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Dorm named for
first woman dean

By Sandy Broughton

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 12 - November 13, 1997

In recognition of her long years of service to Virginia Tech and her involvement in establishing quality programs for women at Virginia Tech, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors has named a new dormitory for the late Laura Jane Harper.
The soon-to-be constructed student residence hall on West Campus Drive will be known as Harper Hall, "as an enduring tribute to Dean Emeritus Laura Jane Harper, a true pioneer, educator, and leader with remarkable vision who profoundly influenced the course of education at Virginia Tech, leaving a legacy of equal educational opportunity for all," read the resolution.
Construction on the new dormitory, which is to be built between Cochrane and Engel halls across the street from Wallace Hall, is slated to begin in spring 1998 and expected to be completed for the fall 1999 semester.
Professor and Dean Emeritus Harper served Virginia Tech for many years, including a distinguished 20-year tenure as dean of what was then called the College of Home Economics, now the College of Human Resources and Education. She began her career at the university in 1949 as an associate professor, teaching foods and nutrition. In 1960, Harper was named dean of the College of Home Economics. She was named professor and dean emeritus in 1980 upon retirement. She maintained her ties to the university until her death in 1996, near her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi.
"When I first became a dean in 1990, I was told by other deans when voting on issues to `follow Dean Harper's lead. You can't go wrong.' I did and she wasn't," said university President Paul Torgersen.
Known for her feistiness and hard-driving personality, Harper was the first woman academic dean at Virginia Tech. She was a pioneering and persistent voice for equal-educational opportunities for all, and she provided much of the leadership in shaping the university as it is known today. At the beginning of her career at Virginia Tech, Harper had joint responsibilities for the home-economics programs both at Tech and at Radford College, which was then the women's division of Tech, and over time she guided the dissolution of this arrangement with Radford College so that women would have equal opportunities at both institutions.
"Laura Jane Harper was not only a role model for many women educators, but a scholar in her own right. She paved the way for so many women at Virginia Tech that one need not look far in any direction to find her impact on campus life," said university Provost and Senior Vice President Peggy Meszaros.
Among her countless achievements, Harper was instrumental in recruiting the first male students and faculty members into the home-economics program, arranged for the first woman to be commissioned in the ROTC program at Virginia Tech, developed the first college and career guidance programs and one of the earliest study-abroad programs at the university. She remained active in the development of women's programs long after her retirement. She sat on the committee to plan Women's Week programs and also on the Women's Network Advisory Committee.
A widely recognized and published scholar in the field of human nutrition and foods, Harper played a large role in developing and teaching much of the human-nutrition-and-foods curriculum courses at Tech. Among them were institutional food management, therapeutic nutrition, and maternal and child nutrition. Her leadership was instrumental in the development and accreditation of home-economics programs.
Harper also worked with and did research for Virginia Cooperative Extension and, while dean, served concurrently from 1964 to 1974 as assistant director of the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station in charge of home-economics research.
She received a bachelor's degree from Belhaven College, a master's degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a Ph.D. from Michigan State University. She did post-graduate work at Cornell University and Virginia Tech.