New living-learning community of entrepreneurs occupies former Sig Ep house

The $5 million home to first-year students and residents of the Innovate living-learning community.

The $5 million home to first-year students and residents of the Innovate living-learning community.


The recently constructed $5 million house on Oak Lane, originally intended for the Sigma Phi Epslion fraternity, has been designated a new purpose as of this semester.

This semester marks the beginning of a two-year pilot program for Innovate, a new living-learning community that has been given access to the house after Sig Ep lost its charter last year due to misconduct and failure to meet national expectations.

Innovate is a residential community with an entrepreneurial concentration where 35 first-year students of different majors will work together to ideate and launch student-led business ventures.

The community-specific course in entrepreneurship is being taught by assistant professor in Pamplin College of Business Department of Management, Marc Junkunc.

“My immediate reaction was ‘this is outstanding, a great opportunity for the students… for the university,'” said Junkunc. “I felt this was something that really was going to be impactful.”

The idea for Innovate stemmed from the collaborative efforts of the provost’s office, the Division of Student Affairs, Pamplin College of Business and the department of Housing and Residence Life.

“In terms of entrepreneurship education and living-learning communities, those are two separate phenomena that are occurring now at universities and this is bringing [those] together,” Junkunc said.

Two staff members of Housing and Residence Life reside in the house with the students in the program including residential learning coordinator for fraternity and sorority life, Chad Mandala, along with the resident community fellow, Drew Stegmaier, a graduate of Virginia Tech class of 2013 and CEO of Drink it Up.

Stegmaier calls his situation a “win-win.”

“I’m learning a lot from the students,” said Stegmaier. “They’re so much further ahead of where I was when I was a freshman… some of them already have patents, some of them already have started companies.”

According to Junkunc, most students get involved with entrepreneurship in their junior or senior years, while one of the benefits of the Innovate community is encouraging students to pursue their ideas early on.

“If we can get students engaged in those activities earlier it gives them a much greater opportunity to develop those aspirations and capabilities throughout their whole college experience,” Junkunc said.

Freshman apparel, housing and resource management major, Caroline Johnson, is a member of Innovate this year and has always had dreams of opening her own clothing store.

“I feel like overall we’re going to become a family,” said Johnson. “It’s going to be really cool to bounce ideas off each other and learn what everyone’s different talents are and be able to build something.”

Students in Innovate will learn to network and create business models, among other useful skills.

“One of the first things we’re doing is demystifying it, showing the kids that this is possible,” said Stegmaier. “[If] you think you can’t, you’re the biggest barrier to your own success.”

One concern that has been mentioned about the location of Innovate is that it may be too far from campus for the students to be engaged in the Virginia Tech community as a whole.

“I don’t feel connected to the campus just because I’m so far away from everything, but everyone in my classes are making me feel welcome and they don’t treat me [differently],” Johnson said.

However, Junkunc says this barrier shouldn’t last long into the school year, especially with a Hokie Express bus stop located very close to the house.

“I don’t think there’s any reason they should miss out on anything,” said Junkunc. “It’s an interdisciplinary program… We have a cross-section of many different cultures and majors. I think it’s a way for them to have a lot of like-minded housemates, but at the same time they’ll be able to plug into many different aspects of what’s going on on campus.”

Johnson says she feels very fortunate to live and learn as a member of Innovate.

The future of the community is uncertain at this point, but Junkunc predicts that the results of this pilot program for Innovate will be positive and the community will evolve and grow in time.

“Right now we’re just focused on doing the best Innovate program we can,” said Junkunc. “I think it’s poised to be one of the best programs of its kind in the country.”


Community shows up to run in honor of Boston victims

Runners start the commemorative jog at the beginning of the Huckleberry Trail on the corner of Draper Road and Miller Street.

Runners start the commemorative jog at the beginning of the Huckleberry Trail on the corner of Draper Road and Miller Street.

The mood was energized Monday night, as members of the community gathered to show support for those affected by the explosions in Boston last week by walking or running on the Huckleberry Trail.

The Runners for Boston runs are organized as part of a national effort by the Independent Running Retailers Association (IRRA).

At 6:30 p.m., Cortney Martin and Kirsten Thompson Mosby, who ran the marathon last week, spoke of their experiences, followed by a moment of silence at 6:42 p.m. to remember those injured or killed in Boston, as well as those in West Texas affected by the fertilizer plant explosion.

“Running is a lot about freedom and getting out in the world and being unencumbered and just going… this was such an affront and assault to what we love and value,” Martin said.

Thompson Mosby and her husband traveled to Boston with their children to run the marathon.

