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NHGS Peer Mentors

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Audra Barnes

Department: Biomedical Engineering 
Research focus: Cardiovascular
I am pursuing a Direct PhD, currently in my 1st year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, FL earning a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering.      

This is my first year as a peer mentor.

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? Don't be afraid to speak up when something is bothering you. Also, let people know when you are feeling overwhelmed.

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Zach Benmamoun

Department: Chemical Engineering 
Research focus: Bacteria-surface interactions
I am pursuing a PhD, currently in my 2nd year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign earning a Bachelors of Science.      

This will be my 2nd year as a peer mentor. 

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? Thankfully, I had very accurate advice that I followed and it positively impacted me. The most important one was to not choose a research advisor based on the research, and instead to choose an advisor/lab that has a culture you enjoy, and someone who you think you could get along with.

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Levern Currie

Department: Industrial Systems Engineering 
I am pursuing a Direct PhD, currently in my 2nd year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended George Mason University in Fairfax, VA earning a B.S. Psychology.      

This is my first year as a peer mentor.

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? I wish I knew how to find an advisor that would be a good fit, what questions to ask, and how to reach out to current students. I think a good advisor/student relationship is crucial for success and time should be devoted to making sure that it's a relationship that can last.

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Morgan Dean

Department: Biomedical Engineering 
Research focus: Traffic Injury Prevention
I am pursuing a Direct PhD, currently in my 3rd year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey earning a BS in Mechanical Engineering.     

I have been a mentor since the end of my first year, so this will be my third year mentoring through the NHGS program.

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? You might have to try harder to make good friends than you normally do. Some of the grad programs are small, and lab groups are even smaller. It's easy to not branch outside of those groups, but if you aren't getting the relationships you need through those easily accessible resources, you'll have to push yourself to do so.

In addition, the NHGS program opens the door to a lot of opportunities for new relationships/connections, professional development, and financial and emotional support. You'll get out of it what you put in and it's very rewarding!

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Neeti Gandhi

Department: Chemical Engineering 
Research focus: Tissue engineering of stem-cell derived liver organoids for toxicity studies and bovine airway models for studying bovine respiratory disease
I am pursuing a PhD, currently in my 2nd year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended Purdue University & Georgetown University in West Lafayette, IN & Washington D.C. earning a B.S. & M.S.    

Prior to returning to graduate school, I had Internships at Jump Simulation Technologies and Frito-Lay PepsiCo Research and Development

This is my second year as a peer mentor!

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? To find a sustainable schedule! Graduate school is a long process, and requires a couple to a few years. Make time for yourself, and join other activities/ have hobbies outside of doing research to get a good balance

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Chris Garza

Department: Materials and Science Engineering
Research focus: Computational Materials Science
I am pursuing a PhD, currently in my Other.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended University of Houston-Clear Lake in Houston, TX earning a Bachelor's of Science.      

Prior to returning to graduate school, I worked at Dow Chemical in the Plastics Characterization group as a lab technician. Within this role, I worked across 3 different labs performing routine and non-routine testing associated with the physical properties of polyethylene, polypropylene, elastomers, and polyester materials.

I returned to graduate school in order to fulfill my lifelong goal of obtaining a PhD, so as to carry out research in an industrial setting, along with teaching.

This is my 2nd year as a peer mentor.

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? I wish I would have known the available funding opportunities for incoming graduate students. Also, the various interdisciplinary labs where strong collaborative efforts can be developed with other students and professors.

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Wendell Grinton

Department: Civil and Environmental Engineering 
Research focus: Communicating energy feedback and emergency response information to public stakeholders.
I am pursuing a PhD, currently in my 4th year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, NC earning a B.S.     

I've been mentoring with NHGS for three years.

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? The research process and how extensive it can be.

Headshot of Alex Hicks

Alex Hicks

Department: Computer Science 
Research focus: Computer Science Education and Software Engineering, specifically how to encourage students to follow good incremental development practices
I am pursuing a Direct PhD, currently in my 2nd year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA earning a BS Computer Science and History.      

This is my second year as a mentor.

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? I wish I knew that I didn't need to come in with my dissertation topic already prepared, I stressed a lot about that as I first found my advisor, but we ended up developing a topic together, throughout my first year.

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Cory Ilo

Department: Computer Science 
Research focus: Augmented Reality, specifically contextually intelligent user interfaces for AR
I am pursuing a PhD, currently in my 3rd year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended RIT in Rochester, NY earning a BS & MS.      

Prior to returning to graduate school, I worked in industry at Intel. 

I returned to graduate school because I want to do research but I also want to be in an industry where world changing products are made.

I've been a mentor once before during the pandemic.

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? Research is unpredictable. As researchers, we're trying to push the bounds of human knowledge. Sometimes it will be scary and seemingly impossibly difficult; however, with a good support system, you will move past that hurdle. Form your support systems early! And develop a work-life balance that will allow you to be consistently productive but keep you from burning out along the way.

In addition, I'm really into fitness (powerlifting), gaming, motorcycles, and traveling. Before returning to grad school, I was able to visit 15 countries.

