The college named its 2016 Outstanding master's and Ph.D. students who were recognized for their academic achievements, leadership, and experiences beyond traditional course work. Also listed are students from departments who stand out for their achievements.

Outstanding Graduate Student — Ph.D.

Ph.D. student, HNFE

Tanya Halliday

Tanya Halliday, our 2016 Outstanding Graduate Student Award winner, began her graduate studies in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise in 2011.

In addition to her course work and dissertation research, Halliday has led additional research projects, served as a graduate teaching assistant and instructor of record, assisted with course development, attended and presented at multiple scientific meetings, maintained an active presence on social media in the areas of nutrition and exercise, volunteered to assist with local running events, and prepared and completed in a physique competition.

Halliday’s scholarship performance has been outstanding with six peer-reviewed publications and one currently under review, two professional publications, many presentations at meetings including one as the Keynote Speaker.

After graduation, Halliday will start her position as part of a highly competitive NIH-T32 postdoctoral training grant at the University of Colorado.

Dan Tekiela, a doctoral student in the Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, graduated from the University of Illinois in natural resource and environmental sciences, where his interests in invasive species developed through participation in an internship. Tekiela has participated in a broad range of projects and has presented his research in multiple venues. He has been active in competitions and has received awards and recognitions for his efforts. He was elected as president of the departmental Graduate Student Association in the 2013-2014 academic year, and he also served as the student representative at departmental faculty meetings. Tekiela was an inaugural participant in the graduate teaching program in the college, which allowed him to develop strong teaching and communication skills. After graduation, he will begin a faculty position at the University of Wyoming.

Gordon Jones came to the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences as a masters student, which he completed in two years, and began his work for his Ph.D. Prior to his time at Virginia Tech, Jones was an honors graduate of Warren Wilson College and spent a semester abroad in New Zealand as an undergraduate. He has been active in the department’s Graduate Student Organization, and his research has already resulted in two refereed journal publications. His doctoral research on orchardgrass persistence in the mid-Atlantic has received international attention by being featured in CSA News. Jones has authored multiple journal articles and given talks at Virginia Cooperative Extension events at several locations in Virginia. Since 2014, Jones has served as a college Graduate Teaching Scholar, and he will complete his Future Professoriate Certificate requirements this year. He excels academically, as a teacher and scientist, and contributes to the department and college in many ways.



C. Nathan Jones entered the Ph.D. program in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering in August 2010 after completing his B.S. degree in biological engineering at the University of Arkansas. Jones made significant contributions to the department teaching program, serving as a graduate teaching assistant. He has also mentored undergraduate students and was instrumental in ensuring students had an outstanding experience in the 10-week summer Research Experience for Undergraduates. He is the first author of two published journal articles, and co-author of two additional articles and many more that are under review. Jones has given presentations at national and regional conferences, as well as invited seminars. Jones has excelled in the classroom (both teaching and learning), in scholarship, in securing funding, in mentoring, and in collegiality.

Anne Brown, a doctoral student in the Department of Biochemistry, has emerged as a leader in the lab, the department, the college, and the university since she began her work at Virginia Tech. Brown’s research involves the application of computational molecular modeling to several molecular systems, and she has become quite the expert in this area. She has had several articles published and in addition to her dissertation research, Brown has contributed to collaborative research with several other labs on campus. Her commitment to teaching exceeds that of most graduate students. She has gained formalized training in pedagogy and teaching through her participation in the college’s Graduate Teaching Scholar program. Brown’s contribution in mentoring undergraduate students in the lab helped create a formalized training program that prepares undergraduates to conduct research, maintain records, write papers, and give presentations. She has also made exemplary contributions to service as an extension of her dissertation research. She initiated and led a service-learning project with a team of students, and under her guidance, the team won three research grants. Brown’s other service focus has been on Alzheimer’s patients. and this focus on outreach led to her being named the 2015 Virginia Tech Graduate Student Service award winner. She donated her time to local entities to help development and implement tools families and caregivers can use when communicating with Alzheimer’s patients. This level of outreach for a graduate student places her in the top percent of graduate students to come through the department.

