Program combines tradition and innovation in the Honors College
October 10, 2018
Mark Embree, a Virginia Tech graduate who was a student in the University Honors Program and Virginia Tech’s most recent Rhodes Scholar, is now helping develop an innovative program within the Virginia Tech Honors College called the Calhoun Discovery Program.
Embree has an impressive track record of academic work that extends back to his undergraduate career as a Hokie. Graduating from Virginia Tech in 1996, Embree won the Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award that year and went on to the University of Oxford for his doctorate as a Rhodes Scholar.
Since returning to Tech as professor of mathematics in the College of Science four years ago, Embree has led the development of a popular new major in computational modeling and data analytics (CMDA). The program educates students to model the world, learn from voluminous data, and compute quickly enough to solve timely problems.
“Data science changes our world every day,” Embree said, “and CMDA’s rapid growth demonstrates that Virginia Tech students are drawn to this profession. Fortunately, the university had the foresight to design this innovative degree before many other institutions recognized its importance.”
Embree credits the University Honors Program and the mentorship of Jack Dudley in helping establish his academic career. Dudley served as the director of the University Honors Program from 1990 to 2008 and worked hard to develop an effective program at Virginia Tech, producing winners of major national and international scholarships like the Rhodes, Truman, and Marshall scholarships.
“Jack helped generations of Virginia Tech students understand what a university was about and kindled a hunger for learning and discovery,” said Embree. “He had a special gift for connecting students to faculty mentors who would challenge students to develop as scholars.”
During his tenure, Dudley also established important aspects of the Honors Program that remain the foundation of what is now the Honors College, such as experiential learning, undergraduate research, and sustained relationships with faculty. As the late President Emeritus Charles W. Steger said in 2008, Dudley “challenges students to push the envelope of their abilities — to try new experiences and new ways of learning — and he works tirelessly to provide them with opportunities for intellectual growth and stimulation.”
Now, more than 20 years after being a student at Virginia Tech, Embree is picking up where Dudley left off, working with faculty across the university in establishing the Honors College’s newest initiative: the Calhoun Discovery Program.
The Calhoun Discovery Program (CDP) is an innovative educational platform that promotes hands-on and collaborative learning among diverse students. Funded by VT alumnus David Calhoun, the program will give full tuition scholarships and an annual experiential learning grant of $2,500 to about 50 students each year. The program will pull students from several distinct disciplines within the fields of engineering, architecture, urban studies, business, science, humanities, and social sciences. Students will learn together in Discovery Studios located in Hillcrest Hall and work with university faculty and industry partners, such as Boeing.
Embree is a member of the small group of faculty that has been designing the innovative curriculum for CDP since the announcement of Calhoun’s gift in March.
“In the same way that we will challenge students to cultivate interdisciplinary collaboration amongst themselves,” said Embree, “we have been tasked with designing this program in a collaborative and interdisciplinary way. It is a privilege to join a great group of faculty designing this new program. I am delighted to be part of such a special opportunity for Virginia Tech.”
The Calhoun Discovery Program is Virginia Tech’s most recent embodiment of the university’s mission to reimagine the roles of education and technology. The Honors Program, under longtime director Dudley, successfully produced nationally recognized scholars, one of whom would later return to Virginia Tech to continue innovating education and technology through the Calhoun Discovery Program.
“We are excited to see the full impact of the Calhoun Discovery Program on the Honors College and Virginia Tech, more broadly,” said Paul Knox, dean of the Honors College. “Mark Embree and the rest of the Design Team are working on a curriculum that teaches students how to approach innovative technologies with the ultimate goal of changing society in positive ways. After an advanced transdisciplinary education at Virginia Tech, Calhoun Scholars will be equipped with the skills and knowledge to positively impact their communities across the United States and the globe.”