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Faculty design teams add imprint to Destination Areas

September 29, 2016

President Tim Sands speaks
Virginia Tech President Tim Sands (left) speaks during a March panel discussion in the National Capital Region. With him is Brian Fitzgerald, chief executive officer of the Business-Higher Education Forum. More than 140 people, including agency and industry leaders and Virginia Tech faculty, gathered at the Hilton in Arlington, Virginia, to discuss the university’s plan for continuous innovation.

With President Tim Sands’ State of the University address happening on Friday afternoon, Virginia Tech faculty members are adding their imprint to Destination Areas — pockets of disciplinary and interdisciplinary strength that set Virginia Tech above other universities.

The Destination Area goal is to create remarkable opportunities for learning and research that fuse disciplines, colleges, and research institutes of Virginia Tech, while strengthening connections between the Blacksburg campus, the National Capital Region, and the Virginia Tech Carilion Health Sciences and Technology campus in the Roanoke Innovation Corridor.

More than 400 faculty members with insight into the five named Destination Areas and five Strategic Growth Areas at the university have been working in design teams this summer to layer new ideas onto existing areas of excellence in teaching and research.

The design team reports will be presented to the president on Friday, the same day as Sands’ State of the University address at 3:30 p.m. in the Moss Arts Center.

“Our Beyond Boundaries conversation started with just a couple of guidelines,” Sands said. “We wanted everyone to ignore today's constraints and only think about what we want this university to become in a generation’s time. Destination Areas are one of the Beyond Boundaries mechanisms that will drive us forward to realize the 21st century land-grant university, which must increasingly focus on complex challenges that transcend disciplines.”

A number of cross-disciplinary projects have already arisen within the Destination Area effort, including the announcement this month of plans to invest $75 million over five years to build teaching and research capacity in a Destination Area where it is a national leader — Intelligent Infrastructure for Human-centered Communities.

The idea of the “intelligent infrastructure” Destination Area is to fuel global development and enhance quality of life in a world teeming with challenges and opportunities because of changing trends in energy, transportation, and urbanization.

It comprises smart design and construction, and autonomous vehicles across land, air, and water. The effort has components that span Virginia Tech. Investments in the National Capital Region, for example, will serve education, research, and create partnerships with industry in Washington, D.C.

Last week the university revealed plans for a Creativity and Innovation District to leverage creative and entrepreneurial activities — and spark powerful innovations that emerge at the intersection of these two efforts.

On top of that, this week Virginia Tech revealed plans for a $225 million Global Business and Analytics Complex in Blacksburg to join people who share a passion for an analytic approach to problems that occur in societies, governments, and businesses throughout the world. The effort aligns strengths of the Pamplin College of Business, other colleges and academic units, and the Data Analytics and Decision Sciences Destination Area.

Destination Areas are meant to build upon existing college and institutional disciplinary strengths. They will evolve with continual input from the community, Rikakis said.

“We are creating hubs that do not belong to any single discipline, they belong to the problem space,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Thanassis Rikakis. “We want a model where faculty and students come to Virginia Tech because this is the best place to be — the collaborators and infrastructure they need are all right here.”

Discussion of Destination Areas — as well as the concept of a VT-shaped individual — began in earnest during faculty steering committee meetings earlier this year. The concept made its public debut in the National Capital Region in April, when more than 140 people, including agency and industry leaders and Virginia Tech faculty, gathered at the Hilton in Arlington, Virginia, to discuss the university’s plan for continuous innovation.

“Faculty members are working to present a vision building on top of the areas of disciplinary distinction and interdisciplinary distinction that we already have,” Rikakis said. “When you connect these nodes of excellence, you get destination areas, and when you have destination areas, you create opportunities across campus for faculty and students to grow in a joint way.”

The Destination Area initiative is complemented by plans for growth in the Virginia Tech Carilion Health Sciences and Technology campus within the Roanoke Innovation Corridor.

Fueled by the General Assembly’s bond approval of a university request for $46.7 million of state funding — to be matched by $21 million from Virginia Tech and Carilion Clinic — the university is constructing a 105,000 square-foot facility to expand health sciences and technology research and training assets in Roanoke.

“We have many ideas in various stages of development,” Rikakis said, “but people can see by the actions that we are taking that Virginia Tech is moving forward and committed to continuing its progress toward a global leader in public education and research with broad societal impact."

Written by John Pastor

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