• Winter 2014-15

    Volume 37, Number 2

    Virginia Tech Magazine, winter 2014-15

  • Presidential installation

    presidential installation

    The full transcript of President Sands' installation speech, excerpted here, can be found at, along with videos and photo galleries of the ceremony and other events during the three-day celebration.

    Additional stories, multimedia, and social media highlights »


    Winter 2014-15

    Sowing the Future: Part Two

    Fortune-telling and other uses of big data at Virginia Tech

    The Sensors Within: Goodwin Hall knows where you are

    The Science of Virginia: Inaugural science festival captivates thousands

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    Future Directions

    by Timothy D. Sands

    At his formal installation ceremony in October 2014, President Sands outlined his vision for Virginia Tech.

    On Oct. 17, I had the pleasure of being formally "installed" as Virginia Tech's president. Of course, I have occupied this role since June, but the ceremony afforded me the opportunity to share some ideas about future directions.

    Fortunately for us, few universities in the nation have such a balanced array of programs perfectly suited to the needs of today's world. We have strengths across the board in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, accompanied by outstanding programs in in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. If Justin Morrill, the creator of 1862 Land-Grant Act, were around today, I believe he would design a school just like Virginia Tech.

    This balanced approach leads to beneficial interdisciplinary collaboration. That's a mouthful of a phrase, but simply put, our program leaders work with each other to build teaching and research programs that mimic the real world. We create programs outside traditional disciplinary silos that address pressing world issues. Where else can one get a "water: resources, policy, and management" degree? Indeed, some contend that water concerns will drive geopolitics in the 21st century. In similar fashion, our large-scale research institutes traverse many departmental or disciplinary boundaries.

    One important foundational strength is the Virginia Tech residential campus experience. Long a strong point, on-campus living is one that should be nurtured, not replaced. I doubt that the water in Blacksburg causes our strong alumni loyalty, but certainly the bonding you all experienced here contributes to the great retention and graduation rates, the high starting salaries, and the low loan-default rates of Hokie alumni.

    I suspect that bonding is linked to the university's motto—Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). One quickly learns it is more than a stuffy motto; it is a way of life. This community truly defines itself by its commitment to service. I have personally heard our students speak to their reasons for coming to Virginia Tech. Normally, they highlight the reputation of academic programs, our sense of community, and our commitment to service. On what other campus today would one hear young people identify such lofty attributes?

    Looking to the future—a horizon I set at 2022, the year of our 150th anniversary—we should build on existing trajectories and set new goals.

    Virginia Tech must continue to move up in the ranks of U.S. research universities. Goals and metrics are important in their own right. But in this context, I see rankings as proxy for impact on society—our ability to make Ut Prosim real. We should continue our quest for top-30 status.

    We live now in a world of wide horizons and international landscapes, so we should also commit ourselves to becoming recognized as a top-100 global research institution. The best talent knows no boundaries. Maintaining impactful, curiosity-driven scholarship requires the best minds on the planet.

    For our students, it almost goes without saying that we should offer high-value degrees with a strong return on investment. Satisfaction surveys and rankings indicate that we do a pretty good job there. However, decades of social science research on well-being shows there is more to thriving as an adult than financial success.

    The recent Gallup-Purdue Index report, which surveyed 30,000 graduates of U.S. institutions, is making feasible a focus on what truly matters to our students: Are they thriving in life and engaged in their work? And what experiences do students most strongly associate with thriving and engagement in later life?

    Although we are just beginning to understand these data, early analysis clearly points to the importance of inspiring faculty, mentorship, and deep experiential learning. Thus, I believe that every Virginia Tech undergraduate should have the opportunity to participate in either an internship in a field related to his or her studies or a meaningful undergraduate research experience—or both. We have ample data to show that these opportunities open doors and raise ceilings.

    Every student should have access to a personal mentor, whether that mentor is a Hokie alum, a faculty member, or a staff member. We have a tremendous opportunity here for you, our devoted alumni, to engage with our current students.

    Every undergraduate who wishes to participate in study abroad should have the opportunity to do so without delaying progress toward degree goals and without financial hardship.

    Every student, faculty member, and staff member at all of our campuses and facilities should have a culturally rich experience, with opportunities to live, work, and study with people whose life experiences are very different from their own. For this to happen, we must have a wide diversity of life experiences among our people. We will lead intentionally, with inclusion as a pathway to excellence.

    These experiences will reinforce our parallel and intertwined efforts to structure our curricula to ensure that our graduates have both depth in their disciplines and the skills necessary to compete. Our students should also leave Virginia Tech with the entrepreneurial skills needed to turn their vision for a better world into reality.

    While Virginia Tech has strategically plotted its course toward the future, the reality is that the ground underneath us is shifting again. The public-good model for funding public universities has eroded for three decades. At Virginia Tech, state support per Virginia undergraduate is only half what it was in real dollars in 2000. We must rebuild the strong support we have had and reverse this trend of declining state funding to ensure the affordability of a Virginia Tech education.

    Similarly, the funding of research is increasingly unreliable in the current climate of state and federal government. If the funding model does not change, we will be relying to a greater degree on limited gifts and foundation funds to propel our research in partnership with government and corporate sponsors.

    The demographics of our future students from Virginia, the U.S., and around the world are shifting markedly, becoming more diverse in every dimension. We need to be ready. We need to anticipate. We need to be intentional and proactive in taking advantage of this diversity.

    In short, we cannot rely on the government for funding. We must focus on resource-building. I am challenging the university community to at least double our current $800 million endowment.

    This is Virginia Tech's century. I am humbled to have been chosen to serve as your president at this extraordinary time. And I look forward to working with you on our journey together as we continue to build upon the spirit of Ut Prosim.

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