Jiaqing Yi, a doctoral student in the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, is collegial, dependable, and has a strong work ethic. Yi has maintained a clear focus on his research objectives and has organized a team of undergraduates to assist in data collection. It is clear through his work that he has reached the point of appreciating the whole-picture view of his research. Yi has served as a teaching assistant for two courses and has also worked with undergraduate students in the research laboratory. In this setting, it was clear that he was motivating the students to reach their potential. He is working towards becoming a college professor with both a teaching and research appointment, and he has the grit and determination to reach his goals.


As soon as Adam Cletzer came to Virginia Tech, he quickly found ways to contribute. He began his tenure in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education in January 2013 and in this time, has served the department and undergraduate students in a variety of roles. Cletzer’s commitment to learning and quality work is commendable and he has been enthusiastic about his teaching efforts over the past few years. Two descriptors often used in reference to him are service-oriented and strong work ethic. He is greatly respected by faculty and peers and has proven to be dependable in every area of academia.

Outstanding Graduate Student — M.S.

Masters student, HNFE

Carly MacDougall

Carly MacDougall began the pursuit of her M.S. degree in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise in 2014 and has also been participating in the undergraduate Didactic Program in Dietetics.

While simultaneously completing two programs, MacDougall has also served as a graduate teaching assistant, directed a thesis project, and participated in numerous extracurricular activities. She has served in multiple leadership capacities on funded projects and has also volunteered her time as a volunteer for the Montgomery County Public School Nutrition Program and as a diet volunteer for the Carilion New River Valley Medical Center.

MacDougall has embraced and made the most of her time as a graduate student and is well prepared for a career in dietetics.

Lucas Waller, a graduate student in the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, is a hard-working and bright student who has performed exceptionally well in his research studies and is widely respected by peers and faculty. Waller was recruited to work in a research program in the department as an undergraduate and came highly recommended. He works very hard, has shown great research insight and problem-solving ability, and generously gives his time to support the work of other graduate and undergraduate students. In addition to his research abilities, Waller has taken a challenging course of study and has served as a teaching assistant. He has achieved outstanding results ahead of schedule while welcoming his son and providing caring support for his family.

Jill Pollok has been an incredible contributor to the Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science and the Southern Piedmont AREC where she has spent her summers and most recent semesters. Pollok is creative, ambitious to learn, and is so excited about science that she pushes herself to learn more and to stimulate this interest in others. Her attention to detail enables her to convey scientific information accurately and thoroughly, while her open and caring personality enables her to teach others with patience and consideration. Pollok graduated in 2015 and is now a valued employee at the Eastern Shore AREC as a plant diagnostician and research specialist.



On Steven Shipp’s first day in the lab volunteering as an undergraduate, he said he wanted to learn everything and do everything, and he’s being doing just that ever since. His work as an undergraduate was so impressive that he was offered a position as a master’s student in the department. He has presented at a research symposium and will also present a poster in April 2016. Shipp is also heavily involved in farm activities. He is responsible for the care of his own birds and assists Paul Siegel each week at the poultry farm. Shipp is dedicated to teaching and has contributed as a teaching assistant, working hard to connect with the students. At one student’s request, he started a tradition of wearing a feline-themed shirt to each class during the semester. His outreach to high school students sets him apart from other students and his behavior reflects a genuine pride in his work.

Rachael Johnson entered the master’s program in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering in August 2014 after receiving her B.S. in the program in 2012. Johnson has demonstrated her professional and personal growth as well as her potential to make significant contributions to environmental management through her work at the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center. She has been active in scholarship, with many articles published and conference presentations under her belt. Johnson has also had the opportunity to join her advisor in planning and presenting urban stormwater management workshops.  Beyond her academic pursuits, Johnson has been a leader in activities related to care and training of dogs, including serving as a training volunteer for Wags for Warriors, a program that matches veterans with service dogs.