Native at Virginia Tech

Dedicated to advancing the visibility of American Indians and other Indigenous peoples on campus, as well as raising an awareness of the issues that confront these diverse populations.


I have often referred to the Indigenous community at Virginia Tech as a small but mighty force. While it may represent one of the smallest demographics on campus, student, faculty, and staff activism has led to visible transformation over the years. Indigenous history and contemporary presence are often rendered invisible in many aspects of life. Spaces of higher learning are no exception to this phenomenon as institutional histories are implicated in projects of colonization.

This exhibit is an effort to disrupt narratives of erasure and highlight the amazing accomplishments of students, faculty, and staff who have added to the rich history of our campus. Additionally, it seeks to honor Native communities within the Commonwealth, creating awareness around the history and continued presence of Tribes within our state.

The American Indian and Indigenous Community Center, and those who tirelessly worked on this project, invite you to learn more about the Native community at Virginia Tech and those tribes of the Commonwealth. We also encourage you to visit Native Lands to learn more about the tribal communities that exist in your area. Finally, we acknowledge and honor the Monacan/Tutelo People and other Indigenous Peoples who historically cared for the Land, Air, and Waters that Virginia Tech now consumes.

The Sacred Hoop Model informs the work of the AIICC. The four quadrants of the medicine wheel, pictured at the top of this page, can represent many things to different Nations, including the four directions and the four stages of life, and this version details students’ journeys through higher education. The red section represents the calling of student and family to campus; the yellow section represents welcoming students to campus with resources and new opportunities; white represents thriving, healing, and transitioning in affirming community, events, and spaces; black represents releasing students from this environment with proper preparation and guidance as they pursue opportunities beyond VT.

Melissa Faircloth, Coharie of Eastern North Carolina, former director of the American Indian and Indigenous Community Center

Indigenous, spray paint on plywood by Meme. This painting was commissioned for the American Indian and Indigenous Community Center at Virginia Tech. View this painting in augmented reality by opening the following link on your mobile device

Traditional custodians of the land

Virginia Tech occupies Native land. People who became the Monacans and Tutelos first built permanent settlements in the Piedmont and Blue Ridge around 1000 A.D. By 1600, about 15,000 Monacans lived in towns that fanned out north and west from the capital city of Rassawek, located at the confluence of the Rivanna and James Rivers. During colonization, Native people expanded a network of trading towns, facilitating the exchange of hides and metal goods. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, colonists enslaved Native and African people while restricting their mobility and legal rights. By 1723, most free Native people could not vote, own firearms, testify in court, or serve in militias. After the Civil War, many Monacans left ancestral lands to escape Jim Crow while others stayed in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Amherst County where they work and live today. Despite ongoing colonialism and segregation, Native people preserve tribal sovereignty and remain active in Virginia politics.

Virginia Indians are advocates for Native representation in the Virginia Tech community. In 1990, the Monacan Nation Tribal Council issued a statement in support of collaborative initiatives serving Virginia Indians. They also advocated for the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program at Virginia Tech, the first of its kind in the Commonwealth. American Indian Movement activist and Monacan Assistant Chief George Whitewolf and Monacan writer Karenne Wood served as advisors for the program. Rufus Elliott became the first Monacan to graduate from Virginia Tech in 2007, and in 2014 Monacan Vicky Ferguson became the first Elder in Residence to teach and work alongside students for the AINS program. Today, the Monacans and other Virginia Indian Nations collaborate with Tech researchers and participate in the annual Native@VT powwow.

This map was generated using Each color overlay represents a different Native territory.

The Morrill Act of 1862 granted federally-controlled land to the states to sell and raise funds for land-grant universities like Virginia Tech. This legislation broadened access to higher education for farmhands and industrial workers, funded by the sale of nearly 11 million acres of Indigenous lands to 52 institutions. Land was taken through coercive and fraudulent treaties from 250 tribes. In all, the United States paid less than $400,000 to remove Indigenous titles to their land, sometimes paying nothing at all. Many land-grant universities remain in possession of unsold land and mineral rights to this day, continuing to benefit from the colonization of Indigenous lands. Nationwide, cutting-edge research and millions of college degrees are made possible by the Morrill Act’s violent history.

