Building a future

by Sara Gordon–

Blacksburg, Va., April 24 — PIECING IT TOGETHER: Jimmy Atkinson, a senior at Virginia Tech in the Wood Enterprise Institute course, assembles the various pieces of his team’s product, a custom dog bowl holder. Photo: Sara Gordon

Since 2007, the two-semester Wood Enterprise Institute (W.E.I.) course at Virginia Tech has been providing students with a hands-on entrepreneurial experience to design, create, market, and sell a wooden product through their own business. According to the W.E.I. website, the course is organized as a 501(c)(3) student owned-business which operates in the Innovation & Design Laboratory and Classroom in the Brooks Forest Products Center at Virginia Tech.

The first semester of the course involves brainstorming ideas of a product to develop, conducting market research, and creating a business plan. During this time, students must present their product idea and have their business plan approved by the board, which includes students from the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials, many of whom have already taken the class.

Jimmy Atkinson, a member of the 2018-2019 W.E.I. course said market research was the most challenging aspect for his team. “I think that was one of the areas we fell short in, we did not do enough market research to see how many of these [custom dog bowl holders] we were going to sell,” said Atkinson. Currently, his team has sold 25 dog bowl holders out of their goal to sell 80.

Development, production, marketing, and sales are the main areas of focus during the second semester. The team must take their final design and begin marketing the product, followed by taking orders from customers to fulfill their production goal and shipping the final product out.

Dr. Earl Kline, Director of W.E.I., said some of the most unique products he’s seen are also those that have not had the most successful business. “The more complex a product is, the more costly it is, and to try to find a customer that is going to pay you back for that cost isn’t the easiest thing to do,” said Kline.

The College of Natural Resources and Environment reports that nearly 150 students have participated in the course since it came to fruition, generating over $47,000 in revenue, which goes directly back into the course to supply funding for future teams.

Creating the magic

Blacksburg, Va., April 22 – Tattoo: Master Electrician Erika Koekkoek’s tattoo references the “magic” that technicians create. The tattoo says, “It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done,” and features tools often used to do the job. Photo: Lizzy Street

by Lizzy Street–

While actors have their time in the limelight performing for an attentive audience, there are other workers whom the audience rarely sees.

In Squires Studio Theatre at Virginia Tech, they work behind the curtains, under the stage floor and 30 feet above the actors’ heads to make sure the show goes on. These technicians and designers use their skills in lighting, costuming, sound, carpentry and more to create a world that captivates the audience. But the cost is visibility.

“People who typically work behind the scenes are very much people who work thankless jobs,” said Chris Russo, Technical Supervisor for Virginia Tech’s School of Performing Arts. “It does take the right kind of person to understand that you may never get the same kind of appreciation [as actors] for what you’ve been doing for the production.”

According to end-of-season statistics assembled by The Broadway League, over 13 million people, the highest number ever recorded, attended Broadway shows in the 2017 to 2018 season. Though theater’s popularity grows, a number of technicians and designers still feel unseen by audiences – but Russo says that is how it should be.

“Part of the illusion is presenting something to an audience so that they are taken out of reality and taken into another world,” said Russo. “That means, yes, some people behind the scenes have to be in black, and they can’t be seen.”

The technicians themselves may not be seen, but their work is an integral part of creating an immersive experience for the audience. Erika Koekkoek, Master Electrician for the School of Performing Arts’ production of “As You Like It,” refers to such work as “[creating] the magic.”

“As a technician, I can make it snow on stage. I can make a sunset on stage,” said Koekkoek. “I can do so many things that help add to the magic of live theatre, and it awes me every time I do it.”

A study from Data USA says that the theater workforce has a growth rate of 2.1 percent. Despite this growth, a Georgetown University study identifies theater arts as one of the lowest-paying college majors, with a median annual income of $45,000, according to U.S. Census data.

Prospects for backstage workers aren’t all bad, though. A Forbes article recognized two electricians and a carpenter at Carnegie Hall who each made approximately $400,000 in one year.

