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Faculty + Staff

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Thanassis Rikakis

Founding Director of the Calhoun Discovery Program

Calhoun Discovery Design Team

The Discovery program is led by the Calhoun Discovery Design Team. The Design Team includes senior faculty leadership from each of the participating degrees. The Design Team also includes Discovery Program Faculty that are dedicated exclusively to the instruction of the Discovery program and teach the program studios and modules and provide mentoring.

A number of faculty from across campus with interest in transdisciplinary education in collaborative technology innovation for societal impact join the Discovery program faculty in the development and delivery of Discovery program course modules. *Instructor

Visiting Faculty & Advisors

David Calhoun

David Calhoun,
President and Chief Executive Officer, The Boeing Company / Distinguished Visiting Lecturer

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John Tracy,
Chief Technology Officer & Senior Vice President of Engineering, Operations, and Technology (Retired), The Boeing Company | Distinguished Visiting Lecturer

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Chip Blankenship,
Distinguished Visiting Lecturer, UVA, Montgomery Distinguished Professor of Practice, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Retired GE Appliances, a Haier company


Catherine Bond Hill
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Catherine Bond Hill, Managing Director, ITHAKA S+R, Distinguished Visiting Lecturer

Harry Chase, Director at GE Appliances, a Haier Company, Visiting Professor of Practice

Charles Erignac, Associate Technical Fellow, Boeing, Visiting Professor of Practice

Gene Fife

Eugene (Gene) V. Fife
Founding Principle, Vawter Capital LLC

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Jonathan Fulton, Enterprise Industrial Engineering, BR&T, Boeing, , Visiting Professor of Practice

Gregory Garrett

Gregory Garrett, Senior Ergonomics Lead, BDS Advanced Manufacturing Operations, Ergonomics/Safety & Human Augmentation, Boeing, Visiting Professor of Practice

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Miriam Grace, Senior Technical Fellow, Advanced Inforamtion Technologist, Boeing, Visiting Professor of Practice

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Tazio Grivetti, Emerging Technologies Program Leader, Caterpillar Inc.,  Visiting Professor of Practice

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Trent Ingrim, GE Appliances, a Haier Company, Visiting Professor of Practice

Tony Kauer

Tony Kauer, Associate Technical Fellow, Production System Architect, Boeing, Visiting Professor of Practice

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Erick King, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Capital Youth Empowerment Program, Distinguished Visiting Lecturer

Martin Kurzwell

Martin Kurzwell, Director, Educational Transformation Program, ITHAKA S+R, Visiting Lecturer

Dimitris Lappas

Dimitris Lappas,
Sr. Global Services Director at JDA Software / Blue Yonder, Visiting Professor of Practice

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Melinda Leland, Director of Youth Success, United Way Southwest Virginia, Visiting Lecturer

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Elaine MacDonald, Materials & Process Engineer, Boeing Research & Technology, Boeing, Visiting Lecturer

Mike Richey

Mike Richey, Associate Technical Fellow, Chief Learning Scientist, Leadership, Learning and Organizational Capability, Boeing, Visiting Professor of Practice

Sheldon Karl

Karl Sheldon, General Manager, Advanced Military Engineering, GE Aviation, Visiting Professor of Practice

Rich Stark

Rich Stark, 787 Structures Engineering Manager, Boeing, Visiting Professor of Practice

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Travis Staton, President and CEO, United Way Southwest Virginia, Distinguished Visiting Lecturer

John Williams

John Williams, Associate Technical Fellow, Additive Electronics Technologies, BR&T, Boeing, Visiting Professor of Practice

Calhoun Discovery Faculty & Staff

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Neal Henshaw is the Technical Director for the Calhoun Discovery Program. He plans and manages the Discovery Studio and the adjacent prototyping lab. He also maintains the online journaling platform that is part of the Calhoun Discovery Program educational experience.

Neal has an M.A. in Instructional Design and Technology from Virginia Tech, and a B.A. in Secondary/Spanish Education from Brigham Young University. He began his professional career teaching high school Spanish in Tucson, AZ, but has also worked as a network engineer and network administrator for an Internet Service Provider, a corporate trainer for a midwest healthcare provider and has spent the last 11 years at Virginia Tech’s Newman Library. His varied professional experience across different levels of education, as well as his hands-on experience with A/V and educational technologies over 24 years makes him uniquely suited to serve in this role.

Neal is originally from Buckingham, VA, where he grew up on a farm. Since then, he has lived in Utah, Guatemala, Arizona, and Illinois. He now calls Blacksburg home because his wife fell in love with the New River Valley. In what little free time Neal has between work and church responsibilities, he likes to visit National Parks or Walt Disney World with his wife, three children, and anyone else who wants to go. He also enjoys photography, woodworking, reading, cooking, basketball, golf, and is trying to learn more about astronomy.

