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Provost's Update - December 2018

At the beginning of the year, I shared with you my perspectives on the process of moving Virginia Tech’s Beyond Boundaries vision from the planning phase to implementation, and how our goals would be advanced by foundational initiatives involving destination/strategic growth areas, InclusiveVT, experiential learning, and incentivized budgeting. These Beyond Boundaries initiatives have been enabled by an amazing university community that is committed to a VT-shaped model of learning and discovery, a model that represents our commitment to the full range of disciplines across the breadth of our comprehensive university, transdisciplinary studies, and engagement with non-university partners. At both the institutional and individual levels, these efforts have helped to elevate and distinguish Virginia Tech during the past year, and I believe it is important for us to pause and celebrate what has been accomplished.

One of the highest profile successes of 2018 was the announcement that Virginia Tech will establish an Innovation Campus in Alexandria, following Amazon’s selection of Arlington for its newest corporate headquarters. This transformational achievement and opportunity for the university and the Commonwealth of Virginia could not have happened without the recognition that Virginia Tech is well positioned to provide the talent required for economic development. Initially, our emphasis will be placed on computer science, but I expect that this will expand to data analytics and decision sciences in the near future and later will encompass our full range of disciplines.

Virginia Tech’s strength of leadership and comprehensive educational ethos also positioned us as a lead institution for the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) – a $25 million effort that engages higher education institutions and industry to build an ecosystem of cyber-related research, education, and engagement. Through CCI, our expertise in cybersecurity will help to establish Virginia as a world leader in cyber-related fields and industries.

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM) officially became our newest college this year and will further enhance our educational, research, and service impacts across the Commonwealth. The integration of the VTCSOM into Virginia Tech was made possible through our partnership with Carilion Clinic, and the dedicated work of a team of school, university and Carilion colleagues.

Right next door to the VTCSOM in Roanoke, construction is well underway on the new health sciences and technology building – a 139,000 square-foot facility that will provide state-of-the-art research laboratories organized around interactive research themes and infused with experiential learning environments. These research programs will be enhanced and accelerated thanks to the generosity of the Horace G. Fralin Charitable Trust and Heywood and Cynthia Fralin who made a record $50 million gift to support the newly renamed Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.

Another record gift from a Virginia Tech alumnus is transforming our Honors College and expanding opportunities for transdisciplinary discovery and experiential learning. Dave Calhoun’s $20 million donation to establish the Calhoun Honors Discovery Program is creating a model for collaborative learning with an emphasis on equipping graduates with knowledge and skills to succeed in today’s complex and dynamic society. Calhoun’s gift, a record for our Honors College, will provide scholarships for 200 students each year.

Perhaps not as widely known, but still tremendously important to Virginia Tech, were the individual and unit successes that highlighted the comprehensive strengths of our institution. Eric Lyon, an associate professor of creative technologies in music and a leading creator of spatial music, earned a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to make four pieces of music in the Cube at the Moss Arts Center. Lyon’s achievement shows how creativity and innovation is enabled at the university to thrive at the intersection of arts and technology.

This year’s Student Experiential Learning Conference showcased the work of more than 600 students who provided a first-hand look at the VT-shaped learning that comes from synthesizing disciplinary depth, cross-disciplinary integration, and purpose-driven educational experiences. The success of this conference and our commitment to offering experiential learning opportunities to every Virginia Tech student is the foundation for a proposed Academy for Experiential Learning. I look forward to sharing more information about this initiative early in the new year.

Virginia Tech’s commitment to elevating humanities disciplines and related social sciences across the university took center stage this summer with the launch of the Center for Humanities. Housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and led by Dr. Sylvester Johnson, the Center for Humanities supports and manages faculty fellowship programs, departmental grants, and a variety of events and activities in the humanities, and builds on collaborations across the university. Ensuring that we provide educational opportunities rooted in the humanities is at the core of our institution and is critical to delivering a VT-shaped learning experience.

The power of transdisciplinary collaboration and experiential learning was on full display with FutureHAUS Dubai. More than 100 students and faculty from a variety of academic disciplines came together to take first place in the 2018 Solar Decathlon Middle East, and earn the unique distinction of building the world’s best solar home. Always focusing on new opportunities, the FutureHAUS team has already begun researching what it would take to scale-up production of their award-winning house in a factory setting.

These are just a few of the many achievements of 2018. I wish I could highlight every accomplishment and contribution as all are deserving of recognition. Every week, it is pleasing to see more stories and further evidence of our impacts and achievements, locally and globally. I believe it is important to recognize that the opportunities that emerge from these impacts and successes help to elevate the entire institution and are not exclusive to any one campus, one college, or one cadre.

Virginia Tech continues to earn distinction through the efforts of its most valuable asset—its people. I wish to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation for your support and advocacy throughout the past year. It has been a privilege to serve as interim executive vice president and provost, and to work together with you on behalf of our university community.

Please join me in celebrating the successes of 2018 with our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and university partners. Happy Holidays and a safe and successful 2019 to you and your families!