HomeCover StoryNew Pamplin home designed to transform business education

New Pamplin home designed to transform business education

  • It’s going to displace an awful lot of tailgaters, a faculty member wryly notes.
  • It would allow students like her to nurture their companies while continuing their studies, says a former student who took time off from school to focus on her start-up with two other Hokies.
  • It will get $1 million from her, a donor declares, “because I am so inspired by the future.”

The object of their attention is currently but a figment of the imagination — multiple imaginations, actually, that, along with many discussions and much work, have contributed to a detailed feasibility study and a pile of architectural drawings.

It’s the big, new, dream home-to-be of the Pamplin College of Business.

But a bigger building is not what the proposed Global Business and Analytics Complex is all about. For starters, it won’t be just one building, but a complex of four: two academic buildings, slated for the current parking lot along Prices Fork Road and West Campus Drive, and two buildings for living-learning communities, to go up near the Inn at Virginia Tech and Holtzman Alumni Center.

And though there will certainly be more capacious quarters for classrooms, offices, meeting rooms, and gathering spots, Pamplin Dean Robert Sumichrast stresses that the spaces are being deliberately designed with one goal in mind: to transform the educational experience.

Photograph of Dean Sumichrast talking with two students in Pamplin Hall.

“We’re building for a better business education,” says Dean Robert Sumichrast. (Photo by Logan Wallace)

“We’re building for a better business education,” Sumichrast says. The complex, he says, will offer an enriched learning environment that promotes collaboration and teamwork and supports enhanced advising and career services.

“It will be the best business-school experience.”

Room for collaboration and community

Pointing out a couple of distinctions, Sumichrast says only a few business schools now have both academic and residence buildings.

What will make Pamplin’s complex, estimated to cost $250 million, truly different — “separate us from other business schools” — he says, is the generous allocation of work space planned for visiting scholars and industry professionals.

“We will have room for all of Pamplin, plus 200 other faculty members from engineering, science, and other disciplines — faculty from Virginia Tech as well as scholars from other institutions — and a large number of practitioners.

“I am not aware of any other business school in the country that will intentionally bring in faculty and students from other colleges in such numbers to complement the education and curricular experiences that our Pamplin students will get.”

The college will be making even greater use of practitioners, particularly entrepreneurs, for teaching and mentoring. “We really want to expose our students to a broad range of ideas, and that has been considered in how we designed the spaces,” he says.

Foundation for economic development

The complex isn’t just the future home of Pamplin. “It is the future of Pamplin,” Sumichrast says.

And of Virginia Tech and the state, as well, he adds, as it will boost the state’s economic development by producing more market-ready graduates with in-demand knowledge and skills in analytics, entrepreneurship, and global business.

“The complex isn’t just the future home of Pamplin. It is the future of Pamplin…and of Virginia Tech and the state.”

“The complex will create a pipeline of talent to Northern Virginia and other parts of the state.”

The complex’s planned space reflects Pamplin’s three strategic focus areas: analytics, entrepreneurship, and sustainable global prosperity.

A place to live and learn

The living-learning buildings will each accommodate 350 students in residence halls and have common spaces for collaboration and socializing.

One living-learning building will focus on international education. It will house the university’s community for students interested in foreign languages, international work, and intercultural leadership, and offices of the Outreach and International Affairs program.

The second living-learning building will focus on analytics, including integrated security, and entrepreneurship.

Photograph of Dean Sumichrast talking with several students in an office.

The opportunity to stay in school and work on their company with mentorship is the best option for some students, says Dean Robert Sumichrast. (Photo by Logan Wallace)

Perhaps the most novel aspect of the entrepreneurship wing would be its planned amenities for 20 of the most promising start-ups: students will get not only work space and equipment but mentors as well.

“One of the things we’d like to do is to keep capable students enrolled at Virginia Tech,” says Sumichrast. Several students, he notes, had quit school to launch or nurse their own businesses, because they couldn’t juggle studies and entrepreneurship — while others went the other way, passing up a business opportunity to finish their degree.

