Tomalei Vess, associate director for education, training, and academic development for Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, has been named the director of the newly created Office of Undergraduate Research at Virginia Tech.

In her new position, Vess will provide university-wide leadership for the undergraduate research enterprise by collaborating with colleges, departments, students, and faculty to develop an undergraduate research system that successfully serves the university's mission and strategic plan. In this context, she will support and promote undergraduate opportunities to engage in discovery, inquiry, and creative scholarship through mentored research experiences.  

She will assist in the review and revision of policies and practices that relate to student engagement and undergraduate research. Specific collaborative projects include partnering with the Office for Academic Assessment to develop an evaluation system to assess undergraduate research efforts, with the findings used to support continuous quality improvement efforts. She will also partner with faculty members to obtain external funding to support undergraduate research training program.

The position is co-funded by the Division of Undergraduate Education and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

“I am delighted that Tomalei is joining our community, as she brings a dynamic portfolio of experience, understanding, and vision for creating a solid undergraduate research framework at Virginia Tech,” said  Daniel Wubah, vice president and dean for undergraduate education.  

“There are many potential opportunities for undergraduate students to perform research at Virginia Tech,” said Robert Walters, vice president for research. “Many faculty members have made room for undergraduates as members of their research teams, and I am very pleased that this partnership between the research and undergraduate education divisions will now make an undergraduate research experience even more accessible. Hands-on experience in the lab and field will make the students' education more relevant and their time at Virginia Tech more exciting.”

Vess said she is excited about the rare opportunity to build the Office of Undergraduate Research and related services from the ground up, and knows firsthand how a positive research program can be life changing. 

“I had a transformative research experience when I was an undergraduate student at James Madison University,” noted Vess. “It is important to me that I give others the opportunity to get involved in research and to grow in ways they may not have dreamed.”

A formalized undergraduate research office signals that Virginia Tech is dedicated to making research a cornerstone of the undergraduate experience and shaping the innovators of tomorrow. 

“Research experiences teach students how to think critically and to develop creative problem solving skills while applying the content they have learned in the classroom or through reading and conversations with faculty,” observed Vess. “These are the skills necessary to be successful in the job market and for other next steps, such as graduate school.”

As associate director for education, training, and academic development for Duke’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, Vess engaged with undergraduate students through a series of cross points, including serving as academic advisor; administering the summer undergraduate research program, and providing individual mentoring for undergraduate students interested in research.Vess received her Ph.D. in biology from Duke University.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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