Virginia Tech profits from land taken from these people:

We-chil-la; Su-ca-ah; Sage-womnee; I-o-no-hum-ne; Co-to-plan-e-nee; Chap-pah-sim; Ya-wil-chine; Wo-la-si; Wack-sa-che; Po-ken-well; Pal-wis-ha; New-chow-we; Ko-ya-te; Kansas; Cheyenne of Upper Arkansas; Arapaho of Upper Arkansas; Yankton Sioux; Confederated Pawnee: Grand Pawnee, Pawnee Loup, Pawnee Republicans, Pawnee Tappaye residing on the Platt and Loup Fork; Yas-see; Wo-pum-ne; Loc-lum-ne; Cu-lee; Wil-lay; Toc-de; Tat-nah; Doc-duc; Co-lu; Co-ha-ma; Cham-et-ko; Cha; Yut-duc; To-to; Su-nu; Sim-sa-wa; Mi-chop-da; Ho-lo-lu-pi; Es-ki-un; Che-no; Bat-si; Yol-la-mer; Ya-ma-do; Ya-cum-na; Wan-nuck; Wai-de-pa-can; On-o-po-ma; Nem-shaw; Mon-e-da; Das-pia; Be-no-pi; Sioux (Wahpeton and Sisseton Bands); Sioux (Medewakanton and Wahpekuta); Mo-al-kai; Ma-dam-a-rec; How-ku-ma; Ha-bi-na-po; Da-no-ha-bo; Che-com; Cha-nel-kai; Ca-la-na-po; Yu-ki-as; Sai-nell; Po-mo; Mas-su-ta-ka-ya; Shoshoni; Bannock; Uintah Uta; Chippewa of the Mississippi; We-mal-che; No-to-no-to; Yo-lum-ne; Wo-wol; Co-ye-tie; Chu-nute; Pawnee (four confederated bands); Flathead; Chippewa of the Mississippi and Lake Superior; Si-yan-te; Po-to-yan-ti; Co-co-noon; Aplache; A-wall-a-che; A-pang-asse; Wa-cha-et; Toom-na; Tall-in-chee; Po-ho-nee-chee; Pit-cat-chee; Pas-ke-sa; Nook-choo; I-tach-ee; How-ech-ee; Chow-chil-lie; Chook-cha-nee; Cho-ki-men-a; Cho-e-nem-nee; Cas-son; Upper Pend d’Orelles; Kootenay; Washo; Omaha; Blackfoot; Paiute; Chippewa, Ontonagon band; Coast tribes of Oregon; San Luis Ray; Kah-we-a; Co-com-cah-ra; Great and Little Osage; Uta (Tabeguache, Muache, Capote, Weeminuchi, Yampa, Grand River, and Uintah bands); Uva; To-ci-a; Te-jon; So-ho-nut; Se-na-hu-ow; Hol-mi-uk; Ho-lo-cla-me; Cas-take; Car-I-se; Buena Vista; Kiowa; Comanche; Chippewa; Oto; Missouri; Walla-walla; Umatilla; Cayuse; Yo-kol; Wic-chum-ne; Tu-huc-mach; To-lum-ne; To-e-ne-che; Ta-che; In-tim-peach; Hol-cu-ma; Choi-nuck; Cah-wia; Y-lac-ca; Noi-me-noi-me; Noe-ma-noe-ma; Shoshone-Goship; Diegueño; Poh-lik or Lower Klamath; Peh-tuck or Upper Klamath; Hoo-pah or Trinity river; Chippewa (Pillager band); Apache (eastern band); Calapooia; Nez Percé; Arapaho; San Im-iri; Umpqua; Cheyenne; Wahpekuta; Sauk and Fox; Medewahkanton; Iowa; Confederated Bands of Willamette valley; Snake Indians, Yahooskin band; Modok; Klamath; Chippewa (Red Lake and Pembina bands); Chippewa (Winnibigoshish); Quapaw; Confederated Tribes of middle Oregon; Sioux; Northern Cheyenne; Pawnee; Sioux (Sisseton, Wahpeton, Medewakanton, and Wahpekute bands)

20th century student landmarks

Before the 1990s, Native students often graduated from Tech without crossing paths with one another. Part of a small population spread across campus, former students often comment that they knew no other Native Hokies. Some found community with other students of color and international students who were also far from home, while others found Virginia Tech isolating. Their academic excellence nonetheless reflected dedication to thoughtful research and to their communities. After graduation, alumni used their degrees to advocate for Native access to resources and representation through work with tribal, state, and federal governments.

