SERVING THE ROANOKE/BLACKSBURG/ NEW RIVER VALLEY REGION
Smart grid technology may prevent power outages â€” if the technology ever gets to the Roanoke region
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CONTENTS SERVING THE ROANOKE/BLACKSBURG/ NEW RIVER VALLEY REGION
F E AT U R E S COVER STORY
Smart grid technology may prevent power outages — if the technology ever gets to the Roanoke region. by Kevin Kittredge
HEALTHCARE Doing something about it
Volunteers in Medical Reserve Corps respond to local emergencies. by Joan Tupponce
BUSINESS LAW Getting ready
Businesses have more time to comply with the ACA. They’ll need it. by Mason Adams
TECHNOLOGY Disease Science Investigators: D.C.
Educators look to video game to interest students in STEM and the art of critical thinking. by Tim Thornton
INTERVIEW: Robert Sandel
Citizen of the year; educator for a lifetime
COMMUNITY PROFILE: ROANOKE COUNTY The Vinton Way
Virginia Western’s president puts ‘community’ in community college.
Town pins downtown revitalization on updated version of an old fixture: the public library.
by Donna Alvis Banks
by Beth Jones
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FROM THE EDITOR
Sizing up the grid
y dad sold his camping trailer. It was just too much trouble to deal with. He kept the little generator that he used on his camping trips. It’s just too much trouble to be without one. I have a friend who has a more elaborate generator that can keep most – maybe all – of the appliances in his house humming if the power grid fails to bring power to his breaker box. He calls the system of wires and poles that carry electricity the dumb grid, and he’s sure it’s not a matter of if, but when, the grid will fail. The system has failed pretty spectacularly before, after all. One of the grid’s most spectacular failures came just more than a decade ago. It was a diabolical attack. In less than six minutes, the electrical power grid was disabled across eight states and part of Canada – about 50 million people without air conditioners and refrigerators in the middle of a very hot August. Streetlights, cell phones, computers, everything that needed electricity was dead, in some cases, for days. Estimates of the economic cost are as high as $10 billion in the United States. Any extremist group would have been proud to claim credit for such disruption. But the culprit wasn’t an extremist group. The culprit was a tree. A couple of them, actually. In one of the many stories published and broadcast around the 10th anniversary last August, David Barnett described the event this way on National Public Radio: “In midafternoon, on Aug. 14, 2003, a wire … started sagging with the heat of electrical demand on a hot summer’s day, touching a tree, shorting the line and shutting it down. Sensing a break in the electrical grid, the current automatically rerouted to an adjacent line, which began to overheat and sink into another tree, which blew another circuit.” The cascade had begun. Certainly, there was more to it than that – human error and poor communication seems to have played a part – but the switch that cut the lights off for a number of people slightly larger than South Korea’s population was a tree limb. A lot has happened since that disastrous August day. According to a Time article marking the 10th anniversary, “the grid’s actually doing quite well.” Customers in the U.S. lose power only “1.2 times per year, for a total of 112 minutes, not counting disruptions from weather.” That seems like quite a caveat. We’ve become accustomed to power outages caused by snow storms, ice storms, thunder storms and wind storms. But, according to Time’s reporting, customers can expect to do without electricity for about two hours a year even if they never see a really big storm or a really hot day. As I write this, according to Appalachian Power’s website, more than 4,400 of the company’s customers are doing without electricity. All but 113 of those are in McDowell County, W.Va. It’s snowing over there now, but weather.com tells me the county’s had only about a tenth of an inch of snow in the last 24 hours. That’s not meant as a dig at Appalachian. The company is just one of many that electrify the country. The system those companies use to distribute that electricity might be called state of the art, if this year were 1894. As Kevin Kittredge reports in this month’s cover story, Thomas Edison would recognize our electrical system. And that’s not a good thing.
SERVING THE ROANOKE/BLACKSBURG/ NEW RIVER VALLEY REGION Vol. 2
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Bernard A. Niemeier Tim Thornton Paula Squires Kevin Kittredge Joan Tupponce Mason Adams Donna Alvis Banks Beth Jones Adrienne R. Watson Pam McAllister Sam Dean Don Petersen Natalee Waters Kevin L. Dick Karen Chenault Sunny Ogburn Lynn Williams Hunter Bendall
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on the cover America will need to invest billions of dollars to modernize its power grid File Photo
BUILDING A POWERFUL FUTU RE
The Gatorade plant in Wytheville, Va., was designed with energy efficient lighting and equipment, which saves the company thousands of dollars on electricity every year.
Appalachian Power is proud to play a part in creating jobs and helping businesses grow. From creating construction jobs associated with capital improvements at our power plants and to our transmission lines, to helping our business customers save money through energy efficiency so they can invest more in their employees and businesses, Appalachian is spurring economic growth and vitality in our region. Itâ€™s part of our commitment to the communities we serve, and itâ€™s how we are building a powerful future.
A P PA L AC H I A N P O W E R .C O M
SSmart mart ggrid rid ttechnology ec may prevent p revent p power ower outages â€” iiff the the ttechnology echnolo ever gets ttoo the the R Roanoke oanok region
by Kevin Kittredge
mart meters that tell customers about power use, help power companies accommodate demand and pinpoint outages. Sensors that continuously report on power lines’ health. Homemade electricity that could reduce the need for new power plants.
There’s a new day coming for the nation’s antiquated electrical supply system. Collectively known as “the smart grid,” it’s expected to transform a system that has worked much the same since the days of the first light bulbs. “I’ve heard it said Thomas Edison would recognize our electrical system,” says Richard Greer, “and that’s not a good thing.” Greer is senior engineer for grid management deployment for American Electric Power, parent company of Appalachian Power. It provides electricity to portions of Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia, including Roanoke and most of Southwest Virginia. Appalachian and other energy companies are begin-
Photo by Sam Dean
ning to take steps to bring the electrical grid into the digital age, because there are many potential benefits. “The smart grid is about gathering data on the system and making use of that data for better operations. It’s about automation and control,” says Robert Broadwater, a Virginia Tech professor of electrical engineering who works on smart grid issues. It’s also about integrating self-produced energy from solar panels and windmills into the grid —steps that would reduce the need for expensive new power plants and provide backup power in the event of outages or terrorist attack. While Appalachian has updated some of its technology, its approach to smart grid technologies has been
Aaron Markham monitors the grid at AEP’s offices in Roanoke.
