VHCC, UVa-Wise Students Collaborate on Green Salamander Research

Students from VHCC and UVa-Wise have been involved in the research that requires testing Green Salamanders for pathogens.
Students from VHCC and UVa-Wise have been involved in a unique research project that requires testing Green Salamanders for pathogens. The results were recently published in Herpetological Review.

A collaborative research project conducted by students at Virginia Highlands Community College and the University of Virginia’s College at Wise has resulted in a better understanding of Green Salamander populations and a September article in Herpetological Review.

The research began more than a decade ago and was aimed at determining the prevalence of harmful pathogens in Green Salamanders found in Dickenson, Scott, Washington and Wise counties. Biology students participating in the research were responsible for capturing and swabbing Green Salamanders for these pathogens, then recording and interpreting the results. They ultimately determined that Green Salamanders were infected with pathogens.

“There are really two great benefits to this research,” said Dr. Kevin Hamed, professor of biology at VHCC, who led the project. “We’ve made some important discoveries about the pathogens that might impact Green Salamander populations so we can take steps to better protect them. We’ve also given our students a unique opportunity to be involved in field research and publish their findings.”

The article is entitled “First Report of Ranavirus and Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis in Green Salamanders (Aneides aeneus) from Virginia, USA.” Herpetological Review is a peer-reviewed quarterly published by the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.

Hamed began the project with a Virginia Community College System Paul Lee Professional Development grant in 2005. Subsequent funding was provided by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries through a State Wildlife Grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University Of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. Students from UVa-Wise, working under the direction of Assistant Professor of Biology Wally Smith also joined the study, and additional funding was provided by the UVa-Wise Fellowship in the Natural Sciences endowment.

“We were thrilled to be able to partner with Dr. Hamed and students on this project,” Dr. Smith said. “The Green Salamander is one of the most unique yet understudied salamander species in our part of Virginia, and this research puts us one step closer to developing the knowledge that will be necessary to effectively conserve this species in our region and beyond. We also are incredibly thankful to the local citizens who aided us by providing their own sightings of this species and helping us expand our knowledge of where Green Salamanders live across southwest Virginia. We hope to expand upon this citizen science aspect in the next phase of our research to better involve local residents in determining where this species lives in our region.”

The second phase of the research will take a closer look at Green Salamander habitats and factors that impact survival. Additional funding is currently being pursued, Hamed said.


Loquerisne linguam latinam?

latin picDo you speak Latin?

John Walker does and he’s sharing his knowledge with students enrolled in the VHCC Upward Bound summer program. In fact, he’s teaching them to speak Latin and a great deal about the Greco-Roman culture. It’s doubtful, of course, that students will begin having conversations in Latin, but they are gaining some valuable insights from the class.

“I’m planning to go into the medical field, so knowing Latin words is important,” said Alice Becker, an Upward Bound participant from Patrick Henry High School. “It’s kind of cool to learn a new language.”

Latin is the focus of World Culture this year, an annual component of the summer program.  Students are busy now learning Latin words and phrases, reading about the Greek and Roman empires, and exploring archetypal stories first told in ancient days. When the program wraps up on July 9, they’ll enjoy a banquet of Mediterranean food to cap off their weeks of study.

Behind every great summer program is a great teacher who exhibits passion, and Mr. Walker is a perfect example.

He teaches Latin at Patrick Henry High School during the school year and perfects his skills each summer by attending Conventiculum Latinum – also known as the Annual Convention for Spoken Latin to those who haven’t quite mastered the Latin language – at the University of Kentucky. He’s joined there by Latin enthusiasts from around the world, who spend several days communicating entirely in Latin.

And while Mr. Walker doesn’t expect to see any of his students there, he does hope the Latin they’ve learned will provide them with a more diverse vocabulary and a greater understanding of how ancient times have impacted the modern world.

And while the students are having a lot of fun, they’re also working really hard to glean some useful tidbits of information from their lessons. After all, like Lucretius used to say, “ex nihilo nihil fit.” (Nothing comes from nothing.)


Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Visits VHCC

VETERANSMay2015Calling Virginia’s 23 community colleges the “crown jewel” of the Commonwealth, Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs John C. Harvey on Tuesday asked veterans at Virginia Highlands Community College to help him promote the educational benefits and training programs offered on the VHCC campus.

“This is where so many of you come to find a pathway to employability, “’ he said. “As I’ve visited community colleges across Virginia, I’ve discovered they have a common mission to help you get to work in some productive way. You’re getting real value here in exchange for your benefits. ”

A retired four-star admiral, Harvey was appointed to Governor Terry McAuliffe’s cabinet in January 2014. Since that time, he has visited 15 community colleges across Virginia to learn what obstacles veterans face as they make the transition from military to civilian life.  He plans to meet with veterans at Mountain Empire Community College on Wednesday.

