Virginia Tech’s push to implement a groundbreaking model of cross-cutting education and research is poised to take a major leap forward.

Pending consideration and approval by the university’s Board of Visitors, Virginia Tech will launch the planning and design phase for $78.45 million in projects supporting the Intelligent Infrastructure for Human-Centered Communities Destination Area of strategic emphasis. The board will be presented an authorizing resolution April 3.

President Tim Sands’ vision has inspired $25 million in philanthropy toward a central component of the destination area, accelerating the timetable for a two-building Intelligent Infrastructure and Construction Complex and multiple related projects.

“Drawing $25 million in private support is quite an endorsement for the direction President Sands is charting for the university,” Board of Visitors Rector Jim Chapman said.

The project is essential to an effort led by Sands and Executive Vice President and Provost Thanassis Rikakis to build research and teaching capacity by leveraging Virginia Tech’s nationally leading programs in smart construction, autonomous vehicles, ubiquitous mobility, and energy systems through an infrastructure-related destination area.

“Virginia Tech is a national leader in construction education, but today’s fast-moving technology demands a broader view,” said John Lawson (geophysics ’75), who is president and CEO of W.M. Jordan Company, one of several principal donors to the project, and a namesake of Virginia Tech’s Myers-Lawson School of Construction. “By combining knowledge of smart construction with expertise in autonomous vehicles and energy systems, Virginia Tech can be the world’s leading source of expertise in intelligent infrastructure. Thanassis’ ability to recognize this opportunity, and his hard work to bring it to this milestone point, has impressed and inspired me.”

HITT Contracting Inc. Co-President Brett Hitt, Chairman Russell Hitt, and Co-President Jim Millar; W.M. Jordan Company President and CEO John Lawson.
Virginia Tech’s vision for intelligent infrastructure has inspired $25 million in donations from industry leaders. Major support has come from the charitable foundation controlled by members of the family that owns Hitt Contracting Inc. Pictured from left are the company’s Co-President Brett Hitt, Chairman Russell Hitt, and Co-President Jim Millar. Pictured at right is W.M. Jordan Company President John Lawson, another principal donor.

Board of Visitors approval would clear the way to begin work on the $50 million complex and other projects projected to total $28.45 million, including an Autonomy Park, Autonomy Study Corridor, and Smart Design and Construction Park. The university will also expand research and teaching capacity in smart energy systems using the intelligent infrastructure facilities in Blacksburg.

Groundbreaking education and research

Intelligent Infrastructure for Human-Centered Communities is one of five interdisciplinary destination areas established at Virginia Tech. Rooted in the Beyond Boundaries vision that is driving the university’s long-range planning, destination areas unite faculty, students, and industry partners from different fields to address complex problems of global significance. Organizing around major issues, rather than traditional academic disciplines, is a strategic departure from typical higher-education practice. The intent is to advance Virginia Tech as a global destination for talent in key, transdisciplinary areas of strength.

Land alongside Perry Street in Virginia Tech’s North Academic Precinct is designated for the Intelligent Infrastructure and Construction Complex. Along with Lawson, several industry leaders have donated $25 million combined.

“I’m impressed by the scope of the president’s and provost’s vision for intelligent infrastructure at Virginia Tech,” said Brett Hitt, co-president of HITT Contracting Inc. “Virginia Tech is thinking big about where the world’s infrastructure needs are heading and so is HITT Contracting. We see ourselves as natural partners.”

Hitt’s father and the company’s chairman, Russell Hitt, was one of the project’s early supporters. In thanking all donors to the project, Sands stressed how critical philanthropy is to Virginia Tech’s global position.

“It is inspiring to have people such as Brett Hitt, Russell Hitt, John Lawson, and other industry leaders show their support with such extraordinary gifts,” Sands said. “With our visionary framework for the future, supported by a strong reputation and transformative philanthropy, this is our opportunity to establish Virginia Tech, with our partners, as the global leader in intelligent infrastructure research and education.”

Rikakis said scaling up to provide new living-learning models in academic areas of excellence will transform the Virginia Tech student, uniquely preparing a next-generation workforce.

“We are ready to take the next step on a major scale,” Rikakis said. “Being ready to seek endorsement from the Board of Visitors, having secured the commitment of internal and external partners, is exciting. We are uniquely positioned to take a nationally leading, systems approach to 21st-century infrastructure, since we have strengths at each component and a long tradition of connecting components and overcoming boundaries in order to advance the human condition. Success will accelerate our other destination areas as well, enabling Virginia Tech to redefine how a research university engages the world.”

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