The Virginia Tech Board of Visitors Executive Committee met online today, similar to the full board meeting held March 26, to discuss and approve several business items and to receive updates from senior university leaders on the institution’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the nearly two-hour meeting, the Executive Committee approved a resolution to establish a new School of Communication and Digital Media this fall, pending the approval of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

In recent years, the field of communication has grown considerably in terms of specialization, expertise, disciplinary areas, and methodologies. The new school, to be hosted within the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, will enhance the university’s ability to create, convey, and apply knowledge that expands personal growth and understanding of human communication, improves media practice, and broadens media literacy among voters and other media consumers.

A complete story on the new school will be published in Virginia Tech News Monday.

The board also approved resolutions to rename two residence halls located in the Upper Quad. The building formerly known as New Cadet Hall, located at 310 Alumni Mall, was renamed Pearson Hall West. And in a complementary move, Pearson Hall, located at 260 Alumni Mall, was renamed Pearson Hall East.

The buildings are named for James Ashley “J.” Pearson II, a 1987 graduate with a degree in agricultural and applied economics, and his wife, Renae Collier Pearson, a 1990 graduate with a degree in family and child development. Both were members of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets.

The story of the Pearsons’ passion for the Corps of Cadets and their legacy of philanthropy can be found on Virginia Tech News.

To update the board on the university’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia Tech President Tim Sands began with an overview of planning efforts and potential scenarios for fall semester.

Based on statewide efforts to flatten the curve of the pandemic, Sands said he was hopeful that Virginia Tech may be able to resume operations in the fall, but the university’s first priority in resuming operations has been and continues to be the health and safety of the community. Sands noted that all colleges and universities, including Virginia Tech, are making plans based on what’s right for their campus and community.

Given Virginia Tech’s large academic and research footprint across Southwest Virginia and the commonwealth, the university will continue to gather information before making a final decision. The university will announce on or about June 8 its plans for the fall semester, allowing time for students, faculty, and staff to prepare for the semester while also offering the longest possible window to tune the university’s model with the latest information on the pandemic and emerging best practices for public health.

Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke provided an update on online instruction, research, and study abroad. He noted online instruction continues successfully with extensive use of technology platforms. Canvas, the university’s learning management system, is averaging 1.2 million page views daily, and more than 46,000 videos have been added to Kaltura, the university’s video storage platform. He also noted that the deadline for the credit/noncredit grade option is today and that as of May 1, approximately 11 percent of students elected to change at least one course to credit/non-credit.

Research activity remains limited to essential projects, functions, and personnel, Clarke said, but faculty are active in preparing and submitting grant applications, supported by the Office of Sponsored Programs.

Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer Dwayne Pinkney provided a brief update on operational impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pinkney will discuss financial issues at the Finance and Resource Management Committee meeting on Thursday.

Michael J. Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and Virginia Tech’s vice president of health sciences and technology, discussed how Virginia Tech scientists developed a new COVID-19 test, secured federal and state approvals, and have begun processing samples at on-campus labs in Blacksburg and Roanoke.

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