Harvey said he became an advocate for community colleges after learning that for-profit educational institutions have launched aggressive marketing campaigns in an attempt to recruit those eligible for Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. Unfortunately, he said, the average success rate at these institutions is about 10 percent.

“We need to do more to let veterans know about the opportunities available at community colleges,” he said. “I need you to help me spread the word.”

Student Tony Mitchell, who served in the U.S. Army and the Tennessee National Guard, suggested a training program to help faculty and staff better understand issues unique to veterans. Many on campus are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries as a result of their time in combat, Mitchell said.

Harvey agreed that colleges could benefit from these programs, adding that he is working hard across Virginia to change the perception many have of veterans. Stress is a normal part of war, he said, but many veterans are still able to lead productive lives and become valuable members of the workforce.

In fact, Harvey delivered good news to Kelly Richardson, co-owner of Richardson Ambulance Service in Marion. He said Richardson and other small business owners in Virginia will soon receive a $1,000 tax credit for each veteran employed and retained on a full-time basis for at least a year.  Richardson attended Tuesday’s meeting with her employee, Ryan Clark, a veteran of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne who graduated last week with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Emergency Medical Technology.

To help veterans feel more comfortable on campus, Harvey pledged state funding next year for a veterans’ center on each community college campus. Each center will be unique, he said, to meet the needs of the state’s diverse mix of students.

“We’ll provide the money, but you will decide what you need,” he said.

And, he added, he is seeing what can be done to ensure those who have earned educational benefits are not penalized when they enroll in online classes, courses offered on a compressed timetable, or in non-credit workforce training programs. The Veterans Administration needs to adjust its rules, he said, to meet the needs of students in today’s learning environments.


Spelling Bee Was ‘Nerve-Racking,’ Winner Says

009 The words weren’t as difficult as Jamie Brown feared they might be, but the experience of competing in VHCC’s first annual Spelling Bee still was “nerve-racking” because all eyes in the Keyser-Aday Theatre were focused on her while she was at the microphone.

“I don’t even remember the word I won with,” she said. “That’s how nervous I was.”

Jamie was among several dozen students who participated in the VHCC Spelling Bee on January 29 in the hopes of winning bragging rights and a share of the cash that was available for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners.  She ended the afternoon $250 dollars richer and glad she convinced a co-worker to fill in for her at Cracker Barrel.

“I found out about it through an email that was sent out,” she said. “I was supposed to work, but I got a friend to cover my shift. I figured I had the chance to make more money than I would at work that day.”

A resident of Sugar Grove, Jamie started a family soon after graduating from Marion High School. A few years ago while working at a job she didn’t like, she made the decision to enroll at VHCC. It was something she always wanted to do, she explained, but kept putting off.  She’ll graduate in May with an Associate of Arts & Sciences Degree in Education – Teacher Preparation, then it’s on to Radford University to complete her teaching degree.

“I really love the teachers here,” she said. “Every teacher here really cares. I hope that doesn’t change when I get to Radford.”

In addition to her full-time class load, Jamie works full time and is a single mother to a 12-year-old daughter and 11-year-old twins.

“My kids have seen me work really hard to find time for everything,” she said. “I think they’ve learned a few things from that. I bet they go to college right after high school.”

Rhonda Hubbard won $150 for her 2nd-place finish in the Spelling Bee, and Heather Jeffreys won $100 for finishing in 3rd place.

VHCC Students Visit Virginia Lawmakers

Group photo with Senator Chafin
VHCC students met with Senator Ben Chafin during a visit to Richmond that was organized by the Virginia Community College System to familiarize students with the legislative process and give lawmakers an opportunity to meet their community college constituents.

Four VHCC students traveled to Richmond in February to meet state lawmakers and explain how the College is helping them to achieve their educational goals.

The student group included two Patrick Henry High School and two Holston High School graduates who were chosen to participate in the annual VCCS initiative entitled Every Day is Community College Day. The goal of that program is to ensure community college students are in Richmond each day the Legislature is in session.  In addition to visiting legislators, students had the opportunity to learn about the legislative process and meet VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois


Carlie McCready : An affection for young children led Carlie McCready to pursue a career as a kindergarten teacher. So, after graduating from Patrick Henry High School in 2013, she enrolled in the Teacher Preparation program at VHCC. Because Carlie’s father is a tobacco farmer, she received a Virginia Tobacco Scholarship.  When she graduates with an associate’s degree in the spring, she plans to transfer to King University. Carlie said VHCC is the perfect learning environment for her because small class sizes have allowed her to excel academically.

