Enhancing the academic experience.
VMI offers a number of exciting enrichment programs that enhance the primary academic experiences provided in its majors and minors, demonstrating the Institute’s full commitment to educating the whole cadet.
The Jackson-Hope Fund Board has echoed its support of these initiatives by supporting cadets who conduct research and participate in academic competitions and by funding state-of-the-art equipment in chemistry and biology.
One of the hallmarks of VMI’s academic program is the Undergraduate Research Initiative (URI), which provides the stage on which cadets can compete and be nationally recognized for their research, analysis, inventions and presentation standards. The efforts of URI were greatly enhanced in 2001 when it received one of the first Jackson-Hope Fund grants to establish the Summer Undergraduate Research Institute (SURI).
The program has grown each year, and 35 proposals were funded during the summer of 2009, including a research project conducted by Maj. Ryan Taylor, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Cadet Travis Travis.
“The SURI experience – deciding on a research topic, submitting a proposal, designing and building the experiment and writing the research paper to describe my findings and conclusions – has developed my skills as a professional researcher in a way that no other program at VMI can,” said Travis. “I now feel confident that I would be able to undertake a project in a professional environment, such as industry, and see it through to a successful, and more importantly, accurate conclusion. My knowledge of the subject of interest in my research project, computer overclocking and thermal management, has also grown by leaps and bounds and the outcome of this project could shed a very useful light on a dark and little understood subject.”
To maximize the amount of financial support available to VMI’s academic program, in 2003 the Board of the Jackson-Hope Fund authorized funding for VMI’s first grants, contracts and intellectual property administrator who is tasked with assisting Institute members in obtaining extramural funding and in matters related to intellectual property.
“Having someone who can reduce the administrative burden that comes with submitting most extramural proposals is something new to VMI,” said Cmdr. Mike Sebastino, Assistant Dean for Academic Administration and Planning, who held the position initially. “The paperwork and red tape can certainly be a deterrent to faculty in responding to funding solicitations, and that’s a shame, because there are a lot of people at VMI doing high-quality work that would be very competitive.”
With the addition of a grants, contracts and intellectual property administrator, VMI has noticed a steady increase in the amount of interest in extramural funding opportunities both in the humanities and in the sciences and engineering. This staff member has been invaluable in assisting faculty members in submitting proposals in support of a wide variety of activities, such as the implementation of new teaching methods and courses, undergraduate research centers, and academic conferences and scientific research. As a result, the average amount of extramural funding expended in support of research and education projects annually has increased from about $98,000 in 2003 to more than $800,000 in 2009.
Another program established with the support of the Jackson-Hope Fund is VMI’s Science & Security minor, which integrates the study of science, social science and engineering themes to produce graduates prepared for careers in national and homeland security, including positions in government agencies such as the FBI, the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security; private research and public policy institutes; and in the legislative branch as congressional aides and on committee and sub-committee staffs. A particular strength of the program is its summer academic and internship program in Washington, D.C.
“Each cadet admitted to the program must work in a full-time internship in the national security community—broadly defined—with a mentor to deliver a professional deliverable that is integrated into a capstone research project at VMI in the senior class year,” said Col. R.E. Burnett, professor of international studies and director of the Science & Security minor.
“Cadets also must complete an academic course in intelligence analysis and production with VMI professors, also in Washington, D.C., that culminates in a ‘National Intelligence Estimate’ simulation that is presented to intelligence community professionals for evaluation and critique.