Dr. Randy Dymond, PE, CFM is an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Coordinator of the Land Development Design Initiative (LDDI) at Virginia Tech. After obtaining degrees from Bucknell and Penn State, Dr. Dymond has accumulated more than 25 years of experience in civil and environmental engineering instruction, research, consulting, and software development. Dr. Dymond has published more than 40 refereed journal articles and proceedings papers, and been the principal or co-principal investigator for more than 70 research proposals from many diverse funding agencies. His research areas include urban stormwater modeling, low impact development, watershed and floodplain management, and sustainable land development. He teaches classes in GIS, land development, and water resources and has won numerous teaching awards, the latest of which is the 2010 National James M. Robbins Excellence in Teaching Award from Chi Epsilon.
Industry Partners with Virginia Tech to Improve Land Development Education
A major collaborative effort between professional engineers, faculty, and students has produced a unique and innovative program in land development design within the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Surveys completed by Virginia Tech civil and environmental engineering graduates reveal that as many as one third of graduating civil engineers end up working in the land development industry. However, despite this statistic, few civil engineering programs in the country have any course or emphasis in land development within their curriculum. Recognizing this void in the traditional undergraduate civil engineering curriculum, I initiated a major collaborative effort with industry practitioners. The goals of this effort were to 1) improve land development design education, 2) increase student awareness of land development design as a career path, and 3) increase student – practitioner interaction. The Land Development Design Initiative (LDDI) now involves more than 70 engineering and land development firms and directly involves industry professionals in teaching, mentoring, curriculum development, and promoting land development to undergraduate students.
Strategic planning for LDDI began in early 2006 with the development of an advisory board and continued with statewide outreach meetings in four major regions of the state. The purpose of these meetings was to share the LDDI vision and recruit industry professionals to participate in development of the land development design program at Virginia Tech. These early efforts have resulted in over 200 practitioners who now participate in this initiative, donating time, energy, and their firms’ resources to achieve LDDI priorities. Participation is kept active by the advisory board’s biweekly teleconferences and quarterly meetings, