WASHINGTON — Virginia Tech, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia and once overshadowed by the state's elite, historic colleges, has been a university on the rise in recent decades.
It is the state's largest university, with more than 26,000 students, a leader in producing Ph.D.s and one of the nation's top-ranked schools in engineering and architecture. In the U.S. News and World Report 2007 rankings of public universities, Virginia Tech was 34th.
That marks a long rise for a school that opened in 1872 as Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, tucked away in the Appalachian foothills. Today, the school's formal name is the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University -- but it is popularly known as Virginia Tech.
Though its academic reputation still trails that of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia Tech has become a popular second choice for many of the state's best high school students because of its strong standing, low cost and -- until Monday -- the safe, small-town atmosphere of Blacksburg.
Three-fourths of its undergraduates are from Virginia, and nearly 60% are men, reflecting its heritage as a tech school. Nearly all students live on or near campus. Students offered admission for the fall of 2006 had a grade average of 3.8 in high school and an average SAT score of 1,231.
In addition to its technical programs, the school also draws applicants with its well-regarded departments in environmental conservation, biology, communications and agricultural science.
At the school's founding, all students were part of a Corps of Cadets; civilian students did not outnumber cadets until 1946. The Corps of Cadets continues today.
Virginia Tech's location has been part of its appeal. The closest small city, Roanoke, is 38 miles away. Richmond is a three-hour drive, and Washington is about four hours by car. But hikers and backpackers have easy access to the Appalachian Trail, and canoeists and kayakers are fond of the New River.
The campus features buildings constructed with a distinctive native limestone, and Virginia Tech operates its own stone quarries, which it mines for new campus buildings.
The university has also been on the rise in college sports. Its football team became a national power in the past decade, and its teams now play in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They are known as the Hokies, a word invented by a student in 1896 during a competition to write a new college cheer.
Over the years Tech has maintained a fierce rivalry with the University of Virginia, which proudly proclaims Thomas Jefferson as its founder. As the Fiske Guide to Colleges put it, "The annual 'big game' pits the backwoodsy Hokies against the aristocratic, snobby Cavaliers of the University of Virginia" -- and, more often than not, the Hokies come out on top.
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Full name: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Founded: 1872, as Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College
Location: Blacksburg, Va.
Campus size: 2,600 acres
Student population: 26,370, 83.2% undergraduate
Full-time teaching faculty: 1,304
Bachelor degree programs: 60
Advanced degree programs: 140
Source: Virginia Tech