It's our time right now by Jim Shaver

"Our obligation is to educate the whole student, to instill a set of ethics and values that establishes a context for the application of discipline-based and professional knowledge for productive citizens of our democratic society."
Virginia Tech President Charles Steger

One student spent the summer in Paraguay and Mexico working with youth orchestras. The other has studied classical Roman history and recently won a Fulbright grant. Both Ashley White and Erik Herz, material science and engineering (MSE) majors and members of the Hillcrest Honors Community, are examples of what Virginia Tech President Charles Steger refers to in the university's strategic plan as "the whole student."

Herz graduated in May with degrees in MSE, economics, and international studies and received a master's degree in MSE from Virginia Tech this summer. His Fulbright studies in Germany will advance his investigations of DNA tracing and detection as he prepares for doctoral study at Cornell the following year. "The processing of materials offers prospects for the betterment of human life," Herz says, "and I want to become a leader in this research."

White is a third-year MSE student currently involved in research concerning super-lightweight materials. She received the Barry S. Goldwater Scholarship for math sciences and engineering. Also a music major, White has served as first violin and concertmaster for various regional musical events. The Alumni Honors Scholarship and the University Honors Scholarship programs paid for her travels to Latin America this summer. In an e-mail to Honors Program Director Charles "Jack" Dudley, White wrote, "Working with these programs, I really feel like I could make a difference in the world. I think this experience is going to make me seriously look at exactly what I want out of my life and with my career."

The experiences White, Herz, and other Virginia Tech students share resonate with alumni. A university study conducted earlier this year reveals that Virginia Tech benefactors are strong supporters of academic programs and the infrastructure necessary to advance them. The university's goal to achieve top-tier research university status is clearly understood by alumni and friends. "It's our time right now," one supporter said.

When key alumni were asked about the priorities developed from the strategic plan, their focus on academic excellence was a strong No. 1. The survey also shows significant support for both undergraduate studies and scholarships and for research facilities. The 50-year reunion class of 1954 is funding a $250,000 Class of '54 Honors Scholarship. As well, the 1955 and 1956 reunion classes each intend to create honors scholarship programs of $100,000. Honors students also have scholarships available through gifts from Claire and Wayne Horton and from Robert B. Pamplin Sr. and Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Combined awards for these scholarships have totaled more than $1.5 million.

University Provost Mark McNamee notes, "Our supporters strongly endorse efforts to generate funds for endowed chairs and professorships and for undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships. Our goals require us to enhance all aspects of education and student support."

As the university continues to respond to the goals of its strategic plan, leaders see Virginia Tech's partnership with private supporters as an integral part of the plan's implementation. Dudley also considers this partnership critical to meeting the university's commitment to teaching, research, and outreach. "We've got to prepare students for the next level. And the next level keeps going up."

He adds that the private support the university receives returns dividends that reflect the strategic plan and all it promises for the university. Of the school's honors students, Dudley says, "When they leave [the university], they are [each] a totally different person. Those four or five years they are at Virginia Tech are absolutely magical." Jim Shaver is the director of development communications.