Three Virginia Tech departments received the 2016 Exemplary Department or Program Award.

The winners are the Department of Physics, the Department of Chemistry, and the Department of Biological Sciences. All three departments are in the College of Science.

“I am delighted that three of our eight departments have been recognized as exemplary departments,” said Sally C. Morton, dean of the College of Science. “Our departments of Biological Sciences, Chemistry, and Physics are unique on campus as they not only serve students within the college, but also students from across the university in a wide variety of disciplines and majors. We in the College of Science are honored to teach more than 220,000 student credit hours for undergraduates each year, which is close to 50 percent of the undergraduate teaching that takes place at Virginia Tech. I am proud that our departments not only meet these demands, but excel in doing so.”

Presented annually since 1994, the University Exemplary Department or Program Awards program and ceremony are funded through the Office of the Provost and facilitated by the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research. The award recognizes the work of programs and/or departments that maintain exemplary teaching and learning environments for students and faculty, and, in particular, accomplish this through collaborative, group efforts.

For 2016, the awards theme recognized groups for developing and sustaining effective large-class instruction. Each department will receive a portion of the $40,000 award for its achievements.

The university community is invited to celebrate the recipients at a recognition ceremony at 4 p.m. Feb. 7 in Latham Ballroom C, at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center. Please register for the event.

Department of Biological Sciences

The Department of Biological Sciences is one of the university's largest departments with 47 tenure-track faculty members, nine full-time instructors or professors of practice, more than 1,000 undergraduate students, and 90 graduate students.

In 2016, the department revised its freshman lecture course to an active learning format.

Undergraduate degrees offered in the department include bachelor’s degrees in biological sciences, biological sciences with a biomedical option, and microbiology. Each of these programs focuses on the fundamentals of the science of life, and they are all research oriented and laboratory intensive.

The department also won the Exemplary Department Award in 2002.

Department of Chemistry

The Department of Chemistry employs more than 31 tenure-track faculty members, five full-time instructors, and houses approximately 300 undergraduate students and 130 graduate students.

The department focuses heavily on undergraduate research, and students can participate in research projects offered through courses, paid positions, or summer programs. Students are also given opportunities to showcase their research at the poster presentation events in fall and spring semesters. At these events, students display their work and learn about other research being conducted within their department. They are also encouraged to enhance their ability to communicate research findings.

Out of more than 600 colleges offering accredited chemistry degrees, the Department of Chemistry ranks in the top 50 in total number of graduates, offering both a B.S. and a B.A. in chemistry. The B.S. is designed for students looking to pursue higher education or a career in chemical industry, and the B.A. is less focused on lab work and is designed for students pursuing a double major or looking to broaden their career options.

In its mission to develop and deliver effective large-class instruction, the Department of Chemistry stresses consistency of both depth and coverage across all sections of a course — this approach also facilitates group learning (both in and outside the classroom) through the design of assignments that emphasize teamwork. A cornerstone if its success is the ability to engage students (most of whom are not chemistry majors) through in-class lecture demonstrations that make learning enjoyable, provide an interactive atmosphere, and assist visual learners. Finally, teaching large classes successfully would not be achievable without the dedication of faculty members who are caring, innovative, enthusiastic, and exceptionally talented.

The department also won the Exemplary Department Award in 2009, 2014, and 2015. With the most recent honor, Chemistry has now won the award three years in a row.

Department of Physics

The Department of Physics contains 34 tenure-track faculty members, three full-time instructors, 351 undergraduate students, and 82 graduate students. 

The department offers multiple clubs, research groups, and facilities to promote experiential learning. Students and faculty work closely together on a variety of research topics, including: astronomical sciences, biological physics, biomedical physics, experimental condensed matter physics, theoretical condensed matter physics, experimental nuclear and particle physics, theoretical particle physics and string theory, mathematical physics, and neuroscience. It provides successful large class instruction in introductory algebra and calculus-based physics lectures and laboratories and in introductory astronomy lectures.

Degrees within the department include a B.S. in physics or a B.A. in physics with an option of either physics education, pre-health, or pre-law. Courses are designed to prepare students for governmental or industrial lab work or for graduate studies in a related field. 

The Department of Physics won the Exemplary Department Award in 1999 and 2003.

About the Awards

complete list of past Exemplary Department or Program Award winners, along with the theme of the award for the year, is available online.

Next year’s award theme is, “Effectively engaging students in hands-on, minds-on instructional environments.” Information will be posted to the center’s website.

Story contains reporting by Jessie Rogers of Suffolk, Virginia, a student in the Department of English, part of the College Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.  

Editor's note: This story was updated to provide additional information since it was first published. 

Share this story