Myra Blanco appointed to increase diversity, inclusion, and empowerment for Virginia Tech’s research enterprise
As research expands, the need for diverse perspectives in research is critical to effectively serve every community.
To champion that need, Myra Blanco, director of advancement, partnerships, and outreach at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) has been named Senior Faculty Fellow for the Office of Research and Innovation. The program selects faculty leaders to contribute to the development of Virginia Tech’s research and innovation infrastructure in targeted areas.
Over the three-year term, Blanco will provide leadership for increasing diversity, inclusion, and empowerment of faculty and staff across Virginia Tech’s research and innovation enterprise.
“An integral part of the Virginia Tech community for over 25 years, Myra is also an internationally recognized leader in transportation research whose stellar career has distinguished her from peers,” said Dan Sui, senior vice president for research and innovation and chief innovation officer. “Her passion for research excellence, diversity, and inclusion has made her uniquely suited to fulfill the role of the office’s Senior Faculty Fellow.”
Blanco will lead efforts to win external funding for projects related to research, scholarship, and creativity for underrepresented minorities and women, including through the National Science Foundation’s Advance program, which seeks to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers, thereby contributing to the development of a more diverse science and engineering workforce.
She will also chair the campuswide Office of Research and Innovation’s Diversity Committee to set diversity, equity, and inclusion expectations, tactics, and strategy across the office’s senior management area. This includes developing strategies and materials to champion and advertise Virginia Tech programs that support diversity, equity, and inclusion in research to increase awareness of these resources and support recruitment of underrepresented minority faculty and staff, especially women principal investigators. She also will act as liaison between Office of Research and Innovation and the Office of Inclusion and Diversity.
Blanco has expansive background in establishing inclusive initiatives. From previously serving as the outreach coordinator for the National Surface Transportation Safety Center for Excellence to serving as an academic advisor for the Virginia Tech Women in Transportation Chapter, Blanco continues to be a model and champion of change in transportation.
Viewed as role model for the next generation of automotive and transportation engineers by her peers, in December Blanco was named the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Contributor of the Year for 2021, the highest honor bestowed on a volunteer for their contributions to the society. Blanco also was selected for multiple SAE international campaigns centered around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and she participated in SAE’s DEI Chats leading the conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the world of mobility. Blanco had the opportunity to share her story with SAE about growing up in Puerto Rico and where her passion for transportation began.
“Myra ensures all communities are considered during the conduct of our research at VTTI,” said Zac Doerzaph, executive director for the institute. “The Faculty Fellow initiative is an excellent avenue for application of her skill across Virginia Tech. I am excited to see the positive impacts of the work Myra will undertake as part of her expanded role.”
“I am honored to serve Virginia Tech’s Office of Research and Innovation in this capacity,” said Blanco. “There are so many under served and underrepresented populations that benefit, as well as assist, with the amazing research efforts Virginia Tech performs. Having multiple perspectives in research only makes the research outcome stronger. Moreover, it is important to safeguard that not only we all could be at the table, but ensure the benefits from the research findings serve all that truly could benefit from it.”
A double Hokie, Blanco received her bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Puerto Rico and her master's and Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering from Virginia Tech.
Established in 2019, the Office of Research and Innovation’s Faculty Fellows program positions exceptional faculty leaders at the forefront of developing strategies to help the university capitalize on its deeply established strengths and venture decisively into new territory. The inaugural appointment was held by Robin Queen, the Kevin P. Granata Faculty Fellow and a professor in biomedical engineering and mechanics, as the Faculty Fellow for Health Data Privacy.
Following Queen’s appointment, three faculty members were named Faculty Fellows to lead the University Shared Facilities initiative designed to helping create centralized facilities outfitted with advanced instrumentation and staffed by expert technicians, which will be broadly accessible to Virginia Tech faculty and external users. Amanda Morris, professor and associate chair of chemistry, focused on facilities for materials characterization; Masoud Agah, the Virginia Microelectronics Consortium Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, led work on micro- and nanofabrication; and Richard Helm, an associate professor of biochemistry, tackled the life sciences.