The following is an open letter to the faculty from President Tim Sands.  

To my Virginia Tech colleagues,

I hope you had an opportunity to enjoy the long holiday weekend and spend time with family and friends. You deserve the downtime, because we’re having a busy summer! As we begin a new fiscal year, my third year as president, I want to thank each of you for the remarkable work you’ve done to move the university forward. Take a moment to consider how far we’ve progressed in 24 months.

From day one, we’ve been committed to advancing inclusion and diversity at Virginia Tech. Driven in part by the ideal of equal opportunity and a demographic imperative, a diverse and inclusive university community also prepares our students to thrive and lead in a world of ever-increasing complexity. To fully embrace Ut Prosim, one must develop empathy for those whose lived experiences are different than our own. InclusiveVT launched with tremendous support from the university community. Our momentum continued with the arrival of Menah Pratt-Clarke as vice provost for inclusion and diversity and vice president for strategic affairs. In June, INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine named Virginia Tech a Diversity Champion, one of only 10 colleges and universities recognized this year. That recognition is based on our commitment, but much work remains to live up to that promise. 

Last fall we launched Envisioning Virginia Tech – Beyond Boundaries. As the vision for Virginia Tech a generation from now has come into focus, the university community has indeed moved beyond our traditional boundaries to place Virginia Tech on a trajectory toward that future. 

The concept of the “VT-shaped” student emerged from Beyond Boundaries – a student with solid disciplinary preparation, the ability to work in interdisciplinary and diverse teams, and mastery of emerging technologies to support the “T." Reinforcing the “T” are the arms of the “V," representing deep and purpose-driven experiential learning in the spirit of Ut Prosim. We are now seeing these students in action across the country. They are members of the Flint Water Team, reaching out to at-risk communities. They are winning international awards for product designs that support sustainability. They will be testing their Hyperloop prototype as a transportation alternative at the SpaceX track in California later this year. These are just a few examples; I could cite many, many more.

The launch of Destination Areas is one way these cross-cutting initiatives are developing. Destination Areas array our unique strengths to address complex issues that affect the human condition. Although we are investing a relatively small fraction of our resources in Destination Area faculty and infrastructure, we anticipate a return on that investment that will include attracting and retaining outstanding faculty and staff as well as undergraduate and graduate students who share our compelling vision. Provost Thanassis Rikakis is leading the charge to help us become the go-to destination for partners who need our deep expertise, our savvy graduates, and our solutions. Faculty design teams are working on the implementation phase of Destination Areas this summer. And I join the provost in encouraging all teaching and research faculty to signal their interest to participate through the online site. Destination Areas won’t touch everyone, and that’s okay. Our focus will continue to evolve and I encourage you to stay engaged with the process. Faculty may find opportunities to build strengths inside the colleges that can merge downstream with a Destination Area or a Strategic Growth Area, or perhaps seed a new initiative through the Beyond Boundaries Incubator that will launch in January.

Among the transformations necessary to become a more dynamic university is the development of a sustainable budget, one that supports our ongoing, traditional land-grant mission while also providing flexibility to react to new, rapidly evolving needs and opportunities. Last month we announced a new budgeting model that will help us adapt to change, lower barriers to collaboration, incentivize innovation and resource our future goals. That new model also incorporates an increasing emphasis on private philanthropy and support from partners in industry to build our endowment and enhance the resilience of our resource base. An exciting outcome of that model will be more discretionary resources at the college, department and institute levels.

All of these opportunities and initiatives challenge our capacity as individuals and as an institution for change, but continuous innovation is as much a part of our history as our future. More than 50 years ago, President T. Marshall Hahn Jr. believed VPI’s strengths in engineering and agriculture positioned the university to become a “nationally prominent institution.” He saw the opportunity to “stir things up” and described the sense that “opportunity was just hitting you over the head every morning.” ("From VPI to State University," Strother and Wallenstein.) At the beginning of the current century, Virginia Tech surged forward as a national research powerhouse, moving up faster in research expenditures than any of our peers. Today, Virginia Tech has areas of strength that differentiate us, putting us in position to become a top 100 global university by becoming the best Virginia Tech we can possibly be. This is exciting, challenging work that will maximize our potential to serve and lead in our commonwealth, our nation, and the world.

I am deeply grateful for your support, your participation, and your spirit of community as we move forward.