“I can’t say that one option is better than the other, but I do think that having the opportunity to stay in school and work on your company with mentorship is the best for some of our students.”

Juniors and seniors — who would be more advanced in entrepreneurship — would be the target group of this space, Sumichrast points out, in contrast to the primarily first-year students served by Innovate, the university’s existing entrepreneurship community, which the college helps run through its Apex Center for Entrepreneurs.

Interactive research and education

Over in the analytics-security wing, perhaps the most prominent feature would be a large research and education lab that would serve as an operations center for modeling and responding to disasters, from cyber attacks to hurricanes.

Photograph of Cliff Ragsdale talking one-on-one with student

Cliff Ragsdale (left) says the the planned new facilities will enable faculty “to take instruction in the art and craft of storytelling to a new level.” (Photo by Mai Khanh Nguyen)

Cliff Ragsdale, professor of business information technology and academic director of Pamplin’s Center for Business Intelligence and Analytics, says the new facilities will allow faculty to “fully embrace and benefit from flipped classrooms and more interactive styles of teaching and learning.”

The proposed integrated security lab and team learning spaces, he says, will also greatly enhance students’ exposure to collaborative problem solving.

“Solving difficult problems requires a team approach that integrates and leverages the various perspectives, experiences, and strengths that different people bring to the task,” Ragsdale notes.

“Problem solving doesn’t end when you’ve calculated the ‘right’ answer. It also often requires convincing others to take action on the basis of that answer, and that involves crafting and communicating a compelling story.

“The visualization capabilities in the planned classrooms and labs will enable us to take instruction in the art and craft of storytelling to a new level.”

Ragsdale adds: “As the global business world becomes more complex and interrelated, we need the ability to quickly see the big picture with a wide-angle lens, yet also zoom in and focus on important details. This need to see and focus underscores the increasing importance of visualization technology in modern business education.”

Supporting traditional academics

The activities in both living-learning buildings, Sumichrast says, would complement those that would take place in the classrooms, offices, and research spaces in the more academically focused buildings.

One academic building would house offices for faculty, staff, and administrators, including the college’s undergraduate programs and advising and career services.

The second academic building would include high-tech classrooms, team rooms, a large commons, lobby, and café, as well as three labs — financial trading and analytics, hospitality, and sales and behavioral studies — that support “learning by doing.”

Plans for breaking ground

Sumichrast, who had initiated plans for new facilities when he was business dean at Louisiana State University and the University of Georgia, says the completed feasibility study is “far beyond what is typical for such a report.”

The study and the architectural drawings represent the distillation of discussions with architects, students, faculty, and alumni, as well as the ideas of President Tim Sands and former Provost Thanassis Rikakis. Suggestions were also sought from science and engineering faculty on campus and ideas collected from visits Sumichrast and others made to universities around the country.

A photograph of Caroline Pugh

Caroline Pugh, who was a student-entrepreneur, says “a large part of starting any business is the network and community that the founders can learn from.” (Photo courtesy of Caroline Pugh)

“The plan we have for the complex today is better than its initial concept a few years ago, and 2020 is a realistic start date for breaking ground.”

The complex, says Ragsdale, would be a “wonderful leap forward for the college.” Ragsdale — who had tartly observed the project’s consequences for tailgating — says the “battered lunch pail might be a great icon for the football team’s defense, but it’s not what you want your business-school facilities to look like.”

Caroline Pugh, who as a business information technology major, had launched a company to help consumers track fitness goals through body scanning technology, is particularly excited by the proposed facilities for student entrepreneurs.

“It’s something I wish I had while building my startup in college!” she says.

Mary McVay with Dean Sumichrast at the Pamplin Advisory Council reception in Pamplin Hall in September 2017.