cover story cautious, with an emphasis on reliability, utility officials say. That’s due in part to the rugged terrain in Appalachian’s service area. “Our challenge is to make sure we keep our reliability at an acceptable level,” Greer says. “That’s more where our focus is.” Appalachian has no plans to install smart meters anytime soon. The company did install new meters that allow Appalachian workers to take drive-by readings from the street instead of entering customers’ yards, but those meters do not incorporate the new twoway digital technology. Greer says the new technology is likely to be added as it proves reliable and cost effective. “We’re applying advances in communication and microprocessor-based control,” he says. “We’ll keep expanding the use of smart grid technologies on our system.” Appalachian’s parent company, AEP, has gone further in some markets, installing smart meters in a pilot program in Ohio called gridSMART. That program, paid for in part with federal stimulus dollars, allows customers to monitor their electricity usage throughout the month, instead of waiting for their utility bill. The project is also testing the use of community energy storage units for backup power and gauging the impact of electric cars and smart appliances on the electrical grid. As AEP board member and retired CEO Michael Morris explains in a gridSMART promotional video: “Today, you and I are blind consumers ... You use the product, and then 38 days later you find out how much you used and how much you owe for it.” With the new technology, he says, “The house will do what you want it to do. I think that will cause everybody to become an energy conserver.” Not everyone is excited about the smart grid. Southwest Virginia electricity consumers have shown little curiosity about new smart 8
Appalachian Power’s John Shepelwich says some people don’t want smart meters at their houses.
grid technologies to date, says Appalachian’s Roanoke-based region Support Manager Harold Wiseman. “It doesn’t appear there is tremendous interest in it. Not at least from calls we have received,” he says. Some utilities, though, are committing themselves to smart grid technologies in a big way. Pacific Gas & Electric, for example, has installed more than 9 million smart meters in California that allow customers to monitor their electricity usage hourly and their natural gas usage daily, while also transmitting the data to the utility via a secure wireless network. Here in Virginia, Dominion
Virginia Power, which serves 2.3 million customers in Northern Virginia, Tidewater, Central Virginia and Southern Virginia, has installed more than 160,000 smart meters since 2009. Some 200,000 more customers in Northern Virginia and 7,000 customers in the Midlothian area will receive them in the coming year. “Dominion is exchanging existing meters for new smart meters incrementally to continue providing customers with reasonable rates and better service — like more reliable delivery of energy, better power-outage detection, more responsive problem resolution and remote meter reading,” says Dominion spokesman David Botkins. “We look at all innovative technology that will lead to a smarter grid and better reliability for our customers.” Virginia Tech’s Broadwater notes that smart grid technologies can make utilities more efficient and more reliable — which could ultimately make utility bills go down. “We can do a better job for less money,” he says. Still, it’s a challenge. “Bringing automation to the electric grid requires major changes in the way it is designed and operated today,” adds Broadwater. “It’s a big system, and it’s not going to change overnight.” Some might argue that the current power grid already is pretty smart. The grid, after all, is “the largest interconnected machine on Earth,” according to a 2008 smart grid primer prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy. Broadwater calls the grid “the largest plant man has ever created.” The nation’s electrical system topped a National Academy of Engineering list of the most important engineering achievements of the 20th century. The Internet came in 13th. Perhaps people appreciate it most on the rare occasions when it does not work, and they are forced Photo by Sam Dean
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cover story By some estimates, America will need to invest hundreds of billions of dollars to modernize its power grid over the next 20 years. Other estimates run even higher.
to live, for a brief time, as their ancestors did — sans electric heat, air conditioning, lights, appliances and electricity-fueled entertainment, be it amplified music, movies, computer games or TV.
Yet the grid also is overburdened, with new demand outpacing transmission growth every year. Blackouts and brownouts are occurring with greater frequency, due partly to what the DOE’s primer
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calls “poor visibility” — that is, the inability of grid operators to see what’s going on all around them and to react to it. Indeed, in many parts of the country even today, the only way a utility knows whether a customer has lost power is when the customer calls to report it. Power outages don’t just inconvenience residential customers; they also wreak financial havoc on businesses and industries that need electricity to operate. The infamous Northeast Blackout of 2003 began when three sagging power lines touched tree limbs on a hot August day in Ohio. A cluster of power lines failed, unnoticed by operators, “causing electricity to surge into lines that were still open, until those overloaded and led to a cascade,” according to a later account by Matthew Wald in The New York Times. New York City, Cleveland, Detroit and Toronto all went dark, as did sections of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Some 50 million people ultimately lost power. The cost of that blackout has been estimated as high as $10 billion. Such disasters are rare; the grid is 99.97 percent reliable, according to the DOE. But the cost of electricity is rising. Coal-fired energy plants are one reason America, with only 4 percent of the world’s population, produces a quarter of its greenhouse gasses, according to the primer. By some estimates, America will need to invest hundreds of billions of dollars to modernize its power grid over the next 20 years. Other estimates run even higher. No one knows yet what the final form of that grid will be, but the goals include greater efficiency and reduced energy loss, digital-based oversight and control, and less reliance on pollution-causing fossil fuels. America isn’t the only country in the world taking a hard look at a smart grid. China is investing bilPhoto by Sam Dean
cover story lions in smart grid technology. India has a smart grid task force. The European Union has implemented a European Electricity Grid Initiative with an eye to using renewable energy sources. In America, the Obama administration has backed smart grid technology. Some $4.5 billion in funds were made available for power grid improvements and energy independence in the stimulus bill of 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, leading to dozens of smart grid projects across the country, including AEP’s gridSMART project in Ohio. Appalachian received no stimulus money for smart grid projects, Greer says, but other utilities in this region have, including the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, Potomac Electric Power, the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and Duke Energy Carolinas. Virginia Tech has received at least one DOE grant for smart grid research: $199,995 to develop curricula and training in synchrophasor technology and grid dynamics. Synchrophasor technology uses sensors that measure conditions on transmission lines as often as 30 times a second – but relatively few people are trained in their use. Virginia Tech’s Broadwater also is working with the International Smart Grid Action Network to develop a web-based course on the smart grid that emphasizes the use of grid models, known as the “model-centric” approach. Not all the smart grid projects to date have been successful, says Broadwater. Some utilities, he says, “have gone in and spent small fortunes without really thinking it through.” Some find themselves deluged with new information they don’t know how to use. New automated controls are needed to process terabytes of information and make critical decisions in real time, he says. Laboratory testing also is critical, he says. “They need to go into the laboratory and do it before they go into the field.
Photo by Sam Dean
Not everything involved in monitoring the grid is driven by electricity.
“We should pursue the smart grid, but we should do it in a smart way,” Broadwater says. No one could accuse Appalachian Power of moving too quickly. Appalachian customers are unlikely to see the most visible and contro-
versial aspect of the smart grid, the smart meter, anytime soon, because Appalachian recently installed the last generation of meters throughout its coverage area. More than a million of the new meters were installed over several
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cover story Shannon Howard, Aaron Markham and Ryan Lucas monitor the grid at AEP’s offices in Roanoke.
years, with the last ones coming in 2007, says Appalachian spokesman John Shepelwich. He says the cost of meter reading dropped from 96 cents to 18 cents per meter when the new meters were installed. The savings to be had from upgrading to a new smart meter system aren’t nearly as large, according to Greer, although he couldn’t say exactly what those savings would be. Shepelwich notes that some people are opposed to smart meters. In fact, there are numerous websites and videos on the Internet that claim smart meters are government surveillance devices or can cause cancer. (Smart meters do emit radiation, but at lower levels than cell phones and microwave ovens, various studies have shown.) Some localities have passed moratoriums on the installation of smart meters in California, while a woman in Houston reportedly pulled a gun on a utility employee who tried to install a smart meter at her home in 2012. Appalachian customers will 12
likely not have to get involved in that debate until long after it has been settled; the lifespan of Appalachian’s new meters, Greer says, is 30 years. On the other hand, home solar panels and windmills, known in utility parlance as “distributed energy,” are likely to play an increasingly important part in electrical generation here and elsewhere in coming years, in part because building big new power plants in a time of heightened concerns about the environment is problematic. “Expanding the capacity of the system — it’s a challenge these days,” says Greer. “I don’t see the big-scale projects like we used to have. Distributed generation is going to start filling in some of that need. If everybody had it, it could be significant.” The wind or the sun, while good alternative sources, are not expected to handle all the country’s energy needs — at least not until energy storage methods become more efficient. Right now the energy loss-
es involved are large, Greer says. Home energy producers can probably do better by giving their excess energy to the grid in exchange for a break on electric bills through a system known as “net metering.” So, says Greer, if utility customers want to become small energy producers, they have an incentive to do it. All public utilities are required to make net metering available to their customers on request, per the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Virginia has had a law requiring net metering since 1999. The service is available from Appalachian. The need to recharge electric cars in the future could also have an impact on the system, Greer notes – and it may be a good one. Greer says if cars are recharged overnight, when demand is typically lower, it could allow some power generators to continue making power all night instead of shutting down, which would save money. All in all, Greer notes, “It’s an interesting time” for those in the utility business. Photo by Sam Dean
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Tanya Ferraro is coordinator for Roanoke Valley and Central Virginia for the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps.
Doing something about it Volunteers in Medical Reserve Corps respond to local emergencies by Joan Tupponce
we n t y- s i x- ye a rold college student Neil Huss likes to serve. That’s why the experienced emergency medical technician began volunteering for the Roanoke/Alleghany Medical Reserve Corps. The local corps is a subset of a national group – started as 14
a result of 9/11 – that helps volunteers respond to public health emergencies. Some of the experiences Huss has gained through his corps service couldn’t be found in books or even on his job. Huss studies business administration at Roanoke College and Virginia Western Community College. At the Corps he’s learning about life-
and-death situations. “I’ve been able to go through training that I’d never thought I’d have access to,” he says. He recently attended an Introduction to Autopsy Techniques course at the office of the chief medical examiner in Roanoke. “I was allowed to witness and participate in an actual autopsy, something that very few people ever Photo by Don Petersen
health care Local Medical Reserve Corp units help mobilize volunteers during times of public emergency.
get the chance to do.” Attending an autopsy was part of his training as a member of the Mass Fatality Response Team. Huss is one of about 100 volunteers in the Roanoke/Alleghany MRC. Statewide the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps has 13,500 medical and non-medical volunteers that include nurses, doctors, psychiatrists, EMTs, medical students, pharmacists and veterinarians. The Roanoke/Alleghany MRC and the New River MRC are two of 31 local units throughout the commonwealth. The Southwest Virginia MRC unit, stretching west of Giles County to Wise County, is the third largest in the state with more than 1,000 volunteers. Part of the Virginia Department of Health, Virginia’s MRC was founded in 2002 after the development of the national Medical Reserve Corps program in the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General in the Department of Health Photo by Don Petersen
and Human Services. “It was started as a response to the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks when medical personnel that were not affiliated with an agency wanted to volunteer. They didn’t have anyone to give them direction,” says Tanya Ferraro, Virginia Medical Reserve Corps coordinator for the Roanoke Valley and Central Virginia. Each unit responds to emergencies and disasters within the local health district. In 2012 both the Roanoke/Alleghany and the New River units responded to an emergency call during the much-publicized fungal meningitis outbreak. Infected patients received tainted spinal injection procedures at both Insight Imaging in Roanoke and New River Valley Surgery Center in Christiansburg. The medication used in the injections was recalled by the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts. As of August 2013, there
were 54 cases of meningitis and five deaths in Virginia. (Nationally, hundreds of people became ill in more than 20 states, and more than 60 people died.) “We did an epidemiological investigation,” Ferraro says of their involvement. “We contacted patients that might have been exposed, and we followed up on signs and symptoms.” If the hospital had been inundated with patients, the MRC would have been on call to staff an alternative care site. “We are here to support them,” Ferraro said, adding that the units also have been called out in response to recent flooding and tornadoes in the area. The Virginia MRC also addresses public health community issues such as drug abuse, heart disease and diabetes. It provides public health screenings and education, as well. In Southwest Virginia, for example, the MRC unit collaborates with community law ROANOKE BUSINESS
The Roanoke region’s Medical Reserve Corps has put together a mass fatality response team that could respond to tragedies like the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.
enforcement each year to collect unused prescription and over-thecounter medications for safe disposal in a program called “Drug
Take Back.” Both the Roanoke/Alleghany and New River Valley units also are components of the Virginia
Hospital Healthcare Association’s Near Southwest Preparedness Alliance, a regional task force of 16 hospitals, health districts and lo-
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Photo by Don Petersen
health care cal/regional emergency managers. The Virginia MRC conducts a lot of training in the Roanoke/ Alleghany and New River areas. Volunteers recently completed epidemiology training as well as Zombie Response Team training, which can be activated in all types of public health emergencies as well as terrorism, nuclear, biological and chemical attacks. The tongue-in-cheek zombie approach gives volunteers a visual reference point thanks to the growing number of zombie films being released, helping them adopt a “no limitations” mindset if they are faced with any unprecedented threat. “That is what it takes to really get ready when we talk about zombie response,” Ferraro says. “People start to think about preparing for the apocalypse as well as personal responsibility. They think about what it
really takes to get ready for a disaster and to keep the community safe.” In the event of a mass fatality incident such as the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, the MRC has put together a mass fatality response team that includes morticians, clergy and faith-based volunteers. “We work with the medical examiner’s office,” Ferraro says. The units also work with families to identify victims, and they provide autopsy and morgue operations support. Huss is a member of several teams, including leadership, all hazards response, epidemiology and mass fatality response. He also serves as the training leader for the recruitment and retention team. He has put together a recruitment plan for his unit and he is currently developing an exercise for the mass fatality response
team. Registered nurse Cat Brandon, 39, who works in surgical service at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, signed up to be a volunteer last summer. She has an extensive background in international volunteer work. “When I went to nursing school one of my goals was to become involved in medical relief work,” she says. She recently completed training to join the infectious disease team, where she will be eligible to assist in the event of local outbreaks of communicable diseases. “I enjoy knowing that when disaster strikes in our area, I will be prepared to respond,” she says. “If there’s an emergency situation I can help with, I don’t want to just read about it in The Roanoke Times the next day; I want to be there doing something about it.”
