Philanthropy banner

The future is now:
PACE at Virginia Tech

by Amy Boyce

When Virginia Tech, along with other top engineering schools such as MIT and the University of Michigan, became a member of PACE (Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering Education) in spring 2002, the university's engineering students tapped into the pulse of cutting-edge, high-powered technology. PACE corporate partners donated a package that ranks as the largest contribution of computer softare, hardware, and training to Virginia Tech to date.

Because PACE has the potential to change the face of engineering around the world, mechanical engineering professor (ME) Jan Helge Bohn's proposal for Tech to join the partnership suggested using PACE's industry and academic partners as a test bed for worldwide, 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week collaborative product development across international time zones.

The PACE partnership links General Motors, EDS, Sun Microsystems, and a group of selected academic institutions to develop the automotive product life cycle management team of the future. Inclusion in the PACE partnership benefits Virginia Tech's engineering students by giving them the opportunity to interact with world-renowned universities and the chance to work with state-of-the-art, computer-aided engineering tools, such as Unigraphics, ADAMS, and Altair HyperWorks. "The collaborative process described in the proposal is what caught our attention," says Keith Van Houten (mechanical engineering '91), senior project engineer for GM and Virginia Tech advocate. Tech is on the leading edge of this new method of developing products.

Eventually, Bohn would like to see Virginia Tech students using Unigraphics to work with other PACE universities all over the world. "Worldwide, 24/7 collaborative design is the future," he says. "We need to learn how to manage this process, and we need to prepare our students to provide the leadership that will be needed." As a result of this partnership, Virginia Tech graduates will be more competitive in the workplace. "Engineering firms will be targeting people with these kinds of skills," Van Houten says.

Due to Bohn's innovative thinking, Virginia Tech is setting an example for other PACE universities to follow. While the Unigraphics software is only available on select computers at other PACE universities, Tech students are able to download the software onto their private computers for free, and they can work wherever there is Internet access.

Luke Rains, senior ME student and member of the Formula SAE car team--a group of student members of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) who design, build, and compete with small formula-style racing cars--has been using Unigraphics extensively to develop the car. "The major benefit that I have seen with Unigraphics is its ability to be used for many different applications. Unigraphics is the most powerful CAE tool I have ever had the opportunity to use," says Rains.

The forward thinking exhibited by Bohn and the College of Engineering is another testament to the high marks the engineering program consistently receives from U.S. News & World Report. Currently, the undergraduate programs rank 15th nationally and 10th among public universities, and the mechanical engineering department ranks 18th nationally.

For more information about PACE, please check the website at

Amy Boyce is a technical writer for the Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations.