Industry Executives Will Help Guide Tech’s New Alexandria Campus

An advisory council of industry leaders will help shape Virginia Tech's new Alexandria campus.

By Arianna Coghill
September 22, 2020

Officials from Qualcomm, Boeing, KPMG, Northrop Grumman and The Carlyle Group agree to work with university

ALEXANDRIA — If you want to prepare students for jobs in the tech industry, it helps to know what companies need. That’s the mindset behind Virginia Tech’s new project. Tech’s “Innovation Campus” in Alexandria will open the doors for startups, research and development training, with one key difference. Industry leaders will help shape the concepts.

Virginia Tech President Tim Sands announced the advisory board plans on Monday during a press conference in Alexandria. Politicians including Sen. Mark Warner have come out in support of the campus’s construction. It stands on a 65-acre portion of the Potomac Yard neighborhood, less than three miles from Amazon’s HQ2 project. In fact, Amazon officials in 2018 said the “Innovation Campus” proposal was part of the reason they chose northern Virginia for HQ2.

“The Innovation Campus is something different and unique. It’s a not a traditional academic campus,” said Lance Collins, executive director for the new Innovation Campus.

The first campus of its kind

Officials say Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus will be a “world class research facility” unlike any other college campus in the commonwealth. Courses are already being held remotely due to the pandemic. Once restrictions lift, classes will be in Tech’s Falls Church site until construction is finished on the new campus.

The goal here is to build a tech workforce, as students learn cybersecurity, how to work with artificial intelligence and other industry needs. According to WAMU, these courses are supposed to make it easier for students to be hired by employers in the area.

“(The campus) is, by design, integrated with private industry that will also drive the advancement of technology,” said Collins. To help with this integration, Virginia Tech has formed an advisory board consisting of five leaders of major tech companies.

The board consists of leaders from Northrop Grumman, Qualcomm, Boeing, KPMG and the Carlyle Group. Together, they will be providing feedback on the development of the campus. According to Collins, their advice is critical to the project.

“We’ll be able to take advantage of (the advisory board’s) connections as well as their insights into where technology is going in the future,” said Collins.

The campus has already accepted its first inaugural class of 79 computer science and engineering students. However, the university is holding classes remotely to protect students from the spread of COVID-19. But, in the next ten years, the university predicts over 750 master degree students enrolling.

Tech industry’s role in campus development

Virginia Tech has not been shy in its efforts to attract Amazon’s attention. In 2018, the company held a nationwide contest deciding where they were going to expand their headquarters. Eventually, out of hundreds of applicants, the company decided on Crystal City in Arlington. 

Amazon cited the future campus as a big reason why the company chose Arlington for its headquarters’ location. The “Innovation Campus” will be located in Alexandria’s Potomac Yard Neighborhood, located just south the city’s Amazon HQ2 project.

“The commonwealth of Virginia approached Amazon to try and entice them to move their second headquarters here,” said Collins. “Alongside tax incentives he Innovation Campus was apart of this deal to lure the HQ2 from Amazon to the area.”

Being one of the largest tech companies in the world right now, it’s no mystery to why any city would want to be the new location of their headquarters. The headquarters will bring at least 25,000 jobs to the area during a time where Virginians desperately need the employment.

Even though Virginia’s employment rate is recovering, there are still thousands of people without jobs due to COVID-19. In response, the Virginia Senate approved a multimillion dollar incentive package for Amazon as long as the company agreed to provide 38,000 jobs every year through 2034. Under the agreement, these jobs must pay at least $100,000 annually.

However, many people have come out against the Innovation Campus, calling it “Amazon University”. According to WAMU, critics have suggested Amazon is using the university to feed employees into their retailer to meet their 38,000 quota. But supporters insist that it will benefit employers in the area.

According to WTOP, construction starts next year and will finish by 2024.

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