Getting ready M
edia coverage of 2010’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) has focused on nearly everything but the actual provisions of the law. The politics of the law, legal challenges that have reached the U.S. Supreme Court and technical issues with the healthcare.gov website have dominated the news. Yet, with key provisions taking effect this year, business owners and human resources managers need to be aware of ACA requirements to make decisions that best meet their needs. Those will vary by employer, and knowledge of the law is crucial, say local attorneys, in finding the balance between cost savings and employee relations. The good news is a mandate requiring employers with more than 50 full-time employees to provide health insurance (or pay a fine) has been de-
Businesses have more time to comply with the ACA, and they’ll need it by Mason Adams
layed. Originally, that mandate was supposed to kick in at the beginning of 2014. Now employers with more than 99 full-time employees face a 2015 deadline. Employers with 50 to 99 employees don’t have to provide insurance until 2016. “My experience with employers is they were scrambling through 2013 to figure out what to do. They got really focused and were really worried about what would happen in 2014,” says Brooke Rosen of Roanoke’s Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore. “Then the announcement came out there would be a delay. What I’m encouraging folks to do is, don’t take your foot off the gas here. Get the software you need to track employees, or get your HR people the training they need.” The first thing businesses need to do is to figure out whether they will be categorized as a large or Photo by Natalee Waters
Employers with more than 99 full-time employees have until 2015 to figure out how they will comply with legal requirements of the Affordable Health Care Act. Employers with 50 to 99 employees have until 2016.
Joshua Treece says offering insurance may not be the best financial decision for every employer.
small employer. Large employers with 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees are required by the law to offer coverage to their workers and dependents, while it exempts small employers. There’s a twist, though, for how to count employees. “Fulltime-equivalent” is considered 30 hours per week or more. If employers are on the cusp – say, with 45 full-time employees and several part-timers – they can determine how they’ll fall by adding up all the part-time hours and dividing by 120. “You have to categorize your Photo by Natalee Waters
employees – part-time, full-time, seasonal folks – and then count their hours,” Rosen says. Seasonal employees don’t count toward the total under the Affordable Care Act. The question of contractors is a little stickier. Rosen says there’s already some controversy over who quali-
fies as an employee, who qualifies for benefits and employment taxes, versus an independent contractor, who doesn’t. The Internal Revenue Service has been taking a closer look at companies who blur the lines between the two, and that attention extends to the health-care law. ROANOKE BUSINESS
Brooke Rosen’s advice to businesses preparing to deal with ACA mandates is “don’t take your foot off the gas.”
“I’m encouraging people to look at the substance rather than the label,” Rosen says. “In context of health-care reform, employers need to be really careful they’re independent contractors.” Joshua Treece of the law firm Woods Rogers says it’s also important that employers with a large number of part-time employees keep a close watch on their hours. “If employees start working more hours without the employer noticing, then when the employer looks back and the employee has worked more than 30 hours,” they qualify as full-time under the health-care law. If that puts the employer over the threshold of 50 and they didn’t offer coverage, they’ll get hit with fines. This is another case where, 20
due to the federal government’s delay of the employer mandate, there’s opportunity to set a baseline and make plans for 2015. If businesses determine they will be categorized as large employers for purposes of the law, Treece says, it’s then a case-by-case decision as to whether large businesses will actually want to offer coverage or choose to pay the penalty instead. To calculate the penalty, determine the number of full-time employees, subtract 30 and multiply that times $2,000. Employers can then weigh that figure against the cost of providing coverage to determine which way they want to go. Other factors come into play as well. “Your employees will be
subject to the individual mandate, so they’re subject to an individual penalty unless they qualify for an exemption,” Treece says. Depending on what they pay, some employers may find it better to withhold coverage and offer a supplement to cover the purchase of employee insurance through the federal or state marketplace instead. “It’s possible that because you’re not offering coverage, your employees might be eligible for subsidies,” Treece says. “You might be better financially not offering coverage but then giving them extra money to buy coverage.” Small employers are exempt from the requirement to offer coverage, but for various reasons they may still choose to provide insurance to their workers. Photo by Natalee Waters
business law “In this region there’s a long tradition of good benefits and really good employer-paid benefits,” Rosen says. “Sometimes I see companies that provide health insurance, and I’m really surprised they offer it.” One option for smaller companies that may be facing sharply increasing rates is to look into the government’s Small Business Health Options Exchange, available at healthcare.gov. Small employers with 25 or fewer full-time-equivalent employees and an average
Depending on what they pay, some employers may find it better to withhold coverage and offer a supplement to cover the purchase of employee insurance through the federal or state marketplace instead. annual salary of less than $50,000 can seek a tax credit for up to 50 percent of their monthly premium. For 2014 there’s a single plan, but in future years the number of options should increase, even as tax credits phase out. Treece recommends that all employers – regardless of whether they offer coverage – include the U.S. Department of Labor’s standard marketplace notice in new employee paperwork. That provision is required only for employers who offer coverage, but Treece says it’s a good move for any company in terms of employee relations. Businesses that offer insurance, whether large or small, need to ensure their coverage complies with the new law’s requirements. In most instances, insurers will make sure their offerings align with the law, but the obligation technically falls on the employer. “I think it’s a combination of trusting a reliable insurer but also making sure you have a good HR manager who knows what questions to ask,” Rosen says.
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Disease Science Stephen Eubank thinks DSI:DC can teach much more than the STEM skills that are at its core.
