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Message from the Dean: Leading with data

Online, expanded edition

Nearly everywhere we go these days, we are generating data. We cre­ate data when we grocery shop, when we use a credit card, or when we use our phones. We create data when we Google something, click on an advertisement, check a weather app, or track steps while taking a walk.

This incredible wealth of data can help us address immediate problems: Alz­heimer’s, Autism, climate change, nuclear threats … huge, seemingly intractable problems that challenge our society.

Taking on these issues can seem ambitious, even impossible. However, data can mitigate problems that our world faces, if the data is leveraged via analysis and modeling, and implemented in decisions and action.

At the Virginia Tech College of Science, we have reimagined scientific re­search and how we teach science to directly tackle issues that our country and world face right now. We are focused not on data itself, but amplifying the rel­evance of that data with analysis, modeling, and interpretation. The point is to analyze the data to help make better decisions, to take more meaningful actions.

Researchers in the College of Science have modeled and analyzed data to monitor for clean drinking water, to predict the impact of tsunamis, to access the spread of diseases, to determine the effectiveness of vaccines, and to understand scores of other issues.

This critical work is only made possible by innovative scientific advancements. With our research fueled by data and focused on decisions, we are speeding up science in innovative ways. However, what sometimes gets lost in the excitement about science being conducted in new ways is that it is only possible because of Virginia Tech’s strong foundation in the traditional scientific disciplines. All of these advancements in data-fueled science are built upon fundamental biology, chemistry, economics, geosciences, mathematics, neuroscience, physics, psy­chology, and statistics. Fundamental sciences, strategically combined to prepare students for how they will work after college, are the bedrock of our Academy of Integrated Science.

President Tim Sands recognizes the important role that the College of Science claims at Virginia Tech:

Science was a pillar that supported Virginia Tech’s development into the great university that it is today, and scientific excellence is essential for advancing Virginia Tech to even greater heights as we look toward the future.”

On the magazine pages that follow, you will have chance to read examples of how we are infusing our traditional sciences with data, leading to important discoveries and more effective decisions.

You’ll note that, while Blacksburg will always be our home base, the College of Science is making significant contributions to Virginia Tech’s powerful and growing presence in Roanoke and the greater Washington, D.C., metro area.

It’s an exciting time here at Virginia Tech. We greatly appreciate the on-going support of our College of Science family — students, parents, alumni, friends, faculty, and staff. Thank you for helping us reach toward our vision to explore, advance, and apply science to promote strong communities and a sustainable planet, and to do so in the spirit of Ut Prosim.

Thank you for helping us to inspire a new genera­tion of scientists.

Sally C. Morton
Dean, College of Science

Follow Sally on Twitter at @sallycmorton