025Frankie Coleman: A 2013 graduate of Patrick Henry High School, Frankie Coleman received a Virginia Tobacco Scholarship to attend VHCC because of her father’s past farming experience. She’s hard at work now on general education courses, but hopes to be accepted into the nursing program next year. Frankie said VHCC was a good choice for her because of the great reputation of the nursing program and the close proximity to home. She also likes the small class sizes and the opportunity to continue the next phase of her education with friends from high school.”My mother and aunt are both nurses, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said.

002Conrad Thacker: While enrolled at Holston High School, Conrad Thacker did a host of volunteer projects to earn a Washington County Community Scholarship. When he graduated in 2014, he decided to use that scholarship and his love of math to study engineering at VHCC. But it wasn’t just the promise of free tuition that brought him to VHCC, Conrad said, explaining that he was also intrigued by the small class sizes that have allowed him to develop personal relationships with his teachers. That one-on-one attention has allowed him to excel academically, he said, and is preparing him for the next step of his education. “My sister is in the engineering program at Virginia Tech now, and I’m planning to transfer there to finish my four-year degree,” he said. “It’s hard to pass up the chance to get two years of college at no cost, so this was a good place for me to start.”

004Devin Keith: While a student at Holston High School, Devin Keith spent a lot of afternoons helping elementary school teachers with classroom tasks and picking up trash around his high school. All that volunteer service earned him a Washington County Community Scholarship, which covers all of his tuition at VHCC for two years. Devin has always enjoyed helping people, so he enrolled in the VHCC nursing program. He is currently working on the prerequisites needed, then plans to earn an associate’s degree. After graduation, he’ll be eligible to take the test needed to come licensed as a registered nurse. “I’ve heard great things about the nursing program here, so I thought this would be a good place to get my RN degree,” he said. “After I work for a few years, I’d like to continue at King University and become a nurse anesthetist.”

VMS Students Get Their Hands Dirty

Thanks to VHCC Greenhouse Manager Ben Casteel, students at Virginia Middle School now know that horticulture is both an art and science, that the last frost in our region occurs around May 10, and that organic gardening techniques are making a comeback.

Ben shared this information with participants in the VMS Afterschool Academy, a grant- funded program that has allowed VHCC to provide a series of hands-on career information designed to motivate students to begin planning for college. Thursday’s participants were encouraged to ask questions and even learned a thing or two about mycorrhizae. Then they were given the chance to put their hands in the dirt and plant a flower or vegetable to take home.

Students could choose between peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, basil or petunias. After learning how to plant the tiny specimens in a cup, Ben gave them tips for taking care of their plants until time to put them in the ground.

“You need to water it a few times a week,” he said. “If it feels kind of heavy, it probably doesn’t need water. If it’s real light and the soil is a light color, you probably need to water it a little.”

Criss Golden has worked closely with VMS teachers to coordinate activities for participating students. In addition to the horticulture activity, he arranged for students to visit campus, participate in a Reality Store program, and learn about biology and engineering from faculty members Kevin Hamed and Tom Tidwell.



Coastal Critters the Focus of Spring Break Study

photo2If your idea of a perfect Spring Break at the beach includes sun, sand, boat-tailed grackle and Yabby shrimp, you’re probably one of 14 students and three faculty members taking part in VHCC’s 2014 Coastal Ecology Course.

Jessica Cox described the experience nicely.

“I came on this trip expecting to learn about the marine environment, however it has become much more than that,” she said. “It has opened my eyes to how many different opportunities you have in life and the many different paths you can take. Seeing the dolphins following us on the boat and playing was amazing. Also catching frogs to identify them was out of this world. This has truly been the opportunity and trip of a lifetime.”

While others are taking a well-deserved break from class, this group of ambitious science enthusiasts is spending the week at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory for a week filled with hands-on exploration. They’re combing the beaches and woods, searching for sea creatures, coastal bird species, and plants that can’t be observed in the woods and mountains close to home.

“Just within the past few days I have learned and experienced more on this trip about different factors that shape an environment than I have ever learned in any classroom,” said student Austin Compton. “I will take what I learn on this trip everywhere I go. I am so glad I had the opportunity to be with critters over spring break!”

Coastal Ecology is offered at VHCC every other year and has been led for many years by Assistant Professor of Biology Kevin Hamed and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sandy Davis. Dr. Hara Charlier, vice president of Instruction and Student Services, is also participating this year.

If you’d like to learn more, check out this cool video including more quotes and photos from participating student.