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Professor Simmons to speak
at graduate commencement

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 14 - December 4, 1997

Alumni Distinguished Professor George M. Simmons will be the Graduate Commencement Speaker at the Fall Ceremony, Friday, Dec. 19, at 2:30 p.m. in Cassell Coliseum.
Simmons, a teacher and researcher in aquatic ecology, has gone to the ends of the earth for his research. As co-director of a major Antarctic research program, he developed equipment and trained and directed personnel in the first exploration of Antarctic dry valley lakes. This research led to the discovery of living stromatolites in polar environments, solved the mystery of supersaturated gas conditions in polar lakes, and paved the way for the Long Term Ecological Research Site at Lake Hoare, Antarctica.
In warmer climes, Simmons developed a submarine groundwater research program in the Florida Keys and the Chesapeake Bay. His research on nonpoint fecal coliform sources in coastal marine environments helped reopen several Virginia shellfish beds. He developed the first DNA key to E. coli strains associated with wild animals, and pinpointed the source of contamination of the shellfish beds--uncontrolled populations of raccoons.
Since earning his doctoral degree from Virginia Tech in 1968, Simmons has also gone the distance as a teacher at all levels and in all environments, including cyberspace. He is associate department head for undergraduate advising, advises graduate students, teaches freshman biology to majors and non-majors, and teaches upper-level and graduate courses to majors in five disciplines. One of his courses, which uses the Internet to provide information about academic requirements and career opportunities, serves as a model for similar courses in other programs.
He also shares his research and teaching skills with non-students. Simmons developed an outreach environmentally based educational program to enable citizens to evaluate water quality in their own area. Focusing on Virginia's Eastern Shore, and working primarily on weekends and holidays, Simmons' workshops taught residents how to design a field sampling program, analyze samples, and develop remediation strategies. He also is developing a model teaching program to promote principles of environmental stewardship through alumni chapters.
During the 1997 Fall Commencement, graduates and their families will also hear from Julie Meltzer, Ph.D. student in curriculum and instruction and a teacher at Ferrum who is attending Virginia Tech as an Appalachian College Association Fellow. At Ferrum, Meltzer teaches education courses, such as learning styles, multicultural education, global perspectives, and the writing process. Outside Ferrum, she is integrating the arts into teacher education, working recently at Blue Mountain School in Floyd County and with the AIM program in Franklin County High School. Meltzer teaches improvisational dance, is a creative movement specialist, and a professional story teller. And she is contributing to plans to start an alternative high school focusing on educating students to participate in a democratic society.
Timothy Mays, NSF Fellow in civil engineering, will be the graduate student marshal; Faculty Senate President Paul Metz will be the commencement marshal. Danielle Talamantes, undergraduate majoring in music education and performance, will sing the national anthem; the Quantum Brass will perform.
Len Peters, vice provost for research and dean of the graduate school, will present the candidates. John Eaton, associate provost for graduate studies, will read the names of the graduates. President Torgersen will confer the degrees. Doctoral candidates will be hooded by their major professors. Concluding remarks will be presented by Provost Meszaros. Juan Fernando Betts, a Southern Regional Educational Board Fellow in mechanical engineering, will deliver the closing meditation.