to be named for McComas
By Larry Hincker
Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 24 - March 19, 1998
The university has announced that the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors named the new student-health-and-fitness center in honor of the late James D. McComas, the university's thirteenth president. McComas, noted for his programs to increase the quality of student life on campus, pressed hard for a new center to accommodate rising student enrollment and demand for athletic recreational outlets.
McComas became Virginia Tech's thirteenth president in September, 1988 and served until December 31, 1993. He is generally credited with stabilizing the university during a turbulent fiscal era. Significant changes were made in the dining and residence halls to improve overall quality of student life.
Placing special emphasis on improving undergraduate education, McComas protected faculty positions as the university lost $38 million in state funding beginning in 1989. He established the Center for Excellence in Teaching, and bolstered the university honors program. He stressed the special role of academic advising by personally advising 16 students.
McComas served as president of two other major state universities--the University of Toledo (1985-88) and Mississippi State University (1976-85). He served as a dean at the University of Tennessee and Kansas University. He started his academic career at New Mexico State University where he rose from an assistant to full professor after five years while serving as a professor and administrator there.
Despite severe budget reductions during most of his tenure, Virginia Tech continued to make progress on a number of fronts with efforts to broaden its outreach program through a jointly proposed conference center and renovation of the Hotel Roanoke with the City of Roanoke. The university honors program received special emphasis to bolster undergraduate education.
During his tenure, the university constructed an ancillary student-services building and made major additions to its main student-services building and added facilities for engineering, the research park, student housing, and human resources.
In 1992, the university purchased facilities in Switzerland for the establishment of an international studies center.
The Board of Visitors also approved resolutions to name the University Counseling Center and the Student Health Services Center in honor of former unit directors Thomas E. Cook and Charles W. Shiffert, respectively. The counseling and health centers will both be located inside the new student-health facility.
Cook spent 26 years as the director of University Counseling Services at Virginia Tech before his retirement in 1992. He came to Virginia Tech in 1964 as a counseling psychologist in 1964 and was promoted to center director after only two years.
Under Cook's direction the counseling center became known for its pioneering efforts in the development of computerization, the use of peer assistants, innovative outreach, group counseling, and the unique crisis-intervention program established jointly with Student Health Services.
He was president of the International Association of Counseling Services, chair of the International Counseling Accrediting Board, and a member of the Technical Advisory Board for Mental Health Programs in Southwest Virginia. Virginia Tech later named Cook director emeritus.
Schiffert was director of Student Health Services from 1971 to 1986, when he retired. He came to Virginia Tech as a staff physician in 1968 and was promoted to assistant director one year later. Before arriving at Virginia Tech, Schiffert worked 18 years in private practice in Craigsville. He is a graduate of Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia and spent three years as a U.S. Army physician before becoming a general practitioner.
Schiffert is credited for transforming Student Health Services from a small office with only two full-time physicians to a department with 10 full-time practitioners. He established the center's Nurses Clinic, where nurses provide triage and treatment; an Allergy Clinic; and a Women's Clinic to provide well care and treatment for the special needs of female students. Schiffert is also credited for founding the Middle Atlantic College Health Association of which he served as president from 1977 to 1979.
McComas Hall is a 118,000-square-foot, multi-purpose complex serving student health and recreation needs. It will include the student health center, counseling center, basketball courts, jogging track, weight training rooms, fitness rooms, and a swimming pool. Dedication of McComas Hall is planned for October 1998.