Blog Posts

2019 Fall Newsletter

President’s Message

Dear Friends:

First, I am pleased to be able to serve as the next president of the Virginia Academy.  Although we have been in existence since 2013, we still have many of the traits of a start-up.  I want to thank both of my predecessors, Joe Campbell and Patricia Dove, for the excellent job that they have done in getting us to where we are becoming a known entity in the state and one whose outstanding activities over the years are making a difference.  I also want to thank all of you that have been a part of these successful endeavors.

A lot has happened over the first few months of my tenure.  We have hired McGuireWoods Consulting to handle our organizational functions and public relations activities.  With their many contacts and excellent management skills, there has already been a major increase in the visibility that we have in the State Legislature.  You will be able to see the experience of these outstanding individuals later in this newsletter.

The Virginia Academy held a very successful first New Member Recognition and Annual Reception on October 2, 2019 at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, DC.  Below you will find the addition to our membership.  I hope that you share our excitement with the group of exceptional new members and find opportunities to welcome them to the organization.

This first New Member Recognition and Annual Reception was not only designed to recognize the new members, it was used to bring together numerous boards, state officials, and institution partners that help create science and research policy for the Commonwealth. We were thrilled to have Dr. Stephen Moret, President and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) as our featured keynote speaker. Virginia Business recently named Moret its 2019 Business Person of the Year. Those boards represented included the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT), the Virginia Research Investment Committee (VRIC), the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), the Virginia Catalyst, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), the Commonwealth Health Research Board (CHRB), and the Virginia Academy.  In addition, several members of the legislative staff as well as a representative from Senator Mark Warner’s office were in attendance.

We continue efforts to seek financial support from the state.  As you may remember, we were unsuccessful in our attempt during the last budget cycle.  We are working with the folks at McGuireWoods to submit another official request to be included in the next round of the state budget.  We feel strongly that support of the Virginia Academy offers a robust ROI for the future of Virginia.  Members serve without compensation and the Virginia Academy is being held as a national model for its independent, nonpartisan service to the Commonwealth.

For all future newsletters, I plan to profile a very prominent individual within our membership.  I am pleased to recognize in this issue Dr. Jennifer Irish, professor of coastal engineering within the Charles E. Via, Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering for the Center for Coastal Studies at Virginia Tech.  She has not only had a very successful academic career and is a newly elected member, she was the co-chair of our very successful 2018 Summit on Coastal Resilience.

This newsletter contains an update on a number of ongoing initiatives of the Virginia Academy.  The final draft of the Commonwealth Research and Technology Strategic Roadmap has been completed by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and was approved by the Virginia Research Investment Committee (VRIC) on October 8, 2019.  The Virginia Academy was written into the legislation that created VRIC to help with the development of this document and was asked to serve in an evaluation role.  In addition, an update on the status of our next Summit initiative, as well as our annual briefing with Senator Warner, and our participation in the December meeting of the Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS) has been included.

I hope that you have had a productive and enjoyable summer.  Please feel free to contact me at if I can be of any assistance.

James H. (Jim) Aylor
President, Virginia Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine

Table of Contents

Introducing New Members of the Virginia Academy
2019 New Member Recognition and Annual Reception
Member Profile: Dr. Jennifer L. Irish
The Commonwealth Research and Technology Strategic Roadmap
The Virginia Academy hires McGuireWoods Consulting
VASEM Summit 2020: Healthcare Logistics
VASEM Meets with Senator Mark Warner
VASEM Presents at the Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS) meeting at Virginia Tech

Introducing New Members of the Virginia Academy

The Virginia Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine is proud to announce its new members.  Over the past year, six individuals that live or work in the State of Virginia have been elected to the National Academies.  These individuals are now recognized as members of the Virginia Academy.  In addition, three individuals have been elected by the Virginia Academy Board as members.  These nine individuals are profiled below.

