From the Dean's Perspective
August 15, 2017
In July we welcomed Tom Crawford as chair of the Department of Geography. Tom comes to us from St. Louis University, where he held the Banpu Chair of Sustainability. His research interests, which combine human geography and geospatial science in the study of land-use changes, make him an especially good fit, and his extensive leadership in program development come at an important time as we continue to seek growth in enrollment and standing of our already well-regarded programs. Most importantly, Tom gets the essence of academic leadership, and I look forward to working with him to continue to advance the department and the college.
For the third consecutive year, the college was ranked No. 1 by USA Today College Edition among more than 50 natural resource and conservation programs in the U.S. Our forestry program was ranked No. 1 by the same study. The college’s packaging systems and design degree in the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials has been one of the fastest-growing new majors on campus and was recently ranked seventh out of the top 20 packaging programs in the country by Value Colleges. Graduates find many good-paying opportunities in the global packaging sector, the third largest on the planet. The packaging sector uses a lot of wood and wood fiber, so this program synergizes with the comprehensive profile of our portfolio. Our faculty, staff, and students are truly outstanding, and these rankings are because of their commitment.
We enter the fall semester with about 900 undergraduates enrolled in the college and welcomed more than 200 entering freshman and transfer students this summer. Enrollment is more uniformly distributed across our four departments than ever before. Orientation is a bright spot during the summer months, and we are as excited as our students about their arrival at Virginia Tech and the college. We plan to crest 1,000 undergraduate students by spring 2018 on our way to our college goal of 1,250, in step with Virginia Tech’s enrollment growth goals.
We have added additional advisors to our college Advising Center to better support our growing enrollment and to serve our students and faculty. All freshmen, sophomores, and transfer students are advised in the Advising Center. An advisor will be assigned to each academic department, forming a synergistic partnership between the Advising Center, the department faculty, and our students. College growth, both in student enrollment as well as faculty and staff, will require scaling our entire enterprise to ensure that we maintain the collegial, supportive, and welcoming atmosphere that is our hallmark.
As you read and think about how the college is growing, please know that we are very much tuned into the environment in which we work and how we serve our students and each other. Strategic growth is a key component of the college’s future in the complex world of higher education. We are keen on maintaining and expanding our natural resources and environment programs in the growing mix of programs and initiatives at Virginia Tech. We are keeping our roots but adding new branches and flowers!
I was on a panel discussion last fall and asked other panel members “What can we do at the university to better prepare students for careers in the public and private sector?” The responses were exactly as I anticipated: “Your students need better communication skills and better speaking and writing skills.” Our Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation Advisory Board broached this topic at its spring meeting. Many members told me it was the most engaging and valuable board meeting ever! The members spent considerable time on this topic, and I snapped a photo of the white board for the record.
Under the heading “soft skills,” the board developed a list of terms that capture a wide range of skills and competencies. Every book I read, whether on leadership, strategy, or emotional intelligence, includes many of these topics — the same discussed by the board for successful employees, successful leadership, and successful organizations. These are important life skills, and we incorporate many throughout our courses and curricula. However, I believe we need a renewed strategy and effort to address the perception and reality of our students’ writing and speaking skills, and other competencies mentioned by the board. What if our students were not only recognized nationally for their subject matter competency but also as exceptional communicators — writing and speaking as seasoned professionals? What will we do in the college to address this in a meaningful way? Stay tuned to the conversation; I welcome your input.
Creating space for meaningful and inclusive conversation seems a lost art in today’s busy world but is something we all need to work on. To this end, the college will hold several networking events over the coming year — getting out of Blacksburg to engage with you. We have many emerging opportunities in front of us, and how we position programs, develop courses, and hire faculty and staff must be accompanied by meaningful and inclusive conversation. That is my goal for the coming year — to engage in conversation within the college and with our stakeholders and alumni about our continually evolving future. I hope you will join me.
I hope to see you at the college’s 25th anniversary celebration September 15-16. Don’t miss this very special celebration of our heritage, our accomplishments, and our relationships. We are proud caretakers of this wonderful institution — the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech. Our work and value to society is more important than ever before.
Thank you for your continued interest and support.
Warm regards from our faculty, staff, and students,
Paul M. Winistorfer