Virginia campus expands

As GW develops its 43 acres in Foggy Bottom to full capacity, the Virginia Campus in Loudoun County is busy expanding from 50 to 90 acres in a long-term plan to innovate its current graduate and research programs and introduce new opportunities.

“We are bulging at the seams in our current buildings,” Executive Dean of the Virginia Campus John Wilson said.

A $27 million purchase of a PSINet building and the surrounding 40 acres in February should help future plans for expansion, which could bring more transportation and bioterrorism research to the sister campus.

The Loudoun Campus opened in 1991 and now houses a 77,000 square foot research and graduate education complex. The campus offers more than 25 graduate and research programs, primarily in information technology, transportation and biotechnology.

Funding for research and facilities comes from private donations, Virginia campus tuition and research overhead. Partnering companies offer GW grants and typically give the University extra money to help with expenses, GW officials said.

A stroll down the facility’s “Technology Avenue” features cutting-edge research projects such as the National Crash Analysis Center, a driving simulator, an earthquake simulator and a fully wired house co-run by America Online.

In the National Crash Analysis Center, the Department of Transportation contracts GW to research technological improvements in cars that can prevent drivers from falling asleep at the wheel, as well as ways to make road signs easier to read. It was built in 1992.

The lab has a computerized crash simulator, in which a team of 314 graduate students compare simulated crash data to actual crash information. The goal of the most current project is to develop a computerized crash simulator so accurate that cars will no longer have to be wrecked in safety tests, said Roxann Henz, manager of the office of corporate and community relations.

“Economically it makes a lot of sense,” said Helen Ryan, director of corporate and community relations for the campus.

The 10-by-10 foot earthquake simulator is the only shake table on the East Coast and one of the country’s most modern. The year-old structure is part of a partnership with the National Science Foundation. The table can simulate the most severe earthquake recorded in history (a 9.5 on the Richter scale), weighs 4,000 pounds and can bear the weight of 36,000 pounds. Its 170-ton foundation extends 30 feet into the ground. The same lab also tests the strength of potential structural materials under extreme pressure for U.S. Navy submarine development.

The AOL Home of the 21st Century conducts research to develop a fully wired home of the future. Henz said the model home will enable researchers to develop technology that will allow homes to be programmed from computers at a distant location. Owners may be able to adjust the temperature and many other aspects of their homes remotely, Henz said.

The home is the only project that undergraduate students are allowed to work on. Most are engineering students. Through a chartered agreement with the state of Virginia, the campus is restricted from offering undergraduate programs in order to allow Virginia state schools to remain competitive.

Ray Oglethorpe, a GW business school alumnus and trustee, coordinated the partnership between AOL and GW in December 2001 as a member of AOL’s Industry Advisory Board. AOL needed a university to help it conduct “long-range thinking” so that its Dulles headquarters can concentrate on fast-paced technological developments, Henz said.

“The program was designed for GW Virginia,” Henz said. “We got to know each other in terms of what we can do for each other.”

Henz said that most Virginia students are adults who attend after work
weekdays or on weekends. She said the campus cannot recruit international students because the school does not offer housing.

The Federal Aviation Administration has contacted GW to create an international aviation safety program to train professionals who can work to improve countries whose airports do not meet international safety standards. U.S. carriers are not allowed to land in certain countries because of poor standards.

“After September 11, the nature of this collaboration may change,” Ryan said. “This project is one of the largest grants the University has ever received.”

Ryan said the $9 million grant from this project was a large factor allowing GW to purchase its newest building.

The campus will also construct a crash lab to analyze accidents in all modes of transportation. The wreckage from TWA flight 800, which crashed off of Long Island in July 1996 will train National Transportation Safety Board workers once a new academy opens there in 2003.

In February the University purchased PSINet’s 204,000 square foot corporate headquarters, property adjacent to campus in Ashburn, Va. The purchase nearly doubles the size of the campus, and classes are set to begin there in the fall.

Wilson said the new building will house classrooms and research facilities for a biotechnology program, including a new bioterrorism department.

“We want to stretch into a new area,” he said.

The PSINet building, along with five buildings the campus plans to construct on undeveloped land may allow programs now offered at Foggy Bottom to expand to Virginia, Wilson said.

“Both the medical and public health schools have expressed interest in bringing programs out to Virginia,” Ryan said. “That’s exciting for us.”

University officials have said that GW also plans to move certain GW services currently on the Foggy Bottom campus to Virginia in order to free up space for other offices.

Wilson said several science programs in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences have expressed interest in expanding to Virginia. GW is still considering requests.

The engineering, business and education and human development schools at Foggy Bottom currently offer accompanying programs at the Loudoun Campus.

Wilson said that Northern Virginia is an “emerging area” for the field of biotechnology, and said the expansion of the Virginia campus will make its programs more competitive in the community.

“Our mission is to partner more,” said Henz. “We bring in speakers from different corporations as well so students can get a taste of what it’s like in the corporate world.”

GW also recently announced plans to build a 72,000 square foot facility at the Virginia campus to hold the National Transportation Board Academy, which will train accident investigators. The building will be built on land GW already owns in Loudoun County and is scheduled to open in 2003.

-Russ Rizzo contributed to this report.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.