Virginia Tech has been selected as one of only 15 universities in the nation to participate in the initial phase of a $10 million grant challenge aimed at helping higher education institutions identify and expand new solutions that will improve career and life opportunities for more students of color, first-generation students, those who struggle to afford education, and adult students and workers.

The Strada Education Network, in partnership with the Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity for the Beyond Completion Challenge (BCC), announced Virginia Tech’s selection last week along with the 15 other institutions who will develop an initiative on their campuses or in collaboration with other organizations, to foster a more effective higher education experience.

“We’ve seen firsthand how the nature and quality of student engagement has a measurable impact on success and well-being long after graduation,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. “The innovation grant will help us further develop a student experience strategy that is more effective and equitable, and can be shared with other institutions pursuing similar goals.”

Virginia Tech’s winning proposal focuses on expanding the university’s Presidential Scholars scholarship and student support program to reach more students from low-income households. Virginia Tech will also add research, project-based work, and paid internships to the program to facilitate student success in transition to the workforce. Grant funds through Strata will go toward supporting an additional 72 Presidential Scholars and expanded workforce learning opportunities.

“This award will serve to strengthen the connection between academic experiences and work-based learning opportunities for our students and help them transition to successful careers,” said Catherine Amelink, associate vice provost and co-lead for Virginia Tech’s BCC program. “The Strada funding and the related institutional commitment is an exciting partnership that will help Virginia Tech continue to address important considerations around access to multiple components of an undergraduate education and will give us a chance to think critically about how to scale programs that we know are having positive impacts in this space.”

Leadership for Virginia Tech’s effort comes through Undergraduate Academic Affairs and the Office of University Scholarships and Financial Aid who will collaborate to implement and promote the plan. The Phase One grants awarded through Strada are designed to support each institution’s curricular, career guidance and support, work-based learning, capacity building, and technology innovations.

“A strength of our Strada partnership is the opportunity we now have to work with businesses across the commonwealth to provide more internship opportunities to our students,” said Matt Holt, professor and department head for agriculture and applied economics, and BCC co-lead. “Internal data show that students with a paid internship have a much better chance of successfully obtaining first-destination employment upon completion. The Strada grant will help us build a sustainable ‘opportunity pipeline’ for a subgroup of our students that often struggle to find paid internship opportunities.”

Virginia Tech’s BCC initiative seeks to streamline the coordination among the Office of University Scholarships and Financial Aid, Student Success Center, Office of Career and Professional Development, and outside employers and industry partners to address successful career placement for a vulnerable undergraduate population. As a public land grant university, the initiative aligns with Virginia Tech’s priorities and strategic goals to increase enrollment among underrepresented, low-income students.

Results of the Phase One project will be used to fine-tune Virginia Tech’s philanthropic and corporate engagement efforts to generate additional need-based scholarship funds.

Strada launched the grant challenge with the understanding that students need an educational experience that connects learning with employment so that all students can secure a good job, do meaningful work, and lead a fulfilling life. The grants will support new projects and initiatives at Virginia Tech and at the other institutions that focus on equitable outcomes through and beyond college completion.

Share this story