Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Charles Steger Leaving Eventful Tech Presidency

What may have been the most important and eventful presidency in the history of Virginia Tech--just 14 years old--is coming to an end with the announced departure of Charles Steger, a man whose vision led to eye-brow-raising accomplishments.

Under Steger, Tech's stature in the U.S. grew across the board, whether it was bioinformatics, football, arts, a major research partnership with a hospital, fundraising, mega-computers, physical plant expansion or enrollment, Steger was riding the lead horse.

Impressive to me was the emergence of the writing curriculum in the English Department. Some of the best writing teachers and writers in an area rich in that area are now from Tech.

I've always thought he was the perfect president for his time, but it is entirely possibly that he will be remembered most for Tech's response--or lack of it, if you ask his detractors--to the killing of 32 students by a crazed gunman. That's entirely unfortunate, but the whole episode was tragic for everyone involved.

His close work with former Carilion Chairman Ed Murphy and current CEO Nancy Agee in founding the Virginia Tech-Carilion Research Institute has been lauded by Roanoke business leaders as one of the most important developments in the history of the city.

Here's Tech's release on Steger's decision:

Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger has announced his intention to step down as university president. The university's board of visitors will assemble a search committee immediately.

Steger will remain as president until the search concludes and his replacement begins work.

“When one is totally absorbed in doing what one loves, 14 years pass in a nanosecond," said Steger. “These years have been the highlight of my career in higher education, and it has been my privilege to serve as president during a period in which we have strengthened our academic programs and expanded our research and outreach programs.

“As a three-time graduate of this institution, Virginia Tech has afforded me the tools for leadership and personal fulfillment. I have been doubly blessed because I then had the opportunity to spend virtually my entire career in the service of this great university,” said Steger.

“We sadly accept President Steger’s desire to step down as president,” said Mike Quillen, rector of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors. “He has had a long and successful tenure but we understand his desire to ratchet back the extraordinary commitment of a major university president. Charles has truly been outstanding, visionary, and productive. I believe when history looks back upon his tenure as president, he will be ranked among the best of Virginia Tech’s strong leaders. He has advanced Virginia Tech’s position and our ability to serve the commonwealth on many levels.”

Steger has spent virtually his entire career at Virginia Tech leading it from one superlative to another. Since becoming president in 2000, the university has increased it research portfolio by more than 300 percent, grown enrollment from 27,869 to 31,087, increased graduate enrollment increased by 12 percent, raised more than $1 billion in private funding, added more than 2.5 million square feet of buildings, formed a school of biomedical engineering, created a school of medicine, and joined the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Early in his tenure, Steger charted a course to bolster the research enterprise and compete among the nation’s elite universities. He oversaw creation of broad-based research institutes capable of garnering large-scale, multi-disciplinary sponsored research grants. He made significant investments in selected life science programs. University sponsored research moved from $192 million in 2000 to more than $450 million today.

Over the course of his presidency, Virginia Tech has increasingly become a first-choice school in the mid-Atlantic region for highly achieving students. The average grade point average of incoming freshmen moved from 3.54 to 3.92 (on a 4.0 scale) and SAT average changed from 1173 to 1212 during his time at the helm.

He adopted a business model that invested in seven large centralized research institutes: Virginia Tech Transportation Institute; Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Sciences; Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute; Virginia Bioinformatics Institute; Fralin Life Sciences Institute; Institute for Society, Culture and Environment; and the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology. The institute format allowed Virginia Tech to compete for and win large-scale multidisciplinary contracts.

Steger partnered with Carilion Clinic to create the innovative Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute  forming the fifth medical school in Virginia. The Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute has quickly garnered world-wide attention for unique new approaches to neuroscience.

A hallmark of his administration was the realization of a 50-year dream for Hokie fans – entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004. Football won four conference titles in the first eight years of play.

Steger championed the arts investing in liberal arts and arts programming. He was the driving force behind the new Center for the Arts scheduled to open this fall.

Along with two other Virginia university presidents, he helped write legislation giving greater operating autonomy to senior state universities.

Steger had a knack for fundraising. In 2011, the school completed a seven-year campaign raising more than $1.1 billion. Earlier in 1998, under his leadership as vice president for development and university relations, he led a fund raising effort garnering $337 million.

Virginia Tech made history in 2003 when it built the “terascale” supercomputer, System X. Using off-the-shelf Apple computers, System X was at the time the fastest university computer in the world and third fastest of any computer – business, government, or academic.

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