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National Capital Region serves as focal point for Virginia Tech’s goal to become a top 100 global university

September 28, 2016

The Arlington Research Center is a hub of research and innovation for Virginia Tech in the National Capital Region.
The Arlington Research Center is a hub of research and innovation for Virginia Tech in the National Capital Region. This image was created by Dane Webster, associate professor and director of the master of fine arts program in Creative Technologies in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. The interaction was designed by Ico Bukvic, an associate professor of composition and multimedia in the School of Performing Arts.

Virginia Tech’s presence in the National Capital Region and deep ties to Blacksburg and Roanoke is a vital element of the university’s strategy to become a top 100 global university. More importantly, faculty and researchers have applied their deep expertise through partnerships with local communities to solve real problems in the region.

The National Capital Region teems with Hokies. An estimated 52,000 Virginia Tech alumni, and nearly 45 percent of in-state undergraduates come from the Washington, D.C. metro area.

What might be the best-kept secret is the extent Virginia Tech faculty, staff, and students contribute to the government and business sectors in and around the beltway of the nation’s capital.

Since 1972, for instance, researchers and students at the Occoquan Watershed Monitoring Laboratory in Manassas, Virginia, have helped manage the water quality in the Occoquan watershed, which sits on the southwestern edge of the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. The dedication to the university’s motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) by tackling real problems and affecting policy issues — combined with the unique urban environment provided by the National Capital Region — creates an ideal portal for Virginia Tech students, researchers, and faculty to engage the world. Virginia Tech has hubs in the region at Arlington, Falls Church, and Alexandria.

Steven McKnight, the vice president of the National Capital Region, sees tremendous opportunities to build upon the historical accomplishments in the region that date back to 1969. “Our presence in this diverse metro area is a differentiating asset for Virginia Tech,” McKnight said. “It integrates with strengths of the main campus in Blacksburg and the emerging Health Sciences and Technology Innovation district in Roanoke. The NCR serves as an urban living laboratory for basic and translational research, graduate education, and experiential learning.”

The National Capital Region campus hubs also are home to 30 graduate degree and certificate programs.

“Many of our graduate students in the National Capital Region work in the government, private, and nonprofit sectors located inside the Capital Beltway and in the surrounding cities, and are looking for programs that meet their unique needs,” said Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education Karen P. DePauw. “Our campuses in the region create the opportunity for a rich set of degree offerings to better serve the interests and goals of our students and of the Commonwealth.”

Virginia Tech President Tim Sands will describe what role the region will play for the university to achieve its global aspirations during his State of the University address at 3:30 p.m. Friday in the Moss Arts Center. Early in his presidency, Sands said it was important to build the National Capital Region into a Global Innovation District to serve university mission areas of discovery, learning, and engagement. McKnight said faculty members have picked up on that drumbeat. “Growing our presence in the National Capital Region is critical as we meet our mission as a global land grant university,” McKnight said.

Working with other universities and educational institutions in the National Capital Region, Virginia Tech supports and helps diversify Northern Virginia’s technology-driven economy. Of the estimated $1.2 billion in academic research takes place in the D.C. metro area, currently about $130 million of that is applied in Northern Virginia.

To address this opportunity, the National Capital Region plays a prominent role in the university’s Destination Areas, including Integrated Security, Data Analytics and Decision Sciences, and Intelligent Infrastructure for Human Centered Communities.  All three of the areas converge in theory and practice in the National Capital Region to create a technology movement at Virginia Tech.

Integrated Security

Integrated Security seeks to establish Virginia Tech as the leading university in the interdisciplinary study of the science, technology, practice, and governance of integrated security-related issues. “An entire new generation of technology is being created because of ubiquitous access to the cloud,” said Charles Clancy, director of the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Smart cities, smart cars — that’s all possible now, and interconnectedness is at the core of all of them.”

Integrated security is naturally joined with the problems involved in autonomous systems, smart cities, resilience, and data security and intersects with other destination areas — and provides opportunities for a living laboratory for basic and translational research, unique graduate education, and broadly scoped experiential learning.

“Security is an important aspect because of interconnectedness,” Clancy said. “The power grid used to be isolated, but now the lines are blurred about where systems begin and end, which creates vulnerabilities hackers can take advantage of. The other side of the issue is privacy. A huge amount of information about citizens is routinely collected and has to be kept secure.”

For students, opportunities abound. On a per-capita basis, the leading states for cyber hiring are Washington, D.C., and Virginia, according to the report Cybersecurity Jobs 2015. Once the specialty of defense contractors and government agencies, cybersecurity jobs in finance, health care, and retail are booming. In terms of demand, Clancy said there are 17,000 cybersecurity vacancies in Virginia alone, which makes Virginia Tech’s presence in the National Capital Region very strategic for job seekers.

“We have a strong alumni network working in the integrated security fields,” Clancy said.

