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Pandemic Doesn’t Slow Planning for Historic VA Tech Celebration

In the midst of an historic time around the world, Virginia Tech is preparing to honor, celebrate, and propel the university forward from a monumental milestone.

Beginning in fall 2021, the university will begin a multifaceted celebration of its sesquicentennial anniversary. Since March, the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee and work groups with members from across the university community have met virtually to craft a vision for lifting up Virginia Tech’s first 150 years in a way that looks at the past, lives in the present, and leans into the future.

The result of this effort will be a celebration that engages individual Hokies and communities as well as demonstrates the impact of the university. A key focus will be a personal and institutional commitment to service, embodied in the university motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). The sesquicentennial includes honest and heartfelt examinations of the past and expectations and desires for future, which will be curated with perspective added from the current COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide calls for racial justice reforms.

“These insights will help transform the university’s sesquicentennial anniversary into a series of milestone events that focus our energy on our community’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations for the next 150 years,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. “We will celebrate our many successes, acknowledge lessons learned, and incorporate these experiences into our vision for the future.”

Putting the university’s past and future in the context of the present is a top priority and is at the forefront of the work being done by the Engagement work group.

The members are tasked with gaining insights from each of the widespread and diverse communities that make up Virginia Tech. They have already begun this work, holding focus groups and seeking feedback from students, faculty, alumni, and community members across the university’s entire global footprint.

“We’re asking people to think big as to what they might want this celebration to look like and the types of activities they’d be interested in taking part in,” said Debbie Day, associate vice president for alumni relations. “At the same time, we’re thinking about questions such as Virginia Tech’s responsibility as an institution to assist with COVID-19 and to take a stand against social injustice.”

One effort to provide context for the celebration is the steering committee’s partnership with the Council on Virginia Tech History, which examines the university’s histories and lifts up the unheard voices of people and groups who were marginalized in the past. The Projects and Products working group is curating projects from across the university and is tracking projects by the council and other groups to collaboratively illustrate and advance the themes of the sesquicentennial.

“Our goal is to discover projects, keep track of their progress, and even seed ideas among faculty, students, and alumni,” said Peter Potter, director of publishing, University Libraries, who leads the diverse group of creatives, producers, archivists, planners, and faculty members.

“A key effort of our work group is to engage people across all of the colleges and campuses. We want people to come to us with their ideas so we can help them and help facilitate collaboration. Whether they are traditional or novel, we’re really open to hearing new ideas about how to tell Virginia Tech’s many stories,” Potter said.

Weaving such efforts, as well as events and programs, together is the task of the Academic work group which will create the overarching themes that uniformly engage every college, school, and department across the university. The themes will also inform the activities of alumni chapters, student groups, and Hokies around the world.

“We want to energize a spirit of collaboration and facilitate engaging with one another in ways that help build both our community and our creativity,” said Navid Ghaffarzadegan, a co-chair of the group and an associate professor in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

He said the themes will provide the opportunity for the university community to unite over cross-cutting missions such as solving complex programs and transforming how we create and share knowledge as well as engaging our many communities.

“It’s about all the energy we’re going to create together to move us forward,” Ghaffarzadegan said.

Throughout the early fall, the sesquicentennial work groups will continue seeking input on this milestone event. Those wishing to take part in this process can ask a question or share their ideas or view updates on the website.

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