Helen Maynor Scheirbeck of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina (Ed.D., '80) was an American Indian activist, education researcher, Senate staffer, Smithsonian director, and perhaps the first Native woman to receive her doctorate from Virginia Tech. After graduating from Berea College, she worked for the National Council of American Indians, helped push the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 through Congress, and implemented War on Poverty and Head Start programs in Indian communities across the country. In the 1990s, she left Head Start to direct public programming for the National Museum of the American Indian. Throughout her career, she prioritized full tribal authority over educational resources.

Helen Maynor Scheirbeck (Ed.D., '80)

Scheirbeck's research with VT's College of Education stressed equitable, long-term access to federal resources and other funding for tribal communities. After graduating, she encouraged other Native people to pursue graduate degrees. Her colleagues remember her as a quiet and funny woman with a house full of family. In her own words, "I'm just a little old Indian woman who is working hard for Indian people."

Ken Custalow in his dorm room.

Ken Custalow of the Chickahominy Tribe Eastern Division (B.A., ‘83) grew up near Richmond visiting his family on the Mattaponi reservation in Eastern Virginia on the weekends. Navigating both Southern suburban life and strong family bonds on the reservation, he developed an interest in working with people of different backgrounds. Virginia Tech’s growing diversity expanded that interest when he moved into the third floor of Thomas Hall with young men from across the world. Custalow played intramural basketball, volleyball, and football, and became a regular at the Baptist Student Union and the Lyric. As the Tribal Relations Manager at Dominion Energy, he builds relationships and consults with Native Nations and Communities on behalf of Dominion. Custalow says about working between a range of cultural and political systems, “No paradigms. Be willing to listen before you insert yourself.”

native organizing

By the mid-1990s, Native students and faculty began building community with one another across Virginia Tech majors and programs. Native students and faculty created professional networks, fostered informal spaces to gather, and challenged racist representations of Native people on campus and across the New River Valley. Faculty supported students as they pursued a central goal: to complete an education that would enable them to better serve their respective Nations and home communities.

When Barbara Lockee arrived as a graduate student in the School of Education in 1993, she sought out a Native student organization or space on Tech’s campus. Finding none, she developed a relationship with administrators including Dean of Students Barbara Pendergrass, who supported Native student recruitment and campus activity. Pendergrass had founded the Multicultural Student Center as a study and event venue and encouraged Native students to organize.

Barbara Lockee

Attracted to Virginia Tech’s reputation in engineering fields, a handful of Native students from across the country arrived at Tech in the 1990s. The earliest Native students in the College of Engineering often reentered university life as already-established professionals, raising families in Blacksburg while leading research projects. VT Native engineering students opened Virginia Tech’s chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society to everyone regardless of major, and the group became one of the first networks of Native students on campus.

In a crucial step towards building Native-centered curricula and Native community on campus, Virginia Tech hired its first permanent Native faculty, starting with Barbara Lockee in 1996. Jeff Corntassel arrived as an Assistant Professor of Political Science in 1997. After representing the Cherokee Nation at the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, Corntassel taught “Indigenous Peoples and World Politics,” the first Native-centered course at Tech. Mike Two Horses joined the faculty in 2003 to teach Indian Law and Policy.

As at other institutions, Native faculty found themselves at odds with administrators. Corntassel remembers: “In the course of my five years of experience at [VT], I found that stereotypes of the Indian “activist,” “spiritual” Indian, and “Noble Savage” were still prevalent at these institutions of “higher learning.” I was constantly working to debunk these stereotypes while being held up to unrealistic expectations.

“The more we try to be ourselves, the more we are forced to defend what we have never been.” - Lakota scholar Vine Deloria Jr.

On the one hand, as an Indigenous professor I was somehow expected to represent the interests of all Indigenous peoples in the United States and speak on behalf of some million Indigenous peoples at committee meetings, lectures, and so forth—despite constantly informing disappointed faculty and students that I can only speak for myself. On the other hand, my views were denounced when I voiced perspectives that were contrary to prevailing university norms of white privilege—in those instances, I was considered out of line with other Indigenous views on the issue and inadequate as a “representative” for all Indigenous peoples. As eminent Lakota scholar Vine Deloria Jr. writes: “The more we try to be ourselves, the more we are forced to defend what we have never been.”

