Three departments and one program received the 2014 Exemplary Department or Program Award. 

The winners include the Department of Chemistry in the College of Science; the Department of Psychology also in the College of Science; the Urban Affairs and Planning program in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies; and VT Engage in the Division of Student Affairs.

Presented annually since 1994, the University Exemplary Department or Program Awards program and ceremony are funded through the Office of the Provost and facilitated by the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research. The award recognizes the work of programs and/or departments that maintain exemplary teaching and learning environments for students and faculty, and, in particular, accomplish this through collaborative, group efforts.

For 2014, the awards theme recognized groups that are developing and sustaining innovative and effective departmental approaches to fostering Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) at the undergraduate or graduate level. Each department or program will receive a portion of the $40,000 award for their achievements.

The university community is invited to celebrate the recipients at a recognition ceremony on Thursday, Jan. 29, from 6:30-8 p.m. at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center (register here).

Department of Chemistry

The Department of Chemistry serves more than 30 faculty, 40 staff members, 150 graduate students, and 300 undergraduate majors.

The department incorporates service within its curricula and research in a variety of ways. For example, as part of an organic chemistry course, students are given extra credit to volunteer with the Chemistry Club or Alpha Chi Sigma in educational outreach activities, such as tutoring in local schools or working at a science fair. 

In addition, faculty members Shami Arachchige and the late Karen Brewer also received accolades for incorporating service activities into their research group, winning the Virginia Tech Alumni Award for Outreach Excellence.

The chemistry department recently established a teaching and outreach committee to better coordinate service and outreach efforts.

Department of Psychology

The Department of Psychology serves more than 30 faculty, 70 graduate students, and 800 undergraduate majors.

The university's motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), is seen in some of the department’s courses, which focus on examine real-world problems and how to improve them. E. Scott Geller, an Alumni Distinguished Professor, leads one such undergraduate introductory course, teaching his philosophy of “actively caring for people.” A related movement and the Center for Applied Behavior Systems support this philosophy.

In addition to curricula, the department also provides clinical training, research, and outreach through training clinics and centers; research on educational game design to promote mathematical learning in middle school students; and a developing study abroad initiative called “Creating Sustainable Social Change.”

Urban Affairs and Planning Program

The Urban Affairs and Planning program offers two undergraduate degree options on the Blacksburg, Virginia, campus as well as graduate studies in Blacksburg and the National Capital Region.

The program has a long history of service through student and faculty engagement in local, state, and regional planning and policy. Notably, all of the program’s degrees require at least one studio course where students work with governments – often small towns and rural communities with limited staff and support for planning – on real planning projects. Students have worked with Virginia localities such as Montgomery County, Floyd County, Fincastle, and the City of Alexandria, among others.

VT Engage

The university’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), is at the heart of VT Engage: The Community Learning Collaborative. The department fosters community-university partnerships that improve the quality of life for people in local, regional, and global communities.

VT Engage provides opportunities for students to volunteer with a range of commitments, from programs like “Get on the Bus,” that require only a few hours of service to a local organization to service immersion trips to other countries. 

Some students also become deeply involved in service through VT Engage in the SERVE Living-Learning Community. In addition, VT Engage works with faculty members who want to incorporate volunteerism and service within their curricula.

About the Awards

A complete list of past Exemplary Department or Program Award winners, along with the theme of the award for the year, is available online.

Next year’s award theme is, “Effectively linking research and scholarship with teaching.” Information will be provided on the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research website.

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