Virginia Tech Hampton Roads: Educational services meeting the needs of working professionals

Director for all VTHRCs, Susan Johnstad, outside of the new Tech Center third floor office (Photo by Cathy Welch)

Virginia Tech (VT) just brought its premier solutions for the educational opportunities of working professionals to Newport News’ Tech Center. VT Hampton Roads Center’s (VTHRC) new location offers an array of educational opportunities. Susan Johnstad, director for the Richmond, Newport News and Virginia Beach centers, loves the exciting opportunities happening in the area. Her responsibilities include connecting university resources with workforce/economic/community development opportunities and needs in each area.

A California native, Johnstad joined VTHRC’s Richmond office in July 2018. She appreciated the university’s higher education tradition, the state’s diversity and what that means for an extended education model. As a land-grant public university, VT’s mandate is to serve communities, businesses and initiatives across the Commonwealth.

“We plug in to what’s happening, thinking about what program strengths and research opportunities VT might be well situated to be a part of, then connect with what’s happening,” she says.

VTHRC moved into its new space in Tech Center in June. Offerings include graduate programs and certificates in education, engineering, information technology, instructional technology and career and technical education and licensure. Currently there are six full-time staff, three full-time faculty and additional part-time faculty as needed. VT covers many areas of expertise needed in Hampton Roads, including coastal resiliency; however, the topic Johnstad hears about consistently is data analytics.

Virginia Tech “Hokie” grad and ITA International LLC’s President/CEO, Mike Melo, approached VT a year ago to partner with the university.

“This is a great example of a public/private partnership,” Melo says. “ITA was expanding its data analytics capability but couldn’t find the workforce. The Virginia Tech Data Analytics Program is allowing us to train our workforce and build our capability. We feel this program was so successful and allowed us to accomplish our goals, we are working with VT to offer another course in January 2020.”

“My job is to be a part of the conversations, ensuring faculty and leadership in Blacksburg or at our new Innovation Campus in northern Virginia (NOVA) know what’s being talked about here,” Johnstad says.

VTHRC offers training in management and leadership and works through various businesses to deliver those programs. Its degree programs cover a variety of areas, such as graduate-level education; a principalship certification program; public administration programs such as an MPA graduate certificate related to public administration, local governments; VT’s professional MBA program; and project management training.

“Much of our activity is through noncredit professional development work happening in Hampton Roads in communications, leadership and more,” Johnston says.

“The military and defense industries, NASA, ITA International and Jefferson Lab are world class,” she says of the amazing opportunities in Newport News.

“We have worked closely with UVA, and people are often surprised by that,” Johnstad says. “We partner in some program development and often I join a UVA colleague to meet with a business or economic development group.”

Previously co-located with UVA in Oyster Point Park, VTHRC continues to work with UVA. Whereas VT offers graduate level programs, UVA also offers undergraduate. This creates the opportunity for people to come through UVA’s office space at Tidewater Community College for their bachelors’ degree, and then continue to VTHRC for graduate work.

VTHRC offers a Professional MBA program (PMBA) and a Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification Prep Course. The center is looking at areas to match on-campus VT students with local technical internships, vital for students today.

“We have many students in Blacksburg who might return for a summer or semester,” she says.

“In this kind of work, you have to dig and learn your communities,” Johnstad says. “Part of what appealed to me was looking at opportunities with military defense industries, where you’re working with people from all over the world who bring in a culturally diverse expertise.”

“I love that we get to work with students who have a lot of things going on in their lives,” she says of what she terms  —  place-bound students. “These people have rich, exciting lives and we get to be a part of their next steps.”

VT’s motto is “Ut Prosim (That I may serve).” “My team has a strong interest in service to youth,” Johnstad says. “We’re looking for ways to be part of K12 or youth initiatives.”

Johnstad is currently participating in Lead Virginia, a program geared toward how people in leadership roles can be part of solutions in education, healthcare and community development. She also enjoys hiking and is always in search of good coffee.

“We definitely have a presence in NN,” Johnstad says of VTHRC’s role as a connector. “There’s a strong identity with VT in Blacksburg and northern Virginia’s Innovation Campus tied to Amazon’s upcoming HQ2.”

About Cathy Welch 74 Articles
Cathy Welch is a Hampton Roads-based writer, photographer and book editor. She says her life is an eclectic mix of career and FAMILY. She earned our Bachelors degree in business administration at Christopher Newport University, minoring in Spanish. Her career has been full- and part-time as an administrator, an engineering assistant, a bookseller, a merchandiser, a naval photography layout assistant, an office manager, a grant writer and a human resource manager, all giving her experiences that feed her writing. She fosters pups and does what she can to bless those who are in need, whether human or canine. She can be reached at 757-870-0768 or at

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