When the doors opened there were snakes and helmets, horses and flowers, monsters, and grass. They weren’t all in the same room or even the same building, but that didn’t stop thousands of visitors from learning about everything from turtles to race cars on Saturday when Virginia Tech held its first University Open House.

The event was a chance for everyone in the university community along with donors, alumni, and just curious children and adults to visit amazing places on the Blacksburg campus. One couple came from Connecticut and a prospective graduate student came from Mississippi, specially for the open house with its tours, demonstrations, lectures, and fun.

Faculty, staff, and students showed off how the Hokie Nation is inventing the future in ways many of the guests say they never imagined. Another highlight of the day was the announcement of how much was raised during The Campaign for Virginia Tech: Invent the Future, an eight-year venture.  Saturday night, Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger told a gathering of donors that nearly 170,000 generous supporters had contributed a total of  $1,112,703,977, exceeding the $1 billion goal.

At the university open house, almost every building on campus had something to present. Children were in their element at the Newman Library where they made monster masks to use during librarian and actress Heather Moorefield’s performance and reading of “Where the Wild Things are.” Meanwhile, adults heard about items in Special Collections including the Civil War diary of Charles Minor, Virginia Tech’s first president; the items that tell about culinary and Appalachian history; and those items that cover women in architecture.

Down the street, at the Fralin Life Science Institute, a huge snapping turtle helped explain research being done to learn about mercury contamination and its harmful reproductive effects. One little girl, approximately age 6, couldn’t wait to lay her hands on a colorful, stripped corn snake. “I’ve held snakes before,” she said to her dad as her younger brother looked on with wide eyes.

Across campus, youngsters enamored by horses had a chance to pet soft equine noses, watch an equestrian demonstration, and learn about management of all types of livestock when they visited the Alphin-Stuart Livestock Teaching Arena. The state-of-the-art facility is part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and serves as classroom and as the site of livestock and equestrian competitions.

One little boy was enthralled with the cow with the glass porthole in its side so visitors could see the stomach’s contents. A young girl named McKinley was one of the children who said she liked the horses because they were beautiful and had soft hair. But, she was less enamored with the cow because of how it smelled.

Another popular venue was Lane Football Stadium where faculty and students from the Department of Crop and Soil Environment in the agricultural college explained the research that resulted in the surface of Worsham Field. The turf specialists, led by Mike Goatley, Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist and professor, showed how the system keeps the field dry even in heavy rain.

Football also played a part in the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech event. Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer agreed to be the source of “Hokie Fever” to demonstrate how an infectious disease can become a life-threatening epidemic. Almost 500 people became “carriers” of the illness by picking up bracelets that were scanned into a computer system. 

At the end of the game, the bracelets were scanned again to determine how far and to how many people the “fandemic” had spread. Stephen Eubank and his team in the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech, designed the simulation program, which is being used to track diseases that could become epidemics and then use the data develop plans on how to deal with future potential disasters.

The Joseph F. Ware Jr. Advanced Engineering Laboratory drew some crowds. High schoolers about to make decisions on which colleges to consider met with Virginia Tech undergraduate students working on projects such as Formula 1 race cars, submersibles, fuel cells, an electric motorcycle, and intricate miniature bridges. "You definitely will get your hands dirty here," said a female undergraduate engineering student as she told them about driving off-road vehicles they were designing.

"It's very cool. It's unlike any lab I've ever seen before. It's cool to see a lab like this for undergrads to pursue their research," said Richard Li, who is currently serving in the U.S. Navy and is stationed at Virginia Beach, Va. He says he is interested in pursuing a master's degree in engineering and this was his first visit to Virginia Tech.

At Theatre 101, the Center for the Arts, which is still under construction and will open for performances in fall of 2013,  had people grooving to the Motown beat. Ann Kilkelly, a theatre professor from the School of Performing Arts and Cinema in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, taught participants, including a group of 4-year-old boys and their parents, the backup dance choreography created for The Temptations' hit "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" and "Where Did Our Love Go" by The Supremes. Meanwhile, jugglers and illusionists performed for the visitors.

Just down the street at Squires Student Center, were 51 booths that had information about a myrid of topics, including safe driving and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute. The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research had a particularly popular display anchored by the giveaway of 60 daylilies bred specifically in Virginia Tech’s distinctive orange and maroon colors.

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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