Three programs in three separate colleges received the 2013 University Exemplary Department or Program Award. The winners include: the First-year Writing Program within the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences; the Foundation Program within the School of Architecture + Design in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies; and the Invent the Sustainable Future Program within the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

Presented annually since 1994, the University Exemplary Department or Program Awards program and ceremony are funded through the Office of the Provost and facilitated by the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research. The award recognizes the work of programs and/or departments that maintain exemplary teaching and learning environments for students and faculty, and, in particular, accomplish this through collaborative, group efforts.

This year, the awards theme recognized groups that are effectively implementing and assessing programs for first-year students that incorporate problem solving, inquiry, and integration of learning skills. Each program will receive a portion of the $40,000 award for their achievements.

The recipients will be honored at a recognition ceremony on Tuesday, Dec. 3, at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skeleton Conference Center from 6:30-8 p.m. 

First-Year Writing Program

The First-Year Writing Program is a component of the Composition Program in the Department of English. Every academic year, the program offers 230 sections of its three courses to thousands of students.

The curriculum exposes students to a range of written, spoken, and visual forms of communication, both as audience and as author, laying the foundation for students to be critical thinkers, active learners, and effective communicators.

The program’s faculty and graduate students produce the primary textbook for all First-Year Writing Program courses. This year’s textbook features essays and projects by more than 15 Virginia Tech students.

The program uses annual revenues from its custom textbook to bring national and international scholars of English composition to campus for a speaker series. 

Foundation Program

The Foundation Program in the School of Architecture + Design serves first-year students majoring in architecture, interior design, industrial design, and landscape architecture. Foundation Design Lab, the primary learning environment, is an immersive, interactive situation focused on inquiry, experimentation, discovery, and synthesis. The design lab is a two-semester sequence that meets for four hours, three days a week, and provides students of the four disciplines with a shared curricular component.

In 2010, the program began to offer incoming first-year students a five-week summer course to introduce students to the unique ways of learning design principles and processes. In 2012, the course was paired with a companion course, "Seeing Design," as a learning track in the Virginia Tech Summer Academy. The companion course introduces students to ways of perceiving and recording the built and natural environment, which includes travel across southwest Virginia.

The program has received grants from the Office of First Year Experiences since 2010.

Invent the Sustainable Future Program

The Invent the Sustainable Future Program is a three-credit course for incoming students in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. The program helps students develop their sense of identity and relate to the college while promoting high-impact educational practices, such as undergraduate research, cooperative education internships, summer jobs, service learning, and education abroad.

Over the three years of the course, students have been exposed to approximately half of the college faculty. In addition, more than 30 peer mentors have served as instructional assistants for the program, giving new students the opportunity to relate to and get advice from fellow students.

The course uses ePortfolios, social media, and career exploration tools to encourage self-reflection. The program receives a grant from the Office of First Year Experiences as a Pathways to Success course.

About the Awards

A complete list of past Exemplary Department or Program Award winners, along with the theme of the award for the year, is available online.

Next year’s award theme is, “Developing and sustaining innovative and effective departmental approaches to fostering Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) at the undergraduate or graduate level.” Nominations are typically due in October. Information will be provided on the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research website.

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.