When Charles W. Steger assumed the presidency of Virginia Tech on Jan. 7, 2000, he brought with him nearly a three-and-a-half-decade affiliation with the university, which began when he enrolled as an undergraduate architecture student in 1965. By the time he was named president, he had formed links to Tech as an undergraduate student, alumnus, graduate student, graduate teaching assistant, visiting lecturer, professor, researcher, department head, dean, acting vice president, and vice president. No other president in history had experienced so many facets of Virginia Tech life—and no other president had carried into the top position such intimate knowledge of the university. By the time he became president, he had already helped craft the university’s mission statement and strategic plan and led the university’s highly successful fund-raising campaign, which exceeded its $250 million goal by $87 million.
Steger has placed emphasis on accessibility, diversity, international studies, the arts, and research. He laid the groundwork for a soon-to-be realized arts center and took steps to move the university into the nation’s top-30 research universities, resulting in a 300 percent increase in research expenditures during his tenure.
Under his leadership, the university has made advances in the area of diversity in administration: the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences hired its first woman dean; Tech hired its first woman to head the Graduate School; and the university hired a black woman as vice president for student affairs, the highest ranking black woman in Tech history. Additionally, the university adopted the Principles of Community, a document emphasizing the university-wide commitment to diversity, affirmed by the board of visitors, and signed by eight organizations.
As dean, Steger had chaired a committee that forecast the technological future of the university; as president, he helped to ensure that Virginia Tech maintained—even broadened—its international leadership in technology. His first year in office saw the opening of the university’s most technologically sophisticated facility: Torgersen Hall. At the October 2000 dedication, Steger announced that alumnus William H. Goodwin had donated $7 million toward completion of the building.
Recognizing Virginia Tech’s technology leadership, the National Science Foundation awarded the university $2.55 million to establish the Integrated Research and Education in Advanced Networking program to make the Internet a more accessible global communications infrastructure. But the biggest IT success of Steger’s administration came in 2003 when engineering faculty and students made a supercomputer, called System X, from an array of 1,100 Power Mac G5 computers that was declared the third-fastest supercomputer in the world and the fastest at any university, attracting worldwide attention, especially since the cost was a fraction of that of other supercomputers. The 2004 Computerworld Honors Program declared System X the “best IT application in the world of science.”
Adding to those technological successes, a team of three computer science students competed with 1,039 universities from 70 countries in a computer software programming competition and came away with the North American championship and a second-place world finish.
Steger has turned to collaborative efforts in order to realize mutual goals. A partnership formed with Wake Forest University resulted in establishment of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, and a partnership between Tech’s Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, which was founded under Steger’s leadership, and the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health resulted in a five-year, $10-million bioinformatics research collaboration to target human infectious diseases. One of the highlights of his administration has been a joint effort with Carilion Clinic to found the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute in Roanoke, Va. Additionally, Outreach and International Affairs worked with Southside Virginia colleges and universities, local governments in the region, and a citizen group to establish the award-winning Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, Va., to tackle serious economic problems in the region.
Steger helped the university move from the Big East Conference into the Atlantic Coast Conference and initiate a “Hokies Respect” campaign to encourage good sportsmanship among its fans.
Although the university has had a presence in Northern Virginia for decades, it refocused its programs there to link regional needs with the university’s strengths, aggressively collaborating and partnering with local and federal agencies, nonprofit research organizations, businesses, and other institutions of higher education. Plans have been announced to construct a major building in the region to house a number of the university’s programs and projects in the area.
Steger’s administration experienced tragedy, too, when 32 students and faculty members were murdered on campus on April 16, 2007. Steger led the university through a complex process of institutional recovery.
The tragedy occurred just as the university was kicking off a billion-dollar fund-raising campaign. By mid 2010, the campaign was on target to reach its goal.
Steger’s administration has seen growth in construction unparalleled since the days of President T. Marshall Hahn Jr. Among the major facilities are Torgersen (2000), Lane Stadium additions (2002), Bioinformatics Phase I (2003), Student Services (2003), Bioinformatics Phase 2 (2004), Smith (2004), Hahn-North Wing (2004), Holtzman Alumni Center (2005), The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center (2005), Latham (2006), Bishop-Favrao (2007), Institute for Critical Technologies and Applied Science II (2008), New Hall West (2009), Hahn-Hurst Basketball Practice Center (2010), Perry Street Parking Deck (2010), and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute building in Roanoke (2010).
In 2009 the university made a commitment to begin adopting sustainability initiatives and passed a resolution, the Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment Resolution that enumerates the Virginia Tech’s goals. The university was recognized by the governor for its sustainability efforts.
Charles W. Steger