Virginia Tech's new Holden Hall is anything but boring
The new Holden Hall and North Wing “is an essential part of developing sustainable energy sources and building the green economy of the future,” Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said.
Isaac Maud can trace his whole life back to Holden Hall — even though his first visit was in September. Holden is where his parents, Karen and Salem, met as undergraduates in materials science and engineering.
With his parents in tow, Isaac, now a toddler, got to enjoy the Sept. 8 re-dedication of the newly renovated Holden Hall and North Wing, along with Julia M. Ross, Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering; Virginia Tech President Tim Sands; state legislators; faculty; staff; alumni; students; and donors.
With 102,000 square feet of new and renovated space, the building, like Isaac, is made for the future. The new Holden boasts high-tech laboratories for research, new computational spaces for transdisciplinary collaboration, and three new 50-seat classrooms equipped with the latest audiovisual capabilities. It is home to the departments of Mining and Minerals Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering, putting most of their operations under one roof for the first time in years.
Former students like Karen Maud, ‘11, who has made a career at GE in South Carolina and now is a member of the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) advisory board, remember a very different building. The labs and classrooms were functional, she said, but do not compare to the facilities new students will enjoy. She said this renovation gives prospective students even more reason to choose both the university and her major.
“MSE is smaller compared to a lot of the programs, so you can know the faculty by name and they know you,” she said. “Now, you have this amazing facility that backs it up. Now you have both the people and the facility to really go after the research.”
The new building features teaching laboratories that not only serve undergraduates, but also provide research groups with access to a wide array of scientific equipment. The project added 75 percent more square footage to the original building, including the first-in-the-nation Center for Autonomous Mining.
Also known as the VT Mock Mine, this first-floor laboratory will allow students to operate autonomous mining equipment and drones as well as train for competitions, such as the NASA Robotic Mining Competition and Elon Musk’s Not-A-Boring Competition.
“In addition to commemorating how far we have come, the new Holden Hall signifies our forward momentum that continues to amplify the college’s impact on research, education, and industry,” Ross said.
Sands said he has a particular affinity for the new facility, as he’s a tenured professor in MSE.
“Before I began working in higher education administration, I was a materials science researcher, so this building really speaks to the scientist in me,” Sands said. “The work that goes on here in materials science and mining and minerals engineering is an essential part of developing sustainable energy sources and building the green economy of the future.”
Many who were in the re-dedication audience have long ties to the building. Named for Virginia geologist Roy Jay Holden, it opened in 1940. Holden’s grandson, John Rocovich Jr. — former rector of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors and a longtime supporter of the College of Engineering — attended with his wife, Sue Ellen.
Also in the audience was Eric Lucas, who grew up in and around the old Holden Hall because his father, Richard “Dick” Lucas, was department head there in the 1960s. Lucas recalled that he was 6 years old when he first visited the building.
“In those days, it really had just four rooms and a lab,” Lucas said.
After more than one expansion and remodel, Lucas stepped into the new Holden for the first time during the re-dedication. He said many people have asked him how his dad would feel about this latest renovation.
“He would love it,” Lucas said.
Current students love it, too. Mining undergraduate Jordan Gillis said she appreciates how fresh and new the classrooms and the building feel. But more than that, the new facilities are helping students build community after the isolation of the coronavirus pandemic and years spread across campus during construction.
“I've gotten closer to my class, even just in the first week this semester,” Gillis said.
Logistically, it’s a big improvement, too.
“Last year, the juniors and seniors had to carpool to the [off-campus] Plantation Road lab,” she said. “Not everyone has cars, and it just wasn’t convenient. It’s nice having everyone together.”
Mining senior and president of the student-led Burkhart Mining Society, Meredith Olaya-Ramos also praised the sense of community fostered by the new facility, and she noted the important role of donors in creating that solidarity.
“I and the rest of the students cannot thank the donors enough for their generosity in helping open this new building,” Olaya-Ramos said. “This would not have been possible without the donors.”