This year marks a series of anniversaries: 150 years since Virginia Tech’s founding, 52 years since it officially became a university and nearly two years since its community began navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this year also marks President Tim Sands’ sixth annual State of the University Address at the Moss Arts Center. In his speech, Sands spoke on several accomplishments of the university and the challenges caused by the pandemic that students, faculty and staff continue to face, and acknowledged a number of individuals for their successes and contributions.
Sands began his address by recognizing how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected Virginia Tech, and touched on the university’s plans to further combat the spread of the virus.
“The first phase is underway now, and that is dealing with the current surge of the omicron variant in Virginia and around the country,” Sands said. “The second phase is our transition to treating COVID as an endemic disease.”
Sands also elaborated on the ways the university has adapted to overcome the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have learned over the past two years how to optimize the balance between virtual and in-person operations,” Sands said. “The flexibility that our virtual capabilities provide is valued both by employees and by students.”
However, Virginia Tech’s role in fighting the pandemic has gone beyond mask mandates, social distancing and switching to virtual learning when necessary.
In recognition of 150 years since Virginia Tech was first founded, Sands said, “This is a time for looking ahead to the future as we also look back and learn from our history … it’s important to learn from our history and broaden our impact going forward.”
Sands expressed his appreciation to Assistant Vice President for Emergency Management Mike Mulhare and Director of the New River Health District Noelle Bissell for their leadership in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. He then welcomed new faculty and staff members Vice President for Enterprise Administrative and Business Services Lynsay Belshe, CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation Elizabeth McClanahan, Dean of the Graduate School Aimée Surprenant and head football coach Brent Pry. Sands also issued congratulations to Director of Athletics Whit Babcock and his team for their academic success.
Sands later spoke of Virginia Tech’s goal for the future to become a leading global research university, as well as its successes of the past year. He listed the recent announcement of the Boundless Impact campaign, how the Beyond Boundaries Vision enabled the university’s response to COVID-19, progress on the Innovation Campus, the increase in the university’s endowment and alumni engagement.
Virginia Tech further achieved goals of better representing minority students on campus as Sands said, “More than 20% of our entering class last fall, including transfers, were underrepresented minority students. That’s up from 13% in 2017.” However, Sands also addressed that “we have a long way to go to match the makeup of our student body.”
According to Sands, the university aims to improve residence hall space, classrooms and labs, dining halls and Virginia Tech’s environmental impact. Additionally, he announced the Better Together mental health and well-being campaign, an initiative designed to promote awareness about mental health and “advocate for increased resources for students with mental health challenges,” according to the program’s website. Sands also mentioned improving accessibility from the currently-under-construction multi-mobile transit facility on Perry Street by building two elevator towers.
Sands further addressed news in infrastructures on Virginia Tech campuses, referencing the expansion of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, the grand opening of a research facility on the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus this year, the near completion of the Data and Decision Sciences Building at the corner of West Campus Drive and Perry Street, preparation of the Hitt Hall site, plans to reopen Holden Hall and the creation of the Virginia Tech Center for Quantum Information Science and Engineering.
“Universities learn, that’s what we do, and we have never learned so much in such a short amount of time,” Sands said.