Together, Native faculty and students developed a vision for institutional change. Dr. Corntassel advised the American Indian Culture Club, led by student Whitedove Mays, which held pizza nights in the Multicultural Student Center and events for American Indian Heritage Month. Students, Monacan advisors, Corntassel, Professor Sam Cook, and other faculty organized the American Indian and Native Studies minor. Today, the interdisciplinary program educates students about indigenous perspectives on contemporary global problems and maintains partnerships with Native tribal governments and communities. Program faculty brought Native luminaries like Joy Harjo, Leslie Marmon Silko, John Trudell, Henrietta Mann, and Woody Kipp to campus, coordinated educational summits with Virginia Indians, and actively recruited Native youth across the Commonwealth.

Native faculty fighting for an inclusive campus climate also led local battles against racist representations of Native people. Corntassel and others organized Columbus Day protests on campus and the American Indian Forum between faculty, administrators, and Virginia Indians in 2001, and supported the repatriation of human remains to the Monacans from a local museum in 2002. Corntassel and New River Valley residents founded the Coalition for American Indian Concerns (CAIC), advocating for improved public school curricula related to Native history. After visiting Blacksburg High School on a game day in 1999, Corntassel and the coalition pushed officials to retire racist mascots in four Southwestern Virginia schools. Coordinating with the NAACP, pastors, students, and members of the public, the CAIC successfully lobbied for the 2003 removal of all ethnic mascots from Montgomery County Schools. However, over the course of four years, a pro-mascot “Save the Indian” campaign and other forms of harassment pushed Corntassel to find a home at another university.

News Messenger headline from February 7th, 2000.
Jeff Corntassel on The Roanoke Times Currrent, February 27th, 2000.

Present and emerging

New generations of students fight for equity on campus atop these hard-won victories in organizing, networking, and visibility. Today, the Native@VT student organization, the American Indian and Indigenous Cultural Center, and new traditions like the VT powwow ensure a consistent, Native-led presence on Virginia Tech’s campus

Native@VT is Tech’s largest Native student organization. Founded in 2008, it is dedicated to advancing the visibility of American Indians and other Indigenous peoples on campus, as well as raising an awareness of issues that confront these diverse populations. Students and faculty organize Indigenous academic speakers’ series, conversations about colonialism, health, and education, and off-campus public events. In 2019, Native@VT successfully lobbied the University Council to pass a resolution marking the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day. Formed in the 2010s by Mikhelle Taylor, Mae Hey, and other Native students, the Virginia Tech chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science is open to all students and encourages trans-disciplinary research and conversation across all colleges in the university.


Sam Cook and John Galbraith founded the indigenous garden, a space dedicated to Native-grown vegetables and agricultural technologies, as the centerpiece of an undergraduate course in 2014. Today, Professors Mae Hey and Jeff Kirwan, the Agroforestry Club, and Monacan elder Vicky Ferguson alongside Blacksburg and VT community members and Native students, faculty, and elders cultivate sunflowers, pumpkins, tomatoes, squash, beans, and more. Caretakers exchange seeds and share harvests with local food banks, and the garden is open to students who want to work, visit, and gather.

"The garden is where we learn directly from our teachers in Nature, including from our Native plant relatives about the struggle to re-inhabit the places we belong. Through working together in common purpose, nurtured by Nature, we find our relatedness to the Land, each other, and ourselves. Through nurturing the Land, we are nourished." - Mae Hey

The American Indian and Indigenous Community Center was founded in 2016. In its initial two years, the AIICC hosted cultural events and classes, and worked with art gallery coordinators, Virginia Tech Newman Library, and faculty to highlight the continued presence of Native people in Virginia and at Virginia Tech. Vice President for Strategic Affairs and Diversity Menah Pratt-Clarke approved the AIICC’s physical space in Squires in 2019. Today, it features a library, event venue, and informal gathering spot for students and faculty. The staff coordinate across VT’s Cultural and Community Centers to provide opportunities for Native students to celebrate achievements, connect to resources, and share conversation with students from other spaces like El Centro and the Black Cultural Center. Affiliated faculty amplify Native student and faculty concerns and initiatives across campus through review of university policy and consultation with tribal leadership.

