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Faculty and Staff

“The opportunities are many The expectations are high The challenge is intellectual ... In this setting, you will have the chance to get away from conventional assumptions and expectations and to remake yourself. Your Honors experience will compel you to specify and sharpen your commitments, and to declare and test your convictions. Each of you will have a different experience as you sharpen and focus your powers of analysis, creativity, and rationality. By the time you graduate, you will be prepared for a lifetime of learning, to be productive professionals, and to give service to society.”  - Dean Paul Knox
Paul Knox



Paul KnoxFounding Dean

Paul Knox is a University Distinguished Professor who came to Virginia Tech from the United Kingdom to teach in the Urban Affairs program. His degrees are in Geography and his interests are urbanization and urbanism. Between 1997 and 2006 he served as Dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, since which he has served as Senior Fellow for International Advancement, reporting directly to the university President. This has involved responsibility for the Steger Center for International Scholarship in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland, a spell as Interim Director of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, leadership of the planning process that produced the university’s 2013-2019 strategic plan, the establishment of Virginia Tech’s Global Forum on Urban and Regional Resilience and, now, Founding Dean of the Honors College.

He is a member of Virginia Tech’s Ut Prosim Society and serves on the editorial board of seven international journals. His most recent books are Strong Island: Portsmouth’s History in Brick and Stone (Aegir, 2019); Metroburbia (Merrel, 2017); London: Architecture, Building and Social Change (Merrell, 2015), and Atlas of Cities (Princeton University Press, 2014), which received the Association of American Geographers’ Globe Book Award for Public Understanding of Geography. He is currently writing a book on the cultural political economy of the design professions.

meet our team

Whether teaching Honors College classes, mentoring students, or handling the behind-the-scenes administration of the college, we work each day to facilitate an extraordinary undergraduate education for Honors students at Virginia Tech.


Honors College Faculty

Nikki Lewis is a collegiate assistant professor for the Honors College where she instructs courses on the processes of conducting research and decision-making using data. Nikki also serves as the preceptor for the Hillcrest Honors Living Learning Community. In her previous professional roles at the university, she worked with colleagues to develop innovative active-learning courses, and presented her work at numerous educational conferences. She continues this work in course and curriculum development through her current role in the college.

Nikki earned her doctorate of philosophy degree in Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology in 2013, and spent much of her graduate tenure developing undergraduate courses on research methods. Her experience has led her to participate in two primary avenues of research. She collaborates with the Bevan & Brown Molecular Modeling Lab in the biochemistry department. The group uses computational methods to answer research questions about prevalent diseases like type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. Her second area of research lies in undergraduate education and the assessment of pedagogical practices. She has served as co-principal investigator on NSF and NIH grants to promote student success in the sciences.

Nikki grew up in Newport News, Virginia and earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Christopher Newport University. She enjoys collecting varieties of tea, baking, and a variety of arts and crafts.

Amanda MacDonald is a High-Impact Practices Librarian in the University Libraries and serves as the liaison to the Honors College, the Office of Undergraduate Research, the SERVE Living Learning Community, and the department of Human Development. As the Honors College librarian, she works closely with students, faculty, and staff to address information and research needs and provide educational support through a variety of offerings. She teaches instruction sessions on conducting library research and developing ePortfolios, coordinates an undergraduate research workshop series (the Advanced Research Skills Program), conducts research consultations, and develops library research guides. Amanda is dedicated to supporting students’ undergraduate research endeavors and serves on the Office of Undergraduate Research Advisory Board and the Student Experiential Conference Committee.

Amanda earned a master’s degree in library science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in English from Auburn University. Prior to Virginia Tech, she served as the QEP Undergraduate Research Librarian at Louisiana State University.

Amanda is originally from Ohio but moved south for college. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Coastal Carolina University. Amanda is a member of CrossFit 460 and enjoys hiking and playing video games.

Anne-Lise Velez is a collegiate associate professor in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and Honors College, where she conducts transdisciplinary research primarily on public and nonprofit management, and policy. Anne-Lise teaches courses on policy, disaster response, and research methods in the Honors College, and works with colleagues in CAUS to teach design ethics. She held previous academic appointments as a postdoctoral associate for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at VT, and as a postdoctoral scholar for the School of Public and International Affairs at NC State University.