High salaries are not typical for backstage work, but technicians and designers are not deterred. Though the behind-the-scenes workers themselves will stay out of the limelight, Russo says that he takes pride in his work and the process of creating the final product.

“Take the journey, get to the destination and say, ‘What’s the next challenge?’” said Russo. “And that’s the fun – that’s the joy of my job.”


Finding your pitch at a STEM school

Blacksburg, Va. April 12 — RAIN ROCKING: Despite the weather, students still managed to play their instruments for audience members. Photo: Gretchen Kernbach.

by Gretchen Kernbach–

“It’s really fun to experience, to feel something,” said Kacy McAllister, the Box Office and Student Engagement Manager at the Moss Arts Center.

McAllister is talking about Virginia Tech Music Day, An unlikely event one wouldn’t expect on a STEM school’s campus.

Music Day has now been a reoccurring event for the past four years. It has its own motto, “Ut Musica Faciam” (That I May Make Music).

Organized by the Moss Arts Center Student Ambassadors, the event is designed to bring awareness to not only different styles of music but also to the local artists right here in Blacksburg.

“We’ve been successfully programming about 20 plus groups a year,” added McAllister.

Amongst the variety of performances were the metal group “Forerunner,” and folk band “The Chinquapin Hunters.” Both bands took the same stage in the early afternoon in the Moss Arts Center. However, they delivered very different sounds.

Speaking of sounds, live music isn’t something most Hokies would expect from their science, engineering and business-heavy campus.

According to the Office of Institutional Research, in the Fall of 2018, approximately 4,565 undergraduate students were enrolled in the Pamplin College of Business. In the College of Engineering, a roaring 8,411 undergraduate students enrolled as well. Moreover, only 3,837 undergraduate students were enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences — a mere 167 students in the School of Performing Arts.

Last, but not least, 4,549 undergraduate students were accounted for in the College of Science. These numbers total to a rough estimate of over 17,00 students partaking in a STEM-related major.

So, why even bother partaking in Music Day?

Sophomore student, and Moss Arts Student Ambassador, Myranda Holden, said the event came to be when President Sands motioned for the school to be more well-rounded. She explained that her “organization decided [Virginia Tech] needed something like this.”

Little do Hokies know, there is a thriving music department on campus in the halls of Squires Student Center. And the students love it there.

“The professors really care about your future,” said sophomore Julian Thomas, who is majoring in Trumpet Performance.

Thomas said that a smaller program means more one-on-one time with professors and that everyone knows everyone.

According to the School of Performing Arts, “We pride ourselves in the high-quality training we provide to our music majors, as well as the many opportunities for majors and non-majors alike to ‘bring their music’ to Virginia Tech.

The site goes on to “encourage all who are interested to pursue double majors.” That’s just what freshman Caroline Bingham did.

“It’s really important because some people are really just trying to figure out whether or not music is what they want to do,” said Bingham, a double major in Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience and Trumpet Performance. “It’s a good compromise.”

Virginia Tech provides a unique experience to students, offering a path not only in science, technology, engineering or math, but also a musical one. And in some cases — both.

“Music makes us human,” Holden said.

Progress Festival moves its start date


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Dublin, Va., Feb. 2, 2018 – Highland Farm is a regular destination for local music festivals due to its location and the owners’ willingness. Photo: Brendan Quinn

by Brendan Quinn —

For years, Progress Festival has occurred during the Virginia Tech spring semester. This year the festival will take place on May 18-20, after final exams and graduation. This schedule change could result in a smaller share of the student population attending the festival, which has roots in the student community.

There are many reasons why the festival was pushed back this year. The weather played a huge role in the scheduling change, as torrential downpours dampened last year’s festival. As Progress Festival founder and organizer John Clockwood describes, “April is right in monsoon season, and I don’t think anyone going to Progress Fest can stomach five more inches of rain.”

Food supplies also factor into the schedule shift. Clockwood envisions the festival as a place where you can get everything, including sustenance. According to him, moving the festival back further into harvest season means the festival can rely on locally sourced organic foods.