"The space was a catalyst for people to just find each other. People that came from similar backgrounds and understandings of themselves. So that's been a huge, made a huge huge difference. For me and for the undergraduates, I feel like they've been just as much a community for me as I try to be a support system for them." - Melissa Faircloth

Virginia Tech Diversity Scholar Melissa Faircloth, Sarah Woodward, and Caylin Stewart organized the first Virginia Tech powwow in Spring 2017, now an annual tradition. Members of Native@VT worked with Virginia Indians, in particular with alumnus Rufus Elliott and the Monacan Indian Nation, to host an event that would increase visibility of Native students, welcome young Native people interested in attending Tech, and educate campus and community members.

2017 Pow Wow.

native alumni

Dr. Stan Atcitty

Dr. Chris Cornelius

Whitedove Ballogg

Rufus Elliot

Caylin Stewart

Jason Chavez

Qualla Ketchum

Devin Ketchum

Lee Lovelace

Nizhoni Tallas

Chrissy Shammas

Will Culver

Dr. Barbara Lockee

Dr. Jeff Corntassel

Dr. Jeff Kirwan

Dr. Theresa Rocha Beardall

Dr. Mike Bowers

Dr. Mae Hey

native alumni

Dr. Stan Atcitty (Diné /Navajo Reservation) matriculated into the College of Engineering in 2003. In his words “Native and Innovative,” Dr. Atcitty became the first Native American male to receive a Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Virginia Tech. He is a Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, where he leads the DOE Office of Electricity’s Energy Storage Power Electronics Program. Dr. Atcitty has authored six patents and has received several prestigious R&D100 Awards. In 2012, Dr. Atcitty received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers, from Barack Obama. In addition to leading the Power Electronics Program, Dr. Atcitty works with tribal governments offering energy storage and advance power electronic controller solutions from Florida to Alaska to increase access to sustainable energy sources on tribal lands. Stan is actively mentoring and coaching multiple junior staff members at Sandia, graduate and undergrad Native American students.
After a career in the military, Chris Cornelius attended the University of Montana at Billings, where his mentor, Mary Lukin (Blackfeet) coordinated a small American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) chapter. A national organization dedicated to increasing visibility and representation of Native people in STEM fields, AISES provides networking and mentorship opportunities crucial to student success. After starting his career with 3M and Dow Chemical, Chris Cornelius moved with his wife and children to Blacksburg in 1996 to begin a graduate program in engineering. With funding and support from Bevlee Watford, Founding Director of the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity at VT, Dr. Cornelius sought out every Native student he could find to create the Virginia Tech chapter of AISES. He worked long hours to finish his degree early--even flooding the entirety of Randolph Hall during an overnight experiment. Cornelius became the first Native American to graduate with an advanced degree from the College of Engineering. Throughout his career, Dr. Cornelius provided networking and mentoring opportunities for scientists and engineers of color, with particular interest in how young scholars navigate tenure and academia. “Ut prosim carries over into our personal life,” he says. “We all share a network of successful people for support and reference.”
Whitedove Ballogg knew since middle school that she wanted to be a mental health therapist working on a reservation. At Virginia Tech, she connected to research opportunities in the psychology department, finding mentors in her upper-level classes. In addition to working with Jeff Corntassel to organize the American Indian Culture Club, Whitedove pursued volunteer opportunities to provide assistance in South Carolina, New York, and Oklahoma Indian communities through the Native American Program at the VT YMCA. By the end of her undergraduate career, she won a university award for volunteer leadership. Ballogg graduated with a BA in Psychology in 1998 and completed a graduate degree in health psychology. She provided counseling for adolescents with addiction and mental health issues, and their families, in the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian community, and currently practices in Phoenix, Arizona.
Rufus Elliot visited Virginia Tech as a high school student participating in the Virginia Indian Pre-College Initiative, a program piloted by AINS faculty Sam Cook. He became the first Monacan to attend and graduate from Virginia Tech, which sits on Monacan ancestral land. Rufus graduated with a degree in history, and went back to Amherst County to serve as tribal administrator for the Monacans. He remained involved in Native@VT initiatives, including planning and support for annual powwows. Today, he works as the housing administrator for the Chickahominy Indian Tribe.
Caylin Stewart grew up in Charles City County, Virginia, and enrolled at Virginia Tech to pursue a career in sustainable agriculture with Virginia Extension. The transition to college from a small community full of relatives was difficult, and Stewart worked to build a support group and meaningful friendships through Native@VT. As the first employee of the American Indian and Indigenous Cultural Center, Stewart worked with directors Kristen Houston and Veronica Montes building experience in programming, seeking funding for events, and working with university administration. She graduated in 2018 with a BS in Agricultural Sciences. Stewart’s time at the AIICC informs her work as a Chickahominy Indian Tribe member, where she helps coordinate powwows and community meetings. Today, she works for Smithfield Foods in research and development.
