High school students experience Hokie life during Black College Institute

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High school seniors experimented with screen printing during the Black College Institute at Virginia Tech’s main campus in Blacksburg.

Boxes of Lego Studio’s specialized architecture blocks were stationed strategically around the classroom as professors in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction explained the rules.

Thirty minutes to design, organize, and build a “dream house,” and the winning team of five received orange hardhats bearing the construction school’s logo. The clock was set, and go!

Teams of students at seven tables set to work, designing and building on the fly. Seven structures began to take shape as black and brown hands arranged, shifted, and molded white Lego blocks into floors, walls, pillars, and architectural flourishes.

Time ran out, and seven Lego houses were placed on a central table. The winning team received their hardhats and a photo with their house, but of course this competition was about more than deciding a winner.

“When you were looking for a part you didn’t have, what did you do? Ask someone else,” said Gary Kinder, an academic advisor in the Department of Building Construction. “When you needed an idea, what did you do? Look around. Collaboration. You talked to each other. You collaborated. You connected. These are key pieces in this type of work.”

The 90-minute session felt like summer camp, and it kind of was, except it also doubled as a sort of get-to-know-you experience for talented, senior high-school students who are considering applying to Virginia Tech for an undergraduate education. They were part of a group of nearly 120 students who participated in the Black College Institute at the Blacksburg campus in late June.

The Black College Institute is part of a broader effort by Virginia Tech to meet President Tim Sands’ goal for 40 percent of the 2022 class to consist of underrepresented, first-generation, or lower-income students.

“The Black College Institute is an opportunity for Virginia Tech to hold true to its promise of a land-grant institution to provide education to the citizens of the state,” said Vice President for Strategic Affairs and Vice Provost for Inclusion and Diversity Menah Pratt-Clarke. “This program specifically focuses on making sure that underrepresented, underserved students are aware of the opportunities at Virginia Tech. The goal is to recruit these students to become future Hokies.”

Later this month, rising high-school juniors will attend a similar though abbreviated program. This summer, Virginia Tech will also host the annual Hispanic College Institute, a broader program run by the Virginia Latino Higher Education Network that takes place in Blacksburg. Along with Tech’s College Access Collaborative and a new application developed by the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, the university is putting concrete actions to make its principles of community and dedication to inclusivity a real thing, not just words on paper.

Diversifying Virginia Tech’s student body is good not just for students from underrepresented, underserved groups, but for the entire university community.

“One of responsibilities we have as an institution is to prepare students who graduate at Virginia Tech to be leaders in the spirit of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve),” Pratt-Clarke said. “As part of that, we need to make sure their education includes working, living, and interacting with people from broad cultural, religious, and community backgrounds with different values, beliefs, and social contexts. What we’ve heard from our corporate partners is that they expect that new employees will be ready to work with a global multinational corporation that’s in different countries around the world. We have an obligation to our students to make sure their experience here prepares them for that.”

Over five days, the rising seniors participating in the Black College Institute lived in a campus dorm, ate food in the dining halls, attended interactive events and lectures showcasing the depth and breadth of the university’s academic programs, and generally lived the Hokie life in Blacksburg.

The students experimented with screen printing, explored Smart Bikes and the Future HAUS, and participated in the Lego challenge in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. At the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, they talked about social media marketing strategies, critiqued the design elements in fliers for campus events, and heard from Virginia Tech police officers about criminology. They viewed groundbreaking helmet research and the real-time water and weather monitoring system at the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science. Those are just a few highlights: Each day was packed with glimpses of campus life, as well as sessions centered on professional and personal development.

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