Faculty with the Integrated Security destination area envision linked sites in Blacksburg and Arlington that replicate real-time operational environments with complex technologies, cyber environments, human teams, global ecosystems, big data feeds and analytic tools. It would focus on complex decision making in both normal and crisis-cascading event scenarios, expanding on the traditional concept of operations centers.

Research will dive into the security for the Internet of things (which enables a network connection for all kinds of devices), governance and ethics for security, including civil liberties in the era of big data and surveillance, and analytics for national security and preparedness. What students learn will greatly affect their prospects for employment.

“Security analytics, national military preparedness, and national security analysis are central emphases for both our Political Science and International Studies undergraduate majors and graduate students in Political Science,” said Tim Luke, a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Political Science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

“When they graduate, many eagerly begin jobs in the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice or State in the fields of national security and foreign affairs as well as other executive and legislative offices dealing with questions of human rights, regulatory practices, or privacy concerns,” Luke said. “The internships and summer jobs that we steer them towards in the National Capital Region open many doors for careers in integrated security both inside of government and the private sector.”

Data Analytics and Decision Sciences, Intelligent Infrastructure for Human Centered Communities

The Data Analytics and Decision Sciences and the Intelligent Infrastructure destination areas are also envisioning similar integrative labs in Arlington that connect the work of these destination areas to related industry and government activity in the National Capital Region, on the research, graduate education, and experiential learning fronts.

The data and decision sciences integrative lab in the National Capital Region will build upon the work of NCR-based centers like the Discovery Analytics Center and the Social and Decision Analytics Lab at Virginia Tech. The Discovery Analytics Center, which was established in 2011 and has locations in Blacksburg and the National Capital Region, takes efforts to use “big data” research and education to new heights with a commitment to solve problems in such areas of national interest as intelligence analysis, sustainability, and health informatics.

Undergraduate and graduate students that study analytics team up with faculty to conduct leading-edge research with higher education partners, industry affiliates, and government agencies and non-profits.

The Social and Decision Analytics Laboratory is a leading laboratory in the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech. The Biocomplexity Institute is at the forefront of a scientific evolution, applying a deeply contextual approach to answering some of the most pressing challenges to human health and well being within our changing environment.

The lab was created in the fall of 2013 to extend the Biocomplexity Institute’s capabilities in social informatics, policy analytics, and program evaluation. The researchers in the lab form a unique multidisciplinary team, with expertise in statistics, policy and program evaluation, economics, political science, psychology, computational social science, and data governance and information architecture.

“Together we are able to embrace today’s data revolution, developing evidence-based research and quantitative methods to inform policy decision-making at the local, state, and federal levels.” said Sallie Keller, lab director and professor of statistics. The lab is strategically located in the National Capital Region to facilitate and accelerate interactions with policymakers.

Earlier this month, the university announced plans to emphasize intelligent infrastructure across Blacksburg and the National Capital Region. As part of that initiative, the Urban Living Lab in the National Capital Region will expand in tandem with relevant Virginia Tech effort in power electronic systems, smart sustainable built environments, and autonomous vehicles. The Urban Living Lab works closely with Arlington County on a number of projects, including sensor networks that would leverage the county’s fiber infrastructure, Connect Arlington. Efforts in sustainable built environments in the region will leverage the international reputation of the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center. The Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center has operated as the urban extension of Virginia Tech's College of Architecture and Urban Studies in the Washington metropolitan area since 1980.

“The center has been a living-learning-urban lab for architecture and landscape architecture students for over 35 years,” said Jack Davis, dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. “Virginia Tech undergraduate and graduate students work side-by-side with consortium students from around the world in studios and offices immersed in Old Town Alexandria. They bring and derive vitality from the culture of the place and the professional offices they engage with.”

“We are serving the Commonwealth of Virginia, the country, and the world through the impact of the living laboratory that is the most powerful city in the world, where problems are the most complex to solve,” McKnight said. “The NCR activity creates opportunities that are different than the rich experience of our campus learning environment, one that complements the idea of the university as a network of people, places, and programs. Not only is it a large metropolitan area with lots of alumni and students, and the seat of our government — it is a portal to the global community and valuable opportunities.”

Destination area activities in the National Capital Region on the fronts of Integrated Security, Intelligent infrastructure, and Data Analytics and Decision Sciences will be interconnected on many fronts. One of the key interconnecting elements will be the development of policy – with policy being approached as a complex decision making activity. Policy activities will leverage the rich ecosystem of the NCR; the largest decision making living lab in the world. The School of Public and International Affairs has a strong history of leveraging the NCR to advance research and education in policy.

“Our students need cross-cutting skills and knowledge to innovate solutions for today’s mega problems and to navigate the complex decision making for effective policy,” said Anne Khademian, director for Virginia Tech's School of Public and International Affairs in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. “SPIA partners across Virginia Tech and across the National Capital Region to provide our students with experiential learning opportunities and cutting-edge skills.”

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