BLACKSBURG, Va. – Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands said the university continues to build on a lot of momentum and that forward progress needs to be paved by increased giving by alumni and friends of the school.
That was the message at Friday's state of the university address.
Sands walked on stage to a roar of applause and said growth is about more than just new buildings. The university's strategic plan outlines that decisions made right now will be the deciding time for the next 30 years.
"A lot of work by a lot of people went into that plan. Many initiatives are moving," Sands said. "I think we're at that point in Virginia Tech's history right now where the next year or two will really make a difference."
The university's target is a student population of 30,000 by 2023.
"When I looked at Virginia Tech five years ago, I found we had some great programs, and we had some programs that were missing pieces," Sands said. "When you look at it, you think, 'Well, a little nudge up, we'd be able to actually utilize the resources we have in a more effective way.'"
But that growth doesn't come without cost. Alumni are the new focus and Sands said their involvement is key. Currently, only 13% of alumni donate, compared to 18% at UVA. Sands said a new fall fundraising campaign will work to collect other outside donations and increase the number of alumni donors to include 20,000 more graduates.
"We talk about money often but, really, it's more about the alumni and our partners feeling like they have a role in developing the university," Sands said. "It's that engagement that makes all the difference."
Rapid expansion continues to be the theme of the university. Friday's state of the university address featured video calls from across the commonwealth, highlighting the need to shift from classroom-based learning to hands on learning in the field.
"(Students) need to feel like they're connected to their coursework and it's true for our faculty and staff, too," Sands said. "They need to be mobile and still connected and I think that's probably the biggest challenge we've got."
Back in Blacksburg, growth on campus continues to be a big talking point. An influx of students this year led to some freshmen moving into a hotel instead of dorms. Sands said the growth is sustainable and that local partners, such as the town of Blacksburg, will play just as big a role as others.
"The challenge is to maintain that Virginia Tech experience, even when we have an up year," Sands said. "I feel good about the way the year started, but we've got to stay on it, and the town will be critical in that."