As Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus continues to develop in National Landing, members of the university’s growing team in the greater Washington, D.C., metro area are building and strengthening relationships with local communities.

Virginia Tech has long maintained a strong presence in Northern Virginia, but in the year since the university announced the Innovation Campus, it has elevated its engagement to a new level. Whether meeting with potential partners or community groups or discussing research over a cold brew, Virginia Tech’s thought leaders, researchers, and innovators are making new in-roads in the D.C. region.

The work of Virginia Tech’s growing team in Northern Virginia is bolstered by Innovation Campus Delivery Team leaders — including President Tim Sands, Vice President for Advancement Charlie Phlegar, and Managing Director Brandy Salmon — who are constantly traveling back and forth from Blacksburg for speaking events, meetings with local officials, and sessions with key partners.

“We are building a team that will strengthen our connections to every aspect of the community,” said Natalie Hart, assistant vice president of advancement in the greater Washington, D.C., region. “Virginia Tech won’t be successful in our bold plans across the region without strong partnerships at all levels. We want to make sure there are avenues for a broad range of perspectives to be heard.”

Four hires focusing on building relationships have been made in the past year. David Baker, assistant director of government and community affairs, focuses on engaging with government and community stakeholders, and Megan Wallace, associate director for business development in the D.C. region, focuses on building strategic corporate partnerships. Kelsey Moyer and Emily Pinette both work to connect with the 60,000 Virginia Tech alumni in the region. 

“We see the Innovation Campus as a chance to educate people about our Northern Virginia footprint as a whole, and then drill down specifically on what each of these campuses bring to the region and the resources that will become available through Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus,” said Baker.

Wallace, a member of the LINK: Center for Advancing Industry Partnerships team, regularly meets with business leaders to find opportunities to partner with Virginia Tech in support of its land-grant mission and Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) service ethic.

“It is important for us to understand market trends and industry perspectives,” Wallace said. “We need to know the challenges organizations are currently facing, but we also need to be looking ahead to ensure we are solving problems and planning to fill the talent needs of the future, some of which don’t even exist yet.”

That engagement plays out in every day interactions, including phone calls, meetings, and at regional events. Wallace said she hears on a regular basis from a broad variety of organizations representing different industries — large and small, public and private, government and start-ups.

Those conversations are shaping the research, education, and facilities that will become part of the Innovation Campus as it grows over the years.

David Baker, assistant director of government and community affairs, talks with community members at the Tech on Tap event in October.
David Baker, assistant director of government and community affairs, talks with people who attended the Tech on Tap event in October.

Likewise, Baker regularly meets with officials in Alexandria, where Virginia Tech will build the Innovation Campus in National Landing. He’s met school officials, city officials, local businesses, and other people, all to advance Virginia Tech's efforts to grow as a land-grant university in service of the world.

“On the local community front, it’s working with our rich array of nonprofits, chambers of commerce, and business associations to add Virginia Tech’s voice to the chorus of issues that matter and showcasing the solutions that are being developed across Virginia Tech,” Baker said.

President Tim Sands continues to build new connections and raise the university’s profile in the D.C. community, too.

He recently joined the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., giving Virginia Tech an additional avenue for listening to the region’s business community. This month, for instance, he hosted an Economic Club dinner to share news about the Innovation Campus with more than a dozen leaders from around the region.

The president also frequently speaks on panels at large events — including the Urban Land Institute keynote with Amazon’s Holly Sullivan and JBG Smith’s Matt Kelly — and he and Laura Sands will serve as the grand marshals of the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade in Alexandria on Dec. 7.  

President Tim Sands spoke at the Urban Land Institute's Conference in Northern Virginia in September.
President Tim Sands spoke at the Urban Land Institute's Conference in Northern Virginia in September.

Part of Virginia Tech’s engagement comes from finding ways to introduce talented Hokies to the community. One of the venues has been Tech on Tap, a lecture series co-sponsored by Port City Brewing and Alexandria Public Libraries. Sylvester Johnson, founding director of the Virginia Tech Center for Humanities, is among the thought leaders who have participated so far.

“Innovation happens best in a free-flowing open environment where people from diverse backgrounds are able to come together and have conversations and explore different topics from different angles,” Baker said of Tech on Tap.

The FutureHAUS Neighborhood Party became another opportunity to build relationships. The award-winning, solar-powered housing showcase attracted thousands of visitors over its summer in Alexandria, including two U.S. Cabinet secretaries. For the neighborhood party, however, Virginia Tech invited its future Innovation Campus neighbors in Potomac Yard for a private reception and tour.

“This gave the community the opportunity to see, first-hand, the innovation and transformative thinking coming out of Virginia Tech faculty and students,” Baker said. “The house has something for everyone from futuristic tech — like the drone hatch in the roof — to environmental sustainability, to aging-in-place and amenities for disabled individuals. Everyone I spoke to left inspired, and that is exactly how we want people to feel when they visit Virginia Tech and, in the future, the Innovation Campus.”  

Written by Mason Adams