Serving as a cornerstone of Virginia Tech’s Beyond Boundaries vision and its framework for building an internationally recognized, global land-grant university, Destination Areas continue to provide a platform for faculty to work across disciplines and advance collaborative solutions to complex problems affecting people around the world.

“Destination Areas serve as cross-cutting ‘centers of excellence’ designed to advance transdisciplinary learning and discovery,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke. “Emphasis placed on thematic areas should be broad enough to be inclusive of a variety of disciplines but also narrow enough to promote further development of distinctive programs that enhance the visibility and excellence of Virginia Tech. This goal is advanced primarily by funding recruitment of faculty who are committed to working on projects relevant to solution of complex problems.”

Established in 2016, Destination Areas (DAs) are designed to support and accelerate Virginia Tech’s transformation of areas of interdisciplinary strength into dynamic, transdisciplinary collaborations. Through empowering communities of faculty to work together and across areas of expertise and engage students in transdisciplinary experiences, the DAs have focused their efforts on addressing myriad global challenges to improve the human condition. Each of the nine DA thematic areas provides opportunities to synthesize disciplinary and research strengths with critical societal needs to construct a hub for collaboration and creativity within Virginia Tech.

As transdisciplinary communities, DAs also connect the full span of relevant knowledge at Virginia Tech necessary for addressing issues holistically so as to overcome the traditional academic boundaries that tend to separate science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) fields from foundations in liberal arts, language, and design.

“Complex problems often require system-level broad thinking from multiple disciplines and often involve creative thought that include technology, policy, and culture,” said Executive Vice Provost Don Taylor. “It seems that with such rapid advancement of disciplinary-based solutions, true innovation often resides in the boundaries between professions. The DAs open up important thematic spaces that enable our faculty to work across colleges, institutes, centers, and external organizations.”

Nine distinct yet interconnected DAs are fueling Virginia Tech’s transdisciplinary capacities, student experiences, and aspirational goals to become a global land-grant institution:

DAs continue to be guided by strategies and goals that create expansion of transdisciplinary research in identified areas of strength and produce transdisciplinary learning opportunities for students that utilize approaches and content that advance critical thinking across disciplines, problem solving, and teamwork. DAs also continue to raise the global profile of the Virginia Tech through the transdisciplinary learning and research that has led to additional funding, recruitment of talented faculty, and enrollment of a diverse, talented student body; and graduate highly-prepared students that employers are actively recruiting and hiring.

“The DAs are a faculty-led effort that continues to provide opportunities to make connections across the university that wouldn’t otherwise be possible,” said Catherine Amelink, associate vice provost for learning systems innovation. “Our institute and academic partners, program managers, and faculty stakeholders have worked together to provide new learning opportunities and research collaborations. As the groups have tackled complex problems facing society, the projects and curriculum that have emerged from the collective work of the DAs has reached new and different students, faculty and external constituents.”

Student experiences through the DAs include more than 27,000 student credit hours being delivered in related courses in AY2020-21. In support of the university’s research enterprise, DA funding has been used to secure important external grants to address complex problems in infectious disease, security, brain health and development, rural health, advanced manufacturing and materials, and coastal mitigation.

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, each of the DAs, their stakeholder teams, and/or their faculty contributors have continued to make progress and have positioned themselves for new growth and collaboration opportunities in the coming year.

Eli Vlaisavljevich, ABB faculty stakeholder and assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics, is investigating the physical mechanisms through which ultrasound interacts with different tissues in order to develop noninvasive therapies for a wide range of clinical applications. Through his ABB collaborations and his Therapeutic Ultrasound and Non-Invasive Therapies Laboratory, Vlaisavljevich is developing focused ultrasound (FUS) as an image-guided and noninvasive ablation method for the treatment of cancer. The C+I Destination Area is advancing a transformative education model that intentionally adapts to emerging opportunities and challenges. Through creative thinking and innovative problem solving, C+I faculty stakeholders have leveraged the impact of this educational model to create a second Honors Diploma, titled Creativity + Innovation. The diploma follows their initial DA Honors Diploma offering, which was the first such diploma in the history of Virginia Tech.

The DD Destination Area has created a program minor that provides Virginia Tech students with a unique opportunity to earn the Capital CoLAB Digital Generalist Credential, recognized by the Greater Washington Partnership. DD has also supported the DDREAM series (Data and Decisions Research Acceleration Modules) that is designed to inform the university community of what research is occurring in the DD Destination Area and create an opportunity for faculty across the campus to network and highlight their respective research areas.

Prior to the pandemic, the ESM Destination Area was working with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to provide unique and important research internship experiences for two Virginia Tech students during the summer of 2020. After COVID-19 shut down the ORNL facility, the ESM-DA faculty created an opportunity to offer the students remote and/or hybrid internships with Virginia Tech faculty. Both students were able to complete summer internships and report their research findings to faculty stakeholders early in the fall. ESM has also invested seed funding to supplement a larger central DA investment in a transdisciplinary effort to advance “Digital Engineering Technologies for Intelligent and Resilient Infrastructure.”

The IS Destination Area recently launched the integrated security pathways minor, which facilitates the study of complex interactions that take place within and among human, cyber, economic, global, and political dimensions. It enables students to develop conceptual, analytical, and evaluative skills relative to the dynamic effects of emerging security events, threats, and risks. The ISDA also helped Gretchen Matthews, IS stakeholder and director of the Southwest Virginia Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) node, to submit the documentation necessary to secure the Southwest Virginia node set up, based at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

A new graduate certificate in science, technology, and engineering in policy has been created through the +Policy Destination Area and is designed to develop students’ understanding of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and health care policy processes and capacity in order to integrate scientific and engineering knowledge with public policy reasoning. +Policy has also provided research funding in each of the past three years through a competitive application process to extend and enhance policy implications of basic and applied research.

For more information, programs, projects, and transdisciplinary collaboration opportunities, visit the Destination Areas website.