Community engagement in Alexandria, Virginia, took on an exciting form last month with the debut of Tech on Tap at Port City Brewing Company's headquarters.

The free event on Oct. 17 was the first in a regular speaker series intended to engage the local community in the types of issues and problems Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus in Potomac Yard will explore. Series topics will inform, educate, and raise questions about the impact of new technologies on society, equity, and policy.

“Learning can happen anywhere, at any age, and it can be done in a fun environment,” said David Baker, Virginia Tech assistant director for community and government relations, about the concept of the series and the brewery location. “It is an opportunity for Virginia Tech to bring some of our thought leaders and researchers and innovators out into the community to hear some of the exciting things we are doing across the university.”

Baker noted that the geographic location of the Innovation Campus, “in a major, urban, metropolitan area,” is an asset to Virginia Tech in that it provides “a real opportunity to engineer that future of innovation … and we can start having those transformative community discussions here with Tech on Tap."

"A lot of people think that once you graduate from school, whether it is high school or college, you stop learning," said Cara Sonnier, digital services librarian with Alexandria Library, a Tech on Tap partner. "The library is one of the [places] where... you don’t stop learning. There’s always new ideas to learn and new resources to take advantage of, and [this series] is a good opportunity to do that.”

Tech on Tap event featured speaker Sylvester Johnson

The first Tech on Tap event featured speaker Sylvester Johnson, assistant vice provost for the humanities at Virginia Tech and executive director of the Tech for Humanity initiative, who explored the present and future of humanity in a technological age.

Artificial intelligence and intelligent machines are increasingly becoming part of our daily experience, posing risk and challenges for transdisciplinary teams.

Audience members raised questions and comments like how should we decide who is human; how to expand the field of ethics and who studies it; and which policies are most important for individuals to advocate with elected officials.

These challenges are “not just for STEM,” said Johnson. “It’s for people who want to create a society that people want to live in. The Innovation Campus will support that mission.”