Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) is a public land-grant university serving the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world community. The discovery and dissemination of new knowledge are central to its mission. Through its focus on teaching and learning, research and discovery, and outreach and engagement, the university creates, conveys, and applies knowledge to expand personal growth and opportunity, advance social and community development, foster economic competitiveness, and improve the quality of life.
2001 Mission Statement adapted in 2006, by the Board of Visitors
The complexities of modern society demand, more than ever, the enabling tools of a college education. Research universities such as Virginia Tech are connected to mainstream societal issues more than ever before. Indeed, the modern American university, especially a land-grant research university with its threefold mission of teaching, research, and outreach, represents a crucial thread in the fabric of American culture.
As Virginia Tech enters the 21st century, we are mindful of the key role the university plays in the development of productive citizens and future professionals, of the contributions of our faculty and students to the generation of new knowledge, and of our impact on multiple levels of community and society. In an era where information empowers and where ideas and innovation are the raw materials of the information economy, Virginia Tech's demonstrated capabilities indicates relevance and value of the highest order.
Virginia Tech is an institution comfortable with the unique American model of the land-grant university where the discovery, dissemination, and application of knowledge are synergistically balanced. It is part of larger societal systems and dynamically fueled by the process of involvement - involvement in world affairs; involvement in the needs of individuals and their communities, businesses, industries, and governments; involvement in the nurturing of inquisitive minds; involvement in the transfer of ideas from the campus to the marketplace; and involvement in societal problems in our towns, cities, states, and beyond.
While there is joy in the discovery of knowledge for its own sake, Virginia Tech recognizes its bias toward the beneficial use of knowledge. We have a tradition of strong undergraduate education with a special emphasis on professional development. The application of knowledge is manifested in the creation of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center and the university's policies and culture which serve to commercialize discoveries or patents quickly. A “Putting Knowledge to Work” philosophy is manifested in the Extension tradition of infusing campus discoveries into practice.
The creation of new knowledge that will benefit society is at the heart of our mission. The distinction between basic and applied research has become more blurred. New areas of scientific investigation are interdisciplinary in nature. The walls around research institutions - educational, government, or corporate - are more transparent than ever. Yet, the processes of discovery, scientific inquiry, and scholarship inform all aspects of the educational enterprise.
In order to achieve a position of educational leadership, Virginia Tech fosters an atmosphere of intellectual excitement among faculty, staff, and the greater university community. We challenge students, including undergraduates, to pursue the discovery of new knowledge. We value the contribution of research and scholarship to the instructional process. We believe there is a linkage between the excitement of the classroom and the excitement of “Eureka.” We recognize that academic inquiry fuels creative scholarship, which fuels the intellectual atmosphere of the classroom and the learning process.
We value the ability to educate the whole person. Through the undergraduate residential learning experience, students have opportunities for leadership and community service. They discover the value of responsibility, self-discipline, community service, and understanding of others. It exposes students to new cultures, social diversity, and new ways to see the world around them. We value heuristic education, which demands that students learn by doing in the classroom, on the job, or through service.
However, if there is one attribute that distinguishes Virginia Tech from all but a few of the nation's thousands of higher education institutions, it is the interconnectedness - the interactivity - of the university to the society and constituencies it serves. Virginia Tech is not a citadel of cloistered learning. We believe that universities are most viable when they are interactive, when they reflect and respond to the problems and challenges of their societies.
The outreach mission of a land-grant university is central to the university’s pertinence, relevance, and connectedness. Outreach takes many shapes: from continuing-education programs for working professionals to financial-aid counseling for urban poor persons, from training new mayors to aiding reforestation efforts on the African continent.
In recent years, outreach and public service have transitioned from off-campus coursework to become the holistic and reciprocal application of knowledge to strengthen individuals, communities, businesses, and even whole economies. Today, Virginia Tech is an economic development catalyst. The university welcomes that responsibility. Virginia Tech aggressively pursues the commercialization of patents. Through the Corporate Research Center, we promote entrepreneurial activity either among faculty or those wishing to engage faculty. The university encourages faculty/industry relationships. Faculty members maintain sensitivity to real-world problems and advancements and develop networks for student opportunity. These activities address real-world problems, lead to major research advancements, and develop important networking for student opportunities.