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Michelle Kovac is the Program Manager for the Calhoun Discovery Program. She serves as the liaison between Virginia Tech students and faculty and the industry partners who are participating in the Calhoun 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 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, four 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.

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Michael Kretser is an assistant collegiate professor of Information Technology & Decisions Sciences for the Calhoun Discovery Program where he instructs in communicating data.  He is also an affiliate assistant professor with the Business Information Technology and Business Management programs.

Michael earned his Ph.D. in Logistics with a specialty in Systems Engineering and a MS degree in Logistics Management from the Air Force Institute of Technology, and a BS in Computer Science: Programming from Limestone College.  Michael’s research has been focused on data-driven analytical solutions using programs such as MATLAB and Arena, merging his computer science and logistics backgrounds.  His thesis, “Modeling Predator MQ-1 Logistics” and dissertation, “Reducing Enterprise Systems Complexity Utilizing Collapsing Design Structure Matrices” focused on modeling and simulation in logistics that encompassed logistics, supply chain management, and business process improvement methods that employed tools from the operations and systems engineering communities. His transdisciplinary research experience combined with an accomplished Air Force career that also spanned disciplines for a common goal prepared him to join the multidisciplinary team, providing innovative education and mentorship for the Calhoun Discovery Program.

Mike is originally from Canajoharie, New York. He recently retired from the Air Force after nearly 25 years of service. He spent the first half of his Air Force career as a Boeing C-17 maintainer, and the second half as a logistics officer. Mike enjoys SCUBA diving when location allows, traveling, reading, and spending time with his wife Crystal and their four children.

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Shahabedin (Shahab) Sagheb  is a collegiate assistant professor at Virginia Tech, appointed in the Honors College in the Calhoun Discovery Program (CDP) and the School of Architecture + Design. Shahab teaches studio courses in CDP and develops curriculum for various modules. As a technology designer, his program of research is on designing novel interfaces for Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. His most recent work emphasizes the simulation of tactile sensations of handling fluids in virtual environments. Results of this research have been published in top tier ACM conferences UIST and TEI. Shahab’s artistic practice, expresses the themes of anonymity, agency, complex systems, playfulness and curiosity. His most recent artwork is Gestures of the Everyday. His artworks have been exhibited in various national venues such as Currents New Media. Prior to coming to VT, Shahab completed his bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering at Shiraz University, master’s in Industrial Design at University of Art, Tehran and master’s of fine arts in Digital Technology at Arizona State University (ASU). He has also served as digital design and fabrication coordinator at ASU in the School of Arts, Media, and Engineering.

Research Interests

  • Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)
  • Tangible Interfaces
  • Haptics
  • Higher education curriculum development
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Robert A. Smith is a Boeing Technical Fellow with more than 20 years of experience with the Boeing Company and a NextFlex Consortium Fellow.  In his current role with Boeing Research and Technology, his research focus areas are optical and radio frequency remote sensing, millimeter wave sensing technology, RFID, component fabrication utilizing additive and subtractive technology for SWAP constrained platforms and advancing Flexible Hybrid Electronic (FHE) devices for Asset Tracking, Health Monitoring and Antenna applications.  Robert has been the program manager and principal investigator for multiple advanced technology research projects and multiple remote sensing government contracts for Boeing Defense Systems including missile defense, international space station, satellite systems and commercial space ventures.  He has 22 patents including 2 foreign patents and was the recipient of a Boeing Special Invention award in 2010.    

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Alkan Soysal received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 2006 and 2008, respectively. Between February 2008 and January 2018, he was with Bahcesehir University, Istanbul, Turkey, first as an Assistant Professor then as an Associate Professor at the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering. While in Bahcesehir University, he was the founding director of Intel Future Technology Lab that focused on developing Internet of Things applications in a multi-disciplinary setting. Between January 2018 and July 2019, he was a Visiting Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Maryland at College Park. His research interests include wireless communications, information theory and the Internet of Things.

Joanie Banks-Hunt


Katie Walkup is a Collegiate Assistant Professor in Communication for Sociotechnical Systems for the Calhoun Discovery Program; she is affiliated with the Virginia Tech School of Communication and the Department of English. Dr. Walkup teaches courses in technical communication, visual design, and digital rhetoric. Her research interests are in technical communication, disability studies, and mental illness stigma. 

Dr. Walkup earned her Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of South Florida, where her dissertation focused on mental health policy and the health disparities caused by stigma. Her work on technical communication in health and medical contexts has been published in Technical Communication QuarterlyCommunication Design Quarterly, and in the edited collection Citizenship and Advocacy in Technical Communication: Scholarly and Pedagogical Perspectives.

Our team of faculty and staff work closely with the Honors College