Educators look to video game to interest students in STEM and the art of critical thinking by Tim Thornton
mysterious illness is sweeping across Washington, D.C. No one knows what it is, where it came from or what’s causing it to spread. Your job is to figure that out, then find a way to fight it. That’s the premise of Disease Science Investigators: D.C., a video game that aims to introduce seventh- and 10th-graders
to computational modeling and the study of infectious diseases. It also reinforces and expands their knowledge of STEM disciplines such as algebra, biology and statistics. The object is not only to get kids interested in STEM, but also to get them to think critically and apply their knowledge, “not just regurgitate it,” says Michael Evans, an associate professor in Virginia Tech’s School of Education. The game also shows “they can rely on science to give them some kind of evidence to think about problems,” according to Stephen Eubank, professor and deputy director of Virginia Tech’s Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory
at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute. Players interview characters, gather and evaluate information, conduct tests to determine the cause of the outbreak and present conclusions to the city’s leaders, who evaluate how well the players have done. The game’s name and basic concept suggests the popular CSI television franchise. The graphics look like a graphic novel. And it’s all embedded in a video game. “I’m very interested in appropriating popular media and culture for educational purposes,” Evans says, “and video games are just the thing these days. They’re both the bane and joy Photo by Ivan Morozov
Investigators: D.C Scenes from Disease Science Investigators: DC
Illustrations courtesy of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute
technology of our existence, depending on how you look at it.” When Evans and Madhav Marathe, the deputy director of the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory, started to promote Marathe the idea of this game, Evans says, “We had teachers say, ‘I don’t want video games in my classroom.’ … I don’t know if we were naive or persistent, but we didn’t take that for an answer.” Eventually, they found Jennifer Biedler – then a teacher at Auburn Middle School, now a science teacher at Blacksburg High School. “She was the one teacher who stood up and said, ‘I’ll take a chance with you,’” Evans recalls. “She’s been working informally with us since then to help us build a game that science teachers would find useful but also how to approach teachers, principals, parents and other stakeholders.” Other teachers have helped refine the game. So now an online version of DSI: D.C. is available for teachers who want to experiment with it in their classrooms. “As long as they recognize it’s an Alpha version,” says Evans. “There are some buggy parts.” But it is a complete game, he says, aligned with Standards of Learning requirements. DSI: D.C. wasn’t developed like a typical video game. It grew out of actual science, a product of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute; the Department of Learning Sciences and Technologies; the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology; and game development company Persistent. “What we’ve tried to do is very basic research because that’s what we should do at the university, but we’ve also made a deliberate attempt to try and move some of the technology into the hands of analysts and decision mak24
ers because that’s the best way to see how the technology has to change and evolve over time,” says Marathe. The Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory, part of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, receives funding from many federal agencies, including the departments of Transportation, Homeland Security and Defense. DSI: D.C.’s funding came from the National
NIH portion – the largest portion – was between $75,000 and $100,000. The game developed slowly. It was an offshoot of the main research, fulfilling a grant condition that required outreach and education be part of the project. That requirement may still be part of grants, Eubank says, but the money to support those requirements evaporated with the federal budget sequester. “Appar-
The object is not only to get kids interested in STEM, but also to get them to think critically and apply their knowledge. Institutes of Health’s Office of Science Education, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. Marathe says it’s difficult to say how much money went directly to the game’s development because much of that development is so entwined with the larger project, but the
ently,” he says, “the government identified education as something they didn’t really need to fund.” Since DSI: D.C. is an educational extension of real science, the information and models that drive it are virtually the same that decision-makers confrontIlustration courtesy of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute
technology ing a real epidemic would access. Itâ€™s the method of access that differs. â€œWeâ€™re not trying to give kids something that is extremely naive or dumbed down,â€? Marathe says. â€œAs time allows, we can make the game more sophisticated, depending on the user class.â€? Middle schoolers would get one version of the game. Graduate students and government officials would get others. The current version of the game allows only one player at a time, but the vision from the beginning has been to create a game in which players take different roles â€“ investigator, public official, doctor, business owner â€“ and approach the problem from different perspectives. â€œIâ€™d hoped we could put this in a civics class, even,â€? Eubank says. â€œThere are decisions you can make where you say I need a lot of people to do something that is not exactly in their own best interest, but is good for the population as a whole. And how do you balance those issues? Iâ€™d love to see kids in schools thinking about that political process.â€? The team talks about connecting DSI: D.C with another game theyâ€™ve created, an app called Virus Tracker that makes a game of a mythical zombie virus. â€œWith Virus Tracker,â€? Eubank says, â€œweâ€™re really starting to blur the line between our main line of research and the game,â€? because it could give an indication of how people act when theyâ€™re trying to avoid spreading a virus. Virus Tracker already allows the fantasy virus to mutate periodically, as a real virus does, so tying information from the app to DSI: D.C. might add even more realism. Marathe envisions many kinds of expansions and improvements for DSI: D.C., including a MOOC â€“ a Massive
Marathe envisions many kinds of expansions and improvements for DSI: D.C., including a MOOC â€“ a Massive Open Online Course that could make the game available as a teaching tool worldwide. Open Online Course that could make the game available as a teaching tool worldwide. All that, of course, takes money. A wave of interest from educators and others could help, Marathe says. â€œIf many people contact us, that makes it easier for us to make a caseâ€? for more funding, he says. Or maybe thereâ€™s a business that could get as excited about DSI: D.C. as the team that built it is. â€œWe are open to businesses coming to us and saying we want to build it into a product,â€? Marathe
says. â€œWeâ€™re very happy to work with businesses who might be interested in deploying this, which we think is a potentially interesting concept.â€? Business involvement, he says, could mean anything from taking care of the servers needed to give permanent access to the game to building a DSI: D.C. mobile app to expanding and improving the game. â€œI think the DSI model has legs,â€? Evans says. â€œThe educational elements are there. Now itâ€™s about dialing up the fun factor.â€?
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INTERVIEW: Robert Sandel, President, Virginia Western Community College
Western’s president Citizen of the Year; Virginiaputs ‘community’ in educator for a lifetime community college
by Donna Alvis Banks hen Roanoke’s City Council selected Robert Sandel its
2013 Citizen of the Year, the Virginia Western Community College president responded with characteristic courtesy, placing attention on education rather than ego. “Providing educational opportunities is the greatest thing we can do as a community to enhance quality of life for individuals as well as to create a robust local economy,” he said. Sandel, who headed Big Stone Gap’s Mountain Empire Community College before coming to VWCC in 2001, has made growth at the college a priority. Since he took the helm, the college has seen a double-digit increase in the student population as well as new programs and new construction, such as the Fralin Center for Science and Health Professions, which opened last fall. A 1967 graduate of the Citadel and a South Carolina native, Sandel became the city’s 33rd Citizen of the Year, an honor reserved for those who have unselfishly given their time and energy to impact life in the Roanoke Valley. Sandel does not complain about the fact that there are few 9-to-5 days in his
job as VWCC’s president. In addition to being its academic leader, he says, commitments to the college include fundraising and development, public relations, social and civic responsibilities, accountability, fiscal accuracy and “whatever else needs to be done.” Roanoke Business: To what can you attribute the double-digit growth at Virginia Western Community College since your arrival? Robert Sandel: We have worked diligently over the past 12 years with the community, business, industry, government and educational institutions in various initiatives and programs to enhance the profile of VWCC and demonstrate by our actions the tremendous impact we have on the entire Roanoke Valley. I personally have been on a mission to take part in numerous community activities and assume leadership positions to get name recognition and, in turn, sell Virginia Western to all who would listen. I started on this mission the first day I arrived and am still going strong. A greater emphasis on student success and academic quality has reinforced a positive image of Western as a leader among two-year colleges.
