Posted on Tuesday, April 4, 2017

COLLEGE SPOTLIGHT: VHCC Professor Searches for Salamanders

Submitted by Anne Dunham, coordinator of PR & marketing, Virginia Highlands Community College

Editor’s Note: Each year, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), in partnership with Dominion Resources, presents the Outstanding Faculty Awards, which recognize Virginia’s exemplary, higher-education faculty members. The VCCS is proud that two of 2017’s 12 recipients hail from the VCCS: Kevin Hamed, professor of biology at Virginia Highlands Community College, and Margaret Leary, professor of information technology at Northern Virginia Community College. The article below focuses on Dr. Hamed.

A passion for science and deep appreciation for the diverse wildlife unique to the Appalachian region guide Dr. Kevin Hamed each time he stands before students at Virginia Highlands Community College. Because his own love for learning was sparked by an energetic teacher who took him out of the classroom and into nature, Dr. Hamed combines classroom lectures with hands-on research – always anxious to introduce students to the remarkable creatures living in the nearby wetlands and forests they might otherwise never visit.

This enthusiast’s approach to teaching recently earned Dr. Hamed SCHEV’s Outstanding Faculty Award, the state’s top honor for college and university faculty members. Within hours of receiving the award, he was back in the field, continuing the research that has earned him a reputation for being a leading expert on Appalachian amphibians.

Salamanders are his specialty.                                                                                                     

For more than a decade, his students have assisted him in tracking four-toed, marbled, and spotted salamanders at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) South Holston Weir Dam. They have studied nesting and migration habits, spent hours capturing and tagging the tiny creatures using the latest technology, and then returned the following season to collect and record data. Their final reports have been shared with TVA and used to make important land-management decisions.  

Hamed’s also involved students in researching green salamanders, Weller’s salamanders, least weasels, a rare minnow called the Tennessee Dace, and many other species of amphibians, fish and mammals found in the region. Through these projects, Dr. Hamed’s general biology students have gained valuable research experience and developed a greater appreciation for the world around them.

Among his other notable achievements, Dr. Hamed spearheaded an effort in 2006 to create an honors course in Coastal Ecology. The class includes an intense weeklong study at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory during Spring Break. VHCC is the nation’s only community college that offers a program there, and many past participants have continued their studies in marine biology because of the experience.

Not only does Hamed’s Coastal Ecology class allow students to study creatures not commonly found in Southwest Virginia, but the class also has allowed many VHCC students to see the ocean for the first time. They all return exhausted but excited about learning.

Dr. Hamed also shares his knowledge with the community. He has led hikes and presented programs for a wide variety of organizations including the Blue Ridge Discovery Center, the Boy Scouts of America, the Virginia Highlands Festival, Warriors Path State Park, and the Blue Ridge Science Fair. Additionally, his findings have been published in a wide variety of scientific journals and shared with the public through numerous other publications.

“I can’t think of anyone who is more deserving of this prestigious honor,” VHCC President Gene C. Couch Jr. said of the SCHEV award. “Dr. Hamed is a subject matter expert who students talk about long after having experienced his class. He organizes many learning experiences outside the classroom and pursues projects with other agencies and organizations in support of the student learning experience. Finally, he is creative and persistent in obtaining resources to benefit students and support his extensive research. He is a difference-maker, and the Virginia Community College System, Virginia Highlands Community College, our students, and our community are fortunate to have Kevin on our team.”

In addition to the Outstanding Faculty Award from SCHEV, Dr. Hamed is a past recipient of the Chancellor’s Faculty Fellowship from Virginia’s Community Colleges, the VHCC Outstanding Faculty Award in Teaching, the VHCC Faculty Award for Professional Excellence, and the Virginia Professor of the Year from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education in 2009.

He lives in Bristol, VA, with his wife, Misty, and their daughter, Madeline.'

Laura Osberger

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