When Virginia Tech graduate student Imran Rahman relocated to Arlington from Blacksburg in January to complete his Ph.D. in electrical engineering, student life looked different. There were limited university-sponsored career fairs and workshops, campus wellness options, counseling services, and organized gatherings for students.

Virginia Tech wants to change that. The university is making plans to create a new student experience for the approximately 800 Hokies, like Rahman, enrolled in graduate programs in Northern Virginia. The number of students studying and doing research in the greater Washington, D.C., region is growing, and this cluster of Hokies is expected to increase substantially in the next few years, mostly with the addition of the university’s innovation campus in Alexandria.

“What we have the opportunity to do is create a new Hokie experience,” said Robin Jones, assistant provost of planning and resource management at Virginia Tech.

For the past few months, a group of university administrators, which includes Jones, has been researching graduate students’ needs in Northern Virginia. They drafted a list of suggested changes, from enhancing career development and library research resources to offering registrar and financial aid services and counseling for students. Another aim is to help students navigate and connect with local resources that are related to health and wellness, recreation, and the local housing market.

By next fall, if funding is approved, Virginia Tech hopes to provide some of these services to Hokies enrolled at the university’s Northern Virginia locations in Falls Church, Arlington, and Alexandria.

Jones, along with representatives from Career and Professional Development, University Libraries, and the Office of the University Registrar, visited Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia campuses in October to talk with students, including Rahman, and learn more about each site.

The changes that the group is proposing will leverage all that the Graduate School at Virginia Tech has been building and managing in Northern Virginia for the past 50 years. For example, there are some organized gatherings for students at the Falls Church campus, but the proposed changes would widen those offerings.

“We are enhancing what is already there for the students and making these [services] more accessible,” Jones said.

University representatives examine the map of the future Innovation Campus site.

For example, Virginia Tech wants to create an office in Northern Virginia that will provide basic in-person bursar, registration, financial aid information, and related student services. These offices are based in Blacksburg, and typically Northern Virginia students must communicate via email or phone if they have questions.

“We are looking at a model of combining services that are offered by individual offices in Blacksburg,” said Rick Sparks, associate vice provost and university registrar at Virginia Tech.

Sparks said he doesn’t yet know where the services will be based, but they would include assistance for veterans.

"As we increase the number of students in Northern Virginia, we need to ensure that we are able to provide access to the services they need to be successful,” he said.

Counseling and wellness related offerings also are priorities in Northern Virginia, along with helping many, particularly international students, navigate student health insurance plans, Jones said.

Also, the university wants to ramp up its career assistance to students for finding jobs and building a path for their futures. Virginia Tech is one of the institutions committed to building the state’s pipeline for tech talent.

“We see a big transition in the population of our students in the future,” said Kenneth Wong, associate dean of the Graduate School and director of the Northern Virginia Center. “With an increased emphasis on professional master's degrees, we want to ensure that all of the new degree programs are highly responsive to the needs of the growing tech economy in the D.C. area.”

To be sure, Rahman, who earned his master’s degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech, is wrapping up a successful graduate program in Northern Virginia. As a result of his work in the university’s building energy management lab at the Arlington Research Center, he landed a job with Commonwealth Edison, an electric utility company in Chicago. He starts the new role after he graduates this month.

“I landed that job because of the kind of work that we do with industry,” said Rahman, who will work in electric grid data analytics for the company. “It worked out wonderfully for me.”

Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone