Virginia Tech touches the lives of many through its research, statewide Extension service, and other outreach programs, as well as its expanding economic development initiatives, but the education of our undergraduates remains our primary focus.
It is for that reason that I continue to teach undergraduate students each semester. Our students are genuinely nice people. We continue to attract young people who view education as an opportunity and not as a privilege. Most come to Tech with reasonable study habits and leave with an education that has prepared them for a career -- and for life.
In 1997, Virginia Tech conferred some 5,500 degrees, more than 3,900 to undergraduates. Frankly, I am often in awe of the involvement and commitment of today's Tech undergraduate. Consider the 500 students working with the Tech YMCA. About 45 spent spring break helping the homeless or indigent in Appalachia, Washington, D.C., or on Indian reservations. During the school year, many repair homes for the elderly or tutor youngsters and international students throughout our region.
The undergraduate body annually gives about 90,000 hours of volunteer effort in Southwest Virginia. In honor of the 125th anniversary year, students under the leadership of Kathy Rucker '97 hope to boost that to 125,000 hours.
Academically, we continue to create winners. Competing against the nation's top engineering colleges, Tech students under the supervision of mechanical engineering professor Doug Nelson placed first overall in 1996 and second overall in 1997 in a national hybrid-electric vehicle competition sponsored by the Big Three automakers.
Pamplin College of Business students manage more than $3 million of the university endowment -- real money. Ranking as the nation's third largest student run fund, this endowment consistently beats the professionals' investment record and was recently featured on CNBC. The fund's current leader, Charles Coletta, is now organizing the first national conference on student run funds.
The honors program increasingly attracts top scholars. Consider the college of agriculture's Michael Schmidt, the second sophomore in Tech history to win the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, and one of only 20 USA Today national scholars last year. Or how about Elizabeth Embree, a Morris Udall scholar and top honors student, who spent last summer tutoring inner city youngsters. (Does the name sound familiar? She's the sister of Mark Embree '96, our most recent Rhodes Scholar.)
Student competition to attend Virginia Tech is becoming both a compliment and a concern. We are having to deny admission to more and more applicants as both the size and the quality of the academic pool increases. This past fall's entering class averaged a GPA of 3.47 and college boards of 1167.
One of my brother's children began her freshman year at Tech this past fall and finished the first semester with a 3.79 in the College of Business. Another nephew who applied for admission this year was rejected. Very simply, other applicants were more deserving of that spot.
Over my 31 years at Virginia Tech, I have been privileged to interact with many students -- some in the classroom, some through student organizations, and some through student athletic events. At the last bowl game, many alumni stopped me to recount our personal acquaintance, including many who had taken my class.
Still student discipline problems exist, as they do in the larger society. Some students do drink to excess. Recently, we have had reports of some racist remarks. These are particularly troubling to me because I know they are not representative of the typical Virginia Tech student.
As alumni, you can be proud of the undergraduate student body. These students are bright, friendly, and unpretentious. On occasion, you will read of student misbehavior. However, rest assured that the more than 21,000 undergraduate students enrolled at Virginia Tech are, as a group, young men and women with whom you should be proud to share an alma mater.
"We have exciting plans to bolster our growing information technology industries. The economic return these efforts generate will benefit every single Virginian. Virginia is the Information Technology State!"
-- Governor James Gilmore inauguration speech, January 17, 1998.
Incoming Governor Jim Gilmore's reference to the rapid expansion of Virginia's high tech industry is but another example of technology's important role in our lives and our futures. Led by systems integrators, software developers, and Internet firms in Northern Virginia and increasingly throughout the states, the commonwealth is emerging as a beacon on the high tech landscape.
As the state's largest research university, Virginia Tech, on both its Blacksburg and Northern Virginia campuses, has been a cradle of information technology innovation for more than a decade. We have followed a determined course of fostering research, infusing information technology into the curriculum, and using new knowledge to bolster Virginia's economic competitiveness.
We recognize that the future -- for anyone, any business, or any institution -- is tied to advances in and applications of technology. For that reason, we have redoubled our commitment to the infusion of information technology in our academic agenda and strategic plan. The past is prologue for the future. We are proud to recount not only our many accomplishments, but some of our plans for making Virginia the Information Technology State.
