Virginia Tech leaders who are helping to spearhead the university’s new Innovation Campus spoke recently at a conference showcasing entrepreneurs and visionaries who promote ideas for innovation in communities nationwide.

President Tim Sands and Julia Ross, dean of the College of Engineering, were among the speakers on two panels at the Tom Tom Foundation’s Summit in Charlottesville on April 12. Both shared details about Virginia Tech’s plans for the Innovation Campus, set for the National Landing area in Alexandria, and its role in growing Virginia’s technology talent force.

The four-person panel that included Ross discussed the need for Virginia to increase its population of people who have skills in certain technology fields. Ross said that it’s obvious that more students are interested in earning degrees in computer science and computer engineering, but there are certain groups within the state that may be overlooked. These include women, who now represent a lower percentage of computer scientists in Virginia than they did in the 1980s, she said.

Julia Ross speaking at the Tom Tom Festival.
Julia Ross, dean of the College of Engineering, (second from left) participated on a panel about building Virginia’s tech-talent pipeline at the Tom Tom Summit on April 12 in Charlottesville. Other panelists, from left to right, were Archie Holmes, professor of electrical and computer engineering and vice provost for academic affairs at the University of Virginia; Stephen Moret, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership; Michelle Marks, vice president for academic innovation and new ventures at George Mason University; and Jessica Sabbath, managing editor at the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.

“It’s something that we need to work with our K-12 partners on, to think about how we can bring more people into these disciplines,” Ross said.

Also, it is important to understand the ways that students, from undergraduate to graduate levels, get into certain career fields and the paths that they may take within those areas, she said.

“We talk a lot about pipelines, and that suggests a single trajectory,” Ross said. “So we really have to move from pipelines to pathways.”

President Tim Sands speaks during a panel at the Tom Tom Summit.
Virginia Tech President Tim Sands (third from left) spoke during a panel discussion about Amazon’s new Northern Virginia headquarters during the Tom Tom Summit on April 12 in Charlottesville. Other panelists included Christina Winn, director of business investment for Arlington Economic Development; Stephanie Landrum, president and CEO of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership; Stephen Moret, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership; and Roben Farzad, host of public radio’s “Full Disclosure.”

A five-person panel that included Sands discussed Amazon’s new headquarters in Northern Virginia and the ways that other cities in Virginia will benefit. Sands emphasized that Virginia Tech’s agreement with the state, through its higher education package, involves providing degree programs to produce technology talent for all of Virginia, not just Amazon.

“It’s really about the larger ecosystem that we’re trying to feed and be ready for, not about one company,” he said. “I think the opportunities are really broad with a company like Amazon anchoring and then all of the companies that think like that coming in and populating National Landing. It’s going to be exciting.”

President Tim Sands was a member of a panel at the Tom Tom Summit.
President Tim Sands participated on a panel at the Tom Tom Summit.