Timothy D. Sands, currently the executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at Purdue University, will be Virginia Tech's 16th president. Introduced at a Dec. 6 press conference, Sands succeeds President Charles W. Steger, who will step down when Sands takes office on June 1.
"Dr. Sands impressed many from the start and garnered even more support after our personal interviews," said Mike Quillen (civil engineering '70, M.S. '71), rector of the Board of Visitors (BOV). "He has stellar academic credentials and administrative experience from some of the nation's outstanding land-grant and public research universities. We were particularly impressed with Tim's sense of the modern research university's role in advancing American society and its economy."
Sands, 55, the Basil S. Turner Professor of Engineering in Purdue's School of Materials Engineering and School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, served as Purdue's acting president in fall 2012. As Purdue's chief academic officer, Sands led efforts to elevate student success that enhanced retention and graduate rates, initiated a move toward year-round utilization of facilities, led development of the university's first comprehensive assessment of all degree-granting programs, and launched an online teaching and learning platform that emphasizes interactive, computation- and simulation-rich learning environments.
"I'd like to thank the Board of Visitors for the trust that they've placed in me," Sands said at the press conference. "I certainly understand the magnitude of the job before me and the great work that's been done to get us to this point. President Steger and the Board of Visitors have done a wonderful job moving this university forward over the last decade and a half or so. My main goal is to maintain that momentum and build on it."
Sands said he was drawn to Virginia Tech for its land-grant heritage, the value of its education, the impact of its research, its embodiment of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), and its forward direction.
First, Sands noted that the 1862 Morrill Act, which established the model for the nation's land-grant institutions, was designed to prepare citizens to be active, informed participants in democracy and to teach students to perform research and engage the community so as to advance economic prosperity. Considering society's needs, on the local to the global stage, Sands said, "Virginia Tech is the kind of institution that you would create today for the 21st century. And I don't say that lightly. There's a little bit of happenstance there; there's a little bit of good luck; there's a little bit of planning—I'd say a lot of planning—and a lot of careful stewardship over many generations."
Second, Sands was impressed with the value of a Virginia Tech education—and not just the price or quality. Surveys routinely rank the university highly, particularly when asking if alumni would choose the school again or recommend it to a family member or friend. "Students are treated with respect and they're cared for and they have a good experience. That's the kind of place I want to go to," Sands said.
Third, Sands was attracted to the university's research, and he has the background to judge it astutely. Holding a bachelor's degree in engineering physics and a master's degree and Ph.D. in materials science and engineering, all from the University of California, Berkeley, Sands began his professional career in 1984 at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and then spent nine years as a member of the technical staff and as a research group director with Bell Communications Research, Inc. (Bellcore) in Red Bank, N.J. He returned to Berkeley in 1993 as a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and joined Purdue in 2002, later becoming director of the university's Birck Nanotechnology Center, an interdisciplinary center encompassing 12 academic disciplines.
Many universities, Sands said, "do either problem-inspired research or curiosity-driven research. What I see at Virginia Tech is a great blend of the two." Faculty members and students, even if driven by curiosity, are able to recognize when discoveries can be applied to the problems of society. "I have the sense that at Virginia Tech, that is the spirit."
Fourth, Ut Prosim rang true for Sands. "It's not a dusty relic of a motto here," Sands said. "It's very clear to me that this is something that's deeply ingrained in the institution."
Lastly, describing himself as a builder rather than a maintainer, Sands said the university's momentum, for which he credited the BOV and Steger, was key. "This is a place that is clearly not happy with the status quo, that always wants to do better and always wants to improve—and that's the kind of institution that I want to be associated with."
Sands began his remarks at the press conference by introducing his family. His wife, Laura Sands, is the Katherine Birck Professor in the School of Nursing at Purdue. Her research focuses on optimizing care pathways for older adults. They have four children—Amanda, KC, and Kathryn, all of whom graduated from Purdue, and Haley, a junior at Purdue.
The appointment concluded a rigorous six-month search chaired by former BOV rector George Nolen (marketing management '78), during which 238 candidates were considered. The 22-person search committee represented a broad cross section of the extended university community including board members, students, staff, alumni, and 12 senior faculty members.
Produced by University Relations