Dr. Charles (Chip) Blankenship
Professor of Practice in the Department of Materials   Science and Engineering at The University of Virginia

Charles (Chip) Blankenship is currently Professor of Practice in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at The University of Virginia.  He is the former CEO of Arconic, Inc. and the former CEO of GE Appliances and Lighting.  In his 25-year career with GE, Blankenship was a Staff Scientist at the Global Research Center and a Product Manager in Aircraft Engines and Energy business units.  Blankenship’s aviation career culminated with the role of VP of Commercial Engines for GE Aviation.  As CEO of GE Appliances, he led the reshoring of manufacturing and subsequent sale to Haier, the world’s leading appliance brand.  Blankenship is a licensed Professional Engineer, a Member of the National Academy of Engineering and a licensed pilot.  He is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and a guest lecturer in the Honors College at Virginia Tech.  He holds degrees from both Virginia Tech and University of Virginia.

Rear Admiral Thomas J. Eccles, USN (Ret)
CEO, Trident Maritime Systems, LLC

Rear Admiral Tom Eccles became Chief Executive Officer of Trident Maritime Systems, LLC in January 2014, after serving over 32 years in the U. S. Navy and retiring in 2013. Admiral Eccles was the Navy’s Chief Engineer for ships, submarines, and aircraft carriers from 2008 through 2013, and he held other commands in ship design and construction. His education includes four degrees from MIT in engineering, naval architecture and management. He serves of several boards including Let’s Go Boys and Girls, a group that inspires and supports underserved students to become STEM professionals. He has filled leadership roles with the American Society of Naval Engineers and the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.


Dr. Edward H. Egelman
Harrison Distinguished Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville

Edward Egelman is a biophysicist known for his work on the structure and function of protein and nucleoprotein polymers. His research has ranged from studies of actin to bacterial pili to viruses that infect hosts living in nearly boiling acid. Egelman was born in New York and graduated from Brandeis University in 1976 with a B.A. in physics. He started as a Ph.D. student in experimental high energy physics at Harvard, but changed fields and received his Ph.D. from Brandeis University in 1982 in biophysics. He was a Jane Coffin Childs postdoctoral fellow at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. He has been president of the Biophysical Society and Editor-in-Chief of Biophysical Journal. He is a Fellow of both the Biophysical Society and the American Academy of Microbiology and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Mr. Alfred Grasso
Board Director and Consultant

Mr. Alfred Grasso is the former president and chief executive officer of The MITRE Corporation where he continues to serve as a Consultant. Mr. Grasso serves on the Board(s) of NETSCOUT Systems and Riverside Research. He is a member of the Defense Science Board, a former member of the Army Science Board and he is serving a 3 year term as a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Government, University and Industry Research Roundtable where he was elected co-chair in 2018. Mr. Grasso holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a master’s degree in computer science from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He is a graduate of the Program for Management Development at Harvard Business School.

Dr. Jennifer L. Irish
Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Center for  Coastal Studies, Virginia Tech

Dr. Jennifer L. Irish is a professor of coastal engineering at Virginia Tech’s Center for Coastal Studies . Prior to joining academia in 2006, Irish served as Regional Technical Specialist in coastal engineering for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Her scholarly contributions have advanced understanding in four areas within coastal engineering and science: airborne lidar bathymetry in the coastal zone, nature-based infrastructure for coastal hazard mitigation, physics of storm surge and related probabilistic surge hazard assessment, and impacts of sea level rise at the coast. Irish is a Member of the Coastal Engineering Research Council, a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and on the editorial boards of Coastal Engineering and the Journal of Waterway, Port, Coastal, and Ocean Engineering.

Dr. Sallie Ann Keller
Division Director, Social and Decision Analytics, Distinguished Professor in Biocomplexity, Biocomplexity Institute and Initiative, and Professor of Public Health Sciences, UVA

Dr. Sallie Ann Keller is a leading voice accelerating data science for the public good, leading research to create the science of all data, shifting mindsets from big data analytics to “doing data science,” and advancing this research across disciplines to address large-scale complex challenges in the world today. As director of the Social and Decision Analytics division in the Biocomplexity Institute at the University of Virginia, Dr. Keller and her team embrace a team science and transdisciplinary research approach to improve the impact of decision making for the public good. Dr. Keller has a Ph.D. in Statistics from Iowa State University of Science and Technology, and an M.S. and B.S in Mathematics from the University of South Florida.

