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2021-2023 Honors EXCEL Program Affiliates

The Honors College is excited to introduce eight Honors Experiential and Community Engaged Learning (EXCEL) Program Affiliates for the 2021-2023 academic years. Program affiliates guide Honors EXCEL students through the development and implementation of their long-term experiential learning projects. By teaching the required Project Development and Summative Experience courses for the program, affiliates support and encourage students throughout the entire Honors EXCEL experience. 

The 2021-2023 Program Affiliates are:

Dr. Vagner Benedito

Associate Professor of Biochemical Genetics and Plant Physiology, Division of Plant and Soil Sciences, Davis College

Photo of Dr. Vagner Benedito in a room with plants.

Dr. Vagner Benedito obtained his Ph.D. in plant sciences from Wageningen University (The Netherlands); in addition, he has a master's in horticulture from the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil) and an agronomy degree from the Federal University of Viçosa (Brazil). By using biological models, Dr. Benedito and his group are currently researching how genes contribute to the development of traits of agronomical importance, with the ultimate goal of contributing to the creation of crops with improved traits, such as fruits and vegetables with improved nutritional value and pest resistance, and of better scientific protocols for the in vitro regeneration and propagation of plants. 

Dr. Benedito feels very fortunate to be able to work with Honors EXCEL students, as these are outstanding, driven young people who are eager to advance their learning, and to contribute to society in the most meaningful ways. At the same time, the Honors EXCEL program gives them the opportunity to dive into real-life experiences, and thus to develop skills that will serve them well in their professional life. In his free time, Dr. Benedito enjoys taking nature walks with his family, reading books, cultivating plants, cooking and watching documentaries. He specifically enjoys joining his son in exploring rocks, and in learning about dinosaurs, space, insects and other interesting aspects of the natural world.  

Dr. Gregory Epps, Sr.

Program Manager, WVU Health Sciences Center (HSC)

Dr. Gregory Epps, Sr. headshot.

As a program manager with the WVU Health Sciences Center, Dr. Gregory Epps works with students coming from underrepresented backgrounds, helping them become successful at WVU. In order to achieve that, Dr. Epps collaborates with faculty, staff, students, alumni and members of the community to create an inclusive community that provides a positive and encouraging environment for these students. Dr. Epps was attracted to the Honors EXCEL program (first as a mentor, and now as a faculty affiliate) because of the program’s unique characteristics — namely, that within it students and faculty are able to work together, producing community-oriented outcomes, while also helping the students to acquire essential professional and personal skills. 

In his free time, Dr. Epps has always been involved with athletics; he is in fact in the Sports Hall of Fame at St. Albans High School and at West Virginia State University, and he also served as an assistant and then head track coach at West Virginia State University.

Dr. Leslie Hopkinson

Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

Dr. Leslie Hopkinson headshot.

Dr. Leslie Hopkinson received her B.S. in biological and agricultural engineering at Louisiana State University and her Ph.D. in biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech. Her research focuses on water resources, which involves working on issues of hydrology, reclamation, and ecological engineering. She is excited to work with Honors EXCEL students from across campus and to learn with them as they become independent scholars. 

In her free time, she likes to run with her dog on local trails. 


Dr. Mikylah Myers

Associate Dean of Artistic and Scholarly Achievement and Professor of Violin, College of Creative Arts

Dr. Mikylah Myers playing electric violin outside at a WVU game.

Dr. Mikylah Myers is excited to work with undergraduate students across diverse disciplines, and to support their research and creative activity. As an undergraduate student, Dr. Myers loved collaborating outside her primary field of music … that is, literally outside. Thus, when she wasn’t in the practice room, she was usually on the soccer field as a captain and four-year member of her college’s varsity women’s soccer team. Or you could find her in the newsroom, where she pulled weekly all-nighters as an editor of her college newspaper. 

Dr. Myers is thrilled to help her Honors EXCEL students turn their hours spent in the practice room, dance studio, library and lab into research that will be publicly published or performed.

Dr. Cory Robinson

Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Department of Microbiology, Immunology, & Cell Biology, School of Medicine

Dr. Cory Robinson headshot

Dr. Cory Robinson has focused his research on host-pathogen interactions throughout his career, and more recently on the influence of interleukin (IL)-27 on early life immunity in the context of bacterial infection and vaccination. Beyond his own research, Dr. Robinson has a passion for providing research opportunities for students at both the undergraduate and graduate level. He is excited to join the Honors EXCEL program and thus to continue this investment in developing future scientists. 

Dr. Robinson enjoys spending his free time with his family and is also a fishing enthusiast.


Faythe Thurman, MA, MS

Assistant University Librarian / Scholarly Engagement Librarian, Health Sciences Library at WVU Libraries

Faythe Thurman headshot outside in the woods.

Faythe Thurman is a recent member of the WVU community, having joined in January 2021. As a librarian, she works closely with the WVU Cancer Institute and the School of Nursing, as well as the Anesthesiology, Emergency Medicine, and Hematology/Oncology departments from the School of Medicine. During her prior experience co-teaching research and writing seminars in a pre-veterinary program and working with veterinary medicine students and faculty on research, she found a passion for guiding and supporting students in what is often their first independent research project. Thurman felt that the Honors EXCEL program was an excellent way to continue that work. Her goal is to help Honors EXCEL students build their skills and confidence as researchers while they pursue projects they are passionate about. 

In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, kayaking, and exploring museums and historic sites.


Dr. Matthew Vester

Associate Chair and Professor, Department of History, Eberly College of Arts & Sciences

Dr. Matthew Vester headshot navigating a boat.

Since arriving at WVU in 2000, Dr. Matthew Vester has taught courses in European history, ranging chronologically from ancient times to the present. His classes have included the Golden Age of Piracy, the Renaissance, the Christian Church, Microhistory, and the History of the Alps. His publications on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century French and Italian political culture have examined nobles and princely dynasties, popular politics, taxation, and kinship structures. He thinks that discovery often sneaks up and surprises us when we avoid taking things for granted about our areas of research or creative endeavor. 

He loves to bike on the rail trail, teach students paleography, run with his dog Cachou, critique the state of the world with his family, watch Liverpool FC, and worship at St. John University Parish.


Dr. Li Wang

Teaching Associate Professor and Assistant Director of the Business Honors Program, John Chambers College of Business and Economics

Dr. Li Wang headshot.

Dr. Li Wang’s teaching responsibilities are focused on business core courses, such as Intro to Business and Business Communication. As the assistant director of the Business Honors Program, Dr. Wang works closely with business Honors students in their very first semester, and helps them to get acclimated into college life and the business major. She cares about the students’ success very deeply, and is willing to go above and beyond to guide and to support the students’ personal, academic and professional growth. Dr. Wang firmly believes in “learning by doing” and is thus a strong advocate of experiential learning; therefore, she views the Honors EXCEL program as a great opportunity — and the right kind of challenge — for Honors students, as they work toward pursuing and achieving their academic and career goals. In fact, before becoming an Honors EXCEL affiliate faculty, she also served as an Honors EXCEL mentor to some students in the program. 

Dr. Wang enjoys traveling (especially with students) either on business exposure or on study abroad trips.