“I think sometimes the worst things bring out so much good in people,” Mosby said. “It was really humbling to know that in such a moment of tragedy there’s a lot of good still.”

The participants last night gathered for different reasons, but all shared the underlying hope of solidarity.

Sophomore health, nutrition, foods and exercise major Shacoria Winston participated last night to show her respect for the victims in Boston.

“It’s a time to promote unity amongst our campus again,” Winston said. “I feel like we’re used to tragedy and we’re used to events of this nature so the things that occurred in Boston are similar to what we have experienced. We need to show respect for them and show support in the same way that everyone else around the country has shown for us.”

Brett Sherfy — a graduate student in math education — sported blue and yellow, the colors of the Boston Marathon, while he ran Monday night.

“Races have always been a safe, energetic environment and I think that was all kind of taken away last Monday,” said Sherfy. “(The Boston Marathon) is still going to be the pinnacle of marathon running, but it’s never going to be the same.”

Runabout Sports, a member of the IRRA, hosted the event for the area and sold “Runners for Boston” t-shirts with 100 percent of the proceeds going to One Fun Boston aiding victims of the tragedy.

Owner of Runabout Sports, James DeMarco, called the Boston Marathon a celebration of life and endorses running as a good way to express emotions.

“One of the worst things you can do is dwell on things,” DeMarco said. “Running is definitely a proven way to get rid of…stress. If everybody ran more often I think we’d have a lot less violence in the world.”

Runabout Sports donated $300 to cover the cost of making the shirts and hope to raise $1,000 for the charity from sales.

One Fund Boston will distribute money to families most affected by the Boston Marathon explosions.

The cost of an amputation procedure ranges from $20,000-$60,000 with the average cost of a prosthesis being anywhere between a few thousand dollars and $40,000.

One Fund Boston has already raised over $10 million to donate to victims and families.

DeMarco predicts that next year the marathon will see more runners than ever before.

Martin is determined to return to run in Boston again next year and Sherfy hopes to qualify for the marathon one day.

“(At Virginia Tech) we have a really good understanding of uniting together after a tragic event,” Sherfy said. “I’ve seen what a community can do after (tragedy).”

State Board of Health finalizes regulations for abortion clinics

ImageOn Friday April 12, the Virginia State Board of Health voted 11-2 in favor of finalizing regulations for health and safety standards of abortion clinics that opponents fear could force some facilities to close.

Located just off of North Main Street, the local Planned Parenthood could face closure if they don’t comply with the new regulations.

Read our previous coverage on these regulations.

“They are an unfortunate and unnecessary intrusion into patient services,” said Cianti Stewart-Reid, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, of the law.

The regulations will require that any facility where five or more first-trimester abortions per month are performed, must meet the minimum standards for construction set for new hospital buildings.

In 2012, the Blacksburg Planned Parenthood provided 104 induced terminations of pregnancy.

Many pro-choice groups are concerned about the effect on Planned Parenthood facilities across the state, which provide a range of health services ranging from oral contraceptives, treatment of STDs and cancer screenings to abortions.

“It has the potential to (cause health centers to close) if they’re unable to comply with the restrictions,” said Stewart-Reid. “As a result, women would lose access to all the other services that are also provided at those centers.”

Among the regulations, those regarding design and construction could prove costly for many health centers.

However, President of the Virginia Society for Human Life Olivia Gans Turner does not foresee Planned Parenthood facilities closing due to the costs associated with regulated changes.

“Planned Parenthood has made a lot of noise… and yet Planned Parenthood will not shut its doors,” said Gans Turner. “They make a great deal of money off this business.”

Planned Parenthood, which receives money from the federal government, reported excess revenue of over $87 million for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. That same year, federal funding provided over $524 million to the organization.

The law states that the health centers will be required to maintain structural standards that include a five-foot width for public hallways, larger janitorial closets and a minimum of four parking spaces for each surgical room in the facility.

Opposition claims the regulations are a way to restrict women’s access to abortion.

“I think there’s no doubt that (the regulations) are politically motivated, and they clearly put politics above women’s health,” Stewart-Reid said.

Gans Turner, who has had an abortion, supports the actions of legislators.

“The Virginia Society of Human Life is very pleased with the (actions of the legislature) two years ago, making this proposal an effective law,” said Gans Turner. “The fact that the General Assembly saw fit to provide this protection for women… under the law, I think is a positive move.”

There have been additional arguments that the structural regulations in particular are not medically necessary.