Anne-Lise earned a PhD in Public Administration from NC State University, as well as master’s degrees in Public Administration and in Architecture from NC State, and a Bachelor of Architecture from VT. This interdisciplinary background led to an interest in transdisciplinary research, and she currently works with researchers across a number of disciplines and on issues that cross disciplinary boundaries. Her research broadly relates to management and decision-making at the intersection of the public and nonprofit sectors, especially around environmental and urban policy relating to community wellbeing and sustainability. Much of her research focuses on co-management and collaboration among wildfire responders, and how these processes are informed by and inform policy. She collaborates with the NC State Fire Chasers Project, and is currently serving as co-principal investigator on a Joint Fire Science Project grant to investigate co-management priorities among the different land interests affected in multijurisdictional wildfires.

Joanie Banks-Hunt is a Collegiate Assistant Professor in Education Curriculum and Instruction. She aspires to combine technology and innovation with teaching, research, collaboration, and mentorship to inspire real-world problem solvers on a multi-generational scale. Joanie is a lifelong learner, educator, mentor, and community builder who is eager to engage educators and students in global transdisciplinary challenges.

She is an alumnus of Michigan State University, Stanford University, and a former member of the Stanford University Mechanical Engineering Advisory Committee. In 2015, Joanie enrolled in Virginia Tech’s Engineering Education doctoral program. Her exposure to seminars, which are platforms designed to expose and broaden the student experience, led to a dissertation topic focused on design thinking instructional practice in the department of educational psychology. Design Thinking embodies her passion for curricula in educational psychology, engineering education, and education cognition. Presently, Joanie is an Instructor in the Honors College Laureate Program and has developed a transdisciplinary research course that explores the innovation of delivery drones for global survival, sustainability platforms, and transdisciplinary research. She is excited to expand upon this teaching and learning role with the opportunity to join the Honors College Calhoun Discovery Program (CDP) as an instructor of collaborative and transdisciplinary projects addressing Industry 4.0 real-world problems and opportunities.

Joanie is married and is the proud mother of two young adults, Coltrane and Tavia. Her family is healthy, happy, living, and learning in three locations: Blacksburg, California, and New Haven, CT.


  • Ph.D Education Psychology with Engineering Education and Education Cognition Certificate, Virginia Tech University, 2020
  • MS Engineering Management, Stanford University, 1997
  • MS Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, 1976
  • BA Mathematics, Michigan State University; Minors in Secondary Ed. and Dance, 1974

Honors College Staff

Lefter Daku image

Lefter Daku serves as chief financial officer of the Honors College and principal financial advisor to the Dean. In this role, Dr. Daku directs and coordinates financial planning and resource allocation for the Honors College’s operating and scholarship budgets. He works closely with the Dean to develop and coordinate the College’s annual academic and operating budget, forecasts and predicts resource requirements for new and existing programs, and develops funding strategies.

From 2004 to 2017, Dr. Daku worked as Planning Manager, Associate Director of Research and Planning and Director of Enrollment Research in the Enrollment Management Division of Virginia Tech. Prior to joining Virginia Tech, he held academic appointments as Lecturer of Business Statistics at Tirana Agricultural University, Albania and as adjunct faculty of economics at Radford University. Lefter earned an M.S. and a Ph.D. in applied economics from Virginia Tech.

Dr. Daku serves on the editorial board of Journal of Student Financial Aid. He also was a member of the U.S. Education Department’s Technical Review Panel that designed the College Net Price Calculator, which is being used by thousands of colleges and universities across the United States. He is a regular presenter at regional, national, and international conferences, and has published a number of monographs, book chapters, and peer-reviewed articles. In his free time, for the last 15 years, he has been officiating soccer games across Southwest Virginia as a Grade 7 USSF certified soccer referee.

Paul Heilker

Paul Heilker is an Associate Professor of English at Virginia Tech, where he has served as Director of the PhD in Rhetoric and Writing and Director of Composition.  Dr. Heilker is a member of the Virginia Tech Academy of Teaching Excellence, having earned both the Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching and the University Sporn Award for Excellence in Teaching Introductory Subjects.  As Director of the Honors Laureate Program, Heilker leads the efforts of the Honors Laureate Diploma Program as a whole and the Honors Reading Seminars (UH 2124)and the Presidential Global Scholars Program (the Honors College semester abroad experience), specifically.  Central to Heilker’s recent scholarship is the idea that rhetoric is a way of being in the world through language.  To create a less hostile and violent future, he says, we need less hostile and violent discourses, and we need to teach these alternative ways of being in the world to students.

