Board of Visitors hears report on College of Science research, teaching, advancement growth
Virginia Tech College of Science Interim Dean Ron Fricker updated the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors on Sunday, Nov. 7, reporting that the college is “accelerating science” by both growing its research awards and bolstering philanthropic support, and it is focused on supporting and advancing the university’s strategic vision.
“The College of Science’s deep commitment to world-class scholarship, fundamental research, pedagogical excellence, innovation, and outreach positions us as the college with the ability to significantly ‘move the needle’ on Virginia Tech’s rankings as a global land-grant university,” Fricker said.
Fricker also highlighted the College of Science as a pedagogical powerhouse that teaches more than one quarter of all undergraduate credit hours at Virginia Tech. In fact, more than 98 percent of all undergraduates take at least one class in the College of Science, and undergraduate enrollment in science majors has risen steadily over the past four years, increasing by 35 percent since 2017 to 4,827 students.
“I’m also very proud to report that, through the dedication and creativity of our faculty, 94 percent of our courses are being taught in person this semester,” Fricker said. The other six percent are a combination of hybrid and fully online classes to give students choice. “For example,” said Fricker, “in some of our classes that have a large number of sections, we offered a few in an online format and let students choose.”
Fricker highlighted the College of Science's research portfolio, where in the past four years total research awards have risen 66 percent, reaching $47.5 million last year. Furthermore, in 2020 three college faculty received prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER awards, as well as a Department of Energy and a National Institutes of Health award to other junior faculty.
The college has helped grow its research by investing in faculty. As an example, Fricker highlighted the “Dean’s Discovery Fund” internal grant program — made possible by the Lay Nam Chang Dean’s Chair, endowed by the College of Science Dean’s Roundtable. As Fricker explained, the College of Science invests the proceeds from the endowed fund in faculty via a competitive process.
“This effort is working really well,” Fricker said. “The investments have enabled faculty to compete for and win additional external research awards of more than $6 million, which is ten-times greater than the investment.”
The college’s advancement work has also yielded impressive growth across the board, Fricker said. Total commitments to the college of $9.4 million in 2021 were up 31 percent compared to the average of the previous four years. Total donors have increased by 120 percent since 2017, growing by 37 percent between 2020 and 2021 – to an 18.4 percent donor participation rate.
Fricker emphasized two key elements of the College of Science’s six-year strategic plan to the Board of Visitors: creation of the Academy of Data Science — designed to become a crossroads of interdisciplinary data science work — and the development of a Women in Science Leadership program.
“We want the Virginia Tech College of Science to become a destination for talent,” Fricker said. “Our Women in Science Leadership program is part of our aim to build a diverse, inclusive community of scientists.”
The Academy of Data Science, including the Computational Modeling and Data Analytics program, will be located in the Data and Decision Sciences building, part of Virginia Tech’s Global Business and Analytics Complex. On March 12, the university broke ground for the Data and Decisions Sciences building, expected to be completed in 2023.
Data science, Fricker said, is just one example of how the College of Science collaborates across the entire university. He provided examples of the college teaming with nearly every other college and institute across Virginia Tech, from the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics major housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, to the Hume Center and Innovation Campus in the Greater Washington, D.C., metro area.
“The past two years have shown the critical role science plays in society,” Fricker said. “Scientific excellence has fueled Virginia Tech’s rise over the past 150 years, and we are in an excellent position to help lead the university to even greater heights.”