Dean Laura Belmonte outlines the state of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
October 11, 2021
The opening riff was unmistakable: The buoyant, tinkling notes of “Taking Care of Business” filled the auditorium as Laura Belmonte strode to the podium.
While Belmonte, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, has taken care of a great deal of business since assuming the college’s leadership just over two years ago, she placed the accent of her inaugural State of the College address on humanity instead.
“In an era marked with constant reminders of the fragility of our planet, the fragility of democracy, and the fragility of a shared understanding of basic truth,” she said, “it is more important than ever that our commitment to the liberal arts and human sciences is strong.”
With members of the college’s Dean’s Roundtable and Alumni Advisory Board in attendance, Belmonte, a historian, noted that we, like our predecessors in the late 19th century, are confronting “a world with economic dislocations, population shifts, and yawning social and political divides.”
At the same time, Belmonte said, “We are rising to the challenge of ensuring our work remains attuned to the most pressing challenges of the day while also preserving the enduring foundational skills at the core of the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts.”
Belmonte noted that the “rich tapestry” of the college’s course catalog is capacious enough to include criminology and creative writing, data analytics and Dante, cybersecurity and child development, presidents and property management, fashion and the free market, and Bach and bok choy.
“Humanity is at the core of all we do in the college,” Belmonte added, before introducing a video with several faculty members detailing how their work contributes to that mission.
“Technology is not just a technical issue,” said Sylvester Johnson, executive director of the university’s Tech for Humanity initiative, in opening the video. “Technology is also a human issue. In fact, the hardest problems we are facing in technology today are at the human frontier.”
Johnson, who also directs the college’s Center for Humanities, noted that Virginia Tech is creating a university-wide Tech for Humanity minor that will enable undergraduates to learn at the intersection of humanities and technology, developing essential skills in areas such as the ethics of artificial intelligence, technology and democracy, and social justice.
Complementing that work is the college’s Academy of Transdisciplinary Studies, which “represents an ocean of opportunities for creative approaches to teaching, research, and service in the college and university,” according to Carlos Evia, associate dean for transdisciplinary initiatives.
Evia said that ocean envelops the nearly 20 academic majors and minors the academy is currently incubating. It also connects the port of minors focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice with the port of minors focused on the intersections of science, technology, health, and the humanities.
“Now, that normally calm ocean can be challenging to navigate,” Evia said, “particularly when we face structural barriers that slow down the type of collaboration across departments and colleges that we are proposing, and a difficult political climate that even questions the content of some of the degrees that we are creating.
“But do you know how we are navigating that ocean? We are building a bridge. A bridge based on humanity, one that connects those ports by focusing on the common interests for improving the human condition across and beyond the disciplines.”
With all this crucial humanistic work, Belmonte said, “It’s no wonder students are flocking to our college.”
More than 4,000 undergraduates are enrolled in 42 majors in the college this fall, said Monica Kimbrell, associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs, in a second video on the college’s support of students. The number of undergraduates includes more than 1,600 underrepresented or underserved students.
“We also welcomed the most competitive class admitted in the college’s history,” Kimbrell said. “The 1,000 new freshmen and transfer students represent 31 states or territories, 7 countries, and nearly 500 high schools. The future is looking especially bright with the top five most popular majors, including criminology, human development, national security and foreign affairs, political science, and sports media and analytics.”
Bill Roth, a professor of practice in the School of Communication, took the second video home with an energetic look at the sports media and analytics program, which attracted more than 400 applicants this past year.
“We’ve got an incredible digital studio and lab at Virginia Tech, and the students love working in it,” Roth said. “In fact, we call it our gym. I say, let’s get some shots up. To them, that doesn’t mean making free throws or taking three-pointers. It means turning the lights on in our studio and really getting to work. And they have embraced that work ethic at Virginia Tech.
“It’s been a huge success,” Roth added. “This past year Tech student Evan Hughes won the Jim Nantz Award as the nation’s top collegiate broadcaster. That is in essence the Heisman Trophy of broadcasting, and he brought it to Virginia Tech.”
Roth noted that while the students achieve a great deal in the classroom and studio, the real learning is done in stadiums and arenas around the region and across the country, as students call games from as far away as Minnesota and South Dakota.
“With Bill Roth, long-time and legendary Voice of the Hokies, as our final inspiration,” Belmonte said, “I can only conclude with thanks to all of you for participating in our inaugural State of the College address, and I close with a raucous, ‘Go Hokies!’”
Written by Paula Byron