Terry Herdman, associate vice president for research computing, retires after 48 years of service
Terry Herdman, associate vice president for research computing, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Mathematics, and professor of mathematics, retired from Virginia Tech effective Sept. 9, 2022. During his 48-year tenure, Herdman made significant contributions to the university’s research mission, helping to expand Virginia Tech’s research computing capabilities, secure millions in funding for interdisciplinary research projects, and build one of the strongest university-focused research computing teams in the nation.
After earning his master’s degree and Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Oklahoma in 1970 and 1974, respectively, Herdman came to Virginia Tech, where he joined the mathematics department as a visiting professor. He later accepted a full time position, and has remained a part of the department for his entire career. As professor of mathematics, Herdman directed Virginia Tech’s undergraduate program in applied and computational mathematics on the Blacksburg campus as well as the graduate program in interdisciplinary applied mathematics at the Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church.
In 1987, Herdman, John Burns, a fellow professor in the mathematics department, and Eugene Cliff, professor of aerospace and ocean engineering (now emeritus), co-founded the Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Mathematics (ICAM), which supports and facilitates transdisciplinary research in applied and computational mathematics and has gained international recognition for the caliber of research produced and its outstanding students. Herdman also served as ICAM’s director for the last 35 years.
When Herdman and his colleagues obtained ICAM’s originating grant of nearly $1.4 million from Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) in 1987 for their “Integrated Research Program for the Modeling, Analysis and Control of Aerospace Systems,” it was the largest grant ever awarded to a Virginia university for research in mathematics. Herdman said that this grant, plus considerable support from key figures across campus, helped ICAM get off to a strong start, allowing the center to purchase computing resources as well as renovate the Wright House, where ICAM is still located today.
We started ICAM really because it was time to invest in interdisciplinary research," Herdman said. "Almost every modern scientific and engineering research project, especially large national and international efforts, requires applied and computational mathematics. Advancements in technology during the 1980s, particularly with respect to large-scale scientific computing, made it possible for researchers to solve increasingly complex problems using new mathematical tools and methods. ICAM became a vehicle for us to enable research by providing access to these tools and facilitating collaboration among researchers both at Virginia Tech and at laboratories across the world."
Since its inception, ICAM has managed more than $60 million in external funding from industrial partners and federal agencies, including large center grants such as Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative grants from the Department of Defense (DoD). In 2010, ICAM led Virginia Tech’s effort in the $122 Million Energy Efficient Buildings HUB effort, a multi-university collaboration through the Department of Energy, which resulted in an award of $5 million to the university. ICAM was named a State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Commonwealth Center of Excellence in 1990 and a DoD Center of Research Excellence & Transition in 1996. In addition, ICAM’s international influence has grown steadily over the years —between research collaborations and student placements, ICAM has had a presence in more than 32 states and 14 countries.
"Terry is a unique talent and visionary," said Burns, who was named interim director of ICAM upon Herdman's retirement. "Most of what we have built these past 35 years is a direct result of his leadership. Terry is without question one of the best academic leaders I have encountered during my career in higher education."
In 2005, Herdman was appointed associate vice president for research computing, taking on the leadership for Virginia Tech’s Advanced Research Computing (ARC) unit, which provides the university’s central research computing infrastructure and support services. His responsibilities in this area included advocacy, planning, funding, and organization of research computing campus-wide.
Virginia Tech had established itself as a pioneer in high-performance computing (HPC) in 2003 when System X went online. Management of that system was transferred to the Division of IT and the newly-formed ARC unit in August of 2005, a moment that marked Virginia Tech’s commitment to providing HPC as a permanent service to the university research community.
Under Herdman’s leadership, ARC was able to expand the university’s capabilities both in terms of computing capacity and support for researchers across the disciplines, which facilitated the VT research communities efforts in new areas of computational science including machine learning, artificial intelligence, computational modeling, and data science. Through ARC, Virginia Tech researchers now have access to five high-performance computing clusters, large scale storage, plus a 3D immersive visualization lab, the Visionarium.
ARC has also expanded its outreach efforts over the years to make high-performance computing available to more Virginia Tech’s researchers, vastly increasing its utilization in the social sciences and humanities.
“When we started out, we had very little in terms of an operating budget for building a centralized HPC operation. We were fortunate to have a lot of support from departments across campus who recognized the value in growing our research computing facilities,” Herdman said. He attributes ARC’s long-term success to the effort and talent of the ARC team. “What we have today is due to the efforts of the computational scientists, systems engineers, and support staff that we have within ARC and the Division of IT, as well as to the feedback and collaborative relationship that we have with the researchers who utilize our resources.”
In 2020, Herdman helped lead a significant expansion of ARC, when the high-performance computing group from Fralin Life Sciences Institute joined the ARC team. This merger allowed ARC to broaden its scope of services to support research involving controlled unclassified information and protected health information in addition to its core high-performance computing, large-scale data storage, visualization, and research consulting services.
“Over the past 17 years, Terry has led Virginia Tech’s journey in research computing from the days of System X, a novel technology, to providing a comprehensive set of sustainable services for the university’s researchers," said Scott Midkiff, vice president for Information Technology and CIO. “Today, services from Advanced Research Computing are an essential resource that facilitates groundbreaking research and allows Virginia Tech researchers to be highly competitive for research funding.”
As he led Virginia Tech’s efforts to build world-class research computing facilities, Herdman also worked to build relationships between Virginia Tech and some of the world’s leading research institutions. In 2009, he was appointed to the board of directors for Oak Ridge Associated Universities, a consortium of over 150 universities that partners with national laboratories, government agencies, and private industry to connect researchers and advance science, technology, and education. He also served as the Virginia Tech liaison to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 2006 to 2022.
Herdman’s work in helping to cultivate these partnerships has been invaluable to Virginia Tech’s research mission. “As a member of the Oak Ridge consortium, we can provide opportunities for Virginia Tech students to get into the actual lab setting and collaborate on national research projects,” said Herdman. “It has been rewarding to see many of our students grow as researchers and excel in their careers as a result of these partnerships."
“The research community is grateful for Dr. Herdman’s dedication and service as a faculty member and research administrator,” said Dan Sui, senior vice president for research and innovation. “He pioneered interdisciplinary research collaboration at Virginia Tech through the founding of ICAM, his leadership role in research computing, and representing the university in interactions with Department of Energy’s national labs and federal funding agencies, which has significantly improved Virginia Tech’s national standing as a R1 research university. I wish Terry and his family the very best as they embark on a new journey for the next chapter.”
Herdman has remained active in research interest areas including modeling, analysis, parameter identification, and approximations for Volterra functional differential equations. His research has been funded by institutions including the Air Force Research Laboratories, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, NASA Langley Research Center, and DARPA. He was a member of the NASA Large Space Systems Team that was awarded a 2008 NASA Langley Research Center Team Award for contributions in the development and testing of inflatable space structures and materials.
In addition, he served as an associate editor for the Journal of Integral Equations and Applications from 2004 to 2020, and as vice president of education for the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics for six years. Most recently, Herdman served on the executive steering committee for the Virginia Tech Secure Research Environment, or VT SURE, a program currently being designed to provide researchers an accessible, scalable, administered space in the cloud to enable research data collaboration while ensuring data security and compliance with varied requirements.
When asked to reflect on his career at Virginia Tech, Herdman emphasizes the people he’s worked with above all else. “I’m fortunate to have worked with so many talented, dedicated, and overall great people over the years. I know it’s said a lot, but I really couldn’t have accomplished so much without these folks, and I am grateful for their commitment to our students and researchers.”