'This is day one' - Sands affirms Virginia Tech's commitment to Innovation Campus
The new campus, which builds on Virginia Tech’s existing presence in Northern Virginia and its sites in Blacksburg, Roanoke, and around the commonwealth, will be located less than two miles from Amazon’s new headquarters in Arlington and was a major part of Virginia’s bid to attract the online retailer.
More than 200 localities across the country competed to win Amazon’s headquarters and its estimated 50,000 jobs — a competition that ended Tuesday when the company announced its plans to build in Northern Virginia and New York City.
At a news conference at the future site of the new campus, university President Tim Sands cited Tech’s decades-long relationship with Alexandria, but said the announcement of the Innovation Campus marked a new phase.
“This is not the finish line, this is day one,” Sands said. “Virginia Tech is committed to moving this initiative forward and developing the leaders and innovators of the future – not just for Amazon, but for the commonwealth, the country, and the world.
“This is the right vision, the right place, the right time, and Virginia Tech is the right university to advance the commonwealth as a global leader for the next generation,” Sands said.
Julia Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering, identified the campus as a new venue for addressing the world’s most pressing problems and continuing to fulfill Virginia Tech’s land-grant mission.
“We need to confront the challenges of today, and we’d better prepare for the challenges of tomorrow,” Ross said at the news conference. “On behalf of Virginia Tech engineering, I’m here to say, ‘We’re on it. This is what we do.’”
At a separate news conference earlier in the day, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam told an enthusiastic crowd at a vacant warehouse slated to become Amazon’s first Arlington office building that Virginia’s pitch to the online retailer “represents a new model of economic development for the 21st century,” in that the bulk of it came from “investments in our people and our infrastructure that will align with supporting the growth and competitiveness of businesses all across Virginia.”
Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus represents the heart of that investment, along with additional public education and higher education initiatives that aim to produce 25,000 to 35,000 new graduates in computer science and related fields over the next 20 years. Northam cited research on cancer in Roanoke and on unmanned systems and autonomous vehicles in Southwest Virginia — both conducted by Virginia Tech faculty, staff, and students — as crucial elements in a culture of innovation that already exists in Virginia.
Back at the site of the future Innovation Campus, U.S. Rep. Don Beyer jokingly referred to the site as “Hokie Landing,” a play on the area’s new name of National Landing that indicates Virginia Tech’s important role. Beyer heralded the 1872 founding of Virginia Tech as “the transformational event in Virginia history” and nodded to its future plans as an expansion of its mission.
“Here in Hokie Landing, we’ll be attracting the best digital minds in the world,” Beyer said. “We’re going to educate them right here, and they’ll stay right here.”
Beyer also identified Sands’ expertise as a nanoscientist, specializing in the study of small things, as an apt metaphor.
“It’s a small thing today that we cut the theoretical ribbon on Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus, but it’s going to lead to really big things,” Beyer said.
Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg said Virginia Tech will create a “revolutionary campus” that will become a “global center of technology excellence and talent production,” while recognizing the long-term partnership between the city and university that produced it.
“To our friends at Virginia Tech, and in particular to President Tim Sands, thank you very much for your visionary leadership at Virginia Tech,” Silberberg said. “We look forward to working with you and continuing to work with you in Alexandria city for many years.”
The partnership among the commonwealth, Alexandria, and Virginia Tech was a key theme mentioned during the campus announcement.
“I think this partnership with Virginia Tech is going to really be an exceptional opportunity to for us to provide a pipeline for our future innovators,” said Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings Jr., whose school division offices are within sight of the Innovation Campus location. “The sky really is the limit.”
The wide-ranging state investment in education that helped attract Amazon means that people all across Virginia stand to benefit from this push to open new pathways to technology careers.
Virginia Tech Vice President for Strategic Affairs and Diversity Menah Pratt-Clarke said the university has “an extensive program to recognize talent and to identify talent early and to cultivate talent,” in communities across the commonwealth.
The day’s announcements, she continued, represent a powerful “opportunity for Virginia Tech, for the state, to identify innovators and scientists and get them interested in the range of opportunities that higher ed offers — and to train them.”
Virginia Tech faculty and administrators in Northern Virginia recognized the announcement as a transformational moment for the university and for a regional economy that is seeking to diversify itself.
“The choice of Crystal City and the proximity to Virginia Tech validates a lot of what we’ve been doing up here,” said Susan Piedmont-Palladino, director of Virginia Tech’s Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center. “It shows how important Virginia Tech is to this area. We feel like it’s a great partnership with the city and Virginia Tech. This is a catalyst to make that happen, and it’s very exciting.”
Back at the Blacksburg campus, students who heard the news as it broke were excited as well.
“This really adds value to a Virginia Tech degree and will really boost us on the national level,” said Sam Felber, a junior majoring in political science and president of the Student Government Association of Virginia Tech. "Growing up in Northern Virginia, I think it's really cool because I've always been like, I wish Blacksburg was closer to home and now this kind of feels like an extension of the Hokie community closer back home to Washington, D.C."
“It’s really exciting because Amazon is a company we all know and pretty much all use, and I've had a lot of friends who worked for Amazon, both interns and full-time, and they all love the work that they've gotten to do there,” said Rachel Iwicki, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering and Russian, and an undergraduate representative on the Board of Visitors. “I was following the HQ2 competition before I knew Virginia Tech was involved, and when I heard Virginia Tech was part of the reason that we won, I was really excited because it just shows that we're well respected for what we do, and that they think that we can help them do some amazing things in the future."
"I am very excited about what the future holds for Virginia Tech,” said Bri Sclafani, a junior majoring in criminology, sociology, and history. “The Innovation Campus is a great new way for Virginia Tech to establish itself nationally and globally.”
“This is a great opportunity for Virginia Tech students to work in cutting-edge research facilities, and we’re fortunate the campus will be right next to Amazon,” said Morgan Broadus, a junior architecture major.
— Written by Mason Adams