Overall Rating Gold
Overall Score 73.17
Liaison Emily Vollmer
Submission Date May 16, 2024

STARS v2.2

Virginia Tech
AC-10: Support for Sustainability Research

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 4.00 / 4.00 Laurel Miner
Chief of Staff
Office of Vice President for Research and Innovation
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Does the institution have an ongoing program to encourage students in multiple disciplines or academic programs to conduct sustainability research?:

A brief description of the student sustainability research program:
Virginia Tech is ranked 44th nationally for undergraduate research and creative projects, with many efforts to promote research experiences for undergraduate students through the office of undergraduate research (https://www.research.undergraduate.vt.edu/). The recently launched Academy for Experiential Learning (https://teaching.vt.edu/experiential.html) will help promote experiential learning opportunities including undergraduate research and make these experiences available to every student in every department, as called for in the Virginia Tech Strategic Plan (https://strategicaffairs.vt.edu/StrategicPlanning/the-vt-difference-advancing-beyond-boundaries.html).

Students participate in sustainability research programs in several colleges and institutes both on and off campus. These programs are open to both undergraduate and graduate students with varying levels of support and focus. The following colleges have research opportunities specifically devoted to sustainability program:

- College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: https://www.cals.vt.edu/research.html
- College of Architecture, Arts, and Design: https://aad.vt.edu/research.html
- College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences: https://liberalarts.vt.edu/research.html
- College of Engineering: http://www.eng.vt.edu/research
- College of Natural Resources and Environment: http://cnre.vt.edu/
- College of Science: https://www.science.vt.edu/research.html

Notable among these programs are:

The Sustainability Scholars Program. The Sustainability Scholars Program provides students with opportunities to solve complex problems in the context of real-world situations and provide opportunities for students to complete experiential learning projects, such as internships, undergraduate research, study abroad, and community-based service-learning projects.

Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS) Doctoral Scholars Program: (https://ictas.vt.edu/education/doctoralscholars.html) This program was established to attract and honor exceptional Ph.D. applicants with a Graduate Research Assistantship through the Ph.D. qualifying period. This program is a cooperative effort supported and coordinated primarily by ICTAS, with significant contributions from participating departments, colleges, and the graduate school. Students chosen to participate in this program are considered to be of the highest caliber and are expected to devote their efforts to pursuing research that supports a sustainable future. ICTAS Doctoral Scholars benefits include full graduate tuition funding, a graduate student stipend award, and associated benefits for the entire period of Ph.D. pursuit to a maximum of 4 years, partial travel support for professional development and external presentations, experience in interdisciplinary research, opportunity for cross pollination, and prestigious designation. This award is an investment in the university intellectual talent, creativity, and productivity, and complements the mission and strategic plan of the university. A number of scholars have worked on sustainability issues in the last three years.

The Virginia Tech Confluence and Extension Experience for Undergraduates (REEU) (https://vtconfluence-reeu.weebly.com/) REEU provides intellectually challenging, interdisciplinary research and extension experiences for diverse undergraduates from across the US, focused on water management. During the summer program our undergraduate fellows will: (1) Develop a detailed and nuanced understanding of the complexity of anthropogenic influences and stakeholder needs within mixed-use watersheds; (2) Gain appreciation for the disciplinary diversity required to address critical, complex water resource issues; (3) Improve their ability to communicate scientific findings to audiences of varying backgrounds in formal and informal situations; (4) Acquire a foundation in technical, social, and collaborative skills to help them succeed in future research and professional activities; and (5) Form a professional network that can support future careers in water management.

Roop and Kavita Mahajan Research Awards (https://www.research.undergraduate.vt.edu/content/dam/research_undergraduate_vt_edu/documents/research-opportunities/Mahajan-research-awards.pdf) Roop and Kavita Mahajan Research Awards have been established to provide small grants to current students or current student organizations in good standing at Virginia Tech to undertake projects that aim to break cycles of poverty and negligence in under-resourced communities around the world. Proposals may be submitted until December 3. Ideas are welcome from across a wide spectrum of areas including health, education, and infrastructure. Preference will be given to proposals that show a transdisciplinary approach and are broadly aligned with the missions of ICTAS.

Sustainable bio-materials degree (https://sbio.vt.edu/students/degrees/sbio-degree.html) is one of the most unique programs in the United States that focuses on creating better performing materials with less environmental impact. Graduate students receive funding support through local research programs.

The Academy of Food, Health, and Sustainability (https://www.cals.vt.edu/academic-programs/afhs.html) was created within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Virginia Tech to serve as an interdisciplinary hub for scientific education, discovery, and outreach efforts across three of CALS Strategic Plan Priority Areas: Food, Nutrition, and Health; Agricultural Profitability and Environmental Sustainability; and Community Viability.

The Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (http://cligs.vt.edu) This center offers graduate education, professional development and research opportunities. Students have an array of opportunities and can receive graduate assistantship. This program also creates further incentives by eliminating the out of state fees to capture a more diverse and international student body.

The Catawba Sustainability Center (http://www.cpe.vt.edu/sustainable/) This center serves as living laboratory for the research and demonstration of sustainable practices in land management, agriculture, energy production, and economics. This demonstration site enables graduate and undergraduate students space to conduct research in sustainable practices and a local to engage the local community in sustainable practices.

Additionally, many specialized research programs and projects are available. The Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation oversees many graduate and undergraduate research initiatives.

Does the institution have a program to encourage academic staff from multiple disciplines or academic programs to conduct sustainability research?:

A brief description of the faculty sustainability research program:
Three of Virginia Tech's institutes, the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS), the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment (ISCE), and the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, incentivize research through investment in faculty projects in sustainability areas. Please see the links provided below for additional information about sustainability research at our investment institutes.

- ICTAS: http://www.ictas.vt.edu/research/index.html
- ISCE: http://www.isce.vt.edu/
- Fralin: https://fbri.vtc.vt.edu/research.html

These institutes also house and collaborate with research centers that bring together faculty from across campus to provide opportunities for multidisciplinary research focused on solving global sustainability challenges. Examples include:

- Center for Coastal Studies (https://coastal.fralinlifesci.vt.edu/): multidisciplinary, collaborative space that inspires societally relevant solutions to the complex challenges emerging in the coastal zone, especially related to climate change and sea level rise.
- Global Change Center (https://www.globalchange.vt.edu/): university-wide initiative performing interdisciplinary research necessary to tackle the new frontier of global environmental challenges; specifically associated with the interaction of climate change, pollution, invasive species, disease, and habitat loss.
- Translational Plant Sciences (https://fralinlifesci.vt.edu/Research/MolecularPlantSciences.html): Virginia Tech plant scientist use molecular biology skills, processes, and technologies to impact real world issues, including improvements in agricultural productivity, human health, and sustainable energy. With twenty faculty members from seven departments and three colleges devoted to work in this area, the program is truly multidisciplinary, with specialty in plant genomics, disease resistance, metabolic engineering, bio-production, bioprocessing, and forest biotechnology.

A broader list of research centers, including those related to sustainability, is available here: https://www.research.vt.edu/institutes/university-centers.html

Virginia Tech's Destination Areas, launched in 2016, promote inter-disciplinary research by providing seed funding and cluster hires in areas of expertise (http://provost.vt.edu/destination-areas.html). Two destination areas, Global Systems Science (https://www.provost.vt.edu/destination_areas/areas_of_focus/da_gss.html) and Economical and Sustainable Materials (https://www.provost.vt.edu/destination_areas/areas_of_focus/da_esm.html), have been forming communities and accelerating innovation in sustainability.

Virginia Tech's Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program in Leadership for Sustainability, part of the College of Natural Resources and Environment, incentivizes faculty to engage in interdisciplinary research on complex and emergent sustainability challenges facing local communities and global society by providing financial support for graduate students, faculty development funds, access to clients in the public and private sectors, and other forms of assistance such as preliminary peer review and editorial services. For more information regarding the XMNR program and student capstone projects on sustainability, please see: https://cnre.vt.edu/academics/degrees-majors.html.

Has the institution published written policies and procedures that give positive recognition to interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and multidisciplinary research during faculty promotion and/or tenure decisions?:

A copy of the promotion or tenure guidelines or policies:
The promotion or tenure guidelines or policies:
Please see the attached Promotion and Tenure Guidelines, which calls out interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary work on:

Page 6: F. For faculty who present significant interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary and collaborative...

Page 7: G. ...If the candidate is engaged in interdisciplinary work (e.g., Destination Areas or Strategic Growth Areas)...

Page 12: V. ...the establishment of relationships among disciplines...

Page 12: V. ...For multiauthored papers, interdisciplinary papers and other relevant works...

Page 16: C.1. Disciplinary or interdisciplinary efforts to attract underrepresented students to different majors and graduate programs.

Jack W. Finney, Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs, finney@vt.edu, (540) 231-6122

Does the institution have ongoing library support for sustainability research and learning?:

A brief description of the institution’s library support for sustainability research:
University Libraries provide university community members with barrier free access to a network of studio spaces that offer makerspace technologies and expertise. The Project Design Studio that offers collaboration space for both classroom and non-classroom based independent and transdisciplinary research offers a $2,000 donor sponsored grant program specifically designed to support student research on sustainability topics.

Max Ofsa, Prototyping Studio & 3D Scanning Studio Manager, provided the following description of a collaborative sustainable materials project with the Materials & Design Lab at Virginia Tech. Funding was provided by a Library Collaborative Research Grant.

“For the past year, the Prototyping Studio has been developing early technology and research into the widespread use of bamboo as a primary biomaterial for construction. Building on his previous work in sustainable biomaterials, Jonas Hauptman sought us out to help develop low fidelity 3D scanning techniques and the associated technology to allow bamboo to be easily and cheaply digitally mapped. As bamboo is highly irregular in its growth, mapping the surface structure of a shoot allows for "made to order" milling and refining processes to be automated for each individual piece. Success in this effort would allow for existing manufacturing processes to be applied to bamboo
similar to lumber and other soft wood construction materials, opening up an avenue for significantly more sustainable building and manufacturing products.” 

Library liaisons Craig Arthur, Sarah Stanley, Kiri DeBose, Julia Feerrar, Inga Haugen, Alex Kinnaman, Edward Lener, Sarah Over, Ginny Pannabecker, and Bruce Pencek maintain research guides, manage collections, and provide instruction and research support for sustainability programs. Librarians serving on university curriculum committees, such as the Pathways Curriculum for Liberal Education Committee, have opportunity to support new and existing courses with an emphasis on sustainability.

Open repositories such as the university's institutional scholarship repository VTechWorks, data repository Virginia Tech Data Repository, and learning object repository Odyssey, provide archiving and access services to sustainability content produced by members of the Virginia Tech community. University Libraries' VT Publishing department offers publishing services that have the potential to support research on sustainability. The Open Education Initiative (OEI) provides support to instructors for creating, adopting, and / or adapting Open Educational Resources (OERs). Anita Walz, Assistant Director of Open Education and Scholarly Communication Librarian, provided the following descriptions of the initiative and two recent
projects on sustainability.

“The Open Education Initiative, a program of the University Libraries supported
publication in spring of 2023 of two open textbooks on sustainability-related topics. Both books are peer-reviewed, original works by Virginia Tech authors. Anita Walz from the University Libraries was involved in writing grant proposals for funding of both books, coaching authors through the development process, coordinating student and peer-review, coordinating graphic design and layout as well as various editorial functions, and bringing the books to publication in print, PDF, ePub, and online formats. Both open educational resources are required for courses at Virginia Tech and are freely
available to Virginia Tech students and to the general public under Creative Commons licenses. 

Sustainable Property Management https://doi.org/10.21061/sustainable_property_management
Sustainable Property Management is a 150-page, peer-reviewed open textbook
intended for students majoring in property management and real estate at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. It can be incorporated into an existing property management operations course or used for a stand-alone course focused on sustainable property management. Although sustainability, as used in the real estate context, is about preserving the environment, it is about more than that. In sustainable property management, sustainability encompasses three spheres—environmental, social, and economic. Sustainable property management is about reconciling these three spheres throughout the operations and maintenance phases of the building lifecycle in such a way that a balance is achieved between economic development and the protection of environmental and social resources.

Fish, Fishing, and Conservation https://doi.org/10.21061/fishandconservation Fish, Fishing, and Conservation is a 389-page, peer-reviewed open textbook intended for undergraduate students who are exploring majors in Fish & Wildlife. It is also relevant to a general audience or for use in courses which explore social and ethical aspects of fish, fishing and conservation.”

Ginny Pannabecker, Assistant Dean and Director of Research Collaboration and Engagement, provided the following description of the Libraries’ research services and partnerships.

“The Libraries provide a variety of research services that partner with or support individual researchers and teams in successful research idea development, funding proposals, research projects, and research publications. In addition to the above, these include, data services, research impact and intelligence, researcher identifier and profile development, evidence synthesis, and program or department or college liaison librarians, among other services. Our undergraduate research services also partner with the Office of Undergraduate Research and instructors and programs across the university to develop targeted UR programming and research skills training. Our Health
Sciences Libraries can also provide specialized research support and services for researchers working towards sustainability and climate related health needs and research.

A partnership group including University Libraries at Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Virginia Cooperative Extension (including 4-H programs), Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment Committee, Sustainable Blacksburg, and Virginia Organizing received a $500 stipend and additional supporting materials towards a proposal for ‘Partnering for Reslience – Amplifying Community Relationships,’ programming for community resilience that focused on environmental and climate justice. The aim is for this to grow into an ongoing partnership towards annual programming.”

Website URL where information about the institution’s support for sustainability research is available:
Additional documentation to support the submission:

Data source(s) and notes about the submission:
Data sources: 2021 VTUL STARS submission, contacts Julie Griffin, Gail McMillan, and Peter Potter. Data source contributors for 2023: Sara Sweeney Bear, Lisa Becksford, Jonathan Bradley, Julia Feerrar, Julie Griffin, Corinne Guimont, Kayla McNabb, Max Ofsa, Jon Petters, Philip Young.

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution or simply email your inquiry to stars@aashe.org.