of their dissertations. Adam J. Jortner, a doctoral candidate in American history, illustrates this point. He argues that small but intense religious groups — and the reaction to them — have often played a pivotal role in shaping church-state relations in America. Mr. Jortner's ideas earned him the support he needed to conduct research this year at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Next year, he will devote himself to his dissertation, with a Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship given by the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation. He is one of just twenty-nine students nationwide to receive this award.

The quality of their research secured three other graduate students highly competitive National Science Foundation Fellowships this year. They were Justin Henriques in systems and information engineering, David Hondula in environmental sciences, and Isabelle Stanton in computer science. Fellows receive three years of funding to support their research, including tuition payment as well as an annual stipend.

Rewarding Opportunities that Launch Careers

University graduates' record of accomplishment on the Grounds quite often creates unparalleled opportunities for them as they launch their careers. During his time at the University, the experiences of Patrick Hopkins (Engineering '04, '07) have opened doors to a career in his field — heat transfer engineering. While an undergraduate, he studied the fundamental processes that affect heat transfer in nanoscale semiconductors. To gain a broader perspective, he earned both a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering and a bachelor of science degree in physics when he graduated in 2004. He then completed a Ph.D. in engineering in 2007 and took a postdoctoral position in the laboratory of his mentor, mechanical engineering professor Pamela Norris, where he conducted research that has already made a contribution to his field.

His achievements were rewarded with an opportunity that will enable him to apply new areas of knowledge to his investigations. This year, Mr. Hopkins accepted the Harry S. Truman Fellowship in National Security and Science and Engineering at Sandia National Laboratories; he is one of two fellows selected from a field of eighteen candidates. His three-year fellowship at Sandia will put him in daily contact with researchers approaching nanoscale heat transfer from a number of disciplines.

Kenneth Brooks Hickman (Law '08) was selected as one of eighteen Luce Scholars for 200809. This award is designed to familiarize outstanding new graduates with current issues facing Asia and is awarded to recent graduates who have a record of high achievement, outstanding leadership ability, and a career interest with potential for professional accomplishment. Mr. Hickman, who served as president of the J. B. Moore Society of International Law, will spend a year with a law firm in Singapore or Hong Kong.

A similar history of achievement played a critical role in the selection of three recent School of Law graduates to clerk for the U.S. Supreme Court. Katherine Twomey, a 2008 graduate, will clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia beginning in summer 2009. Porter Wilkinson, a 2007 graduate, will clerk for Chief Justice John Roberts for the 200809 session, while Pamela Bookman, a 2006 graduate, will clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg beginning in the summer of 2009. Ms. Bookman currently clerks for Judge Thomas Buergenthal and Judge Rosalyn Higgins at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Mobilizing the Academical Village

The activities of U.Va. students charge the atmosphere on the Grounds. U.Va. students bring with them a sense of creativity, engagement, and vitality that manifests itself inside and outside the classroom. Their interests and their activities, more than any other factor, make the Academical Village an exciting place to be.

One program that highlights the sense of purpose and energy that students bring to the University is Alternative Spring Break. Rather than choosing to relax at the beach, increasing numbers of students spend their breaks performing community service at locations in the United States and overseas. The students themselves organize these activities and establish partnerships with on-site nonprofit organizations and manage transportation, fund-raising, and logistics. In 200708, 650 U.Va. students spent seven to ten days at almost sixty worksites in the United States, Central and South America, and Africa, a record for the University. The projects they undertook were wide-ranging. Ten groups returned to New Orleans and five sites in Mississippi to help repair homes damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Another resurfaced youth baseball fields in Durham, North Carolina, while another group traveled to La Gracia, Belize, to pinpoint sources of local water supply contamination that was causing widespread diarrhea among children. The motto of the program, "Change Your Perspective," highlights one of the program's goals: encouraging students to see their own lives in relation to broader social and global issues.

Adom Getachew

Student on the Board
The Board of Visitors selected Adom Getachew (College '09) as its student member for 200809. Born in Ethiopia and raised in Arlington, Virginia, she is a Jefferson Scholar, an Echols Scholar, and an honorary Holland Scholar.

Enlarging Their World View

For U.Va. students, the understanding that they are global citizens invites action. They are eager to redefine and personalize the process of globalization by working to build long-term connections between the University and people in other countries. In recent years, dozens of University students have worked and studied at Primeros Pasos, a medical clinic cofounded by Brent Savoie (Law '07), which provides free health care to children living near Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Megan Dunning (College '08) and Elizabeth Murphy (College '08), founders of the Inter-American Health Alliance at the University, organized a fund-raising event for the clinic this year that also publicized the Guatemala Health Partnership, a program dedicated to developing sustainable relationships between the University and the people of Guatemala. After graduation, both Ms. Dunning and Ms. Murphy will help realize this goal by returning to Guatemala to work at the clinic for a year.

Other students contribute their business know-how to help those in need. Manoj Sinha (Darden '09) and Charles Ransler (College '01, Darden '09) started a company based on a technology that uses cheaply available rice husks to fuel an electric generator. They began pilot projects in two villages in Bihar, India's poorest state, and hope to expand the service to at least fifteen rice-rich but electricity-poor villages in 2009. Team members added substantially to their start-up capital by taking first prize in the Social Innovation Competition at the University of Texas and winning the Darden School's annual business plan competition.

Meeting Challenges in Science and Technology

The current generation of students eagerly embraces scientific and technological challenges. This year, a multidisciplinary team of five University undergraduates formed the Virginia Genetically Engineered Machine Team to teach themselves the basics of the new field of synthetic biology and to conduct their own research. They raised $50,000 from various U.Va. sources to support their efforts to combine standardized genetic elements to create a synthetic microbial system that will produce butanol, a biofuel, from plant biomass and light. They were also awarded a grant from DuPont to further their work after competing at the International Genetically Engineered Materials competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Other students are studying vulnerabilities in computer hardware and software. Working with fellow computer scientists in Germany, computer engineering graduate student Karsten Nohl demonstrated that the encryption used by the billions of radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips can be broken with just a few thousand dollars worth of readily available equipment. RFIDs are found in credit cards, subway fare cards, and high-security building keycards among other applications. His work has led major manufacturers and governments to consider other approaches to encryption.

Mr. Nohl's advisor is David Evans, associate professor of computer science. Professor Evans also worked with an undergraduate team, Adrienne Felt (Engineering '08) and Andrew Spisak (College '08), to research privacy issues surrounding social networking platforms like Facebook. The two students discovered that more than 90 percent of Facebook's applications grant users access to private data. To combat this danger, the students developed a system that Facebook could use to protect this information.

Taking Action

U.Va. students are equally committed to public service. This year, Deborah Perl (McIntire '09) assembled a team of twenty volunteers who collaborated with Urban Vision, a local nonprofit responsible for the IRS-sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program in Charlottesville. Members of the group, called Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope (CASH), helped prepare tax returns for people with low to moderate incomes. Ms. Perl plans to expand the program next year even while preparing younger students to take over the reins of the organization after she graduated.

Bridging the Gap is another example of a student-founded program that took on a life of its own after its founder graduated. In 2006 Clay Broga (College '07) created the program to help the many refugee children who have been resettled in the Charlottesville area by the International Rescue Committee adjust successfully to American life. Staffed by more than eighty student volunteers, the program now helps about seventy-five children. U.Va. students tutor children in English, supervise homework, read with them, play with them in nearby parks, and take them to soccer practices and games.

 

 

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