When Virginia Tech was founded 147 years ago in Blacksburg, the “Tech” in its name was more closely associated with farmers and mechanical services. The definition of technology has changed in that time, and so has Virginia Tech. The university’s next evolution will occur when it opens the doors to its new, $1 billion Innovation Campus in National Landing, a place for graduate students to learn about the cutting edge and vital technology of computer sciences.
The announcement of Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus coincided with the reveal that Northern Virginia would be one half of Amazon’s HQ2. Tech worked with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership on including the Innovation Campus in the official proposal, but plans for the campus were being developed prior to Amazon’s anticipated arrival.
When Tim Sands became Virginia Tech’s new president four years ago, the school began pushing to increase its urban landscape. Though Tech has had a presence in Northern Virginia for nearly 50 years, Sands wanted “to have a stronger presence in the urban landscape, because that’s where the modern land-grant is doing its best work,” according to Mark Owczarski, assistant vice president for university relations. So ideas for a new campus were underway when, serendipitously, Amazon came along.
“Really what Amazon is, the simple word is a catalyst,” says Owczarski. “Amazon fast-forwarded this thinking very, very rapidly. Virginia Tech would have done this anyway, it would have just taken us a lot longer to do, perhaps decades.”
Instead, 100 new graduate students will be arriving in Northern Virginia as part of the Innovation Campus in 2019. The official campus is not expected to be completed until 2022-2023, but Virginia Tech will rent or lease out temporary space for the program. When completed, Tech expects the campus to house more than 750 master degrees and 125 Ph.D. students.
Julia Ross, the dean of the College of Engineering at Tech, is helping develop the academic program, which initially will focus on computer science and computer related degrees, “because that’s where the biggest gaps are in the workforce,” Ross says.
The campus will be more than just about academics though. With its close proximity to Amazon, the Innovation Campus will promote a partnership with the conglomerate and others. “Amazon will be a very important partner, but not the only one,” says Brandy Salmon, Tech’s associate vice president for Innovation and Partnerships and the founding chief operating officer for the Innovation Campus.
“There is already industry, there is the federal government, there is Northern Virginia, sort of the gateway to the world and that really special geographic positioning,” Salmon continues. “Those pieces were there and we see a really nice opportunity for a campus like this to kind of knit these things together and be an element of the fabric of the region.”