Michelle Kovac

Michelle Kovac is the Program Manager for the Calhoun Honors Discovery Program. She serves as the liaison between Virginia Tech students and faculty and the industry partners who are participating in the Calhoun Honors Discovery Program. Her responsibilities include coordinating scheduling of program courses, event coordination, and assisting with student and faculty travel.

Michelle has an M.S. Ed. in Career and Technical Education and a B.S. in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Virginia Tech. Her professional career began in the hospitality industry working in convention services and sales. Then, she went on to teach high school marketing for 10 years before coming to Virginia Tech as a project manager for the last 3 years. Working with the Calhoun Honors Discovery Program combines her experience as a teacher and project manager to benefit students, faculty members, and industry partners.

Michelle is originally from Allentown, PA, but came to Virginia Tech for college and has made Blacksburg her home. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her husband, 4 rescue dogs and a cat. She is passionate about health and fitness, works on home improvement projects, and can usually be found outside doing landscaping work.

Christina McIntyre

Christina McIntyre is the Director of Professional Development and National and International Scholarships for the Honors College. She oversees the university process for many national and international level awards. Christina serves as vice-president for the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) and on the Board of Directors for the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. Students are encouraged to take a moment to review this 11 minute TedX video from Doug Cutchins, a scholarship advisor and colleague, for a healthy perspective and mindset when applying to any type of scholarship.

From 1995 to 2007, Christina worked as a Research Associate, Instructor, Undergraduate Coordinator, and Assistant Department Head for Human Nutrition, Foods & Exercise in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. She joined the Honors College staff as Associate Director in July 2007.

Christina is a member of the National Association of Fellowship Advisors (NAFA). She serves as past-chair for NCHC’s Partners in the Parks committee, a collaboration with the National Park Service. She also serves on the Advocacy Committee for NCHC. In 2012, her advising accomplishments were recognized with the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Advising and a certificate of merit from National ACdemic ADvising Association (NACADA). On campus she serves as the faculty advisor for the Outdoor Club of Virginia Tech (OCVT), an AT trail maintaining club.

Michelle Kovac

Heather is responsible for all business functions within the Honors College. She graduated from Radford University in December 2015 with two BBAs (Bachelor of Business Administration): one in marketing and one in management. While at Radford, she served as the Vice President for the College of Business and Economics (COBE) Student Advisory board, as well as the Executive Officer and founding member of the COBE Ambassador program. 

Heather started working at VT in April of 2016 in the College of Veterinary Medicine. She moved to the Physics Department in September 2016 as a Program Support for the Center for Neutrino Physics. 

Heather was born and raised in Blacksburg. She moved to Floyd County in 2007, where she currently lives. She and her husband are proud parents of a son and daughter. Heather plans to work toward an MPA degree at Virginia Tech.

Michelle Fleury is the Communications Specialist for the Honors College. In this role, she is responsible for carrying forward the mission and effectively conveying the vision of the Honors College. She coordinates the College’s digital content production, manages its web-page content and design, oversees visual production through graphic design, photography, and videography, as well as oversees the creation of content concerning the Honors College in collaboration with external partners.

Michelle holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design and a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from SUNY Plattsburgh. She additionally has a minor in journalism and a minor in web-design and programming.

As a third-culture kid, Michelle grew up in the United States, South Africa, and Thailand. She enjoys traveling, illustrating, playing video-games, and spending time with her "cat-dog" (a cat that acts very much like a dog). 

Photo of Pamela Pack

Pamela received a B.A. in Art History with a minor in Astronomy from The University of Virginia in 2016. As the Program Support Specialist, Pamela manages all interactions with the Honors Credit Tracker in Canvas, including review and approval of Honors credit. She manages Honors student files, related databases, and meets with students to answer any questions they may have on earning and submitting Honors credit for review. She also serves as the first point of contact for the Honors College and Dean Knox.

Pamela plans to pursue a graduate degree in Higher Education, and outside of work she enjoys baking, television and film, board games, and traveling.

Desen is a graduate research assistant at the Honors College, working with a team of multidisciplinary faculty on the development and assessment of the Calhoun Discovery Program. She is a doctoral candidate in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech and holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Tufts University. Her research interests include creativity and interdisciplinarity in engineering education. When not studying or teaching, Desen can be found riding all sorts of bikes up and down the mountains of Southwest Virginia.

