Welcome from the Dean

Richard C. Benson
Dean of the College of Engineering
Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Chair

Virginia Tech's College of Engineering is comprehensive. We are the home to 13 departments with some 330 faculty, 6,800 undergraduate majors, and almost 2,300 graduate students. We have a strong reputation among our peers, and one reason is our innovative leadership in engineering education.

For example, in 1984 we led the nation, becoming the first public College of Engineering to require our entering students to have desktop computers. Subsequently, we changed our computer requirement from desktop to laptop, leading to many innovations in classroom instruction and team projects. In 2006, the College of Engineering's freshman class was required to have Tablet PCs. Our students and faculty have taken advantage of the Tablet PC's many advanced teaching features such as the ability to receive a copy of the instructor's notes, including in-class electronic ink annotations.

Having a tablet provides our students with continual access to notes, data, applications software and other information in class, group meetings, and study sessions. Wireless network access is currently available in all of our academic areas and many of our study areas. We are constantly exploring the frontiers of computer technology in education.

Also, we adopted a “Hands-On, Minds-On” philosophy of learning that has served our students well, making them among the most desirable engineering graduates among employers. One secret to our students' successes is a unique facility where our design teams work. Known as the Ware Lab, we invite you to visit this facility to learn more about ongoing student design projects and our exciting approach to hands-on, minds-on engineering. When our alumni or guests tour the Ware Lab, they offer comments ranging from, “I wish we had this when I was in college,” to “this is the future of effective engineering undergraduate education.” Corporations and businesses are impressed with the students in the Ware Lab who are allowed to sharpen theoretical and computational skills learned in the classroom by working on challenging, viable engineering design projects.

I also am excited to announce the opening of our Signature Engineering Building on the northside of campus. This $100 million building will include seven classrooms, an auditorium, and more than 40 instructional and research laboratories and offices for our mechancial engineering, aerospace and ocean engineering, and chemical engineering departments, among others. Inside this very unique “hands-on, minds-on” building will be a full-sized Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine that will serve as a learning tool via interactive kiosks, as well as instrumentation in flooring and walls that will make the building a new, groundbreaking tool in studying structural stability. Those walking through our building also will be able to see students and researchers at work, including our award-wining, internationally celebrated Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory.

Testimony to the success of our educational philosophy is the Wall Street Journal’s published survey of 479 public and private U.S. companies, nonprofits, and government agencies. In the one-time 2010 survey, Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering ranked as the number five pick for graduates best prepared and most able to succeed.


A demonstration of this preparedness is our participation in many exciting design competitions where we tend to do extremely well. For example, in 2011, the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team of Virginia Tech won the North American EcoCAR Challenge, a three-year design competition that seeks to inspire science and engineering students to build more energy-efficient “green” automobiles. Every student on this team was offered employment. A new team is now participating in the EcoCAR 2: Plugging into the Future competition and thus far stands in the Top 10 teams as the contest enters its third year. 

In another international competition, Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory team dominated the 2011 humanoid robot soccer competition known as RoboCup, winning the Louis Vuitton Humanoid Cup, the competition’s version of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s World Cup. The team repeated its domination in 2012 in Mexico City, taking the top spot in Adult- and Kid-sized divisions.

(For 2013, the Robotics and Mechasism Laboratory pulled backed its efforts on RoboCup to focus on a more challenging, sure to be groundbreaking effort, the creation of a humanoid robot designed to serve as an emergency repsonder in dire situations deemed too dangerous for humans. The project, known as THOR, is being designed and built as part of the DARPA Robotics Challenge.)

In general, our Virginia Tech aerospace and ocean engineering students have won more aircraft, spacecraft, and ship design awards than any other student team in the country at the international group design competitions sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, major aerospace industries, and the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers. Among our students' more recent wins is the first place take at the 2013 Revolitonary Aerospace Systems Concepts-Academic Linkage (RASCAL, for short) competition. 

Instead of starting a bioengineering department, we hit on a very powerful and innovative way to engage in the fields of bioengineering and biotechnology. We partnered with North Carolina's Wake Forest University with its premier medical facility to create a joint School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. The school offers master's and Ph.D. degrees. Its work has won international acclaim and scores of media headlines in a number of areas, most notably with its work into helmet research and head-injury prevention for football players at all levels, professional, college, and pee-wee.

Virginia Tech is part of a consortium of schools that comprise the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), a major research and education collaboration supported by NASA through the Langley Research Center in Hampton. Other members of the consortium are University of Virginia, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Foundation, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, and University of Maryland-College Park. Enrolled students may take classes from any of the participating universities.

Our Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS) is fast becomming a major, nationally prominent “home” for high-end, interdisciplinary research in the physical and engineering sciences. Since 2007, we have opened three buildings dedicated to work conducted by ICTAS faculty and students, as well as office and laboratory space at Virginia Tech’s facility in Ballston, Va. Among the standout work is the ongoing previously mentioned research into sports injuries and wireless communications

U.S. News & World Report typically ranks our undergraduate program among the Top 15 of all accredited engineering schools, and in the Top 10 among those at public universities. Our graduate program is continually ranked in the Top 25 among all schools, and in the Top 15 for public schools. Virginia Tech is among the great polytechnics of the United States, an impressive list with schools such as MIT, Caltech, Georgia Tech, and RPI, known for their depth and breadth of technical education.

I have highlighted just a few of the many exciting things going on in our College and on our campus. We hope you will read more about our College and departments on the web-and visit us in person to take a tour of our facilities and programs.

For additional information on undergraduate programs and how to apply to the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, visit the Academic Affairs section of our website or E-mail Academic Affairs.

For additional information on engineering graduate programs and admission, go to research and graduate studies and individual departmental websites or E-mail Graduate Programs.

For general information about the College, Email Us.

I invite you to read the current issue of my e-newsletter to find out about recent news in the College of Engineering.

Please consider joining us at Virginia Tech and writing in your own unique segment of our success story!

Richard Benson, Dean of the College of Engineering