“I’m disappointed that the Board of Health… did not listen to the medical experts who’ve made it very clear that these regulations are not medically necessary and will not improve women’s health care,” Stewart-Reid said.

The chair of the Board of Health and representative for EMS, Bruce Edwards, thinks otherwise, due to his experience in EMS.

“I think that the whole purpose of this… is to ensure that the places are safe and they are clean,” said Edwards. “From the standpoint of the structure, there needs to be adequate room in all these facilities so we can work on and take care of the patient.”

According to Edwards, each of the 20 abortion clinics in Virginia were issued licenses with corrective notices for simple fixes like placement of hand wash basins and sanitation aspects, as well as for more complicated, structural issues.

While changes to health care facilities in accordance with these regulations will be made by summer 2014, only one facility has expressed that it will not be able to comply with new regulations.

Upon inspections by the state medical examiner, 12 of the 20 clinics are in the process of, or are already in compliance.

Virginia is not alone in creating these types of regulations. Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Arkansas and Pennsylvania have adopted similar laws.

The recent death of a woman during an abortion procedure has provoked Maryland legislators to take action as well.

“This is a preventative and protective, reasonable action that is warranted. Unchecked abortion (clinics) sometimes become… unwilling to protect the women who walk into their doors,” Gans Turner said.

Planned Parenthood representatives assure pro-choice advocates that the organization will not be shut down overall.

The Blacksburg location for Planned Parenthood and the Roanoke Health Center are not sure how these regulations will affect their business or facilities just yet.

The Virginia Department of Health held a public comment period for two months in which over 6,000 comments were submitted. Of these comments, over 4,000 were in opposition to the new regulations.

Ten Virginia Senators, who originally voted in favor of the legislation in 2011, have recently expressed disapproval of the finalized regulations.

In a statement from nine of those senators, they said “The Attorney General’s office is incorrect in their interpretation… the (legislation) never required existing facilities to need new construction codes.”

Twenty-eight public commenters also shared the opinion that existing facilities be grandfathered in, and that construction guidelines should only apply to new health care facilities.

The Board of Health included a grandfather clause in its original write-up of regulations, however, they were forced to remove it in September 2012 after the General Attorney’s office deemed the clause was outside their realm of authority.

Medical professionals have also spoken out against the regulations.

“Such onerous and expensive structural facility requirements are not rationally related to enhancing the safety of first-trimester abortion procedure, nor prevent potential complications,” said Dr. Stephan Bendheim, chairman of the Department of OB/GYN at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital, in a comment to the Board of Health.

Twenty-two Virginia delegates as well as the former chair of the Virginia State Board of Health, Fred Hannett, spoke in opposition to the regulations as well.

Though the regulations have already been passed, pro-choice groups won’t give up the fight.

“We will continue to organize our supporters to speak out against these regulations and to hopefully get them overturned,” Stewart-Reid said.

Big Event 2013 gears up

The Big Event statsIt will be an early morning for 6,500 students on Saturday, as they gather to show their support for one of the largest student-run community service events in the country: the 12th annual Big Event at Virginia Tech.

Sponsored by Capital One, this year’s Big Event will feature speakers including Christina McClung of Capital One, an alumna and founder of the Big Event.

Doug Brainard, senior finance major and director of the Big Event team, calls the event “a big way to say ‘thank you’ to the community.”

Students will be assigned service projects such as washing windows, painting or yard work at residential and community locations throughout Blacksburg, Christiansburg and sometimes even as far as Roanoke.

“It’s an opportunity for students to embrace the school’s motto ‘Ut Prosim’ (while) redefining the typical college student to the skeptical homeowner in the area,” Brainard said.

Marcela Roy, a fifth-year senior environmental policy and planning major, who has participated in the event several times, has been assigned to plant gardens and fix a well at an elementary school in Christiansburg.

“The students would come out and they would help garden as well, so it connected us in that way,” Roy said. “We saw (how important) it was to the students.”

The event serves to revamp, and in some cases repair, the link between the students and faculty of the university and the residents of the surrounding community.

“Overall, I think it increases your relationship with the community,” said Roy. “I gained more knowledge of…what was lacking or what could be improved upon.”

However, the number of 6,500 volunteers for this year, made up primarily of Virginia Tech students, with help from faculty alumni and a few Blacksburg High School students, is down from last year’s 6,800.

Still, there is a general upward trend with projects and volunteers, according to Cody Watson, senior history major and co-director of projects for the Big Event.

Although the Big Event at Virginia Tech has been designated the largest event of its kind on the East Coast and second largest in the nation — only behind Texas A&M, where the event originated — there is still room for improvement.

