If you’re going to develop an interdisciplinary graduate research program at Virginia Tech, it’s good to have a champion of interdisciplinary education. In this case, Karen DePauw, the university’s vice president and dean of graduate education, serves as that champion.
On April 22, DePauw was honored with an award in her name at the first research symposium held by the Interfaces of Global Change interdisciplinary graduate education program.
During the symposium’s opening remarks, Bill Hopkins, the director of the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech, which houses the graduate program, revealed the inaugural student award: The Karen P. DePauw Outstanding Interdisciplinary Presentation Award.
“There’s no more appropriate way to honor the person that has supported the growth and interdisciplinary thinking of our community,” said Hopkins, who is also a professor of fish and wildlife conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment.
“Dean DePauw is a tremendous advocate for interdisciplinary research, and I feel fortunate to have her as dean of the graduate school,” said this year’s award recipient Carl Wepking of Lancaster, Wisconsin, a Ph.D. student in biological sciences in the College of Science.
As an Interfaces of Global Change Fellow, Wepking studies how antibiotic use in agricultural livestock affects soil ecosystems.
Wepking, along with the other fellows, spent the day working with faculty to further achieve the center’s mission, which is to advance interdisciplinary scholarship and education to address critical global changes impacting the environment and society. This includes taking a multitude of perspectives to tackle complex problems surrounding climate change, pollution, invasive species, disease, and habitat loss.
“Dr. DePauw has helped create a culture of interdisciplinary thinking and training at Virginia Tech,” Hopkins said. “Her vision has facilitated new interactions among faculty and students who are working together across campus to solve complicated problems ranging from obesity and infectious disease to water pollution and climate change. The programs are also helping us attract some of the best and brightest graduate students to our university because students are thirsty for these new opportunities.”
There are now more than 14 interdisciplinary programs around campus, including the Interfaces of Global Change.
“The goal of transformative graduate education is to better prepare our graduate students for multiple careers and to solve complex problems facing society in the 21st century,” DePauw said. “Skills needed to do this include interdisciplinary thinking and transdisciplinary understanding, teamwork, collaboration, communication, and leadership, to name a few. These skills are embedded within these graduate programs and are strongly embraced by the Interfaces of Global Change.”
The symposium, which was held in the Fralin Life Science Institute, highlighted the latest research from the program’s graduate student fellows, who come from various disciplines, including biological sciences, engineering, entomology, fish and wildlife, and forest resources and environmental conservation.
As part of the Global Change Center, the fellows shared their work with the center’s affiliated faculty, who also hail from range of disciplines, such as history, crop and soil sciences, statistics, computer science, geosciences, and plant pathology.
Written by Cassandra Hockman, Fralin Life Science Institute.