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Reyyan Okutan wins Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award

Ph.D. candidate honored for excellence as instructor

Reyyan Okutan is at home in the lab and classroom

Reyyan Okutan is at home in the lab and classroom
Reyyan Okutan is at home in the lab and classroom

 Reyyan Okutan was honored with the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials’ Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award for Spring 2024. She is a doctoral candidate in the department who plans to finish that degree next year.

In addition to being this semester’s recipient of the “Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award” Reyyan had a project shortlisted for the Royal Institute of British Architecture President's Research Medal in 2018.

This  project titled “Reducing the Conflict Between Energy Retrofit and Heritage Character,” conducted with collaborators  David Coley, Manuel Herrera Fernandez, and Tristan Kershaw, won one of the most-prestigious architectural research awards in the U.K. at the time. 

Getting to know Reyyan Okutan

I am currently a Ph.D. student from Ankara, Turkey. I am pursuing my doctoral studies under Dr. Joseph Loferski and I anticipate graduating in the spring of 2025. I obtained my undergraduate degree from Bilkent University in Turkey, and I subsequently earned a Master's degree in historic preservation from the University of Bath in the U.K. 

Beyond my academic pursuits, I enjoy camping, playing volleyball, and baking. Exploring nature and new places is a passion of mine, and I have ventured through trails and towns, appreciating the seamless integration of nature and urban life in Blacksburg.

Why Virginia Tech? Why Sustainable Biomaterials?

I selected Virginia Tech for its renowned academic environment and, in particular, the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials as the ideal setting for pursuing my Ph.D. The focus on wood and wood-based materials aligns perfectly with my special interest in these materials as a building resource. The decision to choose Sustainable Biomaterials as my department of study was influenced by several key factors. First and foremost, the department boasts an exceptional faculty known for their expertise in the field. Particularly, Dr. Loferski's extensive experience in preserving historic wood buildings and expertise in wood engineering and structural design procedures played a pivotal role in my decision to pursue my doctoral studies here. Over the past two-and-a-half years, my growth has extended beyond research, encompassing both teaching and research skills, as I have been privileged to observe and benefit from Dr. Loferski's dynamic and distinctive teaching approach. Additionally, the state-of-the-art labs and experimental environment at Virginia Tech provide an ideal platform for in-depth research, fostering an atmosphere conducive to academic growth.

Throughout my upbringing, exposure to traditional Turkish residential structures significantly influenced my affinity for timber as a construction material. My interest in wood deepened as I explored its unique characteristics; unlike other building materials, wood is organic and alive, resonating with the essence of human beings.

In this time of climate change crisis, I am convinced that wood, as a building material, is poised to gain greater significance. This realization has fueled my interest in the role of wood in construction. Looking ahead, my aspirations extend toward contributing to the development of energy-efficient wooden residential structures, both in academic research and practical implementation. I am driven by the belief that my endeavors will play a vital role in addressing the challenges posed by climate change while advocating for sustainable construction practices.

What knowledge and skills have you found to be the most useful? What advice would you give to future students?

Reyyan Okutan loves exploring nature in and around Blacksburg

Reyyan Okutan loves exploring nature in and around Blacksburg
Reyyan Okutan loves exploring nature in and around Blacksburg

 Through my experience with SBIO, I have come to appreciate how research can be applied to real-life practices. My previous background was in architecture, where it was often challenging to witness the tangible results of a project. However, during my time here, I've observed how our lab's research directly influences the state-of-the-art practices in the wood industry. This aspect has been the most refreshing to me. 

At Virginia Tech, being a research-based university, I would advise future students to identify the subject that excites them the most and connect with professors conducting research in that area. This approach allows students to delve deeper into a particular subject, gain hands-on experience in the lab, and determine which industry aligns with their professional aspirations. It has been the most rewarding aspect of my time here.