Then and Now: A Look Back at Virginia Tech Student Life

Since its founding in 1872, Virginia Tech has provided a rich array of extracurricular activities to complement students’ academic education. Student life can be difficult to capture because the Virginia Tech experience is unique to each individual. Yet there is continuity to the Virginia Tech experience, and students continue to shape the future of the Hokie Nation in innovative ways.

Changes in student life at Virginia Tech are about more than just trading slide rules for smart phones. Student attitudes, needs, expectations, and aspirations are also different.

Student Affairs has the privilege of guiding and helping students at a time when they are making decisions and having experiences that will shape who they are now and who they will become in the future. Our commitment to students includes giving them new information and experiences that promote personal and professional knowledge, skills, and character development. Our aim is for all students to fully ExperienceVT and grow in their understanding of the Aspirations for Student Learning.

Student Affairs marks Virginia Tech’s Sesquicentennial Celebration with a look at a handful of the many points in the university’s history that celebrate both longtime traditions and new approaches to student leadership, service, and accomplishment.

Torgersen Bridge, which spans Alumni Mall and connects to Newman Library, has become a choice study space for students.  Photos courtesy of Outreach and International Affairs and Special Collections and University Archives.

While there are many measurable elements to student life, there are also intangible realities that make the Virginia Tech experience extraordinary. For example, how do you measure the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets‘ mission to develop leaders of character in service to the nation? How do you express in numbers Cranwell International Center’s role as a catalyst for the advancement of Virginia Tech as a globally oriented and internationally connected land-grant institution? How do you quantify VT Engage’s life-altering service-learning experiences that shape the next generation of leaders and the world they create? How do you calculate the joy and spirit embodied in a hearty cheer of “Let’s go! Hokies!”?

Displays of Hokie Spirit have come a long way since a member of the Class of 1896 won a $5 first place prize for writing the original “Hokie Hy” cheer. While the look may have changed since the university’s first feathered mascot appeared in 1913, the embodiment of school spirit certainly hasn’t. Photos courtesy of Outreach and International Affairs and Special Collections and University Archives.

The Corps of Cadets traces its history to the founding of Virginia Tech in 1872. In 1964, the corps became optional for all male freshmen and sophomores — the same year Virginia Polytechnic Institute separated from Radford College and began to become fully coeducational. The Corps of Cadets admitted the first female cadets in 1973. There are now more than 1,200 total cadets. Approximately 21 percent are women. The Corps of Cadets is a four-year, full-time leader development program focused on building teamwork, character, and problem-solving skills that make a difference in today’s world.

Student Affairs knows that learning happens outside the classroom. And we are committed to creating places and spaces that encourage and provide opportunities for interaction, reflection, and engagement for all members of the university community — welcoming, barrier-free, sustainable living-learning environments.

As impressive as the renovation of Ambler Johnston Hall was, what’s really striking is what goes on inside AJ. It is home to the Residential College at West Ambler Johnston and the Honors Residential Commons, Virginia Tech’s first living-learning programs. Photos courtesy of Outreach and International Affairs and Special Collections and University Archives.

Ambler Johnston Hall, built in 1968, got a major makeover and East AJ reopened in 2011 as Virginia Tech’s first residential college. The following year, West AJ reopened as Virginia Tech’s second residential college. There are now 17 living-learning communities and three residential colleges at Virginia Tech, each with its own character and focus. The living-learning initiative at Virginia Tech gives students a chance to extend their education beyond the classroom in an intentional way that encourages them to take ownership of their experiences.

Whether it is a spring break service trip, the Big Event, building bridges in Haiti, or volunteering at the campus food pantry, our students make a difference. Often facilitated by VT Engage, Virginia Tech’s center for service learning, leadership education, and civic engagement, students create and initiate unexpected ways to live our motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).

War Memorial Chapel and the Pylons have been the site of many university events, including peace protests in the 1960s. Activism, awareness of social and political issues, and a desire to positively change the world remain part of the Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) difference at Virginia Tech today. Photos courtesy of Outreach and International Affairs and Special Collections and University Archives.

Student Affairs helps students become courageous leaders who serve as change agents and make the world more humane and just. We inspire students to explore new things and to engage in critical reflection on who they are and what they value so that they can lead and serve the greater good with others in a global community.

It was 1953 when Irving L. Peddrew III enrolled as Tech’s first African American student. That same year, Betty Delores Stough became Virginia Tech’s first woman to earn a Ph.D. We’ve come a long way since then. The adoption of the Virginia Tech Principles of Community in 2005 solidified our commitment to increase access and inclusion and to create a community that nurtures learning and growth for all its members. Virginia Tech is a university that truly believes that the collaboration of cultures, ideas, and different perspectives is an institutional asset that brings forth greater creativity, innovation, and learning. An important part of Student Affairs is to create conditions in which the entire population can pursue, strengthen, improve, and realize the educational benefits of diversity.

The Duck Pond is still a place of quiet reflection or lots of fun – take your pick. And yes, we still have to remind students that it is very rare that the Duck Pond actually freezes hard enough to support a game of hockey. Photos courtesy of Outreach and International Affairs and Special Collections and University Archives.

Cranwell International Center opened in 1986. Today, its programs serve students, scholars, faculty, families, and visitors from more than 120 countries in all regions of the world. There are more than 3,000 undergraduate and graduate international students at Virginia Tech. This year marks the 61st International Street Fair. What began in 1959 as a potluck dinner has grown into one of the longest-running street fairs in the country with more than 15,000 participants annually.

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