This year, the Big Event team is focused on improving the internal structure by leaving some larger volunteer teams unassigned at first, to account for teams that don’t show up to be assigned projects.

“This year, we’re trying to ensure that someone at least sets foot at each project (site),” Watson said.

While there aren’t as many volunteers this year, the Big Event team is optimistic that there won’t be as many no-shows.

“There’s not much accountability if you take your project to actually show up to your job site, so we do the best we can with volunteers to keep them accountable,” Brainard said. “We’re hoping that we have a higher completion rate of our projects.”

Other improvements this year include the entertainment lineup.

The day will feature performances by the Low Techs, a cappella ensembles, and up-and-coming country star Nick Smith will be performing after the event.

“(It’s) bigger this year than it has been in the past,” Watson said.

However, one of the biggest problems the Big Event team will have to deal with on the day of the event is homeowner-volunteer relations.

“Having to…hold peers responsible…to represent the school, to represent the Big Event, is a project,” Watson said. “We’ve been dealing with the homeowners for the entire year, but now…the main interaction they get is with the volunteers, so we have to make sure…that goes well, or else it’s a bad reflection on the whole ordeal.”

Nevertheless, Brainard assures that every year, satisfaction with the event among members of the community is very high.

“I think if you were to go to most homeowners that were surrounded by a bunch of students, you might hear a lot of horror stories,” Brainard said. “This definitely works toward redefining that stereotype to try to make it a positive interaction where we’re not two separate bodies. We’re all residents of Blacksburg.”

Rally sought to empower women

Last night, Womanspace, an organization dedicated to women empowerment, hosted the 24th annual Take Back the Night rally in the Wesley Foundation, with a Imagecandlelight march through campus and downtown Blacksburg.

According to Susan Anderson, senior instructor of mathematics and faculty advisor for Womanspace, the rally helps to raise awareness of violence against women.

“(It helps) people understand that violence occurs in every community, including our own,” Anderson said.

Soulful music and invigorating drums amped up the energy just before the event, where multiple speakers shared their messages and victims told their stories, all as part of the experience that inspires those in attendance.

The rally featured speakers from organizations including the Woman’s Center at Virginia Tech, Cook Counseling Center, Montgomery County NOW, Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley, and others.

“You hear survivors and (see) how it hasn’t defined them, that they are resilient and they want to take back the night,” said Alyssa Seidorf, junior management major, president of Womanspace and coordinator of the event.

However, the march following the rally serves an entirely different purpose.

“We believe that all the participants marching together, chanting the same chants will help create a sense of community and solidarity among the participants and energize them and empower them,” said Anderson. “We hope that when we come back to the rally site, all that energy can be used to make a commitment to help create change.”

During the march, what empowers people is their ability to show anger about these issues.

“Being able to be loud in a public place; we can go out on the street and express (emotions) and know that we’re in a safe place to do that, that we’re surrounded by people that champion the effort to end violence,” Seidorf said.

This year, high school freshman, Claire Raimist, founder of a chapter of Help Save the Next Girl at Walkersville High School in Frederick, Md., and other members of the club traveled five hours to march with the Virginia Tech chapter.

Raimist, who started the group in memory of her friend Annalee Marshall, former Hokie and member of Help Save the Next Girl, was pleasantly surprised at the turn out last night.

“Being here and talking to everyone, I just can’t believe how many people want to take action,” Raimist said.

Changes in the types of people that want to take action have been evident to Anderson over the years. Most notably, Womanspace wants to see an increase in male participation.

“If everybody isn’t trying to make positive change, change is incredibly slow,” Anderson said. “You really need both men and women working to create change together.”

Steven Lyle, a junior chemistry major who attended the event, has a relative who has endured violence and agrees that men should play a role.

“Women’s violence affects everyone, and that’s men included,” Lyle said. “Everyone needs to be aware of it and everyone should care about it.”

Seidorf has noticed the value of male presence in her experience with the event.

“As women, we need to band together and stand up for ourselves and take back the night, but we welcome all people, including men, to help us in that,” Seidorf said. “It’s a collective effort to end violence and men are 100 percent involved with that.”

One of the male speakers at the event, representing the White Ribbon Campaign, which encourages men to help stop violence against women, was senior psychology major and member of Womanspace Thomas Friss. He joined the cause as a sophomore after seeing the Womanspace slogan, “Support without Shame.”

“I always thought the victim blaming and slut shaming… was very wrong — something seemed off,” Friss said. “(I’m) just trying to do something, even if it’s just yelling the exact same message other people have been yelling for so long.”

