When he publishes research, his name shows up as Jacob R. Grohs. When you talk to him, he goes by Jake. 

As of Sept. 1, Grohs now also goes by a new name — interim director of the Institute of Creativity, Arts, and Technology’s (ICAT) Center for Educational Networks and Impacts (CENI).

“I am thrilled to have Dr. Grohs join CENI. His STEM education work in Southwest Virginia is widely recognized as impactful and aligns perfectly with our mission to inspire, connect, and impact,” said Lisa McNair, deputy executive director of ICAT. “His expertise and networks in engineering and education will certainly strengthen Virginia Tech’s response to transdisciplinary challenges and opportunities in regional workforce development.”

In the position, Grohs will bring his experience facilitating collaboration between Virginia Tech researchers, schools, and industries in Southwest Virginia communities to help CENI evolve to its next level. He will work closely with McNair and Phyllis Newbill, associate director of educational networks, in pursuing this charge. Grohs’ background in education and countless projects impacting the community and the region makes him an ideal person for the job. 

Grohs has called the New River Valley home since moving here in 2004 when he came to Virginia Tech to study engineering. He earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering science and mechanics and stayed to pursue a master’s degree in engineering mechanics. 

After completing his graduate studies, Grohs was employed by VT Engage from 2009-14, serving as an associate director there in 2013 and 2014. While in the role, he enjoyed working at the university and decided to pursue a part-time Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction focusing on educational psychology.

Upon finishing his Ph.D., he joined the Department of Engineering Education, was tenured five years later, and has been an associate professor since. During this period, Grohs also served as the elected chair of ENGE of the Equity and Inclusion Committee and was assistant department head of graduate programs from 2020-22.

“I have been interested in the big challenges and problems we face in education and society. And I recognize that in trying to make some progress in any of them, we have to work with people of different levels, expertise, and organizations. Thus, most of my research agenda is applied,” Grohs said. “The one unifying theme is that they are problems I care about deeply and opportunities where I hope I can add value as part of a collaborating team.”

Jacob Grohs in the office
Jake Grohs work in the CENI suite at the Moss Arts Center. Photo by Rodney Kimbangu for Virginia Tech.

Grohs believes in broad-based connections across K-12 school systems, higher education, and industry as critical ways to invest together in youth and the future. He has worked on multiple projects with K-12 schools, including a collaborative project funded by the National Science Foundation that created engineering learning experiences for middle school students. These experiences are aimed to introduce students to the subject in ways that change their ideas of what engineering work is and who can do it.

Additionally, Grohs has expanded this work through a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award. The team is seeking high school educators throughout Southwest Virginia who are excited about how their learning environments might integrate engineering content. The goal is to scaffold student interest and school-industry partnerships in ways that open doors to future careers and collaborations.

As CENI’s new director, Grohs plans to amplify the work already accomplished by the center, such as continuing to build the educator liaison network and sustaining outreach and engagement activities recognized by college, university, and national awards. And he plans to apply his expertise to pursue larger grants focused on educational research aligned with ICAT’s transdisciplinary mission. 

“I think CENI’s infrastructure is already incredibly strong, as I know first-hand that it is already helping support my own grants, such as the CAREER project. McNair, Newbill, and Haines have together built such a strong network of people doing good work that the next step is really about further building upon that foundation and extending into new areas,” said Grohs.

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