About Us

Proposed as a catalyst for transdisciplinary research and outreach by leveraging resources across the university and state to address equity challenges while also advocating for place-conscious educational policy at local, state, and national levels, the Center for Rural Education (CRE) was established in 2022. Founding director Amy Price Azano has studied how structural challenges related to poverty and educational inequities can adversely affect rural schools and communities. As a first-generation college student from a rural community, Azano, understands these challenges both professionally and personally, and also believes in the power and promise of rural schooling.

The Center for Rural Education responds to the university’s land-grant mission and its tripartite mission of research, teaching, and outreach. It is partnering with the Virginia Tech School of Education to develop a graduate certificate in rural education and opportunities for provisionally licensed teachers to earn their teaching credentials, and also plans to support community outreach efforts by partnering with existing rural-facing entities. 

Our Team

Amy Price Azano, Ph.D.

Amy Price Azano, Ph.D.

Amy Price Azano, Director of the Virginia Tech Center for Rural Education, is a professor of rural education and adolescent literacy in the School of Education. She serves as principal investigator for multiple rural education grants, including the Appalachian Rural Talent Initiative and SEE VT. A product of rural schools herself, Dr. Azano grew up in beautiful Luray, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley and taught high school English and creative writing before pursuing her doctorate in education from the University of Virginia. Currently, Dr. Azano is co-editor of The Rural Educator and former chair of the AERA’s Rural Education SIG. She has published more than 50 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, is the co-editor of The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rural Education in the United States and Gifted Education in Rural Schools: Developing Place-Based Interventions and is the co-author of Teaching in Rural Places: Thriving in Classrooms, Schools, and Communities. In 2021, Dr. Azano received the E. Stanley A. Brzezinski Memorial Rural Education Research Award from the National Rural Education Association, an award that honors educational research that addresses significant rural issues and makes notable contributions to the knowledge base of rural education. She was honored in 2022 by receiving the Rural Renewal Research Prize, an award given to a global leader in rural renewal research, education, and engagement, by the Rural Renewal Initiative at Oklahoma State University. At Virginia Tech, Dr. Azano has received the Land Grant Scholar and Excellence in Research and Creative Scholarship awards from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Contact: azano@vt.edu

Marianne Hawthorne

Marianne Hawthorne is the Office Administrator for the Center for Rural Education and the Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies. She has worked at Virginia Tech in Fiscal Operations since 2001. She spent 17 years with the Center for Power Electronic Systems as Fiscal Tech and Administrative Assistant to the Center Director and five years at the National Security Institute and Hume Center as a Senior Fiscal Tech. She received her BS in Business from Radford University. Marianne came to the New River Valley for college and has stayed in the area ever since. 

Contact: mhawthor@vt.edu

Deirdre Hand

Deirdre Hand is the Community Engagement Specialist for the Center for Rural Education and the Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies, is a two-time graduate from Virginia Tech and is an educator with a Master’s in Education, Curriculum, and Instruction, with a concentration in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). She grew up in Radford, Virginia, and moved to Floyd County as a teenager, and calls Appalachia and the Blue Ridge Mountains home.  Deirdre has more than 14 years of experience teaching English to speakers of other languages around the world, with highlights including serving as an English Language Fellow through the U.S. State Department in Indonesia, an ESL teacher in Washington D.C. Public Schools, a teaching and research instructor at Virginia Tech, an EFL teacher in the Czech Republic and Ireland, serving as Lead Teacher of a Scholarship Program in Rwanda, working as the English Department Coordinator of a non-profit school in Guatemala, and most recently co-founding Elimisha Kakuma, a university-access program in Kakuma Refugee Camp, in Kenya.  Her passion is promoting educational access to all, especially immigrants, refugees, and other forcibly displaced people.

Contact: dhand08@vt.edu

Clint Whitten, Ph.D.

Clint Whitten, a three-time Virginia Tech graduate, recently completed a Ph.D. in Foundations of Education with a research focus on the intersections of rurality and Queerness in education. During his graduate studies, he was selected to receive the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award, given annually to outstanding graduate students who demonstrate exemplary promise as future leaders of higher education and he was invited to join the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society. A former middle school English, creative writing, and theatre teacher, Clint is the coordinator of the Summer Enrichment Experience at Virginia Tech.