Additionally, Clockwood believes turnout would be hurt by the crowded Spring Semester this year. He says that the festival would have to contend with the Virginia Tech Spring Football Game, Radford University final exams, and Virginia Tech final exams.

The schedule change could have negative ramifications for the festival, though, as students have comprised a large portion of the audience and they may not stick around once the semester ends. Clockwood has faith that students will return for the festival, saying, “I think that people would come back because people really care about the festival, and I have seen in previous years people always come back; they graduate and move on and they drive six, seven, eight, even ten hours to come back and see everyone that they know.” As for current students, he says, “this just means they get to see their friends two weeks after they left.”

Sine Wave Surfers Festival will now take place April 20, the weekend normally reserved for Progress Festival. Its founder Adam Wirdzek, who will also perform at Progress Festival as Electrobro, described the concern of students balancing Progress Festival with upcoming final exams, saying, “It takes a lot of the pressure off of a lot of our demographic, students, from worrying about doing a full-blown music festival right near finals.” Wirdzek is not concerned about his festival, however, saying, “It’s just one day, so you don’t have to survive a whole festival.”

Final exams, graduation, and numerous high profile Blacksburg events have forced Blacksburg DIY Music organizers to adjust their normal plans. They just hope that the gamble pays off.

Culture Show continues 30 years of tradition

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BLACKSBURG, Va., March 14 – The acting cast, who also wrote the script for Culture Show, have a final rehearsal before full dress rehearsals. Photo: Kat Schneider

by Kat Schneider–

Students who belong to the Filipino American Student Association, or FASA, come together to put on a show that has been running longer than any of the current members have been alive.

“We have a story to tell – a story to tell about where we come from and a story that gives us great pride to be here on campus,” said AJ Campanilla, a senior BIT major who both directed and performed in this year’s Culture Show.

FASA and Virginia Tech alumna Kimberly Cenzon describes the annual event as a showcase of the Filipino culture through traditional dances, songs, a fashion show that incorporates traditional Filipino clothing and a script that encompasses a different theme each year. According to the event’s official Facebook page, “The 30th Annual Culture Show: Isang Kapamilya, Isang Pag-ibig: One Family, One Love” highlights the true meaning of friendship, family and love throughout the production. The theme is shown in different scenes interwoven with the performances to form a play.

Thirty years ago, the show came from humble beginnings. Cenzon explains that it started as a small showcase that included a couple of dances. The show was held in a much smaller room on campus rather than the Burruss Hall auditorium where it has been the past decade or so.

“Just looking back at the past shows, the whole Culture Show culture itself has changed to be more light-hearted and comedic than serious and simply showcasing the culture through dance,” said Campanilla. He believes that it is this change that has enabled the show to continue on for thirty years, something not many cultural groups can say they have done.

The growth of the performance mirrors the growth of the club itself. Just in the past four years, participation in Culture Show has increased from about 80 students to over 110 students. Members of FASA can be performers in the various acts or work behind the scenes on committees such as Costuming, Technical and Stage Design.

“I think Culture Show continues on the same way the Filipino culture does – it gets passed down and eventually becomes tradition,” said Campanilla.

According to its official website, FASA at Virginia Tech was founded in 1988 to develop relationships between Filipinos on campus with other students, faculty and staff through cultural, educational and social activities. While most of the members are Filipino, the club welcomes members from all races and backgrounds. The only requirement is a willingness to explore the Filipino culture and its people.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to the passion and love for the organization and for our culture that keeps the show continuing every year,” said Cenzon.



ARTS/CULTURE: Black Panther, diversity in Hollywood

by Catherine Irvin, Grayson Wimbish, Brendan Quinn–

Photo credit: junaidrao on / CC BY-NC-ND

Marvel Studios’ Black Panther dominated the box office during its premiere weekend. The film racked up $242 million domestically over President’s Day weekend, destroying prior expectations.

Along the way, Black Panther has taught Hollywood a lesson about diversity in blockbuster films. Despite premiering in February rather than the blockbuster-heavy summer months, the film enjoyed the fifth largest opening weekend in film history. It has dispelled the notion that films featuring African-American leads cannot travel overseas, grossing $169 million outside of North America.

