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Aspire! Award Profiles

The Aspire! Awards recognize students, faculty, and staff who exemplify Student Affairs' Aspirations for Student Learning. Five students, one representing each Aspiration, and one faculty/staff member will be honored at each celebration in the months of October, December, February, March, and April. Nominations are now accepted for the 2020-2021 Aspire! Awards.

Aspire! Award Celebrations

  • October 8, 2021
  • December 3. 2021
  • February 25, 2022
  • March 25, 2022
  • April 29, 2022

The Aspire! Award Celebrations will be hosted in person at the Inn at Virginia Tech, unless announced otherwise.

The Aspire! Awards were established by the Student Affairs in 2011 as a way to recognize and celebrate the Virginia Tech students who embody the Aspirations for Student Learning.

Five times a year, five students who live the Aspirations for Student Learning are honored as recipients of Aspire! Awards. The Aspire! Awards are open to students of all majors and levels of study.

In 2013, the Aspire! Awards were expanded to include university employees who live and teach the Aspirations in their work. At each of the five Aspire! Awards celebrations throughout the academic year, one employee who has made outstanding contributions to student learning is recognized.

In 2015, the Aspire! Awards were further broadened to include the Alumni Ut Prosim Aspire! Award. Presented once each year in April, the Alumni Ut Prosim Aspire! Award goes to a Virginia Tech alumnus who represents our hopes for all students – that they live lives of curiosity, integrity, innovation, leadership, success, fulfillment, and that they continue to embody the university’s motto, Ut Prosim, as a way of life.

Aspire! Awards recipients are honored at breakfast gatherings in the months of October, November, February, March, and April. During the awards presentation, each recipient’s story is told and later featured online. The Aspire! Awards breakfasts have become an inspirational and integral part of the Student Affairs’ culture, with university, community, and family guests frequently participating in the recognition event.

Aspire! Award nominations can be made by anyone who believes an individual merits recognition for living the Aspirations for Student Learning in their daily lives. Nominations are submitted through an online form at the Aspirations website, and should include an essay of up to 750 words focusing on why the nominee fits the spirit of a specific Aspiration. Once a nomination is received, the Student Affairs’ five Aspirations committees review each submission and choose the individuals they believe best represent the essence of the Aspirations. Over the years, hundreds of nominations have been received and, as of summer 2017, 174 Aspire! Awards have been presented.

The Student Affairs’ Aspirations for Student Learning represent the pinnacle of Virginia Tech’s aspirations for and expectations of students. They are:

  • Commit to unwavering CURIOSITY
  • Pursue SELF-UNDERSTANDING and INTEGRITY
  • Practice CIVILITY
  • Prepare for a life of COURAGEOUS LEADERSHIP
  • Embrace UT PROSIM as a way of life.

The Aspirations for Student Learning were developed and adopted to:

  • Complement and complete students’ academic and professional education
  • Challenge students to develop habits of interpersonal awareness, intentional actions, and self-reflection
  • Connect knowledge to the possibilities for improving humanity near and far
  • Guide them in creating a positive legacy now and in the future.

In discussing how and why the Aspirations for Student Learning were developed, Frank Shushok, senior associate vice president for Student Affairs, points to a passage in the Student Affairs mission statement, specifically, the desire to “… promote student learning, life skills, and personal growth through a strong focus on holistic student development.”

“To accomplish such a worthy goal,” Shushok said, “we had to have clarity about what we wanted for our students. The Aspirations are the result of our earnest efforts to discern what we aspired to for students and their education. It’s why the process of writing them took a year full of conversation, multiple drafts, and collective insight. By the time we ended the process, we had clarity of purpose for what we wanted to do together for our students.”

Shushok continued, “In a time when college is often associated with jobs and careers, we wanted also to accentuate the importance of character development in students. Technical skills without character and virtue, we believe, are hollow pursuits. The Aspirations are indicative of Virginia Tech’s desire for developing technical expertise in students, as well as nurturing in them a care for humanity, justice, and improving world conditions for all, in the spirit of Ut Prosim.

“We want our students to find a career, but we also want them to find a life full of meaning and purpose. That’s the biggest gift an education can provide,” Shushok said.


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    Dr. John Ferris. Photo credit: Christina Franusich
    "Stand up and do what is right. You know in your heart what is right."

    In 2017, Student Affairs began a journey to improve the lives of our staff employees by forming the Staff Enrichment Task Force. We didn’t know where this journey would take us and we didn’t know the friends and colleagues it would bring into our lives. One of them is Dr. John Ferris, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, who is our 2019 faculty-staff recipient of the Aspire! Award for embracing Ut Prosim as a way of life.

    Date: May 28, 2019
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    Mackenzie Lewis. Photo credit: Christina Franusich
    Embracing Ut Prosim through love, dignity, and respect

    Mackenzie Lewis’ nominator is someone who’s known her since birth. Her nominator wrote, “Mackenzie wholeheartedly believes that it’s our moral obligation as humans to help each other and give back to our communities in times of need. I’m in awe of the lives she’s touched and the impact she has made. I think of the joy she’s brought to athletes with disabilities or children experiencing homelessness, blowing out the candles on their very first birthday cake. It’s remarkable to see her interact with those individuals. She treats them all with overwhelming love, dignity, and respect.”  

    Date: May 24, 2019
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    From left to right: Dr. Patty Perillo, Josh Redding, Anna Bondy, Laura Sands, President Tim Sands. Photo credit: Christina Franusich
    Asking for help shows strength, not weakness

    Not all leaders have formal titles. Some are simply called “friend” or “mentor.” They lead by example in their communities and peer groups. They lift others up and bring them along. They know that relationships are the heart of leadership.

    Date: May 22, 2019
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    Derek Lawrence. Photo credit: Christina Franusich
    The only constant is change

    Derek Lawrence found his place at Virginia Tech through trial and error, which is probably something most students can relate to. “I’ve been involved in perhaps a dozen different activities since I arrived, and I’ve been to dozens of other interest meetings,” said Derek. “I was a member of some organizations for over a year before discovering that they didn’t fit me, and I only recently joined some of the things I’m now passionate about. In the same way, the place I’ve found now may not be the place I will be next semester. The only constant is change, and as I grow in my personal self-understanding, my interests change.”

    Date: May 20, 2019
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    Carl Yao. Photo credit: Christina Franusich
    "Couch cooperation"

    After interviewing Carl Yao for a peer leadership class, his nominator wrote a beautiful tribute to him, and I’d like to read it to you now.

    Date: May 16, 2019
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    Gabby Bomberg. Photo credit: Christina Franusich
    A kaleidoscope of curiosity. Human sponge. Creative curator. Everyday inquirer.

    These are just a few of the phrases Gabby Bomberg’s nominators used to describe her way of being in the world.

    Date: May 14, 2019

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