Contact: cdw615@vt.edu

Rachelle Kuehl, Ph.D.

Rachelle Kuehl is the blog editor for the Center for Rural Education. A faculty member in the School of Education, Dr. Kuehl is a 2022 National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, conducting research on antiracist critical literacy practices in rural Appalachia. A former elementary teacher and reading specialist, Dr. Kuehl’s articles about rural gifted education, literacy instruction, children’s literature, and teacher education have appeared in publications such as Research in the Teaching of English, Journal of Literacy Research, The Reading Teacher, English Journal, Theory & Practice in Rural Education, the Journal of Children’s Literature, Reading Horizons, English in Education, and more.

Contact: rkuehl@vt.edu

Hannah H. Scherer, Ph.D.

Hannah H Scherer, Assistant Professor, Agricultural & Extension Education

Hannah H. Scherer, PhD, is an Associate Professor and Extension Specialist for STEM Education in Agriculture in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education at Virginia Tech. In this role, she works to support and improve STEM teaching and learning in formal and non-formal educational contexts. She conducts cross-disciplinary research and curriculum design work in STEM and systems thinking pedagogy. Dr. Scherer has science and agricultural education teaching experience at secondary and postsecondary levels and currently teaches courses in STEM Integration in Agriculture, Teaching and Training Methods, Systems Thinking Pedagogy and Praxis, and Agricultural Laboratory Management. She has developed and led numerous inquiry-based, in-service professional development experiences; co-authored agricultural sustainability-related curriculum materials; conducted systems thinking workshops and webinars; and lead-authored review papers in systems thinking and STEM Education in Agriculture. Dr. Scherer is currently the director of the National Collaborative for Research on Food, Energy, and Water Education (NC-FEW) and is producing emerging scholarship on utilizing the Food-Energy-Water-Nexus to support systems thinking in varied educational contexts.

Contact: hscherer@vt.edu

Christian Heasley, Ph.D.

Christian Heasley recently graduated from Virginia Tech with his Ph.D. in Counselor Education & Supervision and a graduate certificate in Educational Research & Evaluation (statistics concentration). His research focuses on student wellness and school counseling in rural communities. Prior to his studies at Virginia Tech, Chris earned a B.M. in music education from Westminster College and worked as a K-12 music teacher. After earning a CACREP-accredited M.A. in student affairs and a school counseling endorsement from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, he held several counseling and student affairs positions that included work as a residence life coordinator, college counselor, mobile crisis counselor, school-based outpatient therapist, and elementary school counselor. In addition to being a licensed school counselor in Virginia and Pennsylvania, he is a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and currently working towards certification as a School-Based Registered Play Therapist (SB-RPT).

Contact: cheasley@vt.edu

Annie Shaba

Annie Shaba is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Foundations of Education with a research focus on the intersectionality among teacher training, placement, and attrition in rural schools.

Annie has worked as a history and English teacher at the Malawi College of Distance Education, where she also supervised and trained teachers in open schooling and distance education. She holds a Master’s degree in International Education and Development from University of Sussex, England and a Bachelor’s degree in Education from Mzuzu University, Malawi. Her Master’s thesis focused on teacher retention in Malawi’s rural schools.

Contact: shannie23@vt.edu

Josh Thompson

A product of rural public schools, Josh Thompson is an award-winning queer Appalachian educator and scholar. He is currently a Ph.D. student in the English Education program. His research and scholarship center on rural education, adolescent literacy, and the experiences, needs, hopes, and dreams of rural queer youth. He also holds a Master of Arts in English, a Master of Arts in Education in Curriculum and Instruction, and a Bachelor of Arts in English, all from Virginia Tech. A former high school English teacher, Thompson taught for seven years, supporting students in rural and rural-serving public schools. As a Graduate Assistant, he has taught undergraduate education courses and is developing study abroad curricula and programming for the Center for Rural Education. Thompson has presented at numerous conferences, including annual conventions for the Virginia Association of Teachers of English and the National Council of Teachers of English. His work on anti-bias/anti-racist teaching, English language arts methods, reading education, and young adult literature have been published in Virginia English Journal and English Journal as well as in two book chapters.

Contact: jdt225@vt.edu