As Virginia Tech launches its sesquicentennial year, its board of visitors concluded a three-day meeting Tuesday afternoon in which they engaged in discussions focused on current campus issues as well as setting a path for the future of the university.

On Sunday afternoon, university leaders and board members engaged in conversations to consider potential long-term resource development planning options needed to achieve the goals that define the university’s strategic plan, The Virginia Tech Difference: Advancing Beyond Boundaries. The group also discussed what the university might be like in a post-pandemic world, specifically related to the topics of internships and cooperative programs, lifelong learning, instructional modality, and the future of the university workforce.

Board members received several reports and updates on the university’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, Navid Ghaffarzadegan, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering in the College of Engineering, presented his COVID-19 modeling work to the board and showed how mitigation strategies can impact the spread of the virus. He demonstrated how policy decisions, such as vaccination or mask mandates, could affect the transmission of the virus within the Virginia Tech community.

Virginia Tech Board of Visitors
The Virginia Tech Board of Visitors for 2021-22. Photo by Christina Franusich for Virginia Tech

On Tuesday, board members received a report of the total financial impact on auxiliary services the pandemic caused last fiscal year. It was noted that $50.2 million in net loss occurred during the 2020-21 fiscal year (July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021) because of the pandemic. Despite the financial impact, the university budget was balanced through a variety of strategies, including one-time revenue savings, relief from indirect cost assessments, and from state and federal support.

In addition, Virginia Tech was able to distribute more than $19.5 million in one-time federal student financial aid to university students last fiscal year.

On Tuesday, it was reported that 95 percent of all students and 88 percent of all employees have received a COVID-19 vaccine, and that of the initial 2,076 COVID-19 tests taken since Aug. 2, 31 students and one employee had positive tests. Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke reported that this fall, 81 percent of all undergraduate courses are fully in-person versus 6 percent last year. For those courses this fall not fully in-person, 5 percent are hybrid and the balance are approximately evenly split between online synchronous and online asynchronous.

The latest information related to the pandemic can be found at the university’s Ready website.

The board also approved naming the Blackwood Program in Real Estate in recognition of giving to the program by one of the university’s most generous and involved families, which includes alumni couple Willis Blackwood ’72 and Mary Nolen Blackwood ’73 and their children, Morgan Blackwood Patel ’02 and Nolen Blackwood ’10. The Blackwood endowment will be used to enhance resources, including the recruitment of top faculty, supporting student experiential learning, bringing experts to campus for enhanced learning, and for diversity scholarships.

Board members approved the design preview and review of Hitt Hall, to be located in the North Academic District near West Campus Drive. The approximately 100,000-gross-square-foot, three-story facility will provide additional space for the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, add critical dining capacity, and include general assignment academic classroom and collaboration space. The $85 million project will be funded with $25 million in gifts, $13 million in internal lease funding, and $47 million from auxiliary budgets.

Board members received numerous reports on a variety of topics, including an update on climate action, sustainability, energy initiatives, and the university’s Climate Action Plan; the latest developments and priorities of the College of Engineering; academic and extracurricular student advising; the Virginia Tech Applied Research Corporation; and the sesquicentennial celebration.

Virginia Tech Innovation Campus Vice President and Executive Director Lance Collins updated the board on progress hiring faculty, growing student enrollment, and transitioning to a project-based learning curriculum. He also noted the Innovation Campus Strategic Plan and invited board members to attend the Sept. 14 groundbreaking of the first campus academic building in North Potomac Yard.

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Alan Grant and School of Plant and Environmental Sciences Director Michael Evans shared with board members a presentation on the Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center in Danville, Virginia, a research initiative within the college’s Center for Advanced Innovation in Agriculture. The center will accelerate advancements, drive economic development, and boost regional participation in agriculture.

Over the three-day meeting, board members toured the recently renovated President’s Suite in Lane Stadium, the recently completed Creativity and Innovation District Living-Learning Center, the Holden Hall construction site, and Randolph Hall.

The board also approved resolutions honoring seven emerita or emeritus faculty members and appointed two faculty members to an endowed professorship or fellowships. Individual stories on each person will appear in VTx throughout the fall semester.

The next full Virginia Tech Board of Visitors meeting will be held Nov. 7–8 in Blacksburg. More information on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors may be found online.

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