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Top-ranked College of Natural Resources and Environment marks 25 years

September 12, 2017

cnre-winistorferwithstudents
Paul Winistorfer, left, dean of the College of Natural Resources and Environment, talks with students about the college’s focus on student success.

The Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment community will come together to celebrate its 25th anniversary Sept. 15-16 in Blacksburg, Virginia.

More than 100 students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends are expected to attend.

The two-day celebration will kick off on Sept. 15 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Smithfield Plantation with Fiddles and Vittles, a casual get-together featuring the New Standard bluegrass band and food truck fare.

The public is invited to family-friendly activities, including drone and timbersports demonstrations, fishing (gear provided or bring your own), wood science experiments, a storm chase van, student club booths, and more, at the Share Fair at the Duck Pond from 10 a.m. to noon on Sept. 16.

Other Saturday events include facility tours, nature walks, and a student poster session. The grand-finale jubilee, a business-casual reception and dinner beginning at 5:30 p.m., will include a program that reflects on the past, gives a snapshot of the present, and looks to the future.

Find the full schedule of 25th anniversary events at cnre.vt.edu/25years.

Advancing the science of sustainability

USA Today College recently ranked Virginia Tech’s natural resources and conservation programs No. 1 in the nation for the third year in a row, highlighting the university's exceptional education, affordable price, and high earnings potential.

According to USA Today College, natural resources and conservation programs have become critical to solving many of the world’s pressing issues, so the publication started evaluating the programs in 2015.

“The recognition is further affirmation of the quality of our faculty, academic instruction, and research and outreach programs,” said Paul Winistorfer, dean of the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

“We are committed to offering the rigorous academic programs that produce industry leaders with the knowledge and skills to ensure a sustainable future,” he said. “Our faculty and staff have long been at the heart of our success, ensuring that our programs prepare our students to address the global challenges in the management and use of our natural resources through practices that are grounded in sound science.”

In recent years, the college has emphasized the “science of sustainability” as its core brand to shape its curricula.

“Our college fulfills an urgent global imperative for wise management of natural resources as it works toward sustainable solutions for the planet,” Winistorfer said.

Historical footnotes

The formation in 1992-93 of what was originally called the College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources followed decades of program development and growth.

This legacy of being relevant in an ever-changing world continues today, said Winistorfer. “Our college has pushed very hard to continually evolve and diversify so that our programs align with the needs and problems facing the natural world.”

Virginia Tech’s existence is rooted in environmental conservation. It was founded as a land-grant college in 1872, a time when the rising demand for lumber raised awareness of the need to protect natural resources.

The first forestry course was offered in 1902 and the first forestry professor was hired in 1925. Virginia Tech was chosen as one of the first land-grant universities to house a federally affiliated Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit in 1935.

The Department of Forestry and Wildlife was created within the College of Agriculture in 1959, and by the time it was elevated to a division in 1969, it was the fastest growing academic program on campus. In 10 years, the faculty had increased from four to 62, and student enrollment from 66 undergraduates and five graduate students to 346 undergraduates and 52 graduate students.

The division secured the first endowed professorship at Virginia Tech in 1972 and became the School of Forestry and Wildlife Resources in 1976. In 1994, just about a year after the College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources was born, its first class of undergraduates was conferred.

Eyes on the future

Today, 935 undergraduates and 190 graduate students are enrolled in the college. Two of the top 10 academic departments in research awards at Virginia Tech reside there as well.

“We foster a rigorous research climate while at the same time being focused on student success,” Winistorfer said. “College faculty and students are engaged in research projects affecting every aspect of life, from cellular biology to remote sensing, water quality, wildlife habitat, urban forests, infectious disease, materials development, nanotechnology, and many other relevant subjects.”

Research findings are shared across university disciplines and available to academia, industry, and government agencies in the U.S. and around the world. “We are committed to serving as an academic leader and a respected resource through our outreach mission and Virginia Cooperative Extension,” Winistorfer said.

The college is presently comprised of the departments of forest resources and environmental conservation, fish and wildlife conservation, sustainable biomaterials, and geography. It encompasses several research centers and cooperatives, including the Conservation Management Institute and the Virginia Water Resources Research Center.

“Twenty-five years is a significant milestone,” Winistorfer said. “Today our graduates are the pioneers discovering science-based, sustainable solutions to global issues with new digital technologies and innovative applications. We are appreciative of our heritage and foundation, but our eyes and our focus are on the future.”

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