University leaders shared plans and fielded questions about Virginia Tech’s new Innovation Campus and the state’s $1 billion higher education package during an April 4 town hall for the Blacksburg campus community.

Students, faculty, staff, and community members gathered in Haymarket Theatre inside Squires Student Center for the hour-long public event, the first of many that will be held to discuss the Alexandria campus’ progress and talk about how the higher education package will drive growth in Blacksburg.

The panelists included Virginia Tech President Tim Sands; Cyril Clarke, executive vice president and provost; Dwayne Pinkney, senior vice president for operations and administration; and Brandy Salmon, founding managing director of the Innovation Campus. Sally Morton, dean of the College of Science, served as the moderator.

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The $1 billion Innovation Campus will offer leading graduate programs in computer science and software engineering, and it is expected to be a global center of technology excellence and talent production. The campus was announced in November when Virginia emerged as a winner in the nationwide competition to house a second headquarters for Amazon in Arlington.

Questions from the theatre audience and from people watching the event via livestream ranged from the enrollment timeline and location specifics to details about how the Innovation Campus will benefit students in disciplines other than computer science.

The university expects to begin offering Innovation Campus courses in start-up space in Alexandria beginning in the fall of 2020. But as part of an agreement with the state to fulfill a critical tech-talent shortage, Virginia Tech will expand some existing programs at its Falls Church campus this fall, Clarke said.

Construction on the Innovation Campus will happen within the next two to five years, though the full scale of programs will unfold over eight years, said Salmon.

“That’s important because we want to get it right,” she said. “We are thinking about our future over the next 100 years.”

As part of the higher education package, Virginia Tech expects to add at least 2,000 more undergraduate students studying computer science, computer engineering, and related disciplines over the next five years. To support these new students and propel research, Virginia Tech will hire up to 140 new faculty members in Blacksburg.

Panelists discussed ways that the Innovation Campus will benefit students from a variety of disciplines. Technology intersects with liberal arts, and Virginia Tech’s broad program offerings were important to the state’s higher education package, which was designed to build a talent pipeline for Virginia to attract Amazon and solve a critical shortage for the state.

“We are a comprehensive land grant university,” Clarke said. “We are committed to continuing to build depth across the full disciplinary context of our university.”

Ultimately, the Innovation Campus will serve as a new portal for Virginia Tech to attract talent and fulfill its land-grant mission, Sands said.

“I see this move as a foundational element to our future. It’s not a peripheral thing,” he said. “It’s our role in the commonwealth and around the world.”

— Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone