My path to a career in engineering started in high school in Indiana. My teachers told me that I should think about pursuing engineering. I didn’t know any engineers or know much about engineering, but I decided to give it a try.

I grew to love the problem-solving part of it, doing something tangible and seeing the benefit. Today, as the dean of the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, I see that same love in the students who walk across the Drillfield to classes and labs with missions of making a difference.

Our students inspire and motivate me. I love being around them, whether they’re driving the Baja car around campus or playing with Corps of Cadets ambassador Growley III. When you’re in an administrative position, you can get a little isolated from the reality of what students are experiencing. If I’m going to do the best job I can, I need to hear from and understand them. I feel that makes me better with my own decision-making.

When I see those students, I see Virginia Tech’s future. That has been granted to me by President Tim Sands.

In February, President Sands asked me to oversee a steering committee to guide Virginia Tech’s future in the greater Washington, D.C., metro area. To be the university that we all want, we need to think deeply about what we want to do in this region, how that presence can help differentiate us as a land-grant institution from all the others, and how we can use the opportunity strategically to move us toward the president’s top-100 global research institution goal.

Dean Julie Ross
Dean Julie Ross

I truly believe if we get the D.C. area right, we’re going to meet that goal quickly. Not everybody sits adjacent to the nation’s capital, so we need to be smart about what we choose to do there and leverage the opportunity in ways that others can’t because they’re not located where we’re located. We’re at a point where it makes sense to do this work.

A lot of past planning has been done. We need to understand all that’s been achieved, bring our newer committee members up to speed, and determine what of that work remains relevant today. We then need to frame a vision and define how we want to get where we want to be.

As a young woman in high school, I embraced an opportunity thanks to the encouragement of those around me. Now, I’m excited about being a part of this latest opportunity, one of utmost importance for the future of our university. If we get this right, then so many of the things that we aspire to for the university become easier—and well within our grasp.

Julie Ross is Virginia Tech’s Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering and a special advisor to President Tim Sands.

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