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A letter from President Tim Sands at the end of the academic year

May 16, 2018

President Tim Sands

President Tim Sands

To the Virginia Tech Community,

As we complete the 2017-18 academic year, I am happy to extend my congratulations to all of our recently graduated seniors from across our seven undergraduate colleges and to our graduate and professional students who have earned advanced degrees in Blacksburg, Roanoke, or the National Capital Region.  Your Virginia Tech education has prepared you to make a difference in the lives of others, and if you haven’t yet recognized that responsibility, your time will come, and you will be ready.

Laura and I arrived at Virginia Tech with the Class of 2018, and as we see our cohort of first-year students graduate, we can’t help but feel sentimental. We have shared many personal firsts, from Hokie Camp, to the Cadets vs. Civilians snowball fight, the 3.2-Mile Run in Remembrance, the largest collegiate Relay for Life, the Big Event, to jumping in Lane Stadium. Those events were visceral representations of the power of our community. The resilience of our community was also evident in our collective responses to incidents that challenged our core principles and called us to be better and grow in our ability to communicate across differences.

We have come to learn – together – that Virginia Tech’s distinctive strength is derived from our individual and collective commitment to Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), a force that links our history to an optimistic view of a future we are empowered to define. Watching the annual Corps of Cadets Change of Command on the Drillfield connects us from the origins of this institution in selfless service and sacrifice, to a future that will be characterized by global, ethical leadership – if Hokies have anything to say about it!

Reflecting further on our historical roots, our original charter as a Morrill Act land-grant institution codified our mission “…to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.” Through Beyond Boundaries, our vision for Virginia Tech a generation into the future, we are doubling down on the Morrill Act imperative.

Recommitting means making Virginia Tech accessible and affordable to those who have been excluded in the past. It means focusing our research, engagement and education on the future needs of the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.  It means empowering a bold but sustainable transformation of this institution, built on the foundations of the past, but poised to meet the challenges of the future. It is an exciting time to be a Hokie!

Speaking of “inventing the future,” I could not be more fortunate to have followed the late president emeritus, Charles W. Steger, as president of Virginia Tech. President Steger was bold and visionary. He was able to see beyond immediate obstacles to create a forward-looking foothold for Virginia Tech that is propelling us toward the Beyond Boundaries vision for this institution. In just a few weeks, the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine will become Virginia Tech’s ninth college. Starting a new medical school and research institute through a unique public-private partnership with Carilion Clinic a decade ago was a bold stroke that could have easily failed.

President Steger’s commitment, along with strong support from Ed Murphy and Nancy Agee of Carilion Clinic and the exemplary leadership of vice president Mike Friedlander and founding dean Cynda Johnson, have resulted in a partnership that is redefining the future of Roanoke. The research institute has attracted over $100 million in funding while the medical school features a novel curriculum based on authentic research experiences, an emphasis on interprofessionalism, and a problem-based approach that has resulted in five successive graduating classes with 100-percent matches to residencies. I believe that this VTC initiative is redefining the “public good” that a research university can generate in the communities that it serves.  Clearly, Charles Steger understood this potential.

President Steger’s commitment to the arts brought us the Moss Arts Center and the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT).  We were graced by the performances of Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott this past November, who shared with us that, in their opinion, the Street and Davis Performance Hall’s Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre is one of the top performance venues in the world.  Also this past fall, ICAT hosted the first ACC Smithsonian Creativity and Innovation Festival.  ACCelerate put Virginia Tech on the national stage, literally, as the event on the National Mall attracted over 36,000 visitors and engaged all 15 ACC institutions.

President Steger also recognized our future as both an urban and a rural land-grant. On the backdrop of an academic presence in the National Capital Region that has been growing since 1969, he saw that the commonwealth needed a substantial Virginia Tech research presence there as well. In 2011, Virginia Tech opened the Virginia Tech Research Center – Arlington on Glebe Road.  That investment of nearly $100 million is the venue for more than $40 million in annual research expenditures in fields that are critical to the future of Virginia and the nation.  The confluence of data, security, and autonomy is transforming our economy and our way of life, and Virginia Tech is at the wheel because of Charles Steger’s foresight. And while a focus on the future is a Hokie specialty, it is also worth looking back on some milestones and achievements over the past year.

Talent

Virginia Tech’s greatest asset is its people. In the past year, we welcomed Dean Richard Blythe to the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and Dean Julia Ross to the College of Engineering; Dean Rosemary Blieszner and Interim Dean Gregory Daniel have assumed new roles in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, respectively; Cyril Clarke stepped up to serve as Interim Executive Vice President and Provost; and last month we announced the arrival of our new Senior Vice President for Operations and Administration, Dwayne Pinkney, who will join us Aug. 1.

To our already strong faculty we added 121 tenured, tenure-track, and collegiate  faculty this academic year, including 20 who were recruited through Destination Areas and Strategic Growth Areas.  These individuals expand Virginia Tech’s transdisciplinary capacity to respond to challenges and lead in the identification of new opportunities.  The coming fall will expand these ranks even further to compose what is shaping up to be the most diverse cadre of new faculty ever.

This spring, our annual Faculty and Staff Award program honored some of our most dedicated individuals who collectively represent the true character and integrity of a Hokie. Our Service Award Recognition program paid tribute to 776 employees who exemplify our motto Ut Prosim. Collectively, those employees have given approximately 14,400 years of service to the university. Among those dedicated employees is Helen Williams with Virginia Cooperative Extension in Amherst County, who just celebrated 60 years of service to Virginia Tech. Thank you, Helen!