We have also put forth greater efforts in retention of students. At this point, approximately $70 million has been spent on new college facilities and major renovation initiatives. When our new $34 million STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] complex begins in a few years that will put us over the $100 million mark on facility improvements. This new facility will be a game changer in regards to meeting workforce and college transfer needs. A top level marketing team was put Dr. Robert Sandel, in place at the college. The work they president of Virginia have done has put Western into the Western Community forefront of many new potential students College, stands and has made the name Virginia Westoutside the new ern synonymous with success and job Fralin Center for placement possibilities. Science and Health We have added and deleted acProfessions. ademic and workforce programs of study to keep the college current with job needs of our region. [Note: In the past five years, VWCC has added 25 new degrees and certificates, including radiation oncology, interior design, horticulture technology and electronic medical records management. In the 2014-2015 school year, two additional degrees – nurse aide and magnetic resonance imaging – and four medical pre-admission specializations are being offered in dental hygiene, radiography, nursing and radiation oncology.] We have in place faculty and staff that are committed to the mission of Virginia Western. They strive for academic excellence and student success in everything they do on a daily basis. They are the key to our continued progress as a college. RB: To you, what does the word “community” in community college mean? Sandel: The term community in community college means being able to make a positive difference in the lives of a wide variety and diverse population of people. I like to think that we meet their dreams and aspirations with age and financial challenges by not being a barrier. It’s also about how to assist in enhancing the overall community culture in which we live and serve as a Photo by Natalee Waters
college. What can we do to help the Roanoke Valley grow and prosper? That’s the community in community college. RB: What is your greatest strength? Sandel: I am driven both personally and professionally by integrity. I believe integrity is a choice – a conscious decision to commit ethical values that fundamentally define the consistency of character. I believe in honesty in all dealings and fair and equal treatment of others. Specifically within the context of higher education leadership, I believe a strong sense of integrity drives leaders to successfully execute the institution’s vision while engendering a culture of collaboration and strength. RB: What is your greatest weakness? Sandel: The college impacts the lives of all students who attend or benefit from Virginia Western. I strive to ensure students are provided with the opportunity to attend Western regardless of cost. If individuals do not benefit from the college for sociological, financial or other reasons, I feel that I have failed; therefore, I struggle to find a solution. RB: What is the most recent skill you have learned that has helped you in your job? Sandel: I have spent much time learning the intricacies of building construction and renovation. I’m far from an expert but I’m much more knowledgeable about every aspect of the architectural and construction process that goes into building a new facility. We have and will continue to invest considerable resources on facilities; therefore, it’s imperative that I be knowledgeable enough to challenge specific aspects of any building project. RB: You are a past chairman of Smart Beginnings Greater Roanoke. Can you tell us what this program is and what it means personally to you? Sandel: Smart Beginnings Greater Roanoke is a collaborative of community leaders from business, school systems, nonprofits and private individuals who are working together to ensure that every child in the greater Roanoke area enters kindergarten with the skills needed to succeed in school and life. This unique program has had a profound impact on me as I have seen first-hand how trained teachers with sufficient resources can change children’s lives by
offering them a wide variety of learning experiences. Children who have their basic life needs met prior to coming to school can accomplish so much more once they arrive at the first grade. I’m a career educator, and my years of experience have taught me that learning starts early. We need to do all we can to make this happen. I see a number of students who didn’t have these opportunities. This hinders their income and job opportunities as adults. RB: What does it mean to be “college ready”? Sandel: I believe college readiness is defined as a student who is adequately prepared for the rigors of a collegelevel, adult learning environment. While this certainly encompasses familiarity with academic content and skills, such as writing and math, it also includes the development of soft skills necessary to achieve success in a college-level learning environment wherein students must assume significant responsibilities for their learning – for example, time management, study skills, etc. RB: Do you believe the typical testing applied to incoming community college students really measures their readiness? Sandel: I do believe the testing measures their readiness related to academic content and skills, such as writing and math. However, it is not designed to assess the soft skills I mentioned. In my opinion, these skills are just as vital to college readiness, but are, by their nature, difficult to quantify and assess. RB: What are the best ways to get remedial students on the path to academic success? Sandel: I believe the best way begins with helping them identify appropriate long-term goals. If these students have developed a long-term goal that considers their needs, skills and abilities, they can visualize a tangible end point which assists them in meeting the challenges of higher education. Secondly, these students need appropriate academic supports in conjunction with coordinated student development instruction. Simply put, we have to look at the student as a whole and support them as a whole, not as the sum of a series of test scores. I think an aspect of getting remedial students on the path to academic
success is identifying areas of improvement as early as possible. Completing the Virginia Placement Test early in their high school program would be helpful in identifying areas where the student is underprepared, allowing sufficient time to improve their skill set prior to starting college. Also, familiarizing students with the college environment throughout high school has a significant impact on college readiness and success. Studies have shown first generation students often do not understand the differences between the structures and expectations in high school versus college. Providing programs and activities on campus to familiarize students with the various opportunities, resources and expectations can have a positive impact on skill development in high school and ultimately help the student to be successful once in co-llege. Another way that remedial students can get on the path to success is take a math class every year in high school. Some students stop taking math once they hit the minimum requirement for a standard diploma. This often places them at a disadvantage even when entering a certificate or associate in applied science degree program. Many of the technical and health science programs require a proficiency in math that students struggle with if they did not take enough math classes in high school. RB: Workforce development is an important goal of the community college. What makes for successful workforce development? Sandel: Successful workforce development is providing local business and industry with qualified and skilled workers that can help companies prosper and grow. A further sign is when the community can boast a pool of available workers with the skills, knowledge and aptitudes that not only serve the businesses already located in the community but also serve as a signal to prospective businesses that the community is a good fit for location and growth. To achieve the level of successful workforce development that is needed, it is essential that we create a collaborative partnership – the college and employers – that can delineate the skill sets that are missing and create suggested training, on-the-job opportunities, mentoring, etc., that will result in getting skilled workers into the workplace. ROANOKE BUSINESS
COMMUNITY PROFILE | ROANOKE COUNTY
The Vinton way Town pins downtown revitalization on updated version of an old fixture: the public library
by Beth Jones
he world’s voracious readers have embraced eBooks and tablets. At the same time, the slow-growth economy has government officials eyeing budgets, looking for places to trim. It’s a perfect storm of
conditions prompting some futurists to speculate that public libraries may be extinct a decade from now. That’s not the story in Vinton. Here, community leaders pin hopes of revitalization on a
20,000-square-foot library under construction downtown in the former home of a floral supply business. “We said, ‘you know, they need to build a new library somewhere, so what better place,’” explains Vinton Town Manager Photo by Don Petersen
Vinton’s leaders expect a new library to bring more than 200,000 people into the town of 8,000.
Chris Lawrence. “The library brings over 200,000 patrons a year and our downtown needs help.” Vinton boasts a population of only about 8,000, but Lawrence points out that the town’s current library draws visitors from Southeast Roanoke, Bonsack and Mount Pleasant, as well as Bedford County. “It’s a small town library, but it serves a big area,” Lawrence says. If a quarter of the library visitors spend $5 in a Vinton store after perusing the stacks, Lawrence figures that could add $250,000 to the Vinton econoPhoto by Don Petersen
Roanoke County library director Diana Rosapepe knows libraries can have a profound impact on the communities they serve.
my. “It could make a huge difference,” Lawrence says. “That might be enough to get a coffee shop downtown or a bookstore.” The idea of using a new library branch to spur economic development doesn’t strike Diana Rosapepe, library director for Roanoke County, as that farfetched. (Since the town of Vinton is also part of Roanoke County, residents pay taxes and receive services from both the town and the county. The county runs the Vinton branch of the library). “I think we’ve shown with the last two libraries that they can have a profound impact on the communities they serve,” she says, referring to busy new branches recently opened in South County and Glenvar. During public meetings held last spring to see what Vintonites wanted in the new library, Rosapepe saw contemporary designs attracting the most positive feedback. “That was one of the biggest surprises to me,” she says. “I thought they’d go traditional.” Everybody respects Vinton’s historic past, Lawrence says, “but they aren’t dwelling on it.”