Anderson urges newcomers and people of all ages, both male and female, to participate.

“I would encourage everyone to come out to the event,” Anderson said. “No matter how much you know about violence in our community, you’ll always learn something new.”

Here it comes, March-ing in

I love March. Not that it’s even a spectacular month or anything. I really just love it in relation to February. I hate February.

February is the month when the cold weather is becoming unbearable with no end in sight. It’s a month that induces feelings of hopelessness. School work is starting to pile up significantly and with it the stress. People are getting irritated at each other because there’s no mental break- we’re going and going all month long and spring break seems so far away.

This week has been remarkably better than the last four weeks and I really believe it has something to do with the fact that this week begins the month of March. Not only is this month my birthday month (this week is actually my birthday week to be specific), but it signifies the beginning to flowers and sunlight and short sleeves with the spring equinox. Finally, we escape the unrelenting cold and wind- I’ve realized you can’t have one without the other here in Blacksburg. Work is dying down in time for spring break, which is next week. The much-anticipated mental health week is on its way and I can’t seem to keep my attention on any one task because my mind is running around all the things I’ll be able to do now that I won’t be suffocated under the obesity that is school work for an entire week.

Still, the monotony of February remains in the sleet, snow mix we’re drowning in right now.

I am hopeful that the parade of happy that is March comes marching in soon enough.

Social House to bring new entertainment

Monday, February 4, 2013

I’m excited to present, my first article printed in the Collegiate Times newspaper!

A new restaurant is coming to Main Street called Social House Eat and Drink.

A historic building is currently being reincarnated as a restaurant downtown.

Former resident Daniel Riley has returned to Blacksburg to buy the Bennett-Pugh house on Main Street, saving it from demolition and its owner, Beverly Taylor, from financial ruin.

Taylor, the former owner of the house, requested to demolish the structure, which she had been trying to sell since 2005. She appealed to town council after the motion was denied by the Historic or Design Review Board.

According to Susan Anderson, Blacksburg Town Council member and Senior Instructor of Mathematics at Virginia Tech, the Bennett-Pugh house is “one of (the) contributing structures in our historic district…people cannot just demolish contributing structures immediately.”

Town Council voted against demolition of the house, requiring Taylor to keep the house on the market.

That is where Riley comes in.

“We were very, very fortunate that Daniel Riley bought the house with the full intention of restoring it and opening a business there,” Anderson said.

Riley, who lived in California for a few years after leaving Blacksburg, bought the house in 2010 for $375,000, with plans to open a restaurant after restoring the 1890s house.

“The old house was nearing eligibility to be demolished,” Riley said. “I thought it would be interesting to save it from demolition and make a nice restaurant for my hometown.”

The house has already gotten a new foundation and before the renovation is complete will have entirely new electrical and plumbing systems.

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful home,” Anderson said. “The outside and the inside are certainly in need of some tender love and care, but (it) seemed salvageable.”

Due to Riley’s efforts, the Bennett-Pugh house will retain its familiarity among frequenters of Main Street.

“The goal is to keep (the house) historically accurate,” Riley said.

According to Riley, the architect is making final plans for the house and the rest of the work is scheduled to begin shortly.

Riley is working with local restaurant-owner and friend, Aivey Charoensombut-amorn, to open the restaurant, the Social House Eat and Drink, after renovations.

Charoensombut-amorn will operate the restaurant and does not plan to change the original layout of the house.

“It’s definitely going to be very colorful,” Charoensombut-amorn said, “but we (will) keep everything the way the house (is) supposed to be, because (for) everybody who lives in this town, (it) has a lot of memories.”

Charoensombut-amorn owns the Next Door Bake Shop and Cafe de Bangkok with her sister, but has taken on the Social House Eat and Drink as a project of her own.

“(In) this town, every single restaurant only (has) one kind of cuisine,” Charoensombut-amorn said.

She plans for the menu of the Social House Eat and Drink to feature that of eight different countries including Indonesia, Vietnam, France, America and Italy.

Riley seems very confident in his choice of partner in the project.

“(Charoensombut-amorn) has really great experience in owning and operating restaurants,” Riley said. “I think she’ll do something fantastic with the old house.”

“I think it’s an honor to be able to touch a historic house,” Charoensombut-amorn said. “Not everybody gets a chance to do that. And the location is awesome.”

Though renovations, costing near the selling price of the house, have kept the project from completion for over two years, Riley plans to open the restaurant as soon as possible this year.

“The renovations are expensive, but I’m excited about it,” Riley said. “I think for anybody who takes on a historic building, you have to really love it to want to do it.”