The Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering Prepares for the Future with New Building

Posted: November 5, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Computer image of new Volgenau School building
The Volgenau School’s new building will take the school even closer toward its goal of becoming one of the premier academic and research institutions in the country.

By Jennifer Edgerly

When the Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering opens the doors of its new building on the Fairfax Campus in 2009, the school will be continuing its history and reputation as an innovative educational project.

As is its tradition, the school will be at once responsive to the needs of its students — to receive an education that prepares them to become productive members of the workforce — and to the needs of employers in a wide range of fields.

But the school has even higher aspirations.

“I am extremely proud of what the Volgenau School has accomplished in 22 years,” says Dean Lloyd Griffiths. “We are committed to continuing on the path to becoming one of the premier academic and research institutions in the country.”

To do that, the Volgenau School is embarking on an exciting new relationship with local industry, one that will bring students and industry even closer.

A Campaign Built around Change

Two years ago, the school launched an ambitious $20 million fund-raising campaign to finance the innovative programs it envisioned, as well as a new building to house them. A generous $10 million gift from Ernst and Sara Volgenau started the ball rolling. In recognition of their wholehearted support, the school was named the Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering — the first school or college at Mason to be named after a benefactor.

VIPs at Volgenau event
VIPs joined Dean Lloyd Griffiths (far right) at a “virtual groundbreaking” last week for the Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering’s new building. From left, John T. Hazel Jr., a former rector of the George Mason University Board of Visitors; Ernst Volgenau, current rector; and Sid Dewberry, immediate past rector.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

The Volgenau School has been known as a pioneer throughout its history in many ways. For example, the school was the first in the nation to offer a doctorate in information technology. The current fund-raising campaign will enable the Volgenau School to create new degree programs in bioengineering emphasizing information technology, computation, and systems engineering. These programs will be distinct from others in the country and will build upon the existing strong academic programs in the school.

Organizational changes, such as merging the Computer Science Department and the Department of Information and Software Engineering, are designed to increase the depth and breadth of the program and resources available to students.

The ongoing campaign will allow the school to continue to pursue academic innovations that correspond to real-world needs.

A Building for the Future

The most visible outcome of the fund-raising campaign, of course, will be the new, state-of-the-art, 180,000-square-foot research and academic building currently known as Academic VI. In keeping with Mason’s commitment to sustainability, the building is one of the first new Mason buildings designed to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver standard.

Professor and students at Volgenau celebration
Electrical and computer engineering professor Nathalia Peixoto, far left, chats with students Saugandhika Minnikanti, A’amer Almujahed and Yu Shao at the Volgenau School celebration.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Ground was broken for the building last July 17, and construction is proceeding rapidly (see the construction web cam online). The new building will be the second largest on the Fairfax Campus and will combine academic and research space with — for the first time at Mason — corporate lease space.

The new building will be unlike any other throughout Virginia’s public university system. With 20,000 square feet of office space available for lease, the Volgenau School will continue to lead the way for the future of information technology and engineering by providing students and faculty with unique opportunities to work with area companies and participate in cutting-edge, real-world research.

Needletower sculpture
“Needle Tower” by Kenneth Snelson will be loaned to Mason from the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden for display in front of the new building.

The building is being constructed around a central atrium. Each floor will have a conference room and a student lounge to foster learning before and after class and provide space for students to study together, work on projects and interact with faculty and local high-tech businesses.

“Volgenau students are entrepreneurial and know how to think outside the box,” says Griffiths. “Area employers tell us that these characteristics are difficult to find in graduates of other academic institutions. We want our students to have the opportunity to interact with faculty members and the business professionals who will be sharing our space.”

By bringing together in one building its research endeavors, educational resources and key corporate partners, the Volgenau School will offer an immensely stimulating environment for the kind of collaboration required to resolve some of the most pressing information technology concerns, from network security and homeland security to the need for innovative and highly trained IT workers to keep the American economy competitive internationally.

“This building shows the commitment of the university and the commonwealth to provide an extraordinary facility to educate and train the best information technology professionals and engineers in Northern Virginia,” says Griffiths. “The partnership created by leasing space to corporations builds on our strength as an entrepreneurial university working with the business community. The strategic investment in research and education will lead to important technological breakthroughs.”

The Volgenau School held a celebratory event last week to highlight the new building and the future of the school. State dollars will provide less than half of the funds, estimated at $60 million, needed to complete this project. The remainder must be funded through research grants overhead, leasing payments and donations from companies, foundations and individuals.

For information on the fund-raising campaign or leasing space in the new building, contact Jennifer Lamb, director of development for the Volgenau School.

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