skip to main content
Kray Luxbacher
(Photo by Peter Means)

Welcoming new leaders in 2020

Meet the 2020 additions to leadership serving the College of Engineering.

In 2020, the College of Engineering welcomed new leaders to the Dean's Office,  the college's academic departments, and Virginia Tech's Innovation Campus. Some are stepping into new roles following years of service at the college, while others are joining the Virginia Tech community for the first time.

These leaders and their peers at the College of Engineering are positioned to advance the college's multifaceted strategic plan. They'll enable departments to build on faculty and student achievements in academics, research, and service. They'll guide growth in Southwest Virginia and the Washington, D.C., metro area. And they'll act on the mission to empower students as critical thinkers, innovators, and leaders, as well as the aim to create knowledge, technologies, and solutions that address complex challenges.

Pamela VandeVord

Pam Vandevord
(Photo by Peter Means)

Pamela VandeVord, the N. Waldo Harrison Professor of Biomedical Engineering, was named the associate dean for research and graduate studies, starting in September 2020. 

As a member of the college’s leadership team, VandeVord works to further Virginia Tech Engineering’s research mission and goals, as outlined in its strategic plan. VandeVord works closely with leadership from Virginia Tech engineering and the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation, as well as faculty, departments, institutes, and external constituents to move the college’s research priorities forward toward targeted milestones. 

VandeVord is jointly appointed as a professor in the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Science and is the head of the Traumatic Nerve Technologies Laboratory. As a researcher, VandeVord has focused on laying the long-term groundwork for the diagnosis and treatment of our nation’s veterans returning from military combat with neurological difficulties due to exposure to blasts. Her research focuses on the complex mechanisms of blast injury to the brain, with a thrust to understand the persistent neurobehavioral and neuropathological consequences of this traumatic event.

VandeVord’s previous leadership roles at Virginia Tech include serving as the interim department head for the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics from 2016 to 2019 and as the chair for the biomedical engineering undergraduate program since 2011.

VandeVord follows mechanical engineering professor Jack Lesko as associate dean for research and graduate studies. Lesko served in the role from May 2011 to August 2020.

Keith Thompson

Keith Thompson
(Photo by Peter Means)

In July 2020, Keith Thompson joined the College of Engineering leadership team as its associate dean for academic affairs, following a national search. 

Prior to joining Virginia Tech, Thompson served in leadership roles at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and was a faculty member at the university for almost 16 years. Most recently, he served as the associate dean of operations for the university’s College of Engineering, Math, and Science and as an industrial engineering program coordinator at the college. Thompson also previously served as the college’s assistant dean for academic affairs.

In his new role, Thompson provides direction in shaping the college's academic policies and practices, in sustaining academic standards, and in collaborating with other units of the college and the university in support of student and faculty academic success. Thompson monitors and evaluates undergraduate programmatic and operational quality and effectiveness and works to realize the academic vision of the College of Engineering, establishing and implementing short and long-range organizational goals, objectives, and strategic plans related to the college's academic strategic vision. 

Thompson's research and teaching interests focus on structural concrete mechanics, bridge engineering, and infrastructure management. His research projects have included innovative aspects of curriculum development; methods of learning assessment; retention initiatives; and academic and career success for underrepresented minority, female, and first-generation students in STEM fields.

"I'm excited to be joining the Virginia Tech community,” said Thompson upon starting in his new role. “I was very overwhelmed by the welcoming and collegial environment when I was interviewed. I was also struck by the immense focus on student success and look forward to bringing my knowledge and experience to Virginia Tech."

Thompson is preceded by Bev Watford, who served in the role from 1997 to 2019. In August 2019, Watford was named the college’s first associate dean of equity and engagement.

Kray Luxbacher

Kray Luxbacher
(Photo by Peter Means, September 2019)

Kray Luxbacher was named head of the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering, effective as of May 2020. Luxbacher is the C.T. Holland Professor of Mining and Minerals Engineering and previously served as the associate department head. 

Luxbacher joined the department as an assistant professor in 2008 after working in professional positions in both the mining industry and academia. She has gained an international reputation as one of the leading experts in the area of underground mine ventilation, with specialized expertise in atmospheric monitoring, ventilation system characterization, mine fire simulation and prevention, and mine risk analysis. Luxbacher has been involved in research totaling more than $7 million, has published more than 60 papers, and has advised more than 20 master's and Ph.D. students. As department head, she is preceded by Erik Westman, who served in the role from 2015 to 2020.

In her teaching and advising roles within the mining and minerals engineering department, Luxbacher has led efforts to transition the mining engineering curriculum toward a leadership-based program. She served as the lead faculty in 2014 to develop the department’s first strategic plan, with advice and recommendations from alumni, industry, and the departmental advisory board. Luxbacher administered the department’s graduate program for 35 to 40 domestic and international graduate students. 

Deeply committed to diversity and inclusion, Luxbacher is the founding faculty member of the Watford Society, which promotes diversity, inclusion, and professional development among the mining engineering student body. In addition, she was the founding faculty advisor for the Virginia Tech Mine Rescue Team, which competes in collegiate-level problem-solving and mine safety events modeled on industry.

“This is an unusual time for the university, and in fact, the nation and the world, but our faculty, staff, and students are creative and hardworking,” said Luxbacher when her new role was announced. “I’m heartened to be facing these challenges with them. I also think that the economic yet responsible sourcing of raw materials will continue to remain a critical piece of domestic and foreign economies, as will the driving of new technologies. The future remains bright for our department and our students.”