Institutions such as universities are not readily changed. To embark on a process of transformation requires considerable persistence and determination. But most importantly, the vision for the future must be clearly articulated.
The expression of the vision takes many forms because the university has many constituencies, each frequently requiring a different form of communication or “language” if the message is to be delivered effectively. The vision is not changed as plans are updated, though strategies and tactics may well be modified. The vision that was articulated in 2000 and captured in the Strategic Plan now being updated will require a transformation of the university, one that will evolve but also alter the institution in fundamental ways.
There is a history of such transformational experience at Virginia Tech. After its founding in 1872, progress was uneven and not always in the most positive direction. Perhaps the first critical transformation occurred during the presidency of John McBryde, 1891-1907. He set upon establishing a statewide presence and reputation for the then-college that included the creation of both the substance and symbols of a proper institution of higher education.
Julian Burruss, president 1919-1945, expanded what Dr. McBryde had set in motion. The collegiate Gothic style of architecture was fully embraced, curricula were expanded, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute, as we were popularly and finally officially called then, went on to establish significant technical expertise in agriculture and engineering. Through the work of many to follow, considerable progress was made along this path.
A second stage of transformation occurred during the presidency of T. Marshall Hahn, 1962- 1974. Dr. Hahn guided a dramatic change in both scope and scale that set the institute on a new path. During this period, enrollment tripled, the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Architecture and Urban Studies were created, and Virginia Tech moved from being a polytechnic institute to a university.
The changes under way today are very different in character but no less profound. These changes are brought about by the dynamic environment in which today’s universities must operate and by opportunities to enhance the contribution to the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as society at large, that may be available to Virginia Tech.
A New Standard of Quality
Intellectual capital has been given wings by the advent of the Internet. Individuals, industries, and governments can access information and expertise from virtually any point on the globe. As a result, a new competitive quality standard has emerged. The successful organization will be defined by its capacity to deliver world-class quality in its core strategic functions. A presumption in our plan is that quality will ultimately be the sustaining measure of success.
The Exponential Growth of Investments Required to Enter New Fields of Research
Investments required to deploy competitive programs have grown exponentially because of 1) the necessity of interdisciplinary research, 2) the need for increasingly sophisticated instrumentation, and 3) the demand for high-performance computing.
It is not uncommon for the start-up equipment package for a new faculty member in a science field to range from $500,000 to $1million. The investments necessary to recruit interdisciplinary research teams, which are the current trend, can be many times these amounts. Any university that cannot assemble the critical mass of financial resources and necessary intellectual capital cannot ultimately compete on the national and international scene. This is one of the reasons why Virginia Tech must increase its resources substantially in terms of both intellectual capital and financial strength.
A structural revolution is under way in higher education. It has characteristics similar to the changes that have been occurring in business for the past decade. Just as banks and airlines have consolidated to seek economies of scale and gain market share, universities are in the early stages of a somewhat similar process. Within the hierarchy of higher education, the strong institutions are growing stronger at an accelerating rate. To illustrate, the top 40 universities in the National Science Foundation (NSF) rankings now account for 50 percent of all university-based research expenditures.
Further, there is an emerging pattern of global strategic partnerships. For example, Stanford and Cambridge universities are expanding their shared program offerings. Tokyo University may soon be a partner. Virginia Tech is in the process of establishing such a relationship with the Technische Universität Darmstadt whereby the names of both universities might appear on the diploma.
Ultimately, a small set of global strategic partnerships in areas such as bioinformatics and nanotechnology will be the dominant players and recipients of significant funding. These resources will be accompanied by the flow of the best faculty and graduate students, combining to make these entities key centers of innovation and research.
Virginia Tech has responded to these trends by choosing key areas in science and technology for strategic investments. However, this focus must be balanced with our broader mission of producing graduates who are holistically educated and who can assume leadership roles in a democratic society.
From these dual commitments comes our intent to remain a comprehensive university. Comprehensiveness and diversity of offerings have a very practical application. The path of research is not easily predicted. As new areas emerge that draw upon a wide variety of disciplines, the ability to adapt is reduced if comprehensive offerings are not present. The ecological principle of “stability through diversity” aptly applies here.
Virginia Tech in the next decade will: