For Vice President and Executive Director Lance Collins, the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus strategic plan is important not just for its mission, vision, and values, but also for the national imperative it outlines.

 “We have created a strategic plan that maps where we are going and also explains, from a broad perspective, why it’s so important for us to be successful in this work,” he said. “The U.S. must maintain its global leadership in advancing technology. To do that, it all comes down to attracting and developing talent.”

Collins collaborated with and incorporated feedback from leaders at Virginia Tech, the Innovation Campus Advisory Board, and external partners and advisors in industry, government, and academia as he drafted the strategic plan. It opens with this vision:

The Virginia Tech Innovation Campus will be both a place and a culture that unlocks the power of diverse people and ideas to solve the world’s most pressing problems through technology.

Lance Collins sitting in front of the Virginia Tech logo
Lance Collins

Collins, dean of engineering at Cornell University for a decade, came to Virginia Tech because he knew he had a unique opportunity at the Innovation Campus, which was launched as part of the Tech Talent Investment Program created by the state to attract Amazon’s HQ2 to Northern Virginia. 

He arrived with the bold goal of building the most diverse technology graduate campus in the nation to help bridge the growing talent in the Washington, D.C, region. He credits members of the Innovation Campus Advisory Board with helping broaden his perspective. The national imperative section of the strategic plan starts this way:

The United States has enjoyed a preeminent position with respect to technology and its deployment for the betterment of our economy and security of our nation,” says the strategic plan. “The global economy will continue to evolve as emerging nations develop, but it is imperative that the U.S. maintain its leadership role in advancing technology to address society’s greatest challenges and to ensure a safer world."

illustration of glasses

Collins believes the Innovation Campus can play an important role by connecting the dots between education, invention, and commercialization. “We want to unite the private and public sectors with brilliant faculty and students,” he said. “The Innovation Campus alone cannot take on this national imperative, but we can serve as a catalyst.”

The campus mission statement sets the path:

The Virginia Tech Innovation Campus will create the nation’s leading architects of complex, cutting-edge digital technologies through a graduate education that embeds our diverse students and faculty into the science and technology ecosystem of our nation’s capital and beyond. Our experiential curriculum and research address real-world, human-centered challenges derived from technically innovative companies and government agencies.

The Innovation Campus, which has taken big strides forward during Collins’ first year at the helm, will welcome its second cohort of computer science and computer engineering students this week. Course instruction is based out of Virginia Tech’s existing location in Falls Church while the new campus is being built.

The strategic plan outlines a unique, project-based curriculum that embeds students with industry mentors. The goal is to develop students’ leadership skills while they are being technically trained. Collins hopes to implement a small pilot of that curriculum this fall, with plans for it to grow each year until it’s fully implemented when the academic building opens.

Construction of the first Innovation Campus academic building is set to begin with a groundbreaking scheduled for Sept. 14. The 300,000-gross-square-foot facility features a design centered on the principles of sustainability, health and wellness, green and social spaces, accessibility, connectivity, flexibility, and integrated technology. The university expects to welcome students, faculty, and staff into the completed building in fall 2024.

The core values in the strategic plan are taken directly from the university’s strategic plan and include a goal of becoming the most diverse technology graduate program in the nation, an effort bolstered earlier this year by a $50 million commitment from Boeing. The funds will provide student scholarships, foster the recruitment of faculty, and fund STEM pathway programs for underserved K-12 students looking to pursue a college degree and enter high-tech career sectors.

Collins has started the process to invite existing Virginia Tech faculty members interested in an appointment with the Innovation Campus to apply and learn more about the campus plans. He also expects to launch two external searches this fall to hire tenured professors.

The strategic plan also outlines broad expectations for Innovation Campus faculty.

“Innovation Campus faculty will pursue frontier, use-inspired sponsored research in collaboration with each other and with a committed and enduring engagement of the private sector (regional and national), federal agencies that use advanced technology, and any other externalities with overlapping interests with activities on the campus,” says the plan “This faculty expectation and practice will imbue the Innovation Campus with an outward-facing culture that emphasizes connectivity and integration with communities outside of traditional academic circles.”

It was important to include this, Collins said, to differentiate how an Innovation Campus faculty appointment will differ from a traditional academic department.

The strategic plan also includes sections on research, corporate engagement, philanthropy, and cross-campus collaborations.

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