Mark Widdowson

Mark Widdowson
(Photo by Peter Means)

Mark A. Widdowson was appointed head of the Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Widdowson assumed the role in April 2020 after taking on the role of interim department head in July 2019 and serving as assistant department head for a decade.

As he leads the department, Widdowson provides administrative oversight and guides its efforts to provide students and faculty with a high-quality educational environment, research opportunities linked to contributions to society at large, and outlets for leadership and service.

"The Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is one of the nation’s top programs,” said Widdowson  assuming the new role. “I am absolutely honored to serve in this capacity. I am excited to work with our outstanding students, faculty, staff, and alumni as we build upon our rich history and a commitment to excellence in instruction, research, and service to our profession and the commonwealth.”

Widdowson has been a member of the Virginia Tech community since 1993, when he joined the civil and environmental engineering faculty in the environmental and water resources program area with a focus on groundwater and water resources. His research activities include studying the fate and transport of chemicals of concern in the subsurface, as well as groundwater resource management. Widdowson is the co-director of the Potomac Aquifer Recharge Monitoring Laboratory, as well as the author and principal investigator of the software tools SEAM3D and NAS, used widely by the Department of Defense and federal and state agencies. He has received approximately $5.3 million in external funding for his research, with a personal share of $3.9 million. 

As a teacher, Widdowson has invested his time and energy in seeking out opportunities for his students to engage in experiential learning through study abroad programs and other avenues. He has taught courses in fluid mechanics, groundwater resources, water resources planning and management, and computer modeling of subsurface fluid flow and chemical fate and transport. In 2016, Widdowson was honored as the recipient of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Alumni Teaching Excellence Award based on nominations by his former students.

Emily Roediger

Emily Roediger
(Photo by Peter Means)

Emily Roediger joined the College of Engineering as the director of communications and marketing, effective January 2020. With over a decade of professional experience in marketing and communications, education, and administration, Roediger brings a comprehensive approach to institutional advancement and cross-functional collaboration to her new role.

As director of communications and marketing, Roediger defines, implements, and evaluates an integrated communications and marketing strategy for the college, which spans 14 departments and schools. As a member of the college’s advancement team, she also actively contributes to coordinated efforts to increase alumni engagement, participation, and fundraising results associated with college priorities and university campaigns.

With a focus on raising visibility for college initiatives, its research enterprise, and academic programs, Roediger collaborates with department heads as well as university partners to enhance strategic communications alignment and impact. Additionally, communicators embedded within engineering departments will have shared reporting lines to Roediger in order to facilitate support and coordination of broader communications and marketing goals. These efforts will bolster the continued growth of the college and university in Blacksburg and the greater Washington, D.C., metro area, including the ongoing development of the Innovation Campus and its affiliated programs.

Roediger first joined Virginia Tech in 2017 and most recently served as the director of communications for the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. In addition to leading a comprehensive approach to communications strategy and evaluation, she was the primary writer and manager for all college platforms and publications, including websites, social media, storytelling, and admissions and advancement collateral. She also worked closely with the college’s administrative team on key messaging, executive and internal communications, and editorial strategy.

Prior to joining Virginia Tech, Roediger spent six years at George Walton Academy, an independent K-12 college preparatory academy in Monroe, Georgia. As the school’s director of marketing and communications, she coordinated with other senior leaders in development, admissions, academics, and administration to implement a comprehensive communications and marketing program for the school, which included an overhaul of digital platforms and other high-profile collateral. She also collaborated extensively on fundraising campaign strategy and messaging, donor relations and stewardship, enrollment marketing and events, and alumni engagement.

Beginning her professional career in the classroom, Roediger has taught courses at both the college and secondary level on creative writing, composition and rhetoric, and literature. She also led several institution-wide training initiatives for students, faculty, and staff on various instructional technology topics.

Lance Collins

Lance Collins
(Photo by Erin Williams)

In early 2020, Lance Collins was named the inaugural vice president and executive director of Virginia Tech’s new Innovation Campus in Alexandria. Collins started in the role in August.

Collins was appointed following an international search for the leader of the Innovation Campus. His appointment marks one of the steps Virginia Tech took in 2020 to advance the campus’s progress in Northern Virginia, which will be designed to serve as a magnet for leading tech talent, research, and education. The campus will be located in the Alexandria portion of National Landing near Potomac Yard, and there, students will pursue master’s degrees in computer science and computer engineering. Upon its completion in about 10 years, the Innovation Campus aims to have up to 750 master’s candidates and hundreds of doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows enrolled to meet the commonwealth’s workforce needs.

“I’m energized by the opportunity to build a campus from the ground up in the burgeoning National Landing district,” Collins said when his new role was announced. “Our inaugural students, faculty, and new and developing partners will collaborate to advance technology to meet societal needs rather than allowing technology to define our lives.”

Collins previously served as the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering at Cornell University, a position he held for a decade after joining Cornell as a faculty member in 2002. Collins, once a professor in Cornell’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, now holds an appointment in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and a courtesy appointment in the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech.

Some photos taken prior to onset of COVID-19 pandemic.

If you want to have an impact on our students and faculty like those featured in this magazine, go here to support the College of Engineering. For more information, call (540) 231-3628.