It’s time for officials to carve out a niche for the Virginia Science and Technology Campus

About a 45-minute shuttle ride away from Foggy Bottom is an often forgotten campus that officials are still struggling to define. But it has already started to carve out its own distinct niche, and it is time for them to invest in it.

Although the Virginia Science and Technology Campus was built more than 25 years ago, it is still searching for its identity. Before leaving office this past summer, former University President Steven Knapp said finding an identity for VSTC was one of the biggest unanswered questions of his tenure. Tucked away in suburban Virginia and consisting of mostly graduate and nontraditional students, the campus will never be fully integrated with the main campus and it is unrealistic to try to achieve that. But the fact that it will not become another Foggy Bottom doesn’t mean its development should not become a priority for officials. The University should better promote the programs VSTC offers and work to improve the experiences of students there, like making travel between the campuses more accessible. And by further capitalizing on the campus’s infrastructure and resources, VSTC can cement its distinct niche among the student body as a key center for research.

Although VSTC mainly consists of graduate and non-traditional students, steps can be taken to improve their day-to-day experience.

The answer to the question of VSTC’s identity is already in front of them. Instead of trying to use the campus’ proximity to D.C. as a marketing tactic, officials should advertise VSTC as a high-tech campus filled with advanced equipment that could attract students interested in areas like cybersecurity, data science and health sciences. Although the lack of proximity to D.C. may deter some students, the University should still be promoting the specialized undergraduate and graduate programs VSTC offers. The campus already has five large research labs and facilities, and Foggy Bottom does not have the same infrastructure due to the lack of space. Officials have also planned to build three more academic buildings by 2020. With such broad resources and facilities, there are plentiful opportunities for students to do research – and this message is what the campus should capitalize on to draw in more research-oriented students.

Many students are unaware of the programs VSTC houses, or that it even exists. The University needs to be more transparent about programs, such as the Accelerated Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing and the Bachelor’s in cybersecurity, that are primarily based on VSTC. When marketing these programs, it does not make sense to advertise the D.C. location because Ashburn is in suburban Virginia. For example, the nursing program has a 44-page brochure that mentions VSTC, but does not explicitly state that most of the program’s classes take place on the Virginia campus.

VSTC might not be in the city, but it is still in an area with major technology corporations such as IBM, and this proximity can be utilized. Officials developed a 10-year strategic plan in 2010 that included intentions to start new research centers and academic buildings on VSTC. The plan also involved increasing resources and facilities for the campus’s nursing, energy and transportation safety programs. So far, the University has built two new buildings – one functions as an extension of the textile museum on the Foggy Bottom Campus and the other houses health science classes. Despite these set plans, officials haven’t been able to establish an identity or vision for the campus. Leo Chalupa, the vice president for research, has said that the VSTC campus is largely underdeveloped due to lack of capital funding from the University. But one of his goals this year that could impact VSTC is to secure more funding for research using partnerships with corporations to fund research projects. In the long term, if GW can expand the campus as well as establish new research partnerships, VSTC can become a major draw for both undergraduate and graduate students interested in research. It can also be helpful in improving students’ experiences by offering more academic resources and career development opportunities.

Although VSTC mainly consists of graduate and non-traditional students, steps can be taken to improve their day-to-day experience. The most vital improvement would be to have VSTC shuttles run more often. Right now, shuttles only leave each campus from Monday to Friday about six times a day, only running once every two to three hours. There is not currently any weekend service.

Many students have to go back and forth between VSTC and Foggy Bottom, either for classes or research, and important administrative offices like financial aid – which VSTC-based students still need to access – are housed on the Foggy Bottom Campus. VSTC shuttles do not have to travel as frequently as the Vern Express, but the schedule should be changed so that shuttles run at least once every hour during the week and less frequently over the weekend. This would improve the quality of life on the VSTC campus and provide students more accessibility to opportunities and departments on both campuses.

By capitalizing on their resources, the campus can become more than just a forgotten campus, but also a part of an overall strategy to grow.

There is also still room for future growth. In 2013, GW moved the cybersecurity and some health science programs from Foggy Bottom to VSTC – a move which officials estimated would add about $1 million to the budget because of the lower real estate prices in suburban Virginia. Over the next decade, additional small, research-oriented graduate programs – like human paleobiology – could be moved out to VSTC, where there is more infrastructure that students and faculty can utilize. It will bring more students to that campus and ensure the University can fully capitalize on the strength of that campus’s research facilities and infrastructure to improve student programs.

It is time to identify the campus’s strengths to carve out a specific vision and niche for it. By capitalizing on their resources, the campus can become more than just a forgotten campus, but also a part of an overall strategy to grow, generate more revenue and give students unique opportunities Foggy Bottom cannot always offer.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Irene Ly and contributing opinions editor Shwetha Srinivasan, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, managing editor Tyler Loveless, sports editor Matt Cullen, copy editor Melissa Schapiro and design editor Anna Skillings.

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