Instead, Rosapepe found most citizens “wanted to make a statement about where Vinton’s going in the future.” Visitors will find plenty to do at the new, modern Vinton library, expected to open in the fall of 2015 with a children’s room, a space for teens, many public computers and an outdoor movie screen – a first for the Roanoke County Library system. Currently, the streets in downtown Vinton “roll up at 5 p.m.,” as new Roanoke County Supervisor Jason Peters puts it. Peters, who represents the Vinton Magisterial District, hopes that will change with the opening of the new library, which will often be open until 9 p.m. Vinton Mayor Brad Grose also has a vision of a downtown with a more vibrant nightlife; in particular, he’d like to see the town attract more chain and locally owned restaurants and become a destination spot for dinner out. “I think when the library is done, what it’s going to do is light up downtown at night,” says Rosapepe. “It’ll be lit up and on the corner as a beacon for the comROANOKE BUSINESS
Penny Lloyd is Roanoke County’s library marketing director.
munity.” To spruce up downtown Vinton before the influx of library visitors, Vinton applied for and won a $700,000 state Community Development Block Grant. The funds will be used to update
downtown streetscape and signage, purchase new streetlamps and make upgrades to the farmers market. The grant also will be used to match any money owners of downtown businesses use to improve facades of their build-
ings. “If you have a really rundown downtown, that reflects on how the rest of the town is perceived,” Lawrence says. Vinton’s Bruce Mayer took advantage of the grant to update
we’re brewin’ opportunities Special Development incentives available in
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community profile three of the downtown buildings he partly owns on South Pollard Street. The buildings, all dating to the 1950s, had large glass storefronts, which Mayer plans to replace with more energy-efficient glass. Mayer also wants to screen an air conditioner unit and make other aesthetic improvements on one building, which is prominent to drivers coming into Vinton on Gus Nicks Boulevard. “It’s going to look prettier, and you’ll have insulated glass, so the tenants will have lower energy costs and be happier,” he says. When town officials started talking about giving downtown a makeover, Lawrence says, some business owners scoffed, saying they’d heard that talk before. “Some of them are now coming to the table saying, ‘All my neighbors are making their buildings look better. What do I need to do?’” Lawrence says. “It’s bringing along some new energy from people who may not have always been that excited.” Vinton is like a pond, says Peters, and the library is the first big splash made from a skipping stone. “Now, it’s about keeping that momentum going,” he says. “Let’s work on the ripples.” From 2013 to 2015, the town of Vinton will see about $15 million worth of capital projects, including the library, according to Lawrence. The town of Vinton will shell out about $3 million of that cost. “Basically, for every $1 the town contributes, we are bringing in $4 of grants of somebody else’s money.” The projects include replacement of a bridge on Walnut Avenue along with sidewalks from the bridge to downtown. The town will also get a new greenway, The Glade Creek Trail. “That’s important because our citizens use the greenway a lot,” says Grose. The former site of Vinton Motors is in a high visibility area on Gus Nicks Boulevard, so LawPhotos by Don Petersen
Vinton by the numbers Area Population Percentage of population age 25+ with high school diploma or higher Percentage of population age 25+ with bachelor’s degree or higher Median household income Annual budget
3.17 square miles 8,092 (2012 estimate)
80.6 15.9 $43,374 (2008-2012)
$10.98 million (2013-2014)
Sources: United States Census Bureau, vintonva.gov
rence hopes a new use can be found soon for the large vacant property. Town officials also want to find developers for the vacant Roland E. Cook and original William Byrd High schools. “We’re trying to appeal to some develop-
ers outside of Vinton that would be interested in two, three, five, 10 million dollar projects,” Lawrence says. It’s complicated to redevelop a building like the Roland E. Cook building that was built in 1915.
The former site of Vinton Motors is one building the town would like to find a new use for.
community profile Vinton Supervisor Jason Peters hopes a new library will bring new life to a downtown where the streets “roll up at 5 p.m.”
“The walls are concrete and thick,” Lawrence says. “It’s like a nuclear fallout shelter, which is really cool and would make it a really cool place to live, but it makes it really expensive to redevelop, so
you have to find the niche developers who know what they’re doing.” Still, both Lawrence and Angie Chewning, executive director of the Vinton Area Chamber of
Commerce, speak optimistically about the overall state of Vinton’s economy. “It’s very blue collar. It’s very hard working,” says Lawrence. “Lots of small, family-owned businesses that are successful.” The biggest challenge, according to Chewning, comes from spreading the message that people can find the goods they need right in town. “You don’t have to drive to the mall,” she stresses. “Try Vinton first.” In March, Precision Fabrics announced the company would lay off 30 people, but Lawrence believes the future remains bright for one of Vinton’s largest employers, which now has 197 employees. “They keep staying high tech and very viable,” he says. Lawrence points to businesses such as Cardinal Glass, at the Vinton Business Center, with 168 employees, and Sunapsys, a business with 15 employees, which provides hardware, software and systems integration for automation, as town success stories. Lawrence also views open spaces at the town’s two industrial parks through glass-half-full lenses. “There’s plenty of room to grow,” he says. Photo by Don Petersen
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Note: Chamber Champions are members who support the Roanoke Regional Chamber through year-round sponsorships.
NEW MEMBERS The following businesses joined the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce from Dec. 12, 2013 to Jan. 9, 2014:
General Electric Co. Red Velocity Unique Logistics
International (NYC) LLC United Parcel Service
Member news & recognitions Advance Auto Parts has completed the acquisition of General Parts International. General Parts is a leading privately held distributor and supplier of original equipment and aftermarket replacement products for commercial markets operating under the CARQUEST and WORLDPAC brands. The transaction creates the largest automotive aftermarket parts provider in North America, with annual sales of more than $9.3 billion and more than 70,000 team members. American National University recently received recognition from two organizations: the Association of Marketing and Commu-
nications Professionals (AMCP) and Bulldog Reporter. Two articles from the “National News” were honored with the AMCP’s MarCom Awards, while the newsletter as a whole received recognition with a Bulldog Digital/Social PR award. Dave Henry, regional director of business development at AtHenry lantic Bay Mortgage Group, was recently presented with the President’s Meritorious Service Award by the Roanoke Valley Association of Realtors. The award recognized his outstanding leadership in creating an exceptional sponsorship program
on behalf of the program and special events committee. Comcast Business recently announced that it won multiple awards in the Metro Ethernet Forum Carrier Ethernet Awards for North America, including the Service Provider of the Year award and Best Marketing and Best Carrier Ethernet Business Application for an Ethernet network deployment with the Denver Broncos. The Foundation for Roanoke Valley recently announced it has awarded a $40,000 grant to the city of Roanoke under the foundation’s three-year $300,000 Arts & Culture Initiative. The grant will provide major underwriting for the
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Member recognitions, cont’d. city’s “Parks and Arts” program for 2014. The program, offering free arts events in underserved neighborhood parks, provides venues for varied artists, musicians, dancers and arts organizations to showcase their talents while engaging the surrounding residents in the arts and promoting the many cultural and historic resources in local neighborhoods. HSN Cares, the philanthropic arm of HSN, and leading credit card provider Alliance Data, have announced a donation of $500,000 to a variety of local charities that support women and children. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Virginia will receive $30,000 to purchase a 15-passenger van. The Jefferson Center has announced that Lalah Hathaway’s “Something,” performed alongside prominent New York City jazz collaborative Snarky Puppy at the Jefferson Center’s Shaftman Performance Hall, received a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance. This is the first ever Grammy Award to emerge from a live performance recorded in Roanoke, according to Cyrus Pace, executive director of the Jefferson Center.