Mary McVay with Dean Sumichrast. McVay gave $1 million to the complex. (Photo by Kelsey Stoner)

Pugh, who now works at analytics company CareJourney as chief of staff to the president, says “a large part of starting any business is the network and community that the founders can learn from.

“To have a built-in community of peers and advisors who can serve as a sounding board and as the initial set of beta users or testers for a product would be invaluable, especially in the early stages of a startup.”

Mary McVay, an alumna who was so persuaded by the potential of the complex that she gave $1 million to it, says the complex would reinforce the university’s position as a leader in using data to address problems faced by industry and society.

“We could be a role model for the nation.”

Sookhan Ho


Building the pipeline of talent in analytics

Innovative new facilities such as the proposed Global Business and Analytics Complex would bolster Virginia Tech’s leadership in the use of data for problem solving.

Through a range of programs, Pamplin and Virginia Tech are also equipping the future workforce with the analytics knowledge and skills to manage and interpret data to make better business decisions.

Below, two recent graduates discuss the practical impact and rewards of their education.

A process engineer at Tesla

Portrait of Adithya Vijayakumar

Adithya Vijayakumar (Photo courtesy of Adithya Vijayakumar)

Adithya Vijayakumar received a master’s degree in industrial and systems engineering in May 2017 and now, after a recent promotion, works at Tesla as a process engineer.

Vijayakumar was a student in a class on business information visualization and analytics taught last spring by Tabitha James, associate professor of business information technology.

He recently dropped James an appreciative note.

“My dashboards have been getting amazing responses from everyone at the company. I get several dashboard requests from multiple teams every day, as my visualizations are easily comprehensible, properly structured, and, of course, have intuitive colors!” Vijayakumar wrote.

“I’m currently working on the exciting Model 3 project, and my visualizations are helping the higher executives make informed decisions. I really want to thank you for providing us amazing training on the fundamentals and knowledge on visualizations.”

A senior data analyst at Booz Allen

A photograph of Marco Hernandez

Marco Hernandez (Photo courtesy of Marco Hernandez)

Seeking to boost his analytics skills, Marco Hernandez left his job as a credit analyst in metro Washington, D.C., to join Pamplin’s master’s program in business analytics.

The program brought together students with a wide range of backgrounds and skills, said Hernandez, who earned a B.S. in consumer studies from Virginia Tech in 2014.

“While we were all there to learn analytical skills, we had different fields we wanted to apply those skills to. This diversity can be seen from the capstone projects that are the focal point of the program.”

Receiving his M.S. in 2017, Hernandez was hired as a senior data analyst at Booz Allen. “Luckily for me, the work I am doing is in Tableau and data visualization, my favorite subject from the graduate program,” he said.

“The advanced data visualization class perfectly prepared me for the work I am doing and allowed me to quickly acclimate to the situation without the extra steps of training.”

The business intelligence and capstone classes have also given him other helpful tools for work, he added.

“I am very glad I left my prior job to join this full-time graduate program. I am enjoying the work I do, I get to see my work have real impact — and I had a $20,000 salary increase. The degree was a great investment!”


Professor Patrick Fan explains how business analytics goes beyond data analytics.

Transforming business education

The proposed Global Business and Analytics Complex, Dean Robert Sumichrast says, will offer:

  • a new, interdisciplinary learning experience
  • unique features for collaborative learning and problem solving
  • a pipeline of talent for job creation and economic development


How much will the Global Business and Analytics Complex cost?
A total of $250 million.

How large will the complex be?
The two academic buildings are expected to each be about 100,000 square feet. The two living-learning buildings are expected to each be about 130,000 square feet.

Where will it be located?
The two academic buildings will be sited at the south west corner of Prices Fork Road and West Campus Drive, in what is currently a parking lot.

The two living-learning buildings will be sited across West Campus Drive, south of the Inn at Virginia Tech and Holtzman Alumni Center.

When will it be built?
Groundbreaking is currently planned for 2020.

Sookhan Ho