Growth in Enrollment and Infrastructure

Applications for undergraduate admission at Virginia Tech have increased by 60 percent since 2014. We received more than 32,000 applications for 2018 admissions. By design, this fall’s entering class will be smaller than our record class last year, and it will be the best prepared and most diverse class in Virginia Tech history.

Although our entering classes vary in size, the net effect is that enrollment is continuing to grow. Virginia Tech is expanding modestly to enhance access and take advantage of the productivity and competitiveness that comes with scale.  We expect to see enrollment growth of up to 10 percent by 2022, our sesquicentennial year. This will allow some programs to reach capacity, while others will require commensurate growth in infrastructure. This past year, we completed the second of the Upper Quad residence halls and additions to several athletics facilities, along with the new gateway to campus from U.S. Route 460.  The coming year will see the completion of the renovations of Sandy Hall, Davidson Hall, the Liberal Arts Building, and O'Shaughnessy Hall. Progress will accelerate on several projects, including the Intermodal Transport Facility, an expansion of Dietrick Dining Center, new living-learning residences as part of the Creativity and Innovation District (CID), the Intelligent Infrastructure and Construction Complex, which includes Hitt Hall and a new dining center, and the renovation of Holden Hall.

As we look to the longer term, our current master planning process is nearing its conclusion. It envisions a denser and more accessible learning environment able to accommodate our future vision for Virginia Tech. Our campus will grow beyond Blacksburg to our locations in Roanoke, the National Capital Region, and other regional centers across the commonwealth.

As we grow, we remain bound to the Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment as evidenced by our STARS Gold rating for sustainability achievements from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and our recognition as a winner of the 2018 Green Leadership Award from the Virginia chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

Philanthropy

We have set records for new gifts and commitments for the past two years, and this fiscal year is shaping up to be another record-breaker. Our first ever Giving Day raised over $1.6 million from nearly 5,000 separate gifts. That same day, we welcomed David Calhoun ’79 and his wife Barbara back to campus where they announced a $20 million gift to launch a pilot collaborative learning initiative within the Honors College. To have our community pledge their support and share their confidence in our vision is validating and valuable. I am forever grateful for the spirit and generosity of Hokie Nation.

Endowment

Fueled by our philanthropic success and smart investment strategies, our endowment continues to grow, having surpassed $1 billion this year for the first time. This significant milestone represents an investment in the resiliency of Virginia Tech and our ability to support student access and affordability as well as to attract and retain world-class faculty talent for many years to come.

Affordability

We continue to work with the state to provide the highest quality education for the lowest possible cost. If the ongoing budget process in Richmond supports Virginia Tech at the level we expect, our increase of tuition and mandatory fees for in-state undergraduate students will remain at the lowest level during this millennium, 2.9 percent, for the third year in a row.  Our modest growth is also helping us maintain the current level of affordability, but future progress in enhancing access and improving affordability beyond what is enabled by state and federal governments will depend on elements that Virginia Tech can control: efficiencies, philanthropy, and partnerships with employers. We are making progress in all three, and I am committed to ensuring that this progress is unrelenting. 

Creating a Platform for Continued Growth in Research

This year, we launched LINK, our business engagement center. Next year will see significant enhancements in proposal and award support, technology transfer and commercialization, and research compliance resources. For four years running, we have exceeded $500 million in annual research expenditures. These infrastructure enhancements are needed to support the next wave of growth in scholarship and research impact.  

Last August we began construction on Building One @ Tech Center Research Park, an 80,000-square-foot building that will be the first of several structures built in the 50-acre research park located in Newport News, Virginia. We recently broke ground on our next phase of the VTC Health Sciences and Technology Campus in Roanoke. In April, we dedicated the Virginia Tech Drone Park, the tallest netted drone facility in the country. Shortly after, we learned that Virginia won one of 10 bids for a spot in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s UAS Integration Pilot Program.  The Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership will manage a consortium including Project Wing, Intel, AT&T, Airbus Aerial, State Farm, Dominion Energy, Sinclair Broadcast Group, and HAZON Solutions to develop drone technology for package delivery, emergency management, and infrastructure inspection.

Athletics   

It was a great year for Virginia Tech Athletics. I do want to say congratulations to the more than 80 student-athletes who graduated this month. I was also proud to see our baseball team and women’s tennis, golf, and track and field teams receive Public Recognition Awards from the NCAA for top performance in their multi-year Academic Progress Rate. The Hokie Club once again broke a record by raising $48 million, and we are looking forward to the completion of our new student-athlete performance center, made possible by a generous $15.2 million gift from two anonymous Hokies. Next month, Athletic Director Whit Babcock will be one of four FBS recipients of the AD of the Year award from the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. Congratulations Whit, it is a well-deserved honor. Thank you to all the student-athletes, coaches, and staff for your work and dedication. 

Strategic Planning

This spring, we launched a strategic planning and implementation process on the foundation of our Beyond Boundaries vision.  During the coming academic year, you will have ample opportunity to contribute to defining metrics and milestones, along with a mechanism for continuous planning.

As an institution, and as a community, we worked hard this year and made a positive impact on the lives of others. I am proud of what we accomplished together and I am confident that we have laid the groundwork for an even better year to come.

Thank you all for helping Virginia Tech distinguish itself as a global land-grant research university that is built upon a foundation of service, community, and commitment to advance the human condition in our neighborhoods, the commonwealth, our nation and the world.

Have a great summer. Go Hokies!

Tim Sands,
President

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