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Taylor Johnson

Department: Engineering Education 
Research focus: Engineering Student Support, Middle-years of Engineering, Equity in Engineering Education
I am pursuing a Direct PhD, currently in my 2nd year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended The University of Texas at Austin in Austin, Texas earning a B.S. Biomedical Engineering.      

The 2022-2023 school year will be my second year as a mentor with the New Horizon Graduate Scholars.

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? Something I wish I would have known at the beginning of graduate school was that I have agency in my educational journey. In the beginning, I heard (and still hear) a lot of different opinions and viewpoints from a lot of people all at once which can oftentimes be overwhelming. I am still so appreciative for the support and advice, and I wish I could go back and tell my past self that it was okay to hold on to my own priorities and figure out what advice applied to my situation, and figure out what I wanted out of this experience.

In addition, moving to a new place, meeting new people, and starting graduate school is a lot of change at once, but I hope that I can offer new graduate students advice and/or support!

Headshot of Alyse Jones

Alyse Jones

Department: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Research focus: Wireless Communications
I am pursuing a Direct PhD, currently in my 2nd year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, LA earning a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering.      

This is my 2nd year as a peer mentor.

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? How to juggle research in your first year. Coming in, I thought it was a given that you’d have plenty of time for research. However, with classes and projects from a GRA, I underestimated the amount of time other aspects of graduate school needed. It often left me feeling overwhelmed. My advice is to take things one day at a time. Dip your toes in first before taking the plunge. Find what works for you and manage your time accordingly. If something isn’t working, pat yourself on the back and adjust as you see fit.

Headshot of Theresa Libera

Theresa Libera

Department: Biomedical Engineering Sciences
Research focus: Biomechanics of Balance
I am pursuing a PhD, currently in my 2nd year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended UNC - Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, NC earning a B.S.   

This is my first year as a peer mentor!

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? Don't try to rush your progress, allow yourself time to shape your research

Headshot of Krista Liguori

Krista Liguori

Department: Environmental & Water 
Research focus: Antibiotic Resistance in Water
I am pursuing a PhD, currently in my 3rd year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, MD earning a MSPH.      

Prior to returning to graduate school, I worked in industry at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Headquarters in DC. I worked on national human health risk assessments and pre-regulatory standards.

Why did I return to graduate school? I didn't like the traditional boss-employee dynamics of working in an office, and I wanted to become a professor.

This is my first year as a peer mentor!

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? A lot of people give bad advice, even smart professors and grad students, so take all advice with a grain of salt :)

Headshot of Victor Lopez

Victor Lopez

Department: Biomedical Engineering Sciences
Research focus: Using focused ultrasound to develop therapies for tumor ablation
I am pursuing a PhD, currently in my 1st year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended University of Florida in Gainesville, FL earning a BS in Biomedical Engineering.      

Prior to returning to graduate school, I worked with Exactech, a medical device company focused on making orthopedic implants.

Why did I return to graduate school? To become a better researcher and have greater career opportunities. Prior to graduate school I did 1 year of research in undergrad and I really enjoyed it. I knew I wanted to get at least a Masters for more research experience and that’s what I was coming into Tech. I’ve recently decided to pursue a PhD because I really enjoy the research I’m doing.

This is my first year as a peer mentor, after having a great experience in this program.

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? Read as much as you can about the work/field your lab is in. The sooner you’re comfortable with knowing the terminology and what’s been done, the better you can plan your experiments and know what hasn’t been done. Also don’t be afraid to ask for help from others in your lab. It may seem like you’re taking away time from their research but it’s all part of the process of integrating with your lab and you’ll have to train someone else in the future. 

Headshot of Maya Menon

Maya Menon

Department: Engineering Education 
Research focus: engineering education for sustainable development
I am pursuing a PhD, currently in my 2nd year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended Arizona State University in Tempe earning a Bachelors.    

Prior to returning to graduate school, I worked in industry. Why did I return to graduate school? After my undergraduate degree, I worked at a software company because I wasn't sure if I wanted to commit to research. After working for 3 years, I knew I wanted to do more!

This is my first year as a peer mentor!

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? That graduate school looks different for everyone. You've got to own your journey and make it most fulfilling for you!

Headshot of Megan Moore

Megan Moore

Department: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Research focus: Communications/ Machine Learning
I am pursuing a PhD, currently in my 1st year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA earning a BS and MS.      

This is my first time being a mentor in this program.

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? I wish I knew that I could track papers I've read, save annotations to them, and generate citations with a citation manager like Mendely or Zotero.

Headshot of Tolu Odimayomi

Tolu Odimayomi

Department: Civil and Environmental Engineering
Research focus: Control of Pathogens in Drinking Water
I am pursuing a PhD, currently in my 2nd year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana earning a M.S. in Environmental and Ecological Engineering, B.S. in Chemical Engineering.      

This is my first semester as an NHGS peer mentor.

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? If I could go back and give myself one piece of advice before starting graduate school, I would tell myself to anticipate that challenges would come up along the way that will seem overwhelming. I had to learn that my research will not always go as planned, but that does not mean that I have to forfeit my goals. It is important to learn how to reach out for help and remember that graduate school is not a solo sport.

In addition, some of my interests include theater, sewing, hiking, puzzles, and serving at my church. I think it is beneficial for graduate students to have activities outside of research and coursework to look forward to and destress with.

Headshot of Fernando Roman

Fernando Roman

Department: Civil Engineering (Environmental and Water Resources) 
Research focus: Helping maintain clean water in homes by combining chemistry & microbiology with plumbing
I am pursuing a MS, currently in my 1st year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended University of California, Merced in Merced, California earning a Bachelor's in Environmental Engineering.      

I moved to VT just a few weeks after graduating from UC Merced so I could get an early start and conduct research over that summer. My undergrad research focused on wastewater-based epidemiology in relation to SARS-CoV-2. I had no break in-between undergrad and graduate school, as was my choice since I was, and still am, so happy to work with my advisor Dr. Marc Edwards

This will be my first semester being a NHGS mentor. Last semester I was a mentee. I am very thankful for the opportunity to become a better mentor, and to hopefully fulfill the role that my mentor did last semester - since they helped me immensely while I was adjusting to a new life here

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? Always prioritize science and serving the public over awards. Be honest with your results, and form a good relationship with your advisor. Always ask for help if you feel stuck. Be kind to everyone. Don't be cynical near the end of your journey here. Be thankful everyday for this amazing opportunity, and keep trying to improve. There's so much research out there that needs to be investigated, and so many gaps in knowledge in our world, so there's always an opportunity for you to specialize in something special. Try to work on research you're passionate about, or if you're currently not, try to learn more about it until you are passionate about it. Also many of your peers/colleagues struggle just as much as you, keep struggling onwards and help each other with kind words & actions

In addition, I am immensely thankful for all of the mentors I have had in my life. My undergraduate advisor, Dr. Colleen Naughton, is the sole reason why I decided to pursue graduate school . My current advisor, Dr. Marc Edwards, is the reason why I'm having an amazing time here. I am also thankful for all of the amazing advice given to me from Dr. Amy Pruden and all the other members in our VT community. I am constantly improving, and hope that one day I can be just as impactful as a mentor to someone in need of guidance.

Headshot of Lauren Ruger

Lauren Ruger

Department: Biomedical Engineering Sciences 
Research focus: Focused ultrasound ablation therapies
I am pursuing a Direct PhD, currently in my 3rd year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH earning a BS in Biomedical Engineering, Minor in Neuroscience.      

This will be my third year mentoring with NHGS!

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? I wish I had known how prevalent imposter syndrome is. It's easy to feel like everyone else has their lives all together, but, in reality, almost no one does, and you aren't alone in feeling that way. Find others that feel that way and make a support group!

In addition, I'm excited to meet my mentee(s) for this year and to welcome them to Virginia Tech and/or the graduate school!

Headshot of Ty Scott

Ty Scott

Department: Biomedical Engineering Sciences 
Research focus: lower extremity kinematics and symmetry
I am pursuing a MS, currently in my 1st year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, NC earning a B.S. Bioengineering.      

This is my first year being a peer mentor.

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? It is a great idea to establish a support system. For me, I needed people outside of engineering to remind me to take a break from work sometimes and remember that "school" is not all I am. Also, it is okay to be the new kid. You will not have all the answers so do not be afraid to ask questions because everyone is willing to help you succeed!

Headshot of Juan Shiraishi

Juan Shiraishi

Department: Materials Science and Engineering 
Research focus: Colloidal processing of ceramics
I am pursuing a Direct PhD, currently in my 4th year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA earning a B.S.  

This will be my 3rd year as a peer mentor.

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? Be intentional about managing expectations and workload from your advisors, teachers, and peers as well as from yourself. Your time and energy are finite and precious resources so allocate them accordingly!

Headshot of Sophia Vicente

Sophia Vicente

Department: Engineering Education 
Research focus: professional development for undergraduate engineering students and broadening participation.
I am pursuing a PhD, currently in my 3rd year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended Penn State in State College, PA earning a Bachelors.      

I've been a mentor for three years.

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? One piece of advice that I found useful was to attend dissertation or thesis defenses in your department early on (if they are open to the public). I wish I had been to one sooner because it really helped me to contextualize the expectations of my department and understand the big picture of what I would have to present by the end of my program. Since then I've been able to watch many thesis and dissertation defenses across different engineering disciplines from other New Horizons Scholars and I've learned new things about the process every time.

Headshot of Kaleigh Yost

Kaleigh Yost

Department: Civil and Environmental Engineering 
Research focus: Characterizing the subsurface for earthquake hazard analysis
I am pursuing a PhD, currently in my 4th year.
Prior to attending Virginia Tech for graduate school, I attended The University of Texas at Austin in Austin, TX earning a MS.      

Prior to returning to graduate school, I was a geotechnical engineer with Langan Engineering for 1.5 years before coming to VT. Why did I return to graduate school? I wanted to pursue a career in academia.

This is my second year as a mentor.

What do you wish you had known when beginning graduate school? It's up to YOU to own your experience as a graduate student. Prioritize the things you need or want to pursue to be happy and successful.