Black Panther has added to the conversation around diversity in Hollywood; the entertainment sector has seen an influx of new voices driving the conversation. Audiences showed this weekend that they are prepared to support diversification on the silver screen.

Salsa Night: Bringing out culture, dance moves


Blacksburg, Va., Oct. 18–Sycamore Deli: Students file in for Salsa Night. The event attracts people of all cultures and ethnicities. Photo: Nathan Loprete

Virginia Tech is a school that consists of a variety of cultures and there is never a better time to learn about other cultures than when you’re in college. One of the opportunities to do so is on Wednesday night at Sycamore Deli who also hosts a variety of events throughout the school year. Located in downtown Blacksburg, Sycamore Deli turns down the lights and turns up the music for Salsa Night.

Those that don’t know how to dance can come early and get lessons from a group called Salsa Tech. Sebastian Andrade, who helps lead Salsa Tech talked about the importance of being familiar with different cultures and what Salsa Tech.

“The main mission for Salsa Tech is to promote the Latin-American culture. We want to take it out there for people to have it,” he said. Andrade also noted the importance of sharing the history behind dancing and festive celebrations with those that may not be familiar with it.

The idea of bringing together different cultures has even been visible from Virginia Tech. In 2015 Virginia Tech announced a new commitment to increasing diversity and bringing in more student from different backgrounds.

This idea of creating awareness about different cultures goes hand-in-hand with the local businesses who need more business during the week. Shift manager Michelle Berry thinks Salsa Night has been a hit for the past few years.

“I’ve been working Salsa Night for three and half years now. You see people that come their first time and don’t know anything and now they’re on the stage dancing,” she said.

Salsa Night shows no sign of slowing down especially as the student population continues to grow. For Andrade, his love of salsa dancing is in his veins and comes from his family.


Powwow highlights diversity on VT campus

Blacksburg, Va., April 1 — Event Welcome: Native at Virginia Tech held their first powwow on the Graduate Life Center lawn. Photo: Whitney Turner

by Whitney Turner–

Native at Virginia Tech, the American Indian and Indigenous community organization on campus, hosted its first powwow April 1.

Students and community members gathered on the lawn of the Graduate Life Center to watch local tribes share their history and culture. The event featured Native American singing, dancing and drumming. As well as vendors selling Native arts and crafts, jewelry and other handmade items.

As an organization with only 21 members, Native’s powwow was significant in calling attention to their community and presence on campus.

The Collegiate Times recently reported that Virginia Tech’s incoming class of 2021 is historically diverse. Chrissy Shammas, Native at Virginia Tech member, hopes that an increase in diversity will strengthen the university’s sense of community.

“I know there are a lot of people who don’t come from as diverse backgrounds and I think it’s important to educate them on other people’s histories and other people’s cultures because that creates an environment of understanding and respect for each other,” said Shammas. “So I’m hoping with a more diverse student population we can have kind of more education.”

Native was recently gifted a room in Squires Student Center to serve as the American Indian and Indigenous Community Center on campus. With their own space, they are looking forward to growing as an organization and programming more cultural events.

“We’re definitely already thinking about the next powwow next spring,” said Shammas. “And we’ll hopefully be bringing more speakers and more tribal council meetings to the university.”

As Virginia Tech steadily expands, diversity and cultural understanding will only continue to grow.

Bringing Hollywood to Blacksburg

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 23 – Hokie Productions: Students within Virginia Tech’s cinema department begin production on multiple short film projects. Photo: Caitlyn Murray

by Caitlyn Murray–

Blacksburg, Va. — When people think of Virginia Tech, they often think of the engineering and business schools, as those are two elite programs within Tech’s academics. Very rarely, however, does the School of Performing Arts within the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences come to mind.

Offering performance and technical focuses, the School of Performing Arts houses theatre, music, and cinema students. According to the Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts website, around 250 students are majors within the school while approximately 200 students pursue minors. While cinema is not yet a major on its own, many students tack the classes on as a minor or are pursuing a theatre degree with an emphasis in cinema.

