Blacksburg growth to fuel Innovation Campus

virginia techThe $1.1 billion higher education package approved by the General Assembly this month was designed to build a talent pipeline for Virginia to help attract Amazon and solve a critical shortage for the state.

This pipeline – specifically for high-tech disciplines – will draw from a deep reservoir in Blacksburg.

Virginia Tech expects to add at least 2,000 more undergraduate students studying computer science, computer engineering, and related disciplines over the next five years. To support these new students and propel research, Virginia Tech will hire up to 140 new faculty members in Blacksburg.

The university’s new Innovation Campus in Alexandria — also part of the higher education package — will be fueled by growth in Blacksburg as well as at other universities around the state and beyond.

While the Innovation Campus will recruit and attract graduate students from top schools around the country, Virginia Tech leaders anticipate that Hokie undergrads will use the $1 billion Innovation Campus in a variety of ways, including through internships, undergraduate research, and accelerated graduate programs.

“We’re trying to envision what those different pathways could look like for students who want to combine a Blacksburg and Northern Virginia-type of experience,” said Julia Ross, dean of the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. “How can we really leverage all of the things that we do at the college to grow the talent that’s available for the state.”

Virginia Tech’s research enterprise also will benefit, with funding to allow for greater technology commercialization.

“We are thinking about how we continue to build and develop our ecosystem to support entrepreneurship and innovations that are derived from student engagement and research,” said Theresa Mayer, vice president for research and innovation at Virginia Tech.

When the Virginia General Assembly wrapped up in Richmond recently, the approved budget, which still must be signed by the governor, included a higher education package to allow Virginia’s colleges and universities to produce 25,000 new degrees in computer science and related fields by 2039 to create a tech talent pipeline to support Virginia’s high-tech industry.

The capital budget also includes:

  • $79 million to construct a 120,000-gross-square-foot data and decisions sciences building on the Blacksburg campus to help provide support to the additional 2,000 undergraduate students.
  • $168 million for the state’s share of Virginia Tech’s planned Innovation Campus in Alexandria.

Virginia Tech is the logical institution to fill the state’s talent gaps in STEM areas. Last year, the university was the fifth largest producer of undergraduate engineers in the country, Ross said.

Also, because of demands from incoming students and industries, the College of Engineering already has been bolstering its enrollment and plans for future growth, Ross said.

“If the question is who can come at this problem, scale quickly, and really grow the number in a significant way in short order, Virginia Tech is the place to look,” she said. “It’s not all about growth for the sake of growth, it’s about growth that’s really important to the mission of what we do and how we serve.”

While many of the new faculty hires will be focused in computer science and computer engineering disciplines, the College of Engineering is not the only area of the university that will benefit from this higher education package. Virginia Tech’s commitment to liberal education means that every student will take classes in a number of fields, across different colleges, and Virginia Tech’s hiring will reflect that growth across disciplines and departments.

Companies throughout Virginia, not just Amazon, stand to benefit from Virginia Tech’s efforts to recruit and graduate more students in computer science related fields.

This includes Sonu Singh, a 1991 Virginia Tech graduate and CEO of 1901 Group, an IT company offering cloud, cyber security, and other services, with locations at the Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg and Reston, Virginia.

Singh’s company often hires Virginia Tech graduates and interns from a variety of majors, including engineering, computer science, business information technology, and the liberal arts.

But in the next three years, he said he will rely on the university’s talent pipeline more than ever. The 1901 Group plans to expand its Blacksburg operations center with a new 40,000-square-foot building and 580 new jobs. It also will add 225 new jobs at its Reston office.

Singh expects 1901 Group to work with the Innovation Campus, where collaboration with industry will be built into the design of the program and the campus’ infrastructure.

“Anytime you have a world-class engineering school in the town that you’re based in, it’s great for the business and it’s great for the school,” said Singh, who majored in industrial and systems engineering at Virginia Tech. “This allows us as a company to mirror what Virginia Tech is doing. You could start your career in Blacksburg, or you could migrate to our offices and programs in Northern Virginia.”

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