Jason Chavez (Chukut Kuk District, Tohono O'odham Nation) always liked work more than school, and after a brief time in community college he found work in Arizona as a voter outreach coordinator helping tribal members access the polls. Following his wife as she pursued her education, he received his Associate's Degree from a Virginia community college and enrolled in August 2017 at Virginia Tech. Confronting Native invisibility and stereotypical representations in Virginia, Chavez found the transition both as a Native student from a Native community, and as a transfer student, jarring. The AIICC and supportive faculty members Sam Cook and Barb Lockee helped Chavez adapt. At the AIICC, "I don't have to explain or define who I am." Chavez was central to Native@VT's campaign for university recognition of Indigenous Peoples' Day, meeting with administration and rallying campus support. He completed the accelerated M.A. in Political Science, conducting research on barriers to political participation for tribal members. His post-VT career as an election policy specialist with the Arizona Secretary of State, directing voter education projects and tribal outreach programs, address exactly those barriers.
Qualla Ketchum (Cherokee) grew up in Warner, Cherokee Nation. Her parents practice holistic range management, and she shared their passion for sustainability. She knew as a high schooler that she excelled at science and math, and after talking with practicing engineers decided to focus on biosystems engineering in college. After Qualla came to Tech as a graduate student in 2015, she switched her degree path to Engineering Education after realizing her love for teaching. She aims to not only increase representation of Native students in STEM but to indigenize engineering on campus. The VT Principles of Community with Cherokee Community Values combined guide the content of her Biosystems Engineering courses. Native@VT and the space at AIICC have provided support as Qualla raises her child in Blacksburg far from family. Studying the experiences of Indigenous students in engineering programs, Qualla hopes to connect Native students interested in STEM with one another, on and off campus.
Devin Ketchum (Delaware Tribe of Indians) worked as an engineer for a small manufacturing company, creating solutions to repair problems through self-taught coding. He moved to Christiansburg in 2016 to reunite with his wife, Qualla, who was pursuing a graduate degree at Tech nearby, and found graduate applications and program structures unfamiliar. He completed a last-minute application to the graduate program in computer engineering, and once enrolled at Tech he found the AIICC. “That was our safe space on campus. You don’t feel exposed, you don’t feel social anxiety,” he says. “That was the place for us.” He also found community on campus in Eta Kappa Nu, the honors society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, where he helped tutor other students. Devin graduated with his MS in 2019, and in his current work continues to support the AIICC. He helps plan AIICC programming and currently manages the Inclusive VT and Cultural and Community Centers websites.
Lee Lovelace visited Virginia Tech with his sister on her freshman moving day. He later matriculated, but as a shy and artsy student, he found acclimating during his first year on-campus difficult. Joining volunteer organizations like Leadership Tech, where he collaborated with other students and Blacksburg small business owners, made it easier to find friends. As an undergraduate, he witnessed discussions about the obstacles to Native post-secondary education at the Virginia Indian Nations Summit on Higher Education. Lee accepted an internship dedicated to recruiting Native students through powwows and college workshops, outreach that resulted in a 100% increase in Native student enrollment. An elder from Lovelace’s Nation, the Upper Mattaponi, asked him to organize a Native student organization at Virginia Tech. Lovelace and other students and faculty started Native@VT to grow community and visibility for Native students on campus, and invite recruited high school students to join. Lovelace later pursued careers with the National Congress of American Indians, American University, and Native American Television. Today, Lee is a marketing coordinator for the Office of Inclusion and Diversity and the Tribal Outreach Liaison at Virginia Tech.
Nizhoni Tallas (Diné ) attended Navajo Preparatory School and dual enrolled for college credits in her hometown of Farmington, New Mexico. When she came to Virginia Tech, she threw her energy into a variety of research experiences all over the world related to her major in Natural Resources and Conservation, including soil sampling in Maryland, studying abroad in Switzerland, documenting water resources in Minnesota, leading community service on the Blackfeet Reservation, and monitoring salmon populations in Oregon. On Virginia Tech's campus, she organized new opportunities for Native students through AISES and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and conducted laboratory research at the Fralin Science Institute. Nizhoni developed leadership skills through her work on the Native American Caucus, the Powwow committee, and as a tribal initiatives ambassador, leading to her election as president of Native@VT and co-leader of SACNAS. She graduated from Virginia Tech in 2021 and enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Arizona. Her advice to students is to "embrace who you are and to be the person you needed when you were growing up. College is hard but it takes a community to support you so find a place you can call home away from home."
Chrissy Shammas came to Virginia Tech from Chesapeake, Virginia with a passion for wildlife and community. She spent much of her time outside the classroom photographing wildlife along the Blue Ridge Parkway, creating interactive maps of Blacksburg's natural areas, DJing at Virginia Tech's own WUVT FM, and putting on music festivals and events for the southwestern Virginia area. She found community, family, and fun in Native@VT that has persisted well after graduation, and was perhaps most proud of helping put on Virginia Tech's first powwow in its 145 year history. In 2018, Chrissy graduated with a B.A. in Cinema and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, photographing wildlife in the west such as grizzlies, bison, and elk.