Dr. Sara B. Kiesler
Hillman Chair Emerita of Computer Science and Human-Computer Interaction at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, and Program Manager, National Science Foundation

Dr. Sara Kiesler is the Hillman Chair Emerita of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She currently serves as program director for the division of social and economic sciences at the National Science Foundation. Kiesler applies behavioral and social science methods and theory to technology design, especially to understanding how technologies challenge existing behavior patterns of individuals, groups, and organizations. In 2015, received the International Communication Association Williams Prize. In 2016, she received the Joseph E. McGrath Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Study of Groups from the Interdisciplinary Network for Group Research (INGRoup). Dr. Kiesler holds a master’s degree in psychology from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in psychology from Ohio State University. Kiesler is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, Psi Chi, the Society for Psychological Science, and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Dr. Alex H. Krist, M.D., M.P.H.
Professor of Family Medicine and Population Health, VCU, Vice-Chairperson, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

Dr. Alex Krist, MD, MPH, is a Professor of Family Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond Virginia and a practicing family physician and teacher at the Fairfax Family Practice residency. He has been faculty at the residency since 1999 where he has taught nearly 200 residents. Dr. Krist is a director of the Virginia Ambulatory Care Outcomes Research Network (ACORN), a collection of over 500 primary care practices throughout Virginia that collaborate to do research that matters to primary care. Dr. Krist is also a member and Vice Chair of the U.S Preventive Services Task Force. His personal research interests focus on implementation of preventive recommendations, patient centered care, shared decision-making, cancer screening, health information technology, and practice transformation. He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine.

The Honorable Heidi Shyu
President and CEO, Heidi Shyu Inc.

The Honorable Dr. Heidi Shyu is the CEO of Heidi Shyu Inc., a defense consulting company. She serves on the Board for Aerospace Corp., Concurrent Technologies Corp., Roboteam North America, and UCLA Dean’s Executive Board. She served as the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. She was the Corporate Vice President of Technology & Research for Raytheon and held several VP positions at Raytheon. She served on the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board for a total of 10 years and was the Chairman for 3 years. She received the Dept. of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, Dept of the Army Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service, and the Dept of the Air Force Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service. She is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering. She received her BSc. in Mathematics from the University of New Brunswick in Canada, MS in Mathematics from the University of Toronto in Canada, MS in Systems Science from UCLA, and the Engineer Degree from UCLA. She received an Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of New Brunswick.

2019 New Member Recognition
and Annual Reception


Member Profile: Dr. Jennifer L. Irish
Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Center for Coastal Studies at Virginia Tech

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates from 2010, 123.3 million people, or 39 percent of the U.S. population, lives in counties directly on the coast, a number that it predicts will reach 133 million once the 2020 census is counted. As climate change drives sea levels higher, this population will be increasingly vulnerable not just to rising tides but also to catastrophic storm surges.

Clearly, everyone from policymakers to everyday citizens are being confronted by a series of difficult questions that will only become more pressing with the passage of time. How can we make the most of limited resources to help coastal communities become more resilient? How can we decide when to withdraw from the coast? In the meantime, what can I do to protect my house? Right now, coastal communities lack much of the fundamental information to answer these questions wisely. Research conducted by Jennifer Irish, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech, is designed to help fill that gap.

Irish and her colleagues at the Center for Coastal Studies at Virginia Tech are focusing on a number of key areas, especially on the role of barrier islands that line so much of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. She hopes to improve the reliability of quantitative coastal hazard assessments, including those that incorporate sea level rise and climate change. “With the predictive models we now use, we cannot simulate what is happening to the barrier island and the beach during a storm at meaningful geographic scales and for a meaningful number of events,” Irish says.

She is also taking a closer look at the ability of natural and nature-based features — wetlands, mangrove forest, as well as barrier island — to provide hazard mitigation. “There is a big push currently to use nature-inspired design to boost the resilience of coastal communities,” she says. “We don’t have enough data to understand the benefits of using these natural systems and to determine if the benefit they provide will be adequate to the need.”

Next year, Irish will start work on an ambitious project to understand how barrier and bay systems change over time with sea level rise and how that change will alter the protective benefits that barrier islands currently provide.

A third area of interest — and perhaps the most complex — is trying to understand the various strands that must come together to produce robust coastal resilience. In addition to infrastructure, these strands include the geographic, ecological, cultural, social, economic, and demographic characteristics of a given community. “In effect, we are trying to understand the combination of factors that can prevent coastal hazards from devolving into coastal disasters,” she says.

