More than 300 alumni, students, faculty, and administrators gathered in late April to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Virginia Tech’s graduate education programs in the National Capital Region.

Guests mingled with President Tim Sands, Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke, college deans, members of the Board of Visitors, university faculty, and the HokieBird in a tent at the university’s Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church. The WAAC band played and Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education Karen P. DePauw beamed as conversation buzzed and people snapped photos of each other.

From their beginnings in a Reston farmhouse in 1969, with two resident faculty members teaching education and home economics programs and 65 enrolled students, Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia graduate education offerings have grown to 37 degree programs and spread across seven campuses, including locations in Arlington and Alexandria, and currently serve more than 900 students.

Banners in the hallways of the Northern Virginia Center and tables with program brochures and posters offered guests a chance to explore the range of degrees offered in the region by the university’s colleges. 

Dr. Laura Sands and President Tim Sands talk with a student during a tour of the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church
Laura Sands and President Tim Sands talk with a student during a tour of the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church. Photo by Erin Williams
Banners celebrating 50 years of graduate education line the main hall of the Northern Virginia Center
Banners celebrating 50 years of graduate education line the main hall of the Northern Virginia Center. Photo by Erin Williams

DePauw noted that many of the students enrolled in the National Capital Region degree programs attend classes part time, often after work. Alumni at the event shared with her that the university’s presence in the region has provided them access to educational opportunities they might not otherwise have had as they could not leave work, families, and other obligations to attend courses at the Blacksburg campus. “The stories are different here,” DePauw said, adding that the region also boasts some of the largest and most active Virginia Tech alumni chapters.

The event began with a panel discussion about innovation, entrepreneurship, and the role of graduate education. Betty Chao Ph.D., 1983, founder, president and CEO of WESTECH International Inc.; Afroze Mohammed, associate director of strategic alliances, economic development for Virginia Tech; and Laura Freeman, associate director of the Intelligent Systems Lab at the Hume Center, joined Kenneth H. Wong, associate dean of the Graduate School and director of the Northern Virginia Center, in a conversation in front of an audience of about 90 alumni, students, faculty, administrators, and members of the public. The discussion was recorded and can be viewed at this site.

Graduate School Dean Karen DePauw welcomes celebration attendees at the Northern Virginia Center
Graduate School Dean Karen DePauw welcomes celebration attendees at the Northern Virginia Center. Photo by Erin Williams
College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Dean Rosemary Blieszner talks with celebration attendees in Falls Church
College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Dean Rosemary Blieszner talks with celebration attendees in Falls Church. Photo by Erin Williams

After the panel event, current students took visitors on guided tours of the Falls Church campus, including stops in the library, with its 3D printers and other technology tools, and the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab at Virginia Tech's Northern Virginia Center, which is a combination lab, makerspace, and classroom. Guests then headed to the tent in the parking lot for refreshments, brief remarks, music, and the chance to catch up with alumni and students.

Sands said the university’s Northern Virginia programs are true to the university’s land-grant mission and provide a model for the future — “to be embedded with our partners, to be where our students reside, to allow the flexibility to pursue graduate studies while still working. … That's really the future of our university and the National Capital Region, and our graduate programs here have really set the pace.”

DePauw agreed. “We have provided here the foundation for how we can grow.”

The HokieBird chats with celebration attendees
The HokieBird visits with celebration attendees. Photo by Erin Williams