Lawrence N. Sewell of Laurel Fork, Va., retired computer engineer for the Department of Mathematics at Virginia Tech, has received the university’s 2014 Staff Career Achievement award.

Sewell retired from the university in 2013 after 32 years of service. Just before retiring, he received a 2013 Governor’s Award for Innovation for his work in constructing the core service systems at the Math Emporium.

Created in 2011 to recognize retiring staff members, the Staff Career Achievement Award is presented annually to as many as five individuals who have distinguished themselves through exemplary performance and service during their university career. Nominees must have served a minimum of 10 years at Virginia Tech. Each recipient is awarded a $1,000 cash prize.

A member of the Virginia Tech community since 1981, Sewell was a part of the Computing Center staff for more than 20 years. He began his career at Virginia Tech as a programmer/analyst, and was quickly promoted to a systems analyst in 1985. In 1991, he accepted the position of Computer Systems lead engineer where he served as an integral part of the design and construction of the Math Emporium services.

In his most recent position, Sewell was responsible for the oversight and development of the complex computer systems that manage online textbooks, practice problems, asynchronous test and quizzes, and assignments. 

In 2010, when new student usage patterns could no longer be supported by commercial testing software, Sewell worked with faculty and staff members to develop a new, online testing system.  He also worked to preserve student access to the traditional aspects of mathematical learning: the opportunity to work on problems and receive feedback, as well as one-on-one help. His contributions to learning support software, systems for tracking student data, and day-to-day logistics of the facility's operations were critical to the success of the Math Emporium.

Sewell’s contributions to the Math Emporium have helped Virginia Tech students save an estimated $300,000 in textbook costs per year. The Math Emporium is an important resource in instruction for required mathematics courses and has served as a model for several universities that have created their own version of the learning space.

Sewell was considered an expert by his colleagues. He is known for his constant desire to expand his knowledge and dedication to the development of resources for the Department of Mathematics and the Math Emporium. His knowledge of contemporary technology was crucial in identifying a long-term strategy, and his ability to anticipate technological developments provided essential insight.

Sewell received a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University and master’s degree from Virginia Tech.

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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