The need for this interdisciplinary perspective is one reason that Irish and her colleague Robert Weiss launched an NSF-funded program in Disaster Resilience and Risk Management (DRRMVT). Any graduate student at Virginia Tech can take the 12-credit DRRMVT certificate sequence, which is designed to encourage the cross-disciplinary thinking needed to truly achieve a more durable resilience.

“I am drawn to the field of coastal hazards because of its critical societal implications,” she says. “But it is also scientifically rewarding. In the case of barrier islands, we have a natural feature that is an ecological asset, but we don’t really understand the sort of protection it provides.”

The Commonwealth Research and Technology Strategic Roadmap

A draft of the Commonwealth Research and Technology Roadmap, developed by the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia, was delivered on August 21, 2019 and is under review by numerous organizations.  It will be presented to the Governor for final approval.  The goal of the Roadmap was to develop a cohesive and comprehensive framework through which to encourage collaboration between the Commonwealth’s institutions of higher education, private sector industries, and economic development entities in order to focus on the complete life cycle of research, development, and commercialization.

The final document as submitted to the Governor can be found online here.

The Virginia Academy hires McGuireWoods Consulting

The Virginia Academy has hired McGuireWoods Consulting to handle its management services and its public relations activities.  McGuireWoods is a full-service firm providing legal and public affairs solutions to corporate, individual and nonprofit clients worldwide for more than 200 years collectively. Its wholly-owned affiliate, McGuireWoods Consulting, now in its 21st year, provides a unique combination of state and federal government relations prowess, buttressed by world-class infrastructure, economic development, and advocacy expertise.

We are pleased to introduce you to the four individuals that the Virginia Academy that the Virginia Academy will be most involved with.  Also, we want thank Mr. Andrew Densmore, our former Executive Director, for his years of service to the organization.

Laura Worley Fornash

Laura serves as a senior vice president and assists clients with policy and legislative matters with a particular focus on education issues at the state and federal level.Prior to joining the firm, Laura spent the past 27 years in public service including working in leadership roles at two higher education institutions. Most recently, she advised the President at the University of Virginia in her role as the Executive Assistant to the President for State Governmental Relations where she was responsible for advancing the University’s priorities with the executive and legislative branches of government.

Laura served as the Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Virginia where she led the development and implementation of the Governor’s education priorities and provided guidance to the 16 public universities, the Virginia Community College System, the Department of Education and the state-supported museums, library, and Arts Commission. She also served as deputy secretary of education and as the executive director of the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation, and Investment from 2010-2011, which recommended landmark higher education legislation including greater emphasis on degree attainment, affordability, high demand degrees, innovation, operational efficiency, and autonomy.

Before her appointment to the Governor’s cabinet, she spent 20 years with Virginia Tech in a number of different divisions including student affairs, continuing education, outreach, distance learning, and government relations.  In 1998 as the Director of Information Technology Programs, Laura launched an innovative web-based interdisciplinary Master’s degree program to help transition professionals into the information technology field as result of research conducted for the International Technology Association of America. In 2001, she opened the Virginia Tech Richmond Center and served as its first director helping to launch credit and noncredit programs for working professionals in the region.

Laura also served as the Restructuring Project Director with the responsibility of managing Virginia Tech’s implementation of the 2005 Restructuring Act that created new levels of operational autonomy for all public higher education institutions in exchange for meeting certain academic performance measures.


Tyler Bishop

Tyler is a senior vice president for McGuireWoods Consulting. He provides strategic counseling on a wide variety of public policy issues. Tyler assists clients with government relations needs before the Virginia General Assembly, Virginia Executive Branch agencies and local governments. He also manages communications and crisis and reputation management initiatives for corporate and nonprofit clients, and has helped institutions design and implement public affairs advertising campaigns.

A graduate of Wake Forest University, Tyler has been active in local and statewide politics. He currently serves as the Democratic Party of Virginia’s vice chairman for finance.

Prior to rejoining McGuireWoods Consulting, Tyler served as assistant secretary of transportation for the Commonwealth of Virginia during the administration of Governor Mark Warner. Recently, he served on Governor Ralph Northam’s higher education policy transition team.