V of the Appraisal Institute. He also serves on the national ALIP Committee of the Appraisal Institute. Long
Thomas Becher, a senior vice president with Neathawk Dubuque & Packett, has been named Mid-AtBecher lantic district chair for the Public Relations Society of America for 2014. As district chair, Becher will provide support and direction to 10 local chapters from Virginia to Delaware. Danny Fell, who has served as president of Neathawk Dubuque & Packett since 2012, has Fell assumed the additional role of CEO as part of the company’s long-term succession plan. Roger Neathawk, CEO and chairman of the advertising and marketing agency, has stepped down from day-to-day management of the firm to become a non-executive chairman of a newly expanded board of directors.
After 20 years as president and general manager of Center in the Square, James C. Sears retired Sears at the end of 2013. Barry L. Henderson took the helm as president and general manager at the center at Henderson the beginning of 2014.
The Roanoke-Blacksburg Innovation Network has hired Jonathan Whitt as its director to manage the region’s Innovation Blue- Whitt print effort. The Innovation Blueprint is a two-year-old partnership between business, higher education and the regional technology council to grow new businesses and high quality jobs by supporting entrepreneurship and commercializing research.
Samuel B. Long with Miller, Long & Associates has been recognized as the volunteer of distinction for Region
Cave Spring Supervisor Charlotte Moore has led a new initiative to help combat littering in Roanoke County.
Beginning in January, drivers have seen temporary road signs at major county intersections reminding everyone that “The World Is Not Your Ashtray,” a clear reference to the growing number of cigarette butts appearing at intersections and road medians. The new program has partnered with Lamar Advertising for billboard space and also includes signage on county vehicles, including the county’s fleet of trash collection trucks. Roanoke Public Libraries is now a Funding Information Network partner of the Foundation Center, a program formerly known as Cooperating Collections, of which Roanoke Public Libraries has been a part since 1989. As a partner in this nationwide network of libraries, community foundations and other nonprofit agencies, the Roanoke Public Libraries provides visitors with free public access to grant maker directories, books on fundraising and nonprofit management, and the Foundation Center’s electronic databases, Foundation Directory Online Professional, Foundation Grants to Individuals Online, and Philanthropy In/Sight. The Roanoke Regional Commission has launched its new website designed to enhance its ability to collaborate within the communities it serves on issues critical to the economic growth, quality of life and sustainability of the region. The new website address is www.RVARC.org.
Scott Insurance has announced the appointment of Nathan Kerr to Scott’s board of directors. Kerr, vice president and branch
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leader of Scott’s Roanoke office, will serve a two-year term on the board. Governor’s Technology Awards were presented at the Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium to two projects emerging from a multiyear partnership between Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, the Virginia Geographic Information Network and two Virginia Tech groups, the Center for Geospatial Information Technology and the Institute for Policy and Governance. The awards were given for the organizations improving the quality and availability of broadband Internet service in the state. Crystal Crockett has been appointed director of development for institutional diversity at Virginia Tech. In her new position, Crockett Crockett is the major gifts officer for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s fundraising efforts. Patricia Dove, University Distinguished Professor and C.P. Miles Professor of Geoscience in the College of Science at Virginia Dove Tech, recently received the Dana Medal from the Mineralogical Society of America. The medal recognizes sustained scientific contributions through original research in the mineralogical sciences by an individual in the midst of his or her career.
Tom Hou, professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, has been named an Institute of Electrical and
Electronic Engineers Fellow for his contributions to modeling and optimization of wireless networks. Dr. Kevin Lahmers has joined the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine as Lahmers, K. clinical associate professor of anatomic pathology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. Dr. Sunshine Lahmers has joined the VirginiaMaryland Regional College of Veterinary MediLahmers. S. cine at Virginia Tech as a clinical assistant professor of cardiology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. Dr. Martha Larson, a professor of radiology at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Larson Tech, has received the 2013 Zoetis Animal Health Distinguished Teaching Award. The award recognizes an educator at the veterinary college with a strong record of teaching excellence. Amanda J. Nelson has been appointed to direct the graduate program in arts leadership in the School of Performing Arts Nelson at Virginia Tech. Nelson will direct the Master of Fine Arts program in arts leadership, set to launch in fall 2014. Dr. Lori Rios has joined the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia
Tech as a clinical assistant professor of internal medicine in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. The Virginia Tech board of visitors has appointed Timothy D. Sands as Virginia Tech’s 16th president, effective June 1, Sands 2014. Sands will succeed Charles Steger, who steps down when Sands assumes office. Sands currently serves as executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at Purdue University. Bob Spieldenner has been named communications manager for the administrative services Spieldenner division at Virginia Tech. Spieldenner comes to Virginia Tech after 10 years as director of communications for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Tyler Walters, dean of University Libraries at Virginia Tech, has been awarded the 2013 Johns Hopkins University Press Walters Award for the best article in the most recent volume of the journal Portal: Libraries and the Academy. The article examines possible changes for university libraries and some of the challenges related to publishing services that academic libraries like Virginia Tech’s could encounter. Joe Williams Supply has announced the following staff changes: Keith Beheler has been promoted to vice president of technical sales; Jeff Jackson has joined the company as senior fluid power and instrumenta-
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Member recognitions, cont’d.
tion manager; and Joe Wunder has been hired as vice president of sales. Residents and businesses in Montgomery, Giles, Craig, Botetourt, Roanoke, and Bedford counties, as well as the city of Roanoke, have gotten a major boost in Internet bandwidth, thanks to completion of a federally funded fiber optic construction project led by Virginia Tech and the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC). The Virginia
Tech Foundation received a $5.54 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Broadband Technology Opportunities Program in 2010 to extend Virginia’s open-access fiber optic backbone from Bedford to Blacksburg, passing through several underserved communities in the mountainous region. The university partnered with MBC to build and operate the fiber network as an extension of MBC’s existing open access network. J. Benjamin Rottenborn has been promoted to principal with Woods Rogers PLC. Rottenborn joined Woods Rogers as a counsel in
2012 after transferring from a Chicago-based firm. He works in the firm’s litigation and dispute resolution, labor and employment and appellate practices. Tom Bagby and Frank Friedman, attorneys with Woods Rogers PLC, have been named to the Top List of Virginia “Super Lawyers” Bagby for 2014. The list features the best of the best attorneys in Virginia with the highest point totals in the Super Lawyers selection process. Friedman
GET R E T S FA Virginia Western Community College prepares students for strong careers in industries that are thriving in the Roanoke region and beyond. With hands-on training in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and healthcare (STEM+H) ďŹ elds, students acquire the skills and knowledge that will take them anywhere. Students can quickly upgrade their current skills
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