Two students from the college were among the four Virginia Tech undergrads selected to present their work at the T-Summit in Washington, D.C.: Christina Nelson of Purcellville, Virginia, a sophomore majoring in wildlife conservation hoping to pursue a career in scientific illustration, and Emily Schlake of Maidens, Virginia, an aspiring zoo vet who is a junior double majoring in wildlife conservation and animal and poultry sciences.

The annual summit brings together leaders in higher education, industry, government, foundations, and professional associations to look at educational models that produce T-shaped students and professionals. The vertical line of the “T” looks at an individual’s depth of knowledge in at least one discipline; the horizontal line looks at an individual’s breadth and ability to collaborate across a variety of disciplines, as well as crosscutting skills such as communication, project management, and critical thinking.

Joining Nelson and Schlake in presenting at the summit were two fellow students and two faculty leaders from Virginia Tech’s inVenTs Residential Community. InVenTs’ four communities provide an interdisciplinary living-learning space for students from a wide variety of science and engineering disciplines interested in exploring their ability to envision, create, and transform innovative ideas into action. The residence hall features spaces dedicated to support discovery and creative activities of the students, including a state-of-the-art design lab.

“The living community has helped me to discover how I learn best,” Nelson said. At the T-Summit she talked about her role in building a wheelchair cart for a paralyzed dog. “No other project impacted the way I view learning and leadership as this studio project did. I learned to be more open-minded and reach out beyond my comfort zone. And I now see problems as opportunities for creative solutions, not an insurmountable roadblock.”

Schlake spoke about how she created a prosthetic device for two dogs and coordinated a team that built the prosthetic device. “This was a real-world application with multiple stakeholders with competing interests,” she explained. “My biggest challenge was balancing the viewpoints, expectations, and timelines of the freshmen students, sophomore mentors, community directors, and the dog clients.”

Both students are staying on next year as leaders in the living-learning community. Nelson said she loves continuing to live in inVenTs because she is able to put new students at ease and not be intimated by the engineering-dominated environment. “Schlake made it comfortable for me, and now I am passing that on,” she added.

President Tim Sands, who was the keynote speaker at the T-Summit, described how the university is modifying the T-shaped student model to a VT-shaped student, a model that brings in experiential and communal learning. He elaborated on ways educational institutions will have to adapt to prepare students for the future.

“We want to prepare students who can tackle complex global problems and opportunities,” said Sands. “To do that, students need to be adaptable, resilient, and culturally competent, seeing the world through the lens of empathy and our university’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).”