Creating learning environments that integrate academics and student life tops the list of recommendations for improving the Virginia Tech student experience during the next two decades.
The Virginia Tech Student Experience Task Force has completed a year-long study, examining what the Blacksburg campus should look like by the year 2035. Commissioned in early 2014 by University Senior Vice President and Provost Mark McNamee, the task was chaired by Rachel Holloway, vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs and Frank Shushok, Jr., senior associate vice president for student affairs.
"The work of the task force is an important first step in maintaining and growing the strong sense of community that distinguishes the Virginia Tech student experience,” said President Timothy D. Sands. “The goals and recommendations are impressive. They are central to the university’s mission of attracting the best students, faculty, and staff on a global scale.”
In a report that defines opportunities, challenges, and recommendations for the future, the task force assessed the current layout of physical space on campus, while focusing on building greater transformational learning experiences. It points out the need for campus environments that foster human interaction, promote critical thinking, and inspire rich dialogue.
Among the task force recommendations:
- Re-conceptualize residence halls as learning spaces with the unique potential to integrate academic and student life.
- Create physical spaces which support a culture of community, along with meaningful interactions among students, staff and faculty.
- Renovate existing spaces with an eye toward flexible use and adaptability.
- Embrace a campus culture that values faculty and staff engagement with students.
- Develop innovative financial solutions to support a prioritized plan of action.
“It was critically important, as the first order of business to learn from the past. Many of our current spaces fail to invite students, faculty and staff to gather informally outside the classroom,” said Shushok. “We have an obligation to increase our environments that contribute to a sense of place and a sense of purpose.”
McNamee specifically charged the group with addressing the question of what residential living at Virginia Tech should look like in 20 years. The task force report calls for a commitment that ensures at least one-third of the undergraduate population is able to reside in on-campus residential facilities. Of those residential undergraduate students, it further recommends two-thirds of them should have the opportunity to participate in a living-learning program or residential college.
It also sets as a goal a comprehensive residence hall renovation plan that re-conceptualizes and restores one-third of residence hall space over each of the next three decades.
As the university considers a new student center, the task force suggests implementation of a “campus commons initiative” that establishes multiple hubs or neighborhoods of energy and engagement. It calls for restoration of existing facilities where possible, and the construction of a new campus commons in under-served university sectors.
"Building relationships was at the heart of our recommendations," said Holloway. "By creating new physical spaces and renovating existing ones, we hope to promote engagement and meaningful interactions among students, faculty, and staff across disciplinary and administrative boundaries."
Supporting these strategies and incorporating them into the Virginia Tech master plan is the next step. The task force calls for a bi-annual progress review going forward.
Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.
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