Contrary to popular belief, cinema studies exceeds well beyond simply watching and analyzing films. While scholarship is included in the curriculum, production and real-world application is the backbone of the program. Each semester, over 70 student films are produced. Cinema students are expected to produce at least two short films a year. “One film, per student, per semester,” said Charles Dye, assistant professor of cinema production. “ This is a huge challenge to pull off, but worth it.”

Currently, around 40 films are in production this semester. In Dye’s Fiction Cinema Production course, students are expected to not only write and produce an original screenplay; they’re also taxed to work crew on three other projects as a director, cinematographer, and editor. This ensures that students are given the opportunity to try their hand at every role behind the lens.

Students must cast and crew each production on their own. This proves to be a challenge as the School of Performing Arts only has a handful of actors within the program. More often than not, performance students are in numerous films at once. While this is typically the case, anyone is welcome, and in fact is encouraged, to participate in these student-run projects. Multiple audition nights take place each semester in order to cast the right people for these student films.

In order to bring these short films to the screen, cinema students have access to top-of-the-line cameras, audio equipment and editing software. Gear is distributed by a checkout system, though equipment is limited and requires some flexibility among students’ shooting schedules.

In some cases, these projects reach beyond Blacksburg. Last year, senior Woody Chapman’s film, Fading Felt,” made its rounds among film festivals in the summer of 2016 and ended up being an official selection of the Richmond International Film Festival.

“[While] our program is very, very young, I think we’re going to see a lot of success from our grads in the future,” Dye said. “May we all become the filmmakers of our dreams.”

Hokies study abroad

by Caroline Cleary–

Lugano, Switzerland, April 14 – Spring in Europe: Lake Lugano is lined with tulips during the spring months, making the small town in Switzerland a perfect spot for a photo shoot. Photo: Caroline Cleary

Studying abroad at Virginia Tech is a privilege that many students take advantage of. With more than 70 different programs to choose from, students have the opportunity to gain a Virginia Tech education from all over the world. Whether students are looking to leave for a whole semester or just two weeks, Virginia Tech can offer them exactly what they want. Virginia Tech offers programs during all four seasons, the summer and winter months being week long programs.

Studying abroad offers an interesting perspective into a subject studied at school. Being exposed to a different culture opens students eyes to a new way of thinking. Students are forced to grow as individuals as well as scholars by understanding the differences between the logic, values and people where they live.

According to a CNN interview with Michelle Obama she views studying abroad as having real value. She stated, “Especially for U.S. students, it’s very hard to stay in your comfort zone when you’re living in another country. When you’re struggling with a language, new foods, learning directions, being forced to make friends and do things that you wouldn’t normally do, that’s going to set you up for a lifetime of value… It’s going to make you a better human being.”

One popular study abroad location for Virginia Tech students is Switzerland. Pamplin Business School, as well as Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies, offers programs in Riva San Vitale. Many students also choose to participate in one of Tech’s most popular programs where you receive an international marketing minor in Lugano, Switzerland.

Virginia Tech marketing major, Maggie Price studied in Lugano this past spring. “It was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had as a Virginia Tech Student. I learned so much about myself, traveled all throughout Europe and made lifelong friends. If you are considering studying abroad I would definitely go for it, best decision I’ve ever made.”

Many students choose to study in the spring so they can still cheer on the Hokies at Lane stadium. However, Price says missing football weekends won’t even cross students minds when they’re abroad. Milestones are missed but the experiences gained do not compare.

Applications for summer and fall programs are currently available. Check out the Global Education Office’s website or visit them in person at 526 Prices Fork Road to get more information. The Global Education Office also employs peer advisors to help curious students choose the right program for them.

Ryan Dovel, a senior who studied in Riva San Vitale during the fall of 2016 currently works as a peer advisor. “I love my job. My experience abroad was so amazing and it’s awesome to be able to guide other students who are interested in traveling as well.”

Click the image above to be taken to an interactive version.