In his biannual presentation to the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, Lance Collins, vice president and executive director of the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus, updated the board this month on progress with the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus faculty recruitment, research areas of focus, and curriculum development.

The Innovation Campus currently employs 16 faculty members focused on computer science and computer engineering with a goal of expanding the faculty to 50 members by full build in 2029. Innovation Campus Academic Building One, an 11-story, 300,000-square-foot building under construction in Alexandria, will open in August 2024. The site also will be home to other Virginia Tech graduate programs and faculty.

“It’s obvious if you are building a campus, the heart and soul of it is an outstanding faculty,” Collins told the board. “We’ve done well in terms of attracting an extremely strong group of faculty, and as we grow, we will be building off of their strength.”

The Innovation Campus’ research areas of focus are artificial intelligence/machine learning, quantum algorithms/software, intelligent interfaces, and next gen wireless. “As we develop further, I anticipate other key research areas will emerge,” Collins said.

Lance Collins
Lance Collins. Photo by Brian West for Virginia Tech.

Board member Dave Calhoun endorsed these initial areas of research focus.

“The faculty — with expertise in those subjects — if they are on top of their game, then Virginia Tech will be on top of ours,” said Calhoun, CEO of The Boeing Company, a foundational partner of the Innovation Campus.

Collins said the Innovation Campus faculty are strong collaborators, bringing with them established relationships with business, the tech industry, and government. He highlighted faculty-led centers and initiatives, such as the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics directed by Naren Ramakrishnan and an up-and-coming entrepreneurship track led by Angelos Stavrou with support from local investors, as strengths of the Innovation Campus community.

The Innovation Campus leadership is conducting national searches for a senior hire in artificial intelligence and machine learning, a director for the center for quantum architecture and software development, and a marquee hire in the area of intelligent interfaces, such as augmented reality or virtual reality. Collins discussed how each search committee is made up of representatives from the Innovation Campus and from other Virginia Tech colleges and departments, exemplifying the collaborative nature of the hiring processes.

Collins also reviewed the work the Innovation Campus faculty has put into developing a project-based curriculum that will facilitate personalized learning experiences that allow students to advance their professional skills alongside their technical training.

Students in the Master of Engineering program will work on projects provided by Virginia Tech’s corporate partners such as Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Collins Aerospace, and Deloitte.

He stressed that having engineering education Professor Jeremi London serve as consulting instructional innovation lead at the Innovation Campus has strengthened the planning and execution of the cutting-edge curricular approaches envisioned when the full academic program is in place.

The Master of Engineering curriculum, which will be established in phases, will go beyond teaching technical competencies to include personal and professional attributes of future leaders. The program will introduce students to working in diverse teams, building an entrepreneurial mindset, establishing project management skills, and creating realistic work life experiences while earning a master’s degree in computer science or computer engineering.

Jeremi London
Jeremi London

“I just wanted to compliment Lance and the team on the progress to date and the momentum that is obvious to everyone who touches it,” said Calhoun, who commended Collins and the Innovation Campus on the continued connection to Blacksburg. 

“What we learn at the Innovation Campus is going to spill back over to the Blacksburg campus,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands.

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