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Current Members

The Community Change Collaborative is comprised of graduate student and faculty members who bring rich insights, experience, and curiosity to the study of community change. Membership is interdisciplinary and the Collaborative's work demonstrates the great potential of learning from a variety of fields to inform more holistic praxis.

Courtney Surmanek
  • M.S Candidate in Urban & Regional Planning and M.F.A. Candidate in Theatre: Directing & Public Dialogue programs

  • 2019-2022

  • Research Interests: 

    • Theatre as a tool in conflict engagement and peace building

    • Community cultural development

    • Creative placemaking and placekeeping

    • Asset-based community development

    • The creation of new theatre and documentary theatre

    • Theatre of the oppressed.

  • Testimonial: Working with Dr. Max Stephenson, Andy Morikawa, and colleagues from across the University has inspired deep reflection about community-based work through an interdisciplinary lens. Being a member of the CCC has given me numerous opportunities to meet with experts of community change from different fields of study, geographical areas, theoretical orientations and practices. The CCC is a core reason I decided to attend Virginia Tech. During my university search, I spent time listening to the Trustees Without Borders Podcast and found myself inspired by the diversity the speaker series represented, especially at the intersection of arts and community change, including theatre makers, musicians and leaders in the field of community cultural development. The meetings and film screenings have provided a home away from home for me and have deeply enriched my academic endeavors.

Randell Dauda
  • Doctoral Student, Planning, Governance & Globalization & Master student, Public Health
  • Research Interest: International Development in Africa; Race and power structures in international programs; Higher Education, development and modernization in Africa and other economically developing countries
  • Testimonial: I am new to Virginia Tech and the community as a whole. I moved from Liberia but lived in New England for a while. Somewhere between trying to balance work, school and a new environment, CCC feels like home. This is a space I can share a conversation with multidisciplinary people with the shared interest of community change and community development. I’ve learned new things in every meeting from people and their work across the university, the surrounding community, and the world!
Nada Berrada
  • Ph.D. candidate in the interdisciplinary ASPECT program (Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought) 
  • Instructor of Record at the Department of Political Science 
  • Research Interest: Youth, Youth Agency, Everyday life, Middle East & North Africa, Youth policy, International Development
  • Testimonial: CCC is a space that draws people who have a deep interest in community work to discuss and get involved with a variety of issues pertinent to today’s world. Between the meetings, forums, podcast series, and film screenings, I land invigorated with ideas and inspired by the power and capabilities of communities coming together.
Ellie Muraca
  • B.A. Public and Urban Affairs ‘18 

  • Project Coordinator at the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development 

  • Creator of the podcast “Building the Beloved”

  • Research Interest 

    • Community development 

    • Martin Luther King Jr’s Beloved Community 

    • Equitable planning/social policy/design/economics 

    • Storytelling as a method of community engagement 

    • Urban journalism 

  • Testimonial

    • I began attending CCC meetings in fall 2019 as a way to connect the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development with CCC’s endeavors. However, my personal connection to the collaborative through my previous interactions with Max Stephenson regarding my podcast series Building the Beloved has encouraged me to remain a regular member of this community. I leave every meeting feeling inspired, energized, and encouraged to look for knowledge and problem-solving techniques in unexpected areas, both in academic and nonacademic realms. This organization truly embodies what it means to genuinely apply interdisciplinary, diverse techniques and perspectives to a broad spectrum of community issues.

Raj GC
  • PhD Candidate in Planning, Governance and Globalization Program (PGG)   

  • Research Interests: 

    • Planning and policy issues relating to rural water infrastructures development in developing countries 

    • Commercialization of smallholder farming in developing countries

    • Production-based rural economy 

    • Role of international agencies/aid in development

    • Geopolitical implications of infrastructure development in South Asia

  • Testimonial:  When I learned about CCC from colleagues, I become motivated to join the group. This motivation is linked to my several years of work in rural development and community change projects in Nepal and other developing countries, in particular the development of rural water infrastructures. In the course of working in these projects, I learned that communities' needs for water-based productive uses has never been considered in planning rural water services, which otherwise could be a reliable means of income and livelihood for the poor and marginalized communities. This learning led me to decide to conduct an extensive research to explore technical and policy approaches for responding to the users need for water-based productive uses in Nepal. This brought me to Virginia Tech to pursue a PhD. CCC has been an excellent addition to learn and contribute towards this research goal. I appreciate CCC's efforts in bringing prominent experts, practitioners, and researchers to share their knowledge and experiences.

Neda Moayerian
  • PhD Candidate in Planning, Governance and Globalization Program (PGG)

  • Research Interests: 

    • Community cultural development

    • Sustainable tourism

    • International development and peace-building

  • Testimonial: I have been a member of CCC since 2015. From the very first days of my involvement, CCC has provided me with countless opportunities to connect, learn and grow in my academic and professional life. With Dr. Stephenson’s guidance, our weekly meetings are welcoming spaces for students and faculty members across the university to gather and share their passion and work regarding the community change. I met many of my close friends in the CCC sessions or during its community-based projects, movie or podcast series. Being a part of CCC has enriched my experience as a Ph.D. student and has transformed my understanding of community change in many ways. 

Molly F. Todd is a second-year Ph.D. student in the ASPECT program at Virginia Tech. ASPECT is an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in the social sciences and humanities, where she works on the intersection of politics and cultural production. She addresses the ways in which neoliberal capitalism informs this production, and explores potential sites of contestation and counter-hegemonic politics through the arts.

Vanessa Guerra
  • Ph.D candidate in Environmental Design and Planning. College of Architecture and Urban Studies

  • Research interests: 

    • Urban interventions for social inclusion, community development, and sustainable development. Interested in urban informality, spatial justice, sustainable infrastructure, resilient cities, co-production in urban areas, design thinking, and cognitive urbanism.

    • Currently working on the resiliency of informal transport systems in Quito and Andean Latin American cities

  • Testimonial:

As a member of Community Change since 2016, I am beyond grateful, to say the list, for the significant contribution this group has had in my personal and professional growth during my experience at Virginia Tech.

Thanks to this group, I have been continuously exposed to different ideas, theories, and projects regarding community change. Through weekly meetings, group discussions, podcast interviews, and seminars, this group has allowed me to deepen my understanding of different topics regarding social justice, democracy, equity, and global sustainability. It has also made me gain interest in issues that I did not know I was interested in.

Also, being a member of this group allows me to interact with a diverse and inspiring group of colleagues, scholars, and world changers from different disciplines and backgrounds. These interactions are constantly challenging, and therefore contributing to, my learning. For me, Community Change is a safe space for anybody passionate about changing the world. It is a group that encourages ideas’ sharing, celebrates diversity, and encourages growth.

Nicole Nunoo photo
  • PhD Student in Agricultural Leadership and Community Education, 2019-2023

Research Interests:

  • Food Justice and Community development
  • Rural farmer advocacy
  • Community Capital development
  • Intersectionality within rural coalition groups
  • Political power access by rural farmer coalitions

Testimonial: I’m a first-year graduate student and since I joined CCC, my scope of understanding the magnitude of contribution that communities can make has been broadened. CCC is a space where I can express myself confidently and know that my voice is contributing to the wellness of a community.  

Lia Kelinsky-Jones photo
  • PhD Student in Agricultural Leadership and Community Education, 3rd Year

Research Interests:

  • The impacts of policies and priorities of international development funding agencies on higher education implementers of international food security work

Testimonial: I am a CCC member because it provides an interdisciplinary community with whom I can learn about effecting social change and equity. It helps me resist the urge to silo into my own research and challenges me to see how my research intersects with others’ work across a gamut of disciplines and topics. 

Lydia Gilmer
  • Master's Student in Urban and Regional Planning, 2019-2021

Research Interests:

  • Community development in rural areas
  • Child welfare programs
  • Nonprofit management practices
  • Community engagement
  • Organizational network analysis

Testimonial: CCC brings together a wonderfully impassioned, authentic, and dedicated community of people, comprised of individuals who are willing to engage with fundamental, though often times difficult and/or overlooked, topics within our society. The wide range of interconnected and overlapping opportunities for academic, personal, and professional exploration are immense and incredible, and I feel truly honored to be part of this organization. 

Thomas Blake Lawson
  • Master's Student in Urban and Regional Planning, 2019-2021

Research Interests:

  • Behavior and the Built Environment
  • Active Transport for Health
  • Community Outreach
  • Disability Studies

Testimonial: CCC provides a space through which individuals with varied life experiences and research interests come together to communicate and analyze the inner-workings of communities. CCC has been a great supplement to the MURP curriculum and has played a significant role in revealing the organic nature of the planning profession. I genuinely appreciate the wisdom which I have gained throughout CCC thus far and look forward to increased meaningful dialogue with the organization throughout the rest of my academic career at Virginia Tech.

Faculty Advisor

Max O. Stephenson, Jr.

Director, Virginia Tech Institute for Policy & Governance (VT-IPG)
Professor, School of Public and International Affairs

Research Areas:

  • Community Development

  • Nonprofit/NGO governance, leadership, management & civil society

  • Public policy & policy theory

  • Peacebuilding, international development & democratization

  • Environmental politics, policy & planning

Affiliated Faculty

Bob Leonard, Professor, Directing, Performance, School of Performing Arts, Virginia Tech

Sarah Lyon-Hill, Senior Economic Development Specialist, Office of Economic Development, Virginia Tech

Kim Niewolny, Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education, Virginia Tech and Director, Virginia Tech Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation

Desiree PoetsAssistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Virginia Tech

Scott Tate, Associate Director, Office of Economic Development, Virginia Tech

Laura Zanotti, Professor, Department of Political Science, Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance (VT-IPG) Affiliates

Andy Morikawa
Senior Fellow, VT-IPG
Curator and Host, Trustees Without Borders podcast
Executive Director Emeritus of the Community Foundation of the New River Valley

Lara Nagle, Community-Based Learning Projects Manager, VT-IPG