Virginia Western Community College recently welcomed community members from across the Roanoke region to celebrate the grand opening of its new $37-million STEM Building. More than 300 attendees heard from local elected officials, business leaders and students about the impact the new facility will have on growing the local economy through collaboration and innovation.

“This building will drive our region forward in the fields of STEM and health professions,” said Dr. Robert H. Sandel, President of Virginia Western. “It will be the home of innovation and the next bright idea. It will help the Commonwealth of Virginia continue to be one of the best places in America to do business.”

The grand opening event had a student-focused feel as recent alumni introduced each of the speakers and shared details on how their STEM education at Virginia Western has impacted them. Following the speakers’ portion, faculty members showed attendees the facility, labs and the cutting-edge new equipment.

“To me, the building is about preparing students for jobs that don’t exist yet,” said Amy White, Dean of STEM. “The space allows them to focus on critical thinking, problem-solving skills and communication skills. It’s not about the equipment. It’s not about the buttons on the machine. It’s about why the buttons are on the machine, and how the students can solve problems using the latest and greatest equipment.”

Speakers such as Delegate Terry Austin, Roanoke City Mayor Sherman Lea, Roanoke businessman W. Heywood Fralin and Richard Farthing of Virginia’s Community Colleges spoke about how investment in higher education, and STEM in particular, will continue to drive the region’s economic growth.

“One of the most important players in this [region’s] movement to a knowledge-based economy is Virginia Western Community College. Its growth not only in size but also in stature has been remarkable and this growth has focused on quality,” said Fralin, a member of the Virginia Western Educational Foundation Board of Directors. “There has been a recent focus on recruiting top business leaders throughout the region to serve on the Foundation’s Board of Directors, and [the college’s recent] accomplishments are a result of the leadership of the outstanding administration of Virginia Western Community College and the Foundation Board of Directors which has included visionaries like the late Charles Steger. Together they have produced for this region one of the best community colleges in the entire system. Needless to say, we are proud of Virginia Western Community College.”

Programs that will be located in the STEM Building include Mechatronics, Engineering, Biology, Chemistry, Biotechnology, Physics and Mathematics. New cutting-edge equipment includes a phase contrast fluorescence microscope, a multiphoton confocal microscope, a scanning electron microscope, four new spectrometers, process control units, a 5 axis CNC milling machine, a 24-foot water flume and a collaborative robot.

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