Daniel Whitehead

Daniel joined McGuireWoods Consulting in June 2018 to help strengthen and expand MWCAdvocacy’s events and association management services.Prior to joining the firm he was an Associate Executive Director of a well-established, accredited association management company. He was responsible for the implementation and execution of programs, services, events and products to multiple business, trade and social associations, locally and nationally.

Prior to that, he was an events coordinator for a national trade association in Washington, DC. There he was a part of a team that planned and sponsored one of the largest trade shows in the world.

Jennifer (Jen) Sayegh 

Jennifer is an assistant vice president in the McGuireWoods Consulting Virginia state government relations group. She assists clients with legislative monitoring, and provides lobbying services in matters before the Virginia General Assembly and executive agencies. With a focus on education policy, Jennifer provides in-depth research and analysis on policy and legislative matters.

Prior to joining McGuireWoods Consulting, Jennifer served as the assistant director of appointments for the Secretary of the Commonwealth in the Office of Governor Terence R. McAuliffe. In that role, she was responsible for assisting the governor in the appointment of thousands of individuals to serve on state boards and commissions. Jennifer has experience working on boards under the following Cabinet Secretariats: Agriculture and Forestry, Commerce and Trade, Finance, Technology, Natural Resources, and Veterans and Defense Affairs.

She also worked as the executive assistant to the Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement for the Virginia Community College System, where she was involved in statewide initiatives, fundraising and development, prospect research, and special events. In 2018, Jennifer graduated from Lead Virginia, a statewide leadership program that connects professionals on issues that matter most to the Commonwealth.

Jennifer is a native of Norfolk, Virginia, and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2008 with highest honors and distinction.

VASEM Summit 2020: Healthcare Logistics

Planning is underway for the next VASEM Summit to be held in the fall of 2020 in Richmond, Virginia. Dr. Barry W. Johnson has been appointed as the General Chair, and his brief biographical sketch is included below. The Summit focus has been refined to Healthcare Logistics because of the importance of the topic to the Commonwealth of Virginia and the opportunities that exist for the convergence of innovation in science, engineering, and medicine. Three sessions are currently being planned for the summit: (1) manufacturing, including pharmaceutical and medical devices, (2) delivery, including conventional and innovative technologies such as on-demand delivery and autonomous vehicles, and (3) data science, including the impact of augmented intelligence and the human technology interface. The Steering Committee is currently being formed, and interested parties are encouraged to contact Dr. Johnson (

Barry W. Johnson is the L. A. Lacy Distinguished Professor of Engineering at the University of Virginia. From March 2015 through January 2019 he served at the National Science Foundation (NSF) as the Director of the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships. Prior to NSF, he was the Senior Associate Dean in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia. Dr. Johnson received the B.S., M.E., and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Virginia. He is a Fellow of the IEEE for his contributions to fault-tolerant computing. He is also a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors for his contributions to invention and innovation in computer system safety and security including biometric-based identity verification. He is the author of two books, nine book chapters and more than 150 journal and conference articles. He is also an inventor on 40 issued patents.

VASEM Meets with Senator Mark Warner

On October 23, 2019, Jim Aylor, President of the Virginia Academy, and Laura Fornash and Jen Sayegh of McGuireWoods Consulting met with Virginia Senator Mark Warner for our annual organization update meeting.  Senator Warner is the Honorary Chair of the Board of the Virginia Academy and the initial inspiration for the organization.  Senator Warner was pleased with the progress of the organization and continues to be big supporter.

The Virginia Academy to speak on Coastal Resilience in Virginia to JCOTS

The Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS) will hold its 2019 planning meeting In Blacksburg, VA on December 3-4, 2019.  JCOTS, a permanent legislative agency established in 1997, studies all aspects of technology and science, and strives to encourage, promote, and assist in the development of sound technology and science policy in the Commonwealth.  Professor Jen Irish,  an expert on coastal issues from Virginia Tech and a member of the Virginia Academy, will present the findings of the 2018 Summit on Securing Prosperity in the Coastal Zone.  In addition, the members of the Virginia Academy will be discussing with JCOTS the possibility of a follow-on study that the state could use to advance coastal zone prosperity over the next few years using the findings of the Summit.