While Virginia Tech’s influence in architecture and design dates back to the founding of the university, it wasn’t until 1964 — when leading architectural educator Charles Burchard was tapped to organize and head a new College of Architecture — that the university firmly established its place as a global leader in visual and built environments.

Now, in a change that was recently approved by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, the College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS) will be renamed as the College of Architecture, Arts, and Design (AAD). The change took effect on July 1, 2022.

“The new organizational structure will provide greater visibility for arts, design, and architecture programs by grouping them together and locating all studio and performance-based instruction related to arts and design classes in one college,” said Rosemary Blieszner, Alumni Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech and interim dean of the newly named college.

The realignment will transfer the School of Performing Arts, with its programs in theatre arts, cinema, and music, from its current home in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences (CLAHS) to the reshaped college, joining the School of Architecture, the School of Visual Arts, and the School of Design.

In addition, the reorganization relocates the Myers-Lawson School of Construction to the College of Engineering and the School of Public and International Affairs to CLAHS.

“This reorganization would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts of college and academic program leaders and administrative staff from many areas of our campus,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke. “Their hard work and the engagement of faculty and staff in guiding this process have positioned the College of Architecture, Arts, and Design for further success. The transfer of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction to the College of Engineering and the School of Public and International Affairs to the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences will allow each program to partner more closely with like-minded disciplines and enhance their national visibility.”

According to Blieszner, the decision-making process involved input from school directors, faculty, staff, advisory board members, and deans across the affected colleges and departments, as well as the provost and the president.

“This is an exciting and rare opportunity for faculty and staff to have input on reformulating a college, creating a new vision for its schools, and searching for a new dean,” she said.

Virginia Tech associate professor of practice Martha Sullivan, program chair for industrial design, is among faculty who contributed to the plan to form the new school of design.

“The faculty in industrial design, interior design, and landscape architecture are committed to design excellence and inclusive practices that generate experiential learning strategies, professionally relevant research, internationally recognized creative achievement, funded projects, and external partnerships that extend into communities beyond Virginia Tech,” Sullivan said. “We anticipate that the school will attract faculty and students who identify with our shared responsibility to be stewards of a healthy culture and ecosystem. We value transformative design and strive to be at the forefront of technological development and ethical responsibility in our profession.” 

Sullivan noted that the new college name is more representative of the programs in the college. “College of Architecture, Arts, and Design is a more inclusive name that accurately represents the college’s disciplines and practice moving forward.”

Blieszner agreed.

“The proposed changes contribute to the university’s ongoing focus on transdisciplinary scholarship and education. Faculty recruitment will be enhanced because the college will be coherent and aptly named. Faculty will perceive a fit between their college home and their discipline. Prospective students will find it easier to locate information about the majors they want to pursue. Degrees will be conferred from a college with a name that clearly reflects the programs housed in it. And it will be easier for nonmajors to find elective courses, Pathways courses, and minors to complement their major studies or expand their personal appreciation of various art forms, industrial design, theatre, cinema, music, interior design, landscape architecture, and architecture,” Blieszner said.

Of equal importance, noted Blieszner, will be what is not changing. In general, courses will be taught in the same spaces, pending coordination with the registrar on enrollment, course requests, and other details that sometimes require adjustments in classroom assignments.

“No changes are proposed for degree requirements, courses, faculty appointments or rank, advisors, or staff as a result of the reorganization, although of course, changes occur routinely when we hire new colleagues or say farewell to those who retire or decide to work elsewhere,” she said. “Schools and degree programs will be transferred as intact units.

Although the transition will include relocating the university’s civilian marching band, The Marching Virginians, from CLAHS to AAD, Blieszner said that the leadership, operations, and alumni chapter of the band will not change. Since their creation in 1974, The Marching Virginians have performed for hundreds of nationally televised football games and appeared in numerous parades. The band includes more than 350 student musicians from majors across the university.

Recent graduate Kensley Bullins supports the proposed changes. Bullins earned a degree in graphic design from the college this year. During her senior year, she served as president of the School of Visual Art’s student mentors and ambassadors. Also, Bullins participated in the Marching Virginians throughout her time at Virginia Tech.

“I am hopeful the changes will allow us to gain more recognition as well as awareness of our visual arts program at VT,” Bullins said. “I hope the changes allow the college to expand our faculty, facilities, and student acceptance rate – both for freshmen and internal transfers.”

Bullins cited the college’s alumni network as one of the keys to both personal and professional success for graduates. “I anticipate that the recommended changes will strengthen that network. Bringing additional creative fields into the college will not only generate new possibilities for creative interactions for current and future students, but also will influence how the alumni system will grow,” she said.

The proposal was approved by a vote of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors this spring.

By AKDSEO