For the past couple of years, Virginia Tech’s Destination Areas (DA) and Strategic Growth Areas (SGA) have been focused on bringing together faculty and leveraging areas of strengths to create global impacts through transdisciplinary research, education, and engagement.
DAs and SGAs are also helping to position Virginia Tech as a "destination" for engaged students, faculty, and staff talent; public and private partnerships; and transformative knowledge.
“Virginia Tech is becoming a place where scholars and students who are seeking to reach beyond traditional boundaries can explore the opportunities that exist at the intersections of diverse fields,” said Cyril Clarke, interim executive vice president and provost. “Our capacity to attract and retain top talent continues to grow and will allow us to connect the full spectrum of knowledge necessary to address complex issues.
“Ultimately, it’s the innovative and creative people whom we engage on campus and bring to Virginia Tech who will fuel our progress in moving the university forward.”
Through a coordinated cluster hiring strategy, Clarke reports more than 35 new DA and SGA faculty have already been hired and that the university is well on its way to recruiting another 35 for the upcoming year. Together with faculty recruited into existing college-funded positions, these hires represent a significant investment in the future of DAs and SGAs and the university’s academic enterprise.
Faculty in several DAs and SGAs are already gathering and collaborating on the development of innovative courses and pathway minors that will provide students with unique learning experiences through the lens of transdisciplinary engagement.
The Nature of Today’s Security: Foundations of Complex Security Systems is a course developed and team-taught through the Integrated Security DA that enrolled 26 students from four colleges and seven academic departments in the spring 2018 semester. During the course, teams worked together to respond to a simulation of Superstorm Sandy combined with a large-scale cyber attack. Following the simulation, students debriefed and produced a response and lessons learned report.
The Adaptive Brain and Behavior DA is developing an 18-credit interdisciplinary pathways minor that features coursework focused on developmental and behavioral neuroscience and the impacts of social and environmental influences on brain and behavior related to health and resilience. A Well-Being Living-Learning Community is also in development by the Adaptive Brain and Behavior stakeholders for students that are interested in a holistic approach to well-being and health sciences.
Other transdisciplinary courses, such as Introduction to Data in Context and Social Media Analytics, are providing students with high-demand skills and experiences that are ultimately preparing them to serve and strengthen Virginia’s workforce and knowledge economy. Future DA and SGA-related courses and pathway minors through the Creativity and Innovation SGA and the Equity and Social Disparity for the Human Condition SGA will further contribute to graduating Virginia Tech students who can fuel the commonwealth’s capacity for economic and workforce development.
“The DA/SGA experience is producing well-rounded students who are much better prepared to enter the workforce and to be immediately productive in the workplace,” said Don Taylor, vice provost for learning systems innovation and effectiveness. “In addition to participation in a truly transdisciplinary curriculum, including both STEM and non-STEM courses, students have strong exposure to experiential learning opportunities in the form of co-ops, internships, and undergraduate research.”
In addition to the classroom learning that is taking place in the DA and SGA courses, the experiential knowledge gained as a result of the DAs and SGAs is positioning Virginia Tech graduates to serve and positively impact their communities and career fields, in the tradition of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).
Data Analytics + Public Policy, developed through the Data and Decisions DA and launched this past spring, provided students with an opportunity to work with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing and gain an understanding of issues related to affordable housing, particularly in the D.C. metropolitan area. The students used the Student Experiential Learning Conference in April to present their work and findings.
“DA and SGA courses directly support Virginia Tech's goal of becoming a strong model for the modern land-grant university with a truly global mission,” Taylor said. “Related research and curricula cut across traditional academic boundaries to tackle the world's great problems using the kind of holistic approach that is both desirable and necessary in highly complex situations.”
Moving forward and with support from university leadership, faculty and staff in each of the DAs and SGAs are continuing to look for new and creative ways to engage students in transdisciplinary learning and to provide them with skills and experiences that will help give them a competitive advantage.
“I believe it’s important to take time to celebrate the faculty, staff, and students who are actively engaged in experiential learning and in advancing our curriculum through DA and SGA courses and pathways, even as they are rapidly moving forward in creating new research and new partnerships,” said Clarke.
“I’m excited about the future of our DAs and SGAs and their contributions to our Beyond Boundaries vision, and continuing our work together to support emerging areas of collaboration and centers of excellence for Virginia Tech.”