It’s no secret: A strong relationship between a university and town benefits the collective community.

Virginia Tech’s town-gown relations consistently rank among the top in the nation. Six forums each academic year help strengthen ties, invite collaboration, and ensure that the lines of communication are already wide open when a challenge – such as a global pandemic – arises.

“These meetings nurture, deepen, and sustain our relationships with one another,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Frank Shushok Jr., who is beginning year 13 as co-chair for the gatherings, along with Blacksburg Deputy Town Manager Steve Ross. “While we’re learning about and discussing important topics, we’re also reminded that we are a single community that flourishes most when we work together.”

Over the years, Ross has frequently described the collaboration as “camaraderie, communication, and service” for the betterment of the town and the university.

The meetings are open to anyone from the university or surrounding communities who want to attend.

Student voices play an important role. Members of the Virginia Tech Student Life Council participate in the discussions along with experts, community members, and town and university leaders.

“Our topics come from the interests and feedback of participants,” Shushok said. “This year’s lineup is full of interesting subjects, such as construction projects and recreation opportunities, to critical issues like early childhood education and individual and community well-being. The conversations are about things that impact all of us, whether we work or study at Virginia Tech or live in the community or both.”

In many ways, the topics complement Student Affairs’ focus on – and broad understanding of – well-being as outlined by the Gallup Organization. Gallup’s five essential elements are physical, financial, social, career, and community well-being. Although well-being initiatives have been at the forefront for several years, the pandemic put an exclamation mark on the need for ongoing collaboration when it comes to building individual and collective well-being.

The six meeting topics for the 2021-22 academic year are:

  • The Great Outdoors and the New River Valley, Sept. 16.
  • Well-being: The Fabric of a Healthy Community, Oct. 21.
  • Strengthening Off-Campus Life, Dec. 2.
  • Supporting Families and Their Childcare Needs, Feb. 17.
  • The Affordable Housing Puzzle, March 17.
  • Construction Projects That Will Transform Blacksburg and Virginia Tech, April 21.

Meetings are scheduled for 6-7:30 p.m. in the multipurpose library on the first floor of the new Creativity and Innovation District residence hall, which is located next to the Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown between Kent and Otey streets.

Those interested in attending virtually should send an RSVP to Sandy Gautier, executive assistant to the vice president for student affairs, at to receive the Zoom link. 

“My hopes are to bring us together, learn from the experiences of the past 18 months, and strengthen the town-gown relationship even more than it already is,” Ross said.

“Those who attend never walk away disappointed,” Shushok said. “Participants genuinely enjoy being together — and we especially appreciate this opportunity after a year of meeting virtually. We’re glad to be back together in person and to be learning together and working together.” 

Written by Tammy Tripp


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