President's Message

A nod to the faculty by Charles Steger '69
If you have recently taken a sidewalk tour of campus, you have probably noticed that we are erecting "biomarkers"--small memorials to the people for whom our buildings are named. These markers contain short biographical sketches of the men and women who formed our institution. Liberally sprinkled among presidents, war heroes, and a few donors are the names of giants among our university's faculty: Brodie, Rasche, Holden, Burke Johnston, O'Shaughnessy, Robeson, and the list goes on.

Some of our more "senior" alums might even have had the pleasure of studying under a few of those giants. Others will remember more contemporary names like J.B. Jones, Jim Wightman, or Siegfried Holzer--all outstanding teachers. A number of our well-renowned teaching faculty members, including Paul Torgersen, Lucinda Roy (shown at right), Bud Robertson, Nikki Giovanni, and Bill Snizek, continue to broaden minds after years of classroom virtuosity.

I am sure that many of you find seared into your memories the professors who shaped your lives. If you are like me, the thoughts weren't all favorable at the time. Only upon reflection do I now realize that some of those difficult professors were, in their own way, helping me come to grips with the problems of the day or were helping me to understand my own mind. They made us think. Sometimes they made us angry. On exam days, they might even have made us sad. But more often than not, they opened our eyes to new worlds.

As an undergraduate student in architecture, I vividly recall professors such as Olivio Ferrari and Hebert Kramel, as well as Dean Charles Burchard. These men established a new teaching model for the design profession, which only years later did I fully understand.

The contributions, and antics, of Ferrari are legend. He --and indeed all of the design professors--gave what at first appeared to be enigmatic assignments. My fellow students and I couldn't possibly see any reason for such exercises. Ferrari's demeanor was sometimes enigmatic, too. He scowled. He cajoled. He laughed uproariously. He perplexed us. He pushed us. He made us question. He made us solve problems. In the end, he made us architects and designers--and much more.

As I think about these inspiring and successful teachers--and there were many during my college career--it is exciting to know that a little piece of each one of them lives in me today. I know that you, too, carry with you the spirit of Virginia Tech's great teachers and scholars.

We commemorate members of our faculty because professors are the heart of any university. They form the core of our intellectual capital. Knowledge, of course, is our currency in the marketplace.

Yet teaching, however noble, is only part of the faculty role. You and I remember professors because they helped us to learn. Others outside the academy know the faculty because they tackle the problems of the day. Tech's faculty has made this university one of the top 50 research universities in the country--a major feat, since there are almost 4,000 colleges and universities across the nation.

Our faculty garners about 25 patents each year for a broad range of discoveries, including a process for creating and then recovering critical pharmaceuticals from transgenic animals, cancer fighting agents, a power converter for use in millions of electric cars, increased memory capacity for computers, noise control technology on airplanes, and an entirely new lubrication process that could reduce automotive exhaust and save millions of dollars in fuel costs. We even have a patent for cockroach birth control.

The Virginia Tech faculty is among the best in the world. The university regularly fends off other universities hoping to pluck our stars. You may not often have an opportunity to interact with one of those professors. But if you do, say thanks. There is nothing more satisfying to a devoted teacher than knowing that he or she has made an impact.

Editor's note: Do you have memories of the teachers who helped shape your lives? If so, please let us know! Send your stories to Virginia Tech Magazine, 105 Media Building, Blacksburg, VA 24061, or to