International Women’s Day Celebration

International Women’s day is a day to raise awareness to challenges and inequalities that women face.

This resonated with us at the YMCA at Virginia Tech, given that we as a campus Y and have historically supported women students when they first joined the university in the 1920's and later created a program for international women, who are trailing spouses of VT students, to overcome some of the challenges that newcomers typically face such as isolation and lack of knowledge of available resources. In addition, The Y has been lucky to have several women leaders along the years who helped pave the way to the moment we are at right now.

ON March 8, 2023, we are also celebrating women’s history, present and future.

We recognized a special woman, Barbara Michelsen who was the Executive Director of the YMCA from 1987-1997 and was instrumental in carrying on the International Women’s Program and was involved with the YMCA International Cranwell Center

We also celebrated 4 women who serve and lead in the field of innovation and technology: Lisa Garcia, Veronica Spradlin, and Brianna Posadas who couldn’t be with us today. And for the first time we are celebrating a youth who is making contributions to the STEM field: Ayda Haydarpour.

Brianna Posadas

Brianna is an Assistant Professor at the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech. She is also a fellow with the Center For Food Systems and Community Transformation and affiliated with the Center for Advanced Innovation in Agriculture. Her research is focused on the intersection of agriculture, technology, and user-centered design. When she completed her PhD at the University of Florida, she was the first Latina to earn her doctoral degree from the department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering. In addition to addressing usability and accessibility of precision agriculture technologies, she is studying how to best utilize big data in agriculture while also protecting the privacy and security rights of the growers.

Brianna is also involved in technology policy work as a Media Democracy Fund PhDX fellow studying predictive policing, pre-trial risk assessments, and how social media affects communities of color.

When Brianna is not teaching and doing research she volunteers as a mentor through Vine Corps where she advises high school students on their college applications. She also coordinates the yearly Hispanics in Computing meeting at the Tapia conference.

When Brianna was studying for her graduate degree at the University of Florida she founded the Latino/Hispanic Organization of Graduate Students and volunteered at the Alaucha County Farm to School program. Brianna spoke with elementary classrooms through Skype a Scientist, served as the graduate ambassador for UF chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and wrote letters to aspiring scientists through Letters to a Pre-Scientist.

Lisa K Garcia

Lisa is the director of RAMP – the Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program based in Roanoke, Va. which serves the Roanoke and New River valleys as well as Central Virginia including Lynchburg. She is also vice president of entrepreneurial development of Verge, RAMP’s parent organization which manages an alliance of technology-oriented entities including RBTC – the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council. Lisa has worked with RAMP as an instructor since 2018 coaching, mentoring and offering instruction for technology and life and health science entrepreneurs. She was asked to serve as Director of RAMP and stepped into that role as of July 1, 2022.

Lisa has served as a business consultant who has coached entrepreneurs in a variety of settings both domestically and internationally all of which are in the STEM industry and academic settings.

She has served as an instructor for the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program the mission of which is to commercialize technology developed inside universities. She has taught as an Instructor at Virginia Tech where she works to empower the university’s entrepreneurial ecosystem in its role as a partner of the Mid-Atlantic I-Corps Hubs program. She has taught in the entrepreneurship program at one of Virginia Tech’s living learning communities called Innovate operated by the Pamplin College of Business. Lisa also serves on Innovate’s Leadership Council. In 2021, she taught in the Mechanical Engineering Department of the College of Engineering and worked with students focused on product development, leadership and research focus and ideation.

Lisa’s work outside the university included consulting with both domestic and international clients to reduce the risk of commercializing technology. She works as both an executive and business coach to a variety of clients as well.

Lisa’s career started in journalism. As a graduate of Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts, Lisa pursued work as a journalist – a career that spanned about 8 years. She moved from journalism into working and growing nonprofits as a member of the team at the Community Foundation of the New River Valley. From there she worked in a financial planning office which led to opportunities in business and working for and with technology companies in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. One professional opportunity led to the next and each one came with more connection to science and technology, spaces that Lisa adores having grown up with an electrical engineer for a father and a mother who worked in education. Home was full of learning and science and building things.

Lisa’s community service has been long and extensive. Most recently, Lisa has served on the Steering Group for Dialogue on Race in Montgomery County for 7 years. She is a member of the Town of Blacksburg’s Recreation Advisory Board, which she now chairs, and she serves on the New River Valley TimeBank Committee as well. She is a deacon in her church, Northside Presbyterian, where she is also an ordained elder.

 Lisa graduated from Virginia Tech and calls Blacksburg home with her husband. She has two grown children who live and work in Virginia and West Virginia.

Veronica Spradlin

Veronica was a member of the National Association of Women in Construction from 2001 – 2008 and held many offices including the Chapter Secretary, Treasurer, and President. As a member of NAWIC, she ran the Mentoring a Girl in Construction (MAGIC) camp for four years. They partnered with local businesses including the Habitat for Humanity organization and Virginia Western Community Colleges Workforce Development program, to give girls an opportunity to build and learn about construction in a low-pressure environment.

After graduating from Building Construction at Virginia Tech in the Fall of 2002, Veronica had an opportunity to work part-time as a teacher at Blacksburg High School for two periods a day.  A full-time job opportunity took her away from teaching, and she soon realized that she missed being in the classroom.  She decided to return to school to pursue a degree in Education and has been teaching for fourteen years.

Veronica is passionate about offering opportunities to students, while keeping the cost of participating low, or eliminating the cost all together. She has applied for and been the recipient of multiple grants and funding from local business partnerships.

In 2019 Veronica had the idea to propose a new course for Blacksburg High School. In her work as an adjunct instructor, she saw the growing potential of Uncrewed Aircraft to be used in multiple disciplines. Veronica suggested a new course for Montgomery County Public Schools, and they held their first Drone class in the Fall of 2019 with only five students. In the spring of 2022, she served on a state DOE board to develop a state-wide curriculum for the Introduction to Unmanned Aircraft Systems course.  This course is now being taught statewide, including over seventy MCPS students who are enrolled in three of the four high schools. She has also co-authored two different publications that offer a variety of activities associated with uncrewed aircraft.

Veronica has mentored a Vertical Robotics Competition team for four years. This competition has led to wonderful industry connections for our students. She has also led a summer camp to work with young students who want to explore these STEM opportunities.

While Veronica is passionate about education and technology, COVID came and changed a lot of things. While many things were not for the better, she did find herself with a lot more time on her hands. Both of her children are now teenagers. She decided that it was time to pursue a volunteer opportunity that she had been interested in for years. In August of 2020 Veronica joined the Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad and started her EMS training.  She is now a Nationally Registered Advanced Emergency Medical Technician. She is also a certified CPR/AED/First Aid trainer. Veronica uses her love and passion for education, mixed with her new training in emergency medicine, to help the community by offering CPR/AED/First Aid training to different agencies and individuals.

Ayda Haydarpour

A young leader whose life took many twists and turns before settling in Blacksburg as a Computer Science and Engineering student at Virginia Tech, Ayda Haydarpour will be the first youth to be recognized this year by the YMCA. She was propelled to the world stage as a member of the Afghan Girls Robotic team also known as the Afghan Dreamers. The team developed an affordable and lightweight ventilator to help treat patients diagnosed with Covid-19 in Afghanistan. A project that was going to be implemented before the recent crisis in the country brought it to a halt. She was also Team Afghanistan's captain at First Global 2021, where the team won the Judges Award among 177 other countries. Ayda believes strongly in the importance of giving voice to Afghan girls who have been denied their fundamental human right in education. She takes it upon herself to share their message with world's leaders and policy makers by taking part in several international conferences. It is for that reason that she founded the student organization Education For All at Virginia Tech. This organization aims to give Afghan women and girls free access to education and resources so they can advance their academic, professional, and personal goals. Clearly Ayda is passionate about her field of study in computer science and in advancing social justice for other Afghan women and girls. 

International Programs


The YMCA has been an active member of our community since 1873. We recognize that our town hosts a unique community that includes many internationals from around the globe. We strive to serve all its valued members. One of our long running programs is the International Women’s Group where newcomers and longtime residents meet weekly on Tuesdays to foster friendships while engaging in different interesting activities.

Bringing together Internationals and Americans to welcome and integrate Internationals into the community while providing a comfortable venue for cross cultural friendship, information, education, support, and service.

Read about our 2022 Recognition of 3 International Women in this ROANOKE TIMES STORY



The International Program continues to grow and build on last year's achievements. Here are some highlights of what the program accomplished in 2022 and what will be offered this year: 

Rural Welcoming Initiative 2023: The YMCA at VT has been selected for the second year to be a member of the Rural Welcoming Initiative Cohort, an initiative of Welcoming America to make our community a welcoming place for all. This opportunity provides the Y with technical assistance and guidance in achieving its Welcoming Initiative goals of: creating a welcoming infrastructure, a welcoming economy and deepening community connections.

International Women's Group: The group offers newcomer and immigrant women the space for creating community through cultural exchange, introduction to life in the US and engagement with the broader community.

International Women's Day: In March of last year the Y recognized for the second year three immigrant women from the community to highlight their leadership and service and also celebrated Women's History Month by remembering the life of Lucy Lee Lancaster.

Welcoming Refugees: The Y partnered with the Blacksburg Refugee Partnership to sponsor an Iftar event for the refugee families. The event drew 120 people including the American friends and helpers of the refugee families. The Y also sponsored a Thanksgiving dinner event for the same group.

In addition, the Y hosted a 2 month long full-day summer program for youth to provide enrichment and academic activities for elementary age children.

Welcoming Week in September: The Y participated for the second year in Welcoming Week and added more events, such as Y Welcoming Tour for newcomers, a youth art exhibit and contest in partnership with MFRL Blacksburg Library and the Blacksburg Regional Art Association. A Welcoming Festival in partnership with the Town of Blacksburg a was big success this year drawing a large crowd of over 750 people.


Welcome Center: The Y began the planning work on a welcoming center. Even though the center is a long term project and still in its formative stage, the Y already began offering some programs/services that would be offered through the center after its completion. Some of the current and future programs are:

English Conversation Class: In partnership with the Literacy Volunteers of the New River Valley, the Y started offering English conversation for beginners. It will continue to offer the class in 2023 and add a conversation partners program for the intermediate and advanced English learners.

Health Literacy: In partnership with the Literacy Volunteers of the New River Valley the Y will be offering in 2023  for non-asp health literacy class for on-native speakers to learn how to navigate the health system. 

Job Readiness Workshops: The Y is planning on delivering a culturally relevant series of workshops to help newcomers and immigrants seeking employment to be ready for working in the US. Participants will receive individualized assistance in resume writing, job searching and interviewing skills. 

Natural Helpers: The Y will be participating in the program in 2023. This initiative will build its capacity in organizing and training immigrant members of our community to become community navigators helping newcomers. 

We owe our success to the dedication of volunteers and community to help us continue to build on this past year, and grow the impactful programming described above as we enter our 150th year.

Thank you for your continued support for the Y!