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Exemplary departments selected for 1998

By Sandy Broughton, Liz Crumbley,

and Catherine Doss

Spectrum Volume 21 Issue 04 - September 17, 1998

The departments of Urban Affairs and Planning (UAP), Building Construction (BC), Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), and Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) have been selected as University Exemplary Departments for 1998. The four departments were chosen for their collaborative work across departmental boundaries to fulfill common or complementary goals.
UAP was awarded $20,000; MSE $10,000; and BC and CEE will share a $10,000 prize.
The Exemplary Department Awards will be presented at a reception hosted by Meszaros on Tuesday, Sept. 29.
The Exemplary Department Awards Program was established by the Office of the Provost in 1994 to recognize departments and programs that maintain exceptional teaching and learning environments for students and faculty members.
"With this award, we publicly honor the collaborative efforts and successes of a group of dedicated colleagues," said Senior Vice President and Provost Peggy S. Meszaros. "Their efforts are essential for sustaining a truly excellent academic environment."
The award process is carried out by Ron Daniel, associate provost for undergraduate programs, and his staff.
The awards are decided by a selection committee made up of representatives from each college, other university departments, and two students. The committee, chaired by Daniel, reviewed nominations and reached final decisions on the recipients and division of the $40,000 award money.
"We had a large number of high-quality submissions this year," Daniel said. "The selection committee, exemplary in its own right, had to work long and hard to determine the winners."
The Department of Urban Affairs and Planning, headed by John Randolph, has long been dedicated to interdisciplinary and collaborative instruction, research, and outreach. In fact, its mission statement emphasizes that "no single discipline or approach can explain the complexities of modern democratic societies." UAP includes faculty members with advanced education and experience in a number of disciplines all working together to provide students with a coherent vision of how communities work, and how to facilitate positive change within them.
UAP's interdisciplinary perspective is essential to its two undergraduate and two master's programs in planning, public policy, and public management. The department has worked successfully to forge inter-departmental collaborations within the university to benefit both students and the faculty.
In addition to its degree programs, UAP has long collaborated with other departments in the delivery of individual courses through joint faculty appointments and team teaching. Each year about 25 students from departments in six different colleges minor in UAP undergraduate programs. Thirteen UAP courses are cross-listed with 12 other departments in three other colleges. Over the past five years, UAP faculty members have served on graduate-student committees in 19 other departments in six colleges.
The Department of Urban Affairs and Planning played a key role in developing the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), an innovative collaboration of UAP, the departments of Political Science, Geography, the International Studies Program, and the Center for Public Administration and Policy (CPAP). UAP faculty member James Bohland serves as the director of SPIA, and through the school several collaborative programs have been launched. One example is the Washington Semester, a unique undergraduate summer program co-taught by UAP and political science faculty members, which integrates academic seminars with professional experience in government, public, and non-profit agencies. Preliminary steps have been taken to establish a collaborative four-department master of public and international affairs degree to be offered in Northern Virginia.
Collaboration also characterizes UAP research and outreach activities, and UAP faculty members have directed Virginia Tech's interdisciplinary centers, the Virginia Center for Housing Research, and the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research. More than half of UAP's faculty members have been co-principal investigators on sponsored projects with faculty members from 11 other departments in five colleges.
Among UAP's outreach efforts was the Global Network for Rebuilding Bosnia, which involved faculty members and students from three Virginia Tech departments and three other universities. UAP has also contributed to university-wide research and outreach through involvement with the Community Design Assistance Center, the Economic Development Assistance Center, the Center for Housing Research, the Powell River Project, the Center for Coal and Energy Research, the Center for Hazardous Materials and Environmental Studies, the Center for Gerontology, the Service Learning Center, and others at the university.
A philosophy of collaboration is inherent in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies' Department of Building Construction (BC) and the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering's Construction Engineering and Management (CEM) program, which together established the BC/CEM construction-education joint venture. The collaborative program, which incorporates the work of faculty members and students from several disciplines throughout the university, is coordinated by Yvan Beliveau, BC department head, and Jesus de la Garza, CEM program director.
The joint venture is unique in Virginia and has resulted in close collaboration in both Blacksburg and Northern Virginia to develop the best-possible program of study for the profession. The BC/CEM venture provides a learning environment in which undergraduate and graduate students simulate the collaborative efforts of engineers, designers, and builders in the construction industry.
By joining together, BC and CEM faculty members are able to focus on the entire life-cycle of constructed facilities, from conception to de-commission. Underlying the joint effort is a desire to work more closely with the construction industry to increase the relevance of the academic curricula, and to address the long- and short-term needs of the industry through research and outreach. Frank R. Palmer, vice president for the Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., termed the program "very impressive" and one that is "producing builders that can make an immediate impact in the industry."
The program also is praised by academic peers. "The BC/CEM joint venture at Virginia Tech has emerged as a living example of where the future of the industry lies: alignment of objectives, collaboration, and integration of efforts among all stakeholders," said Jorge A. Vanegas, co-director of the Construction Research Center at Georgia Tech.
Materials Science and Engineering (MSE), under the direction of Department Head Ronald Gordon, is by nature interdisciplinary, incorporating concepts from several engineering fields as well as from chemistry, physics, geology and other sciences. Capitalizing on this foundation, the Virginia Tech MSE department has established numerous collaborative programs and relationships with other departments throughout the university.
In fact, 60 percent of MSE faculty members have joint appointments in other departments, and several MSE undergraduate and graduate courses are cross-listed with other departments.
A unique collaborative program established in MSE is the Advanced Engineering Writing and Communications Program, started in 1993 by Robert Hendricks of MSE and Eric Pappas of English. The program uses workplace-modeled writing and communications instruction as a tool for teaching technical material without sacrificing technical teaching time. MSE and ESM now have a joint program, with Pappas in charge. Since 1993, three other departments have incorporated similar programs into their curricula, managed by former English graduate students of Pappas. Although other schools of engineering have writing programs, the one at Virginia Tech includes instruction in engineering ethics, creative processes, and interpersonal communications.
MSE faculty members and students are involved in several other inter-disciplinary programs, such as Virtual Corporations, the practice-oriented master's-degree program, and the materials-engineering-science doctoral program. MSE faculty members also have been among the leaders in the college-wide Green Engineering program, which is incorporated in all 11 engineering departments.
Michael Craven, a 1998 MSE graduate, had the opportunity to work on his senior honors project in conjunction with electrical and computer engineering faculty and students at the Virginia Power Electronics Center. "The interdisciplinary nature of my project has provided me with the opportunity to work with engineers from many disciplines toward a common goal," Craven said. "I am confident that this unique experience will be of immeasurable value in my future career."
The theme for next year's Exemplary Department Awards will be effectively linking research and teaching with particular emphasis on innovative undergraduate programs.