Earlier this year, we forwarded to state technology leaders and government officials our plan, "Responding to Virginia's Technology Needs." This aggressive undertaking identifies strategies and programs currently underway or planned including new degree and certificate programs, research centers, business collaborations, and policy changes.
Look for more on Tech's technological initiatives in the next issue of Virginia Tech Magazine.
Paul E. Torgersen, President
A few of Virginia Tech's pioneering activities
Pioneers in Library Automation Systems -- In 1975, Virginia Tech created one of the first library automation systems with an on-line catalog and information management system and later spun off the technology into a successful for-profit firm, VTLS Inc.
First university in the south on BITNET, a forerunner of the Internet -- In the early 1980s, Virginia Tech participated with about a dozen other East Coast universities to create this network which paved the way to the Internet.
First public university in the nation to require engineering students to have computers, 1983
Student access to supercomputing -- In the 1980s, Virginia Tech's IBM 3090 supercomputer was the first in the nation to be fully integrated with a university's computing network and made available to faculty and students.
Pioneers in delivering satellite graduate engineering courses, early 1980s -- In partnership with other Virginia universities, the satellite engineering program has been delivered to as many as 11 states. Starting this year this program is to be delivered over the network as well.
Pioneers in linking the campus with fiber optics -- Starting in 1985, Virginia Tech became one of the first "wired" campuses in the nation and has continued to maintain a state-of-the-art infrastructure as advances occur.
Founders of the Virginia Education Research Network, 1987 -- Begun with seed funding from the National Science Foundation, this was one of the earliest state education and research networks.
Pioneers in developing internationally renowned research programs in fiber optics and wireless communications technologies, 1980s -- At the Fiber and Electro-Optics Center, the Center for Wireless Communications, and the Mobile and Portable Radio Research Group, Virginia Tech's internationally recognized researchers and research centers are pushing the boundaries of new technologies, work that will create the jobs and industries of tomorrow.
First public-access electronic community in the nation, Blacksburg Electronic Village, 1993 -- In the early 1990s, to demonstrate the effectiveness and grow the notion of a wired community, Virginia Tech and Bell Atlantic joined forces to create the internationally renowned Blacksburg Electronic Village, spawning many such efforts throughout the country.
First university to train all faculty in instructional technology, 1994 -- Virginia Tech became one of the first univerties to systematically train all faculty in the use of instructional technology with the Faculty Development Institute. This approach later won an award from the Carnegie Foundation, the 1997 Theodore M. Hesburgh Award, and is now used as a model for many levels of teacher training.
Pioneers in the development of network delivered courses in Virginia, 1994 -- Virginia Tech currently offers more than 300 courses fully or partially online. Five graduate degree programs are offered at a distance. In addition, a new interactive learning center called the Math Emporium is open for 7-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day teaching and learning services.
First electronic journals in Virginia, 1995 -- The number of people accessing electronic journals published at Virginia Tech has grown from 5,600 in 1994 to over 530,000 in 1997.
First to negotiate affordable wide area network access for all state and local agencies in Virginia, Net.Work.Virginia, 1996 -- Virginia Tech was the lead state agency in the public-private partnership that created the commonwealth's statewide broad-band network, Net.Work.Virginia. Generally recognized nationally as a prototype for the Next Generation Internet, this network will bring high quality Internet services to all sectors of state government and education.
First electronic theses and dissertations, 1997 -- Implemented in January, 1997, Tech was the first university to require mandatory posting of electronic theses and dissertations and has served as a model for higher education institutions across the nation and around the world.
One of the first major state universities to require personal computers of all incoming students, 1997 -- Beginning in fall 1998, the computer requirement will ensure that graduates have the computer skills employers demand.
First to develop a multi-purpose facility to link digital libraries, instruction, and research in computing, information, and communications technologies -- the Advanced Communications and Information Technology Center -- Construction begins in 1998. This center, a $25-million, public-private partnership (50/50 state/private funding), will be the locus of innovations in communications, information technology, and learning. Physically and virtually linking researchers, teachers, companies, and digital libraries, the university will implement information-technology innovations and test new technology-based methods of learning.
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