Will Culver (Cherokee) grew up in Southern California. Throughout young adulthood, he worked at various small animal hospitals. He attended community college, but struggled to support himself financially and do well academically as a first-generation college student. He quit working entirely and pursued a B.S. in Wildlife Biology at Humboldt State University, entirely on loans and scholarships. It was so scary to take the plunge! During that time, the Indian Natural Resource and Science Engineering Program (INRSEP) at Humboldt State reached out to Will, recruiting him into their program. Will learned how to conduct research, tutor, prepare applications for veterinary school, and grow within a community of like-minded individuals that faced similar struggles. He raised his GPA, won awards for his research, published in a scientific journal, and gained admission to the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. In Blacksburg, Culver was active in diversity and inclusion initiatives and clubs, and talked with aspiring pre-veterinary students about their struggles and how they can indeed overcome them. He graduated from veterinary college in 2019 with a DVM/MPH, and married his wife Ana (also a veterinary grad) three days later.

Will is a Captain and Veterinary Corps Officer (VCO) for the U.S. Army. Veterinarians in the Army provide care for Military Working Animals (dogs and horses), food protection (safety and security), public health/zoonoses, global health engagement, and care for soldiers’ animals.

In his downtime, will loves to hang out with Ana and play video games, watch movies, and tinker with his truck. As the opportunities arise, he has Zoom meetings with INRSEP students to mentor them along their own pathways through STEM.

