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Interim Executive Director's Message

XJ Meng - Interim Executive Director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute.
X.J. Meng, Interim Executive Director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute

Dear Fralin Life Sciences Institute Community:

I am honored to be asked to help guide the Fralin Life Sciences Institute during this leadership transition period. I have been an affiliated faculty of the Institute since its inception, have collaborated on research projects with the Biocomplexity Institute/Virginia Bioinformatics Institute prior to its merger with the Fralin Life Science Institute, and have extensively utilized the core services provided by the Institute. So, my own research program and academic career have benefited tremendously through various support from the Institute. I know firsthand how essential and important the work at the Fralin Life Sciences Institute is to Virginia Tech and the broader scientific community. 

Please know that the dedicated staff at the Institute are here to support the university’s life science community and to help grow the university’s research enterprise in the broad areas of environmental and life sciences.  

The leadership team and I also want to thank you for all your efforts during the challenging past two years. We are living through a historic event, and the care and support you have taken for each other makes me grateful to be a part of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute and the Virginia Tech community as we continue to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and the other global environmental and life science challenges of our time. 

The in-person fall semester reminded us of the value of in-person research and learning. In the true spirit of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), the leadership team and I appreciate the sacrifices you have all made to enable a full-scale reopening, including getting vaccinations and boosters, frequent testing, masking in indoor public places, and staying vigilant. Many of us still have young children who are not eligible for vaccination and loved ones who are immunocompromised, so the threat of COVID-19 is still ever-present. 

The leadership team and I want to celebrate all that we have achieved over the past year and a half. Our new strategic distribution of investment and facilities support is guided by three principles: maximizing return on investment to the university; aligning with broader University initiatives; and supporting paradigm-shifting science to develop our next leaders and impact communities.

Over the past year, our Institute specifically sought to support paradigm-shifting science through research investments, expanding shared resources and state-of-the-art research facilities, developing the  next generation of leaders through K-12, undergraduate, and graduate education and outreach efforts, and  advancing the strategic administrative and operational elements of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute.


By the Numbers: 

In fiscal year (FY) 21, Fralin Life Sciences Institute investments and facilities helped support:

  • 510 faculty members

  • 791 graduate students

  • 611 undergraduate students

  • 4782 K-12 students across Virginia were supported, despite restrictions due to COVID, through our education and outreach programs.

 

Our Institute made investments of nearly $8 million dollars to bolster innovative and paradigm-shifting transdisciplinary science. Our primary investment strategy included investment in our four research centers: Global Change Center, Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Arthropod-Borne Pathogens, Center for Coastal Studies, and Translational Plant Sciences Center. Our centers take a problem-centric approach to tackling a range of environmental and life science global challenges and their impacts on society.

In turn, these centers directly supported the University’s research endeavor by running successful seed grant programs and by providing financial and resource support to grass-roots, faculty-led transdisciplinary research and graduate education training programs. The affiliated faculty from the four research centers received 380 new funding awards in FY21, totaling just over $111 million dollars.

Our four research centers directly funded 153 graduate students through their Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Programs.  Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, our Kids’ Tech University was able to successfully pivot to a virtual platform to maintain programming, which extended the geographic reach and diversity of the K-12 student participants. Our Biotech-in-a-Box program continued to send kits to Virginia High Schools and Community Colleges so that students could run experiments in Immunology, Protein Electrophoresis, Column Chromatography, and DNA separation.

As we look to the future, we know that humanity is faced with unprecedented challenges associated with environmental change, which require collaboration across many disciplines to develop solutions for mitigation and sustainable practices moving forward. 

A rapidly growing industrialized, globalized, human population puts enormous pressure on natural resources, and creates unintended consequences like loss of habitat, emergence of infectious disease, rising sea levels, changes to our global climate, and spread of invasive species.

Virginia Tech is uniquely positioned with a critical mass of faculty working on problems related to environmental change who represent all 9 colleges and encompass the life sciences, health sciences, engineering, social sciences, humanities, and computational sciences.  

We do not need to build this research framework, it’s already here. With over 510 affiliated faculty members in the Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech, our vision is to bring cohesion and transdisciplinary collaboration to this research and scholarship that will lead to solutions to some of these global environmental and life science challenges.

Our investments in translational plant sciences, coastal studies, global change, and infectious disease ladder up to the initiatives launched by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation and align with the health, security, and artificial intelligence frontiers. 

Without sustainable agriculture, secure and resilient coasts, and populations protected from infectious disease, we cannot ensure a successful society. Researchers in all four of the Institute’s centers are capitalizing on using complex data sets, artificial intelligence, and computational modeling to protect our greatest asset: a healthy planet. 

Please feel free to reach out to me or the Institute’s leadership team.

 

Be committed. Be well, 

X.J. Meng, interim executive director, Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech

University Distinguished Professor