For the second year in a row, USA Today has ranked Virginia Tech as the nation’s best for studying natural resources and conservation.

“This ranking raises awareness of the quality of our academic programs in the college and helps us benchmark our programs in a national context,” said Paul Winistorfer, dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment. “Our faculty are the foundation of all we do, and I am immensely proud of this ranking and the spotlight it shines on our faculty and staff.”

Last year was the first time that natural resources programs were ranked. Ranking organizations traditionally focus on areas of study with the highest numbers of programs.

According to USA Today, natural resources and conservation programs have become critical to solving many of the world’s pressing issues today so the publication started evaluating the nearly 50 comprehensive natural resources programs in colleges across America.

The rankings show Virginia Tech has the best overall program in the nation in both natural resources and conservation. Forestry also ranks No. 1. Long a world leader in research and teaching, the forestry department ranked eighth in research dollars among all academic departments at Virginia Tech for the past year.

The natural resources and conservation component includes the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, which was fifth in total research dollars awarded for the past year. Total research dollars awarded for the college in 2015-16 were a record-breaking $21.5 million.

“Two of the top 10 academic departments for total research award dollars are in our college,” Winistorfer explained. “Our research program provides excellent opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to be engaged in our discovery mission.”

The rankings study pointed out, “Natural resources and conservation are hot topics in our society. Many are concerned about the world’s quickly depleting resources, whether it is oil, forests, or endangered species.”

“From our strong and deep traditional disciplinary anchors, we have willingly embraced the future needs of society and our students through the development of new degree programs and majors in the college,” Winistorfer said. “This No. 1 ranking makes it legitimate for us to aspire to an even greater impact on our students and the world.”

The college led the way in developing an undergraduate degree in water, the first of its kind in North America. Water is one of the world’s most challenging issues, and the new water major cuts across four other Virginia Tech colleges and 13 departments to address the complex problems in an interdisciplinary way. Every angle is looked at, from water science to law, economics, management, and the social sciences.

The college’s new degree in packaging systems and design was one of the fastest-growing new majors on campus in the last year. Graduates find many opportunities in the global packaging sector, which is believed to be the third largest sector on the planet.

“We strive to develop students so that they have depth of knowledge in an area of study, complemented by a breadth in collaborating across disciplines to problem solve with a commitment to service,” Winistorfer stated. “Our students come to us expecting excellence and a mentoring atmosphere so they can go out into careers making a difference. I’m thrilled each and every day that we are delivering on our promise to offer the best educational experience in the nation.”

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