Virginia Tech is among 76 U.S. colleges and universities nationwide selected by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for its new Community Engagement Classification.

Community engagement refers to university involvement in reciprocal relationships with the community in which it is located in which both parties contribute and benefit. This can be the local community, the larger regional community, or an international one. Virginia Tech is among 62 institutions selected in the highest category, “Curricular Engagement and Outreach & Partnerships.”

“This recognition validates our years of effort in developing strong partnerships and engaging with business and communities on issues of mutual concern,” says President Charles W. Steger. “Our notification letter singled us out for ‘excellent alignment between mission, culture, leadership, resources, and practices that support dynamic and noteworthy community engagement.’ This reinforces my belief that Virginia Tech is right on target in fulfilling its mission as a land grant university in the 21st century.”

The Community Engagement Classification is an exciting move in Carnegie’s work to extend and refine the classification of colleges and universities,” said Alexander McCormick, who directs Carnegie’s classification work. “It represents a significant affirmation of the importance of community engagement in the agenda of higher education.”

Virginia Tech was one of the few universities selected that have woven measures for community engagement and the scholarship of engagement into its guidelines for faculty promotion and tenure. In 2005, under the leadership of Provost Mark McNamee, the university revised its guidelines for promotion and tenure dossiers for faculty to include outreach teaching and outreach research so that engagement with the larger community is an integral part of Virginia Tech’s tripartite mission of learning, discovery, and engagement.

“We want to be sure our reward system recognizes those faculty whose research and teaching lead them to non-traditional activities outside the university,” McNamee says. “As we invent new 21st century models for university interaction with communities, business, and other elements of society, we need flexible mechanisms that can reward faculty for innovative thinking.”

“Virginia Tech’s new strategic plan for 2006-2011 is a roadmap for community engagement for the modern land-grant university,” says Vice Provost for Outreach and International Affairs John E. Dooley.

Virginia Tech’s involvement at home in Virginia has broken new ground over the past few years. The innovative Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) in Danville is a Virginia Tech-led partnership with the local community and local institutions of higher learning to vault the economy forward by using university research tailored to local needs and carried out in Danville as the engine for economic development. IALR is also developing education programs to support the research conducted in Danville by Virginia Tech faculty. IALR’s innovative approach to replacing the failing textile and tobacco industries also earned an award from the Southern Growth Policy Board. Both IALR and Tech’s Corporate Research Center have won national recognition for excellence in economic development from the federal government.

Virginia Tech’s commitment to assisting areas of the state with higher unemployment rates made the university an active partner in the statewide Virginia Works Initiative, basing its involvement on the belief that the workforce must be prepared for new economy jobs so that new economy industries will choose Virginia locations. The university’s Office of Economic Development has been working with high unemployment areas of the state in Southside and Southwest Virginia for over a decade to help communities perform the feasibility studies, impact assessments, and other analysis that can be critical in planning an economic agenda.

The university’s overseas collaborations are increasing rapidly as part of an effort to contribute to global society while giving students the opportunity to graduate with the global competencies they will need in the modern world. “We are among the top five universities nationally for research and development dollars being spent on international projects that help developing economies abroad improve their standard of living without devastating the environment,” Dooley says. Tech is now planning centers in India, Mexico, and South Africa that will serve as bases for faculty research and student exchange programs.

Unlike the Foundation’s other classifications that rely on national data, the Community Engagement Classification is an “elective” classification—institutions elected to participate by submitting required documentation describing the nature and extent of their engagement with the community, be it local or beyond. This approach enabled the Foundation to address elements of institutional mission and distinctiveness that are not represented in the national data on colleges and universities.

Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond was the only other college or university in Virginia classified by the Carnegie Foundation. It, too, is in the “Curricular Engagement and Outreach & Partnerships” category.