Bowman gift of $5 million strengthens students’ path to sustainable land development design
In the late 20th century, Virginia Tech students and young professionals did not have many opportunities to explore land development design in college. Establishment of the Land Development Design Initiative (LDDI) in about 2005 changed that. Now, all civil engineering students learn about land development design early in their college experience, which allows them to make calculated decisions about entering this broad industry.
Gary Bowman, who graduated in 1980 with a degree in civil and environmental engineering, didn’t get to experience LDDI’s benefits as a student, but he is passionate about creating such learning opportunities for current and future engineers. Bowman has committed $5 million to the Charles E. Via, Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering to expand learning initiatives in sustainable land development.
The Bowman Sustainable Land Development Program will encompass the undergraduate and graduate academic components of sustainable land development, including the sustainable land development master’s program, now in its second year. The Bowman Sustainable Land Development Program will also now encompass the Land Development Design Initiative, which will be renamed but will continue to serve as a portal through which individuals and organizations in the land development industry can provide input on curriculum and engage with students through mentoring and experiential learning opportunities.
“The Bowman gift solidifies Virginia Tech as the premier undergraduate and graduate programs in the field of sustainable land development.” said Via department head Mark Widdowson. “In partnership with the land development industry and through the generosity of Gary Bowman, our department has set the standard for curriculum innovation and experiential learning that will enrich the education of civil engineering students for years and decades to come.”
The Land Development Design Initiative began as a collaboration between the Via department and professionals across all sectors of the land development industry. Bill Knocke, department head at the time, and Randy Dymond, a professor in the civil and environmental engineering department at the time, identified a need based on repeated calls from industry leaders. Dymond noticed in his interactions with students that they were entering the land development field with knowledge only from a single elective course taught by an adjunct professor.
Leaders for the initiative tapped into the large network of civil and environmental engineering alumni in industry. They held outreach “road shows” in Northern Virginia, Richmond, Hampton Roads, and Roanoke to solicit alumni support for their mission. These small gatherings developed into a large network of industry support across the country, far exceeding original expectations. As a result, Virginia Tech has become a nationally recognized leader in undergraduate, and now graduate, land development design education.
“I played a relatively small role in getting LDDI up and running,” Bowman said. “Many others have put much more time and energy into it than I have. However, together our support over the years has resulted in something that is quite special and unique. It provides direction and education to students that they cannot get anywhere else.”
That direction and education comes from the engaged participation of Bowman and like-minded alumni and industry professionals throughout the college experience. Today, there are nearly 800 individuals representing 100 organizations in the initiative’s industry-affiliated database. These industry affiliates contribute ideas for curriculum improvement, opportunities for practitioner engagement with students, and other suggestions for improving the program.
In addition to providing mentors inside the classroom, the initiative strives to acquaint students with different career opportunities within the broad land development industry, including municipal engineering, real estate, and specialized areas of sustainability.
“At the time of LDDI’s founding and continuing to this day, few civil engineering programs have even a single course focused on land development design,” said Kevin Young, program coordinator and associate professor of practice in the Via department “This program provides Virginia Tech students with five individual courses in this discipline, which is unique [compared] to other programs,”
Gifting new opportunities for future students
Bowman founded Bowman Consulting in 1995 as a small firm focused on the planning and design of residential communities throughout Northern Virginia. Bowman Consulting, with Gary Bowman as the company’s chief executive officer, has grown into a 1,700-person publicly traded design and consulting firm with offices throughout the United States. The firm has been recognized for its growth over the years by numerous publications. But supporting this growth early on had its challenges, especially the limited numbers of students with land development and design education, Bowman said, adding that the program that now bears his name has helped change that dynamic for the better.
“When I began to recruit students from Virginia Tech 25 years ago, most students were unaware of land development design as a potential career path,” Bowman said. “The establishment of LDDI resulted in a sea change in awareness among Virginia Tech students of land development design as a desirable career choice. Clearly the industry, and our company, has benefited from the influx of well-prepared young talent.”
Bowman is grateful for his leadership role in industry and said he hopes his gift will allow more young engineers to pursue this rewarding career path.
The growth of the Bowman Sustainable Land Development Program will go far beyond making engineers simply aware of sustainable land development. Young, who will continue to lead the program, noted that the gift will provide more experiential learning opportunities, such as field trips and practitioner-led workshops, guest lectures, product exhibitions, and networking events.
“This gift will help us move forward in the vision of the College of Engineering by providing access to hands-on, experiential learning opportunities for land development students,” said Julia M. Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering at Virginia Tech. “I want to thank the Bowman family for this gift that will create possibilities to attract the best students and provide dynamic experiences as they begin their careers in engineering.”
Bowman has a long history of giving back to the university. This includes serving on the College of Engineering Advisory Board and the Civil and Environmental Engineering Alumni Board. He also is a member of the Via department’s Academy of Distinguished Alumni, which honors graduates for their accomplishments and commitment to the profession and the university. During the Land Development Design Initiative’s early years, Bowman served on the program’s leadership board. Bowman's wife, Terri, and son Greg are both graduates of the Pamplin College of Business.
“The program has withstood the test of time and has blossomed into a mature program educating a tremendous number of students,” Bowman said. “My hope is that this gift will be the beginning of a new level of support for the program that will ensure its long-term durability and provide resources to enable it to continue to grow and evolve.”