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Kris Rau received VTCSOM College Award for Outreach Excellence

Kris Rau smiling with a Kids Tech University participant who is wearing two electrodes on her wrist
Kristofer Rau

We are pleased to announce that our VTCSOM College Award for Outreach Excellence recipient for 2022 is Dr. Kris Rau, Associate Professor, Basic Science Education. We are honoring Kris for his amazing and always enthusiastic K-12 STEM education outreach, as well as his commitment to childhood health and wellness through the CHIP of Roanoke board and newly revamped Bodies and Bites program with the West End Center.

Applicants are required to submit a narrative about their outreach work over time, specifically indicating their passion for service; the impact service has had on their community, themselves, their worldview, and their careers. I am including a portion of Kris’s essay here as it explains so beautifully the impact he is making in our community.

Congratulations Kris! We are proud to have you as part of our VTCSOM family, and know we will be hearing a lot more about your amazing community engagement work for years to come. 

For the past several years my volunteerism efforts in the community have primarily focused on kids in grades K12. One important tenet of outreach that I have learned in working with this particular age group is that the enjoyment and success of any activity is greatly enhanced when you involve others in the planning and delivery. Since joining Virginia Tech, I have worked closely with community partners, students, faculty and staff, who have generously given their time, their talents, and their enthusiasm to help teach children. These projects have involved programming at Virginia Tech, the Science Museum of Western Virginia, local schools, the West End Center for Youth, and other community businesses and organizations. In addition to my colleagues, these outreach events have also provided an opportunity for me to enlist the help of my wife and eight-year old son. Both have been not only supportive, but enthusiastically hands-on. As just one example, they helped with a recent online-educational video we made for Roanoke STEAM Day, focused on optical illusions.

Below, I describe my involvement in two other organizations that I feel have similarly benefitted from this teamwork mindset. I serve on the executive board of the Child Health Investment Partnership of Roanoke Valley (CHIP), which is an early childhood home visiting program for socioeconomically disadvantaged and underserved families in our region. As a component of their educational services, I have helped CHIP develop a monthly athome educational series that aims to improve STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics)-based literacy in children and their parents. As an example, we recently developed a three-month series that focused on the special senses of hearing, balance, sight, touch, smell, and taste.

Supported through a grant I received from the Dana Foundation, we developed lesson plans and materials for at-home experiments that were sent to our families. Each lesson plan included a brief description of anatomy to help educate the families, guides on how to maintain good health, links to informational videos, and interactive activities that the families could do together. Since many of our families use English as a second language, our bilingual family case managers helped us translate our lesson plans into Spanish. Families were also given relevant books to read with their children. According to the case managers who facilitated the implementation and engagement with the activities, as well as online surveys completed by the families, this project was very effective, and greatly enjoyed! 

The past four years, I have also served as the primary Cub Scout leader for my son’s den, which currently consists of 17 third graders. Not only has this been a terrific opportunity for me to bond with my own son, but the structure of the lesson plans necessitates a hands-on approach from the other parents during meetings. Depending on the requirements for our adventures, every parent will be sitting at a table next to their child, and will help them with all aspects of planning and construction. So far this school year we have built things like dream catchers, birdhouses and robot arms, while focusing on important life and character-building lessons. Adult input and engagement in all of these activities has made this experience a very enjoyable endeavor for everyone. My son has also eagerly served as my assistant at these meetings, delivering crafting supplies, keeping order when needed, and offering encouragement to his peers. As expected, camping adventures and field trips also require advance planning and tremendous oversight on the part of all parents to maintain a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

Community service has been a fundamental part of my life since grade school, and I feel that such experiences have been invaluable in making me a better version of myself. In addition to realizing the benefits of teamwork, volunteerism has taught me empathy and compassion, guided my moral compass, and given me a sense of purpose and personal fulfillment. It has broadened my worldview and appreciation for everyone’s similarities and differences. It has also helped me realize that no matter how many obligations I might think I have, there is always time to help others. As an educator at VTCSOM, I do not view these experiences merely as worthwhile endeavors that break me away from the routine of regular responsibilities, but rather as an extension of what I do. These experiences have truly helped me become more effective and confident as a teacher in the classroom. They have also made me a better husband and father at home.