A professor of instructional design and technology in the School of Education at Virginia Tech, Barbara Lockee received her doctoral degree in Curriculum and Instruction from VT in 1996, With a specialization in the area of instructional technology, her research and teaching focuses on the design of technology-based solutions for learning and performance needs. Her early research addressed the problem of Native American language loss by examining the potential for computer-assisted technology to teach Indigneous languages to Native American learners. In 2016, she led a group of current and former VT Master’s students in a project with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop e-learning programs that addressed crucial safety training needs faced by the laboratory. In 2020 Dr. Lockee received an award from the Association for Educational Communications and Technology for her work helping faculty confront the shift to online instruction posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jeff Corntassel received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Arizona in 1998 and is currently Associate Professor in Indigenous Studies and Acting Director of the Centre for Indigenous Research and Community-Led Engagement (CIRCLE) at the University of Victoria. Dr. Corntassel served as Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Virginia Tech from 1997 to 2002. During his time at VT he was the Associate Director of “Human Rights at VT” and held educational talks for students and community members regarding global Indigenous rights. Dr. Corntassel was the first Cherokee Nation representative to the United Nations. His teaching and research interests focus on Indigenous political movements, community resurgence, and sustainable self-determination. Dr. Corntassel’s book, Forced Federalism: Contemporary Challenges to Indigenous Nationhood examines how Indigenous nations in the US mobilize politically as they encounter new threats to their governance from state policymakers.
Jeff Kirwan (Nause-Waiwash Band of Indians) always loved the outdoors. In 1978, he took a job as an extension agent in Albemarle County, Virginia specializing in youth development and environmental education and working with 4-H. He arrived in Blacksburg to VT as an extension specialist in 1997 and became a professor in the College of Natural Resources and the Environment. He co-taught the Indigenous Ecology course for over a decade and was involved with the Virginia Indian Summit on Higher Education at Tech. For decades, Kirwan has also played with a drum group of Native faculty and Native people from across the New River Valley, appearing at Virginia Tech for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. He asks that students visit the white oaks older than English colonization in Stadium Woods, and look for the sweet flag used in ceremony in the marsh at Smithfield.
Theresa Rocha Beardall (Oneida, Sault St. Marie, Mexican) grew up in California, and discovered sociology research while completing an MA in Federal Indian Law at UCLA. Her research connects the areas of law, social inequality, race and ethnicity, policing, state violence, and American Indian and Indigenous Studies. She examines the socially constructed meanings of police, police accountability, and police reform. Here she shows how labor law, police unions, and localized community engagement intervene in and redefine the role and responsibilities of law enforcement. She also examines how the meaning of tribal sovereignty has changed over time in U.S. courts and popular society, and the implications of this change for the social, political, and legal status of American Indians. Dr. Rocha Beardall engages with the meaning of social and legal contracts to better understand how and why marginalized populations continue to disproportionately experience, and actively resist, multiple forms of state violence. To this end, her work centers the words and worldviews of those most impacted by these inequalities and attends to what these experiences might reveal about how we come to envision and build a more just society.
Mike Bowers was the first in his immediate family to attend college and achieve an advanced degree. Mike attributes his motivation and drive to the encouragement of his father and grandfather. As an undergraduate, he wanted to know more about how people’s minds moved between languages. One of his professors recognized his interest and introduced him to the field of neuroscience. After he completed his MA in linguistics from University of New Mexico, Mike enrolled in a PhD program at Oklahoma State, where he found that Native people remain underrepresented in STEM fields. He started an organization called Native Americans in Biological Sciences, mentoring undergraduate students and providing space for graduate students to talk and network. Mike was an Assistant Professor in the School of Neuroscience where his program of research focused on the neurobiology of language and communication disorders. He jumped into collaborative and incremental work with the Indigenous Caucus, where faculty discuss common research interests and their shared work promoting Native students on Tech’s campus.
Dr. Mae (Christina) Hey is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology.Mae Hey’s undergraduate education focused on geology and geography, human-Nature relationships. Her two graduate degrees are in curriculum and instruction. Her Ph.D. research focused on the confluence of Indigenous worldview/ knowledge and science education, a natural blending of traditional local knowledge and practices—practices that support creative problem-solving, human empowerment, community capacity building, and a more sustainable future. Additionally, her dissertation work allowed her to explore strategies for effectively working with Native populations as well as maintaining the integrity of authentic Indigenous voice through the process of research and reporting. She also takes care of Native species and seeds in the Indigenous Garden, a project founded by John Galbraith and Sam Cook in 2014.

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A successful university experience depends on many factors, not the least of which is a sense of belonging and reliable support for reaching individual goals. At Virginia Tech, the American Indian and Indigenous community provides a strong network of peers and mentors so that Native students feel welcome and supported within and outside of the walls of the classroom. Through opportunities for cultural engagement, social interaction, and celebration of heritage, our Indigenous students, staff, and faculty form a vibrant and visible presence on campus, strengthened by our critical connections with tribal communities in Virginia and beyond.

- Barbara Lockee

“We acknowledge the Tutelo/Monacan people, who are the traditional custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognize their continuing connection to the land, water, and air that Virginia Tech consumes. We pay respect to the Tutelo/Monacan Nations, and to their elders past, present, and emerging.” - Virginia Tech Land Acknowledgement

For more information about this exhibit and exhibits in the University Libraries contact Scott Fralin,