Dear students and families,

Whether you are on one of Virginia Tech’s campuses or at home with family, I hope that you, your family, and your friends are safe and secure. We are all being challenged in ways we could never have imagined a few short months ago. I know that some of you are experiencing this illness among family and friends. For those of you who have lost people close to you, I can’t begin to properly convey my deepest sympathies for your sorrow and loss. Some of your family members are on the front lines in protecting our health, security, food supply, and other essential elements of the human experience. We all know people who are risking their own health to protect us. To those individuals, thank you!

Nationwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced individuals, families, businesses, and organizations of all types to make dramatic and consequential changes in nearly every aspect of our lives. Higher education is no exception, with institutions nationwide proactively pivoting to remote and online learning, reducing the density of on-campus populations, and reinventing how we engage as communities of learners through technology.

I am proud of Virginia Tech students, faculty, staff, and the communities that our programs and facilities call home. The spirit of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) has been shining through since we began to realize in late January that COVID-19 might strike at the heart of what Hokies value – coming together in communities of discovery and engaging with those we serve to solve complex societal problems in every corner of Virginia and around the globe.

While necessary, I understand these changes have had a significant impact on our community. Nowhere is social distancing more apparent than on the Drillfield in Blacksburg, where April is traditionally characterized by gatherings of thousands of Hokies for the Big Event, Relay for Life, and the 3.2-Mile Run in Remembrance. Every day I speak with a student or parent who is adjusting to experiential learning opportunities that have been postponed or a hands-on laboratory or clinical experience that may not be possible. Students who remained in Blacksburg out of necessity have few opportunities for on-campus engagement, while the engagement of students who are staying at their primary residence is completely virtual. This week, we also made the difficult decision to move summer term academic programs, courses, and lab sections, as well as new student orientation sessions, Summer Academy, and all scheduled summer camps, conferences, and events to online delivery.

For our seniors, their hard work and dedication is culminating in a last semester spent off campus and disconnected from the community they formed over the years at Virginia Tech.  Graduate students, professional students, and researchers in Blacksburg, Roanoke, and our Agricultural Research and Extension Centers are dealing with the challenges of managing projects, clinical engagement, and research under restricted conditions. Faculty, staff, and students in urban regions of Virginia face the additional burden of operating in a region where the virus is currently more prevalent.

As a continuing student you may be concerned about the experience you will have when you return to campus this fall. As of April 6, we have one confirmed positive case in Blacksburg and a small number of cases in the region. At our other sites, we have small numbers of cases and varying degrees of community spread. We are incredibly fortunate in most of Virginia to have had much more time to prepare for this pandemic than urban centers in some other states and around the world. I am impressed with the seriousness with which our community has taken the guidance to stay at home whenever possible. Yet, we have no illusions that we will escape this round of COVID-19 unscathed, even in Blacksburg, and models suggest that our peak will come in late April or May.

It is too early to accurately predict the degree to which the COVID-19 pandemic will influence the fall semester. Let me assure you that we are doing everything we can to ensure that your experience will be just as enriching as it has always been. That said, there is little doubt that your fall experience will be different than it would have been in previous fall semesters in Blacksburg, Roanoke, Northern Virginia, and abroad. In some ways, it may be more dynamic – we will have all gone through an extraordinary experience that has forced us to use technology to build community, and this will bring us closer to our Beyond Boundaries aspiration of a campus without walls. You can sample the creative ways our community is responding to this challenge by participating in virtual opportunities, such as those offered through our cultural and performing arts center, the Moss Arts Center.

Know that however the situation evolves, we will be guided by the primacy of protecting the health and safety of all members of our community. We are considering options for remote and in-person instruction; occupancy guidelines for residence halls, dining centers, gyms, buses, libraries, athletic venues, labs, and classrooms; health screening procedures; and facilities for quarantining individuals, as needed. We are also supporting the mental, financial, and social well-being of Hokies everywhere though Hokie Wellness at Home.

For general updates on the impact of the pandemic on Virginia Tech’s operations and campuses, see our COVID-19 site.

We look forward to when we will all be back on our campuses and in our programs across the commonwealth. In the meantime, stay safe and healthy.

Go Hokies!

Tim Sands,

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