Photo of Russell Shrader

Russell coordinates the entire recruitment and admission process for first-year, transfer, and current Virginia Tech students entering the Honors College.

He first started working for the Honors College in August 2004 as Assistant Director. Through the years, he also has served as Senior Assistant Director and Associate Director, having coordinated the Honors admissions process, recruitment scholarship process, Odyssey Fellowship process, various teaching responsibilities (including time in Switzerland with the Honors Presidential Global Scholars), and organizational responsibilities for the Honors residential communities (Hillcrest and the Honors Residential Commons). He has presented at the National Collegiate Honors Council and Honors Education in Research Universities conferences.

Russell’s interest in college students began several years before he came to Virginia Tech. From 2000-2001, he worked at Concord University as Counselor/Coordinator for the Upward Bound Math/Science Program, which was the only program of its kind in West Virginia. This position allowed him to work with underserved and underrepresented high school student populations in southern West Virginia as they prepared to enter their college years.

Beginning in 2001, Russell worked for three years as an Assistant Director of Admissions at Radford University. While there, he traveled extensively throughout the entire New England region as well as the Hampton Roads, Richmond, Northern Neck, and Shenandoah and Roanoke Valley areas of Virginia. He left Radford in August 2004 to begin his role at Virginia Tech.

Russell hails from Princeton, West Virginia. He graduated from Concord University with a B.S. in biology (pre-med focus), and then earned a master’s degree from Marshall University in biological sciences. His master’s work focused on an ecological vegetation study of the McClintic Wildlife Management Area near Point Pleasant, West Virginia. McClintic Wildlife Management Area was the former TNT manufacturing site during World War II, which was personified in the book and movie The Mothman Prophecies. He also has completed graduate work in Public Administration and Policy.

Photo of Pablo Tarazaga

Pablo A. Tarazaga is an Associate Professor and the John R. Jones Faculty Fellow in the Mechanical Engineering Department and is a Principal Faculty in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at Virginia Tech. He currently directs the Virginia Tech Smart Infrastructure Laboratory (VTSIL) ( ) and the Vibrations, Adaptive Structures and Testing (VAST) Laboratory ( His research focuses on the development of novel and fundamental insights that harness, measure, mitigate and analyze vibrations using complex multi physics modeling, innovative experimental testing and real-world implementations. Applications include large scale building instrumentation for human localization and tracking, security and threat detection, emergency response an evacuation, and smart material applications for fluid structure interaction in drag reduction and non-contact fluid mixing. His work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Alpha Foundation, Virginia Space Grant Consortium, National Institute of Standard and Technologies, Association of American Railroads, Army, and Engineering Research and Development Center.

He was awarded the 2014 Dean's award for Outstanding New Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech and received the prestigious 2015 Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program Award.

Pablo holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA) and a B.S. from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez in Mechanical Engineering. He also carried out his post-doctoral studies at the University of Bristol, England.

Photo of Ray Thomas

Ray received a B.A. in Political Science from Virginia Tech and holds M.A.'s in Political Science from both Virginia Tech and the University of South Carolina. He is currently pursuing a Ph,D. in the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech in Planning, Governance and Globalization where his research focuses on American grand strategy and foreign policy. Outside of work, Ray enjoys traveling and playing golf.

Michelle Kovac

Sara Vandyke has worked for the Honors College since 2012. Her responsibilities include overseeing the daily operations of the honors staff, overseeing the Honors Peer Advising Center, coordinating Honors Experiential Learning Grants, and working closely with the Dean to foster initiatives that create new opportunities for honors students.

Sara has an MA in Political Science from Virginia Tech. She attended Virginia Tech as an undergraduate student in the Honors College, where she earned a BA in Political Science with a minor in Spanish. 

Photo of Kayla Dean standing outside

Kayla is the Fiscal Technician for the Calhoun Discovery Program. She graduated from New River Community College in 2011 with a AAS in business management, Bluefield College in 2014 with a BAS in management and leadership, and Liberty University in 2019 with a master’s in business administration. She will also obtain a certificate for executives in higher education administration from Liberty University in December of 2020. Kayla started at Virginia Tech in 2018 with the Virginia Tech Police Department, she then moved to Student Affairs in 2019 as an Accounting/Administrative Associate, and then to the Honors College in March of 2020.

Kayla was born and raised in Newport, and resides there now with her boyfriend and their two children. Kayla plans to work toward her PhD in Higher Education in the next few years.