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Dr. Cully Hession

FACULTY AFFILIATE   |   Global Change Center

Biological Systems Engineering

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Dr. Hession’s background is varied but invaluable in forming his overall outlook, professional philosophy, and interdisciplinary research focus. He received his BS (1984) and MS (1988) in Agricultural Engineering at Virginia Tech, and a PhD in Biosystems Engineering at Oklahoma State University (1995). He worked at a USDA-ARS research lab in Minnesota for 2 years and the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation for 5 years after his MS degree before returning to obtain his PhD.

After his PhD he was an Assistant Curator (1995-99) and acting Director (1999) of an aquatic ecosystem research group within the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia (the Patrick Center for Environmental Research, now part of Drexel University).

He then was Assistant and Associate Professor in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Vermont from 1999-2005), before returning to Virginia Tech in 2005 as an Associate Professor (promoted to Professor in 2012). He is a professional engineer (VA since 1992) and a Certified Ecological Designer (AEES-CED since 2010).

Dr. Hession has established a multi-department, multi-college research, outreach, and education program focused on understanding the fundamental physical processes of streams. Research emphases include channel structure and sediment dynamics, analysis and prediction of the influence of human activities on streams, evaluation of techniques for measuring and improving in-stream habitat, and development of technologies and strategies for successful stream restoration. Current research focuses on using drones and drone-based lidar to map riverscapes and tracer studies to better understand sediment transport and fate.

Dr. Hession runs the StREAM Lab at Virginia Tech along 2.1-km of Stroubles Creek adjacent to campus. This is a full-scale stream lab equipped with high-resolution hydrologic monitoring capabilities for studying hydrologic, geomorphic, biogeochemical, ecological, and societal questions related to the restoration of streams and their watersheds. StREAM Lab is currently utilized by at least 16 classes from across campus for field excursions, laboratories, and research projects. More than 22 graduate students have done all or portions of MS or PhD research using data from the site. There are 8-10 faculty and their graduate students conducting research at the StREAM Lab to include birds, amphibians, macroinvertebrates, groundwater/surface water interactions, nutrient movement, flooding, and sensor development.

Dr. Hession is PI/co-Director of an interdisciplinary research and extension training program (“Training Future Leaders to Solve Resource Challenges at the Confluence of Water and Society”) with three co-PIs and sixteen Faculty Mentors from ten different departments across Virginia Tech. Each summer we invite 8-9 student fellows from different home colleges and universities who represent a wide range of disciplines ranging from geotechnical engineering to biology to economics. Groups of two to three students, mentored by interdisciplinary teams of three or more faculty members, develop projects related to local water quality, ecology, and communities. In addition to mentorship by research and extension faculty, student fellows also directly engaged with multiple stakeholder groups to learn more about different viewpoints and to learn how to communicate their science broadly.