Nineteen student leaders from a variety of organizations recently had the opportunity to tell Virginia Tech’s incoming president about the Hokie student experience and to identify challenges for his administration.

The breakfast meeting held at West End Market was one of almost 80 similar meetings future Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands is having across the university community this spring as he prepares to assume his new position June 1. The meetings are helping Sands, and his wife Laura, to become more deeply acquainted with the complex and diverse community they are about to join. 

When the Sands' met with members of the Order of the Gavel last week, they discussed everything from the pervasiveness of the university’s motto, to opportunities for learning outside the classroom, to tubing on the New River, to Twitter etiquette, to the significance of administrative support for student-led groups.

Timothy Sands said he benefits from the energy students bring to a discussion. 

“I want to open a dialogue with students and communicate with them, both formally and informally,” he told the student leaders. “Feel free to reach out to us. Your perspectives are incredibly valuable.”

Among the Virginia Tech highlights and defining moments cited by the student leaders

  • Living the university motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), through service projects such as the Big Event and Relay for Life;
  • Jumping to “Enter Sandman” (or “Sandsman,” as it is now being called) at football games;
  • Recognizing the grounding ideals embodied in the Pylons;
  • The special sense of community that develops at Virginia Tech in the summer months;
  • One-on-one conversations with faculty and mentors;
  • The camaraderie among graduate students;
  • Skills gained by participating in student organizations;
  • Students helping one another to achieve academic success and personal growth;
  • The close relationship between Virginia Tech and the Town of Blacksburg; and
  • Intentional learning.

Topping the list of concerns expressed was the need for more spaces for students to gather, study, and work in groups. Other recommendations included

  • Initiating support programs for first-generation and minority students;
  • Strengthening connections between the science and arts communities;
  • Increasing collaborations among academic departments;
  • Investing in Newman Library;
  • Establishing on-campus child care options for graduate students; and
  • Building awareness of physical and mental health and wellness resources.

Brent Ashley of Felton, Del., is a senior double majoring in animal and poultry sciences and dairy science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He is also pursuing a minor in political science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. As the outgoing SGA president, he recommended that Sands “do this kind of thing regularly – not just with us but with other students as well.” 

Other students echoed Ashley’s suggestion that Sands be visible on campus, and suggested visiting with students in dining centers, residence halls, student centers, and club meetings.

At one point, the conversation turned to the custom of wearing the university colors every day as a symbol of Hokie pride. “Maroon and orange are growing on us,” said Sands. “We have checked our closets and are gradually amassing suitable Virginia Tech apparel.”

"Its clear after this meeting that Dr. Sands is a very student-centered leader, one who is looking for the best ways to connect with students," said Patty Perillo, vice president for student affairs. "He will work closely with students all throughout his presidency."

Sands was introduced as 16th president of Virginia Tech on Dec. 6, 2013, and will succeed Charles W. Steger  He comes to Virginia Tech from his current position as the executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at Purdue University, where he is also the Basil S. Turner Professor of Engineering in Purdue's School of Materials Engineering and School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. 

Laura Sands is the Katherine Birck Professor in the School of Nursing at Purdue. Her research focuses on public policy, specifically long-term care policy for older adults.

Written by Sandy Broughton.

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