Virginia Tech wins Excellence in Faculty Community Engagement Award

By Michelle Soledad

virginia techVirginia Tech is the recipient of the 2020 Excellence in Faculty Community Engagement Award, given by the Engagement Scholarship Consortium. The award recognizes a higher education institution’s exemplary contributions to engaged scholarship.

Virginia Tech was selected based on efforts to build community capacity for integrating engineering in rural middle school science classrooms, following a nationwide selection process.

The project is facilitated by Virginia Tech Partnering with Educators and Engineers in Rural Schools, or VT PEERS. VT PEERS is an applied research program that facilitates partnerships among middle school teachers, local industry partners, and researchers from the College of Engineering Department of Engineering Education to design, run, and study hands-on activities in middle school science classrooms in rural Appalachia.

VT PEERS is currently going into its fourth year, supported by funding from the National Science Foundation. Since 2017, VT PEERS has engaged more than 1,800 students in seven schools in Smyth, Bedford, and Giles counties. Jacob Grohs, associate professor in the Department of Engineering Education, serves as principal investigator for the project.

VT PEERS served as a catalyst for “Engineering Pathways for Appalachian Youth,” a five-year project that will leverage experiences from VT PEERS to bring innovative engineering learning experiences to more than 2,500 students from counties in Appalachia. Grohs recently received the prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program award, which will support this endeavor.

“Our team believes that engaging with regional partners around critical issues in our communities is a vital part of being faculty at a global land-grant university,” said Grohs on behalf of the VT PEERS team. “This recognition is a strong endorsement for the importance of universities and communities building authentic relationships and committing to collaborate together long-term. We are honored and energized and look forward to continuing these efforts to collectively invest in the futures of youth in our communities through partnerships with schools and teachers.”

Virginia Tech, represented by Grohs, will be participating in a panel discussion to talk about the project during the Annual Engagement Scholarship Consortium Conference, which will be held virtually on Oct. 15. The panel will include other 2020 Excellence Award recipients. The Engagement Scholarship Consortium is “an organization composed of higher education institutions that work collaboratively to build strong university-community partnerships anchored in the rigor of scholarship,” as stated on its website.

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