Virginia Tech Magazine

Volume 15, Number 3
Spring 1993


Bonds to fund long-delayed construction
The Virginia Tech administration is grateful to all Virginians who supported the general obligation bond for higher education on Election Day 1992. With the passage of this bond, projects at Virginia Tech that have been frozen since 1988 soon will receive funding.

Virginia Tech will receive $45.5 million of the $472 million in general obligation bonds that state voters approved in November. Construction will begin this spring on the Veterinary Medicine's Phase IV laboratory and classroom project and an addition to the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station in Winchester.

The state Department of Planning and Budget also has given the university approval to proceed with plans for other projects funded in the bond package. According to Bob Criminger, associate vice president for facilities, a library storage structure will most likely be the next project out for bid. The renovation of Major Williams Hall is in the early stages of planning and design; design contracts for the architecture/engineering building are in the final stages.

Over the past two years, Virginia's public institutions have absorbed $413 million in general-fund budget cuts and have forgone $300 million in planned capital improvements. The bond issue, which is to pay for $613 million in construction statewide during the next five years, is designed to help jump-start the economy.

Blacksburg to become nation's first electronic village

By the turn of the century, Blacksburg residents, businesses, teachers, and Virginia Tech employees and students should be able to communicate with one another through an electronic communications network. The university has joined with C&P telephone and the town of Blacksburg to create the most comprehensive "electronic village" in the nation. The communitywide project will serve as a laboratory for developing the nation's 21st century electronic communications network.

The system is being tested for IBM-PC compatible and Apple Macintosh computers. As the network is developed, a number of applications are expected: students could receive class assignments, read articles, and access information about the 1.8 million-volume Virginia Tech library from their apartments or dorm rooms; patients could transmit medical data to their doctors; people could conduct electronic transactions with stores, banks, and travel agencies; teachers could communicate with parents on a regular basis; civic forums and town meetings could be held electronically. Several companies offering database access, hardware, and software have expressed interest in joining the project.

Board honors Payne, Etgen with building names
The Virginia Tech Board of Visitors honored two of the university's former distinguished faculty members, the Rev. Alfred Payne and the late William M. Etgen, by naming two buildings in their honor. The newest residence hall, now under construction, will be named on behalf of Payne, and the Dairy Judging Pavilion will be renamed the William M. Etgen Dairy Pavilion.

Payne, who retired in 1981, served Virginia Tech for 21 years, both as YMCA coordinator and coordinator of religious affairs and counselor. A book of his prayers, A University at Prayer, was published in 1981. Payne, a graduate of Clemson University and the Yale Divinity School, was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1947. Payne continues to be active in the community, serving on the chamber of commerce board, as chaplain of the local chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons, and co-chair of 4-H development on Smith Mountain Lake.

William Etgen, who died in April 1992, was a professor and undergraduate coordinating counselor in the Department of Dairy Science. The winner of numerous teaching awards, including the National Outstanding Teaching Award from the American Dairy Science Association, Etgen was inducted into the Virginia Tech Academy of Teaching Excellence in 1974.

Etgen also had a major impact on the curricula in his department, college, and university. Under his leadership, the student Virginia Tech Dairy Club was selected as the outstanding dairy club in the nation on 12 occasions.

Reorganization changing New Virginians' status
Virginia Tech's well-known musical troupe, the New Virginians, will soon join other university organizations suffering from budget cutbacks. Under a plan announced by the Department of Music, personnel currently assigned to the music group will be redirected to the music department.

The department now has four staff positions. Two of them, a technical director and a secretary, work with the New Virginians. The two remaining staff members work with the rest of the music faculty and the 11 other student ensembles. Under the new plan, all four staffers will serve the entire department. "These new arrangements will more equitably apportion the department's resources across all of the music programs," said music department head John Husser.

The decision came after two years of study. "It was not a knee-jerk reaction," Husser said, "although I'm sure some people see it that way." Costs and complexity of productions, lighting, choreography, costuming, and traveling of what is now a choir, band, and dance ensemble contributed to the decision, according to Husser.

New Virginians director John Howell agrees the music department needs more positions, but says he finds it "very sad that the only way they can do that is to dismantle a very successful program."

Despite the staff cuts, Husser says the department will continue to sponsor some sort of popular music ensemble. He noted that the specifics of the program, its size, nature, and name, will be determined collectively through discussions with faculty and students.

As for the New Virginians, they still hope to convince university officials to reverse the music department's decision. Howell has sent a letter to former New Virginians soliciting their support. "Come April 16-17," he wrote, "we will either present the last New Virginians Homeshow ever, or the first Homeshow of our next 20 years."

Two win NSF Young Investigator Awards

Two Virginia Tech faculty members received 1992 National Science Foundation Young Investigator Awards to advance their research, which uses sophisticated technology to solve old problems and challenges. The awards, which total up to $100,000 per year for five years, honor Panayiotis Diplas in civil engineering and Lamine Mili in electrical engineering for the outstanding promise of their studies. Diplas is studying meandering streams and crystal growth. He believes that the fluid mechanics principles and mathematical formulas that have evolved from studies of the swirls and eddies that take place during crystal growth can be applied to predicting streams' currents and meandering behavior. That could be important to bridge pier maintenance and construction.

Scouring around bridge piers can cause significant problems for the 500,000 bridges over streams and rivers in the United States. "Advanced knowledge means we can determine appropriate foundations and avoid future problems," says Diplas.

Lamine Mili and his colleagues in the electrical engineering department are responsible for a revolution in power system estimation and control, based on a field of statistics born in the '60s. They can also take credit for the more recent invention of new metering devices called phase measurement units. Because of their work, electrical blackouts, such as those that have shut down New York City, can be stopped before they start. More sophisticated sensors in the electric power systems will detect instability within milliseconds, and transmit information to the control center, where computer programs will predict and correct the pattern.

University wins funding for cancer initiative
Virginia Tech, together with East Tennessee State University and the University of Kentucky, has been awarded $1.3 million over the next five years from the National Cancer Institute to reduce cancer in Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Researchers at the three institutions will work together to increase cancer survival through early detection.

Cancer accounts for almost 30 percent of all deaths annually in Virginia, and, according to Elizabeth Howze, community health education professor at Virginia Tech and director of project activities in Virginia, many of those deaths are preventable ones. Recent cancer deaths in Southwest Virginia among people under 65 have been associated with factors such as diet and smoking, which respond to even small changes in lifestyle, she says. The agreement will target four kinds of cancer--breast, lung, cervical, and colon.

University project important to mine reclamation award

Using knowledge gained about topsoil substitutes from Virginia Tech research at the Powell River Project Education Center in Wise County, a Virginia mining company received an honorable mention in the Interstate Mining Compact Commission's national reclamation awards program this fall. Red River Coal Co. was recognized for its reclamation efforts after mining through a 500-acre previously mined area that included abandoned deep-mine works, auger holes, highwalls, and outslopes. The reclamation created 140 acres of relatively flat, vegetated land that will support livestock grazing and unmanaged forest land uses.

Virginia Tech Magazine Volume 15, Number 3 Spring 1993