One of Us: The Person Behind the Professional
Shannon Lenahan joined the Sustainable Biomaterials Department in January 2019 as a Lab Technician. She is the one who keeps the labs in Cheatham running and makes sure students can get the data they need. Her duties involve arranging the labs’ equipment maintenance and repair, teaching students how to use equipment, and acting as safety coordinator in the labs.
Shannon spent most of her childhood in southern New Jersey. She came to Virginia Tech because five cousins and her sister were all Hokies, and she really liked the campus. At first, she had no clear idea what to study, so because it seemed like a prudent choice, she began her education in engineering and never changed paths. Shannon graduated with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering in 1999. She then worked as a chemical engineer for over 15 years at a successful startup company.
In 2014, she left her full-time engineering job to return to southwest Virginia. Shannon was suffering from chronic Lyme disease and mold sensitivity, from which she has been slowly recovering ever since. Shannon really enjoys the location of Virginia Tech. She loves the mountains, the New River, and the pastures around here. She always felt claustrophobic living in the northeast – in fact, she told us “I always felt like I could breathe again once I was southbound on I-81 in Virginia. A lot of people dislike 81, but the view from it looks like home to me.”
Shannon’s favorite part about her lab technician job is “working somewhere that people post signs on their office doors that say things like ‘Trees are the answer.’ The sluggishness with which our society is adopting renewable technologies frustrates me and I enjoy working with people who respect our planet and have the will and capability to make changes for the better.”
When Shannon is not working as a part-time lab technician for our department, she is usually remodeling a house in Radford or working on freelance writing projects. Shannon said she bounces between living in Radford and Blacksburg. After a few months in Blacksburg this year, she is soon headed back to Radford to carve out digs in her construction project. She is also a Development Associate for Economic Development Greater East. This is a nonprofit organization that helps people build land-based businesses that pay a living wage.
Shannon feels that if she were not a lab technician, she would still work occasionally as a remodeler, but primarily she would focus on her freelance writing. She would choose to work for companies which are making the kinds of changes in the world that she would like to see. And, while writing, she sees herself living full-time in a camper van – of course, only when she is not staying for months on end in Europe improving her French, Spanish, and maybe even Italian (“if I could stop inadvertently blending it with Spanish”). She dreams of visiting each of the national parks in the U.S. and many parks and nature areas abroad. She would love to spend her winters wearing summer clothes in the tropics. Another goal she has, if she can find the time, would be to “start companies producing products that fit women well rather than a 180-lb man, such as cars, tools, and gym equipment.”
Also, Shannon enjoys playing a lot of sports, but she said “rugby is the love my life.” She started playing for the Blacksburg women’s rugby team during her final semester at Virginia Tech in 1999, and she began practicing with the VT women’s’ team, too, so she could play six days a week. She couldn’t get enough of the sport. After graduation, and moving to southern Maryland, she began playing for a competitive club in Washington, DC. With this team, she went on tour to Australia and played in the national tournament several times. She said that it felt like a big deal to play a game people had to buy tickets to see. But, it wasn’t just the game that enchanted her, but also the community.
“Rugby fosters a special kind of camaraderie I didn’t find in any other sport – not just among my teammates, but among ruggers as a whole. After a rugby game, both teams party together: telling stories, singing songs, and becoming friends. Seeing the people I’ve played with, even the ones I didn’t know very well, always stirs up an extraordinary affection in me. Hopefully soon I’ll be back on the pitch, even if it’s just to play touch.”
Quote from a Colleague:
Working with Shannon is a real pleasure. She is a valued colleague in every way. She is knowledgeable, helpful, cheerful, and fun to have in our group. I can always rely on Shannon when I work with her on projects and requests. She provides useful feedback, helpful tips, and guidance in safety and execution of my lab classes. She has taken on the role of lab liaison during this crazy time and has helped me take some of the craziness out of it, for which I am eternally grateful. My thoughts for Shannon: thanks for your willingness to be part of our group, you are truly appreciated. - Dr. Audrey Zink-Sharp, Professor and Associate Department Head