Highlanders in the News: Week of March 25, 2024

Every other week, our Highlanders are using their education to do extraordinary things. Here, we’ll highlight some notable mentions from local, regional, national and international news media. Whether our students, alumni, faculty and staff are featured as subject matter experts in high-profile stories or simply helping make the world a better place, we’ll feature their stories.

Home game

Late March saw a burst of weekend activity at one of the university’s newest and busiest facilities.

Radford University Associate Director of Esports Doug Benedict (WDBJ7)

“Inside the Radford Esports Center, fingers are flying across the keyboards, and fans are cheering,” Roanoke’s WDBJ7 news reported on March 24

The occasion was the Big South Conference’s esports tournament, held at Radford’s 1,800-square-foot gaming room in Cook Hall.

“Radford was chosen because it has the best esports facility,” WDBJ7 explained.

About 75 players – from Charleston Southern and High Point universities, Presbyterian College and the University of North Carolina Asheville – came to campus to play four different video games: League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League and Valorant.

While esports are certainly fun to play and entertaining to watch, Radford’s Associate Director of Esports, Doug Benedict, said that as the field grows and becomes more popular, it can also offer a range of careers that include agents, trainers and lawyers.

“The best part about it is providing opportunities for our students to engage in something that is going to be happening in the real world,” Benedict said of the Esports Center and the hands-on experience it provides. “If they want to do this in the future … they’ve got the experience they need when they want to go into the job field," he added.

Radford University freshman Gage Gillespie (WDBJ7)

When freshman Gage Gillespie first arrived on campus in August, he voiced his desire to play esports. He’s now doing just that.

“It’s actually one of the reasons I came to Radford,” he told WDBJ7.

“It is so much fun, just playing a video game I love and trying to win something.”

When the pixels settled, Radford emerged as the 2024 esports champions in Rocket League and Valorant.

High Point University prevailed with Overwatch, while UNC Asheville was tops in League of Legends.

Here’s coverage of Radford’s performance at the inaugural Big South esports tournament, held last year in Charlotte, North Carolina. 


School ties

Kenai Hunt ’21, M.S. ’22, is at the center of a recent WFXR news story about Roanoke City Public Schools’ (RCPS) recent efforts to recruit and retain teachers.

The March 19 spot discusses solutions being used to bolster RCPS’s staff against vacancies – programs like Teachers for Tomorrow (TFT), which provides hands-on educational training for high school seniors, and Boosting Opportunities for New & Diverse Staff (BONDS), which pairs teachers with mentors from their districts.

Kenai Hunt ’21, M.S. ’22 (WFXR)

Hunt is currently a special education teacher at William Fleming High School. She’s also a former Roanoke student, so she has ties to both TFT and BONDS.

In her interview, she said that while studying at Radford in the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) teacher education program, she was contacted by her former high school principal, who suggested she interview with Roanoke. Her current mentor is also one of her former grade school teachers.

“I was excited people were thinking of me, so I wanted to come back and give back to the students in my community,” Hunt told WFXR.

According to an RCPS Facebook post last October on National Mentoring Day, the BONDS program currently has 18 mentors this year.

In 2022, while still at Radford, Hunt was one of six students awarded a $5,000 scholarship by the Hattie M. Strong Foundation.

“My students have changed my life just as much as I feel that I have changed theirs,” she said at the time. “I am grateful to have been a recipient of this scholarship, and I am excited to continue doing the work I have been called to do.”

Lab assistant


It’s spring again, to quote the poets, and with spring comes baseball and with baseball comes Ripken.

We told you last year about Ripken the Bat Dog – the energetic black Labrador retriever raised and trained by Michael O’Donnell ’10, of Raleigh, North Carolina – and he's back on the job again this season.

While the sparkling-eyed pooch is a tee retriever for NC State Football, and he dropped the game puck for last year’s National Hockey League Stadium Series, Ripken’s main gig for the past three years has been working as an assistant for the Durham Bulls minor league baseball team.

In other words, when the bats go flying after a hit, it’s Ripken who races forward to clear the field of stray Louisville Sluggers.

A Feb. 29 article on the North Carolina-based news site Cardinal & Pine checks in with Ripken and O’Donnell, as well as a new arrival on the scene – Ripken’s 1-year-old brother, Champ.

Cardinal & Pine reference an ABC11 report from last September in which O’Donnell said that while Champ may make appearances at games this summer, he’s not yet ready to replace his elder sibling.

“Ripken's not ready to give up the spotlight just yet,” O’Donnell told the station. “He's only 7, so he's got a lot of years left.”

You can follow Ripken on his Instagram account @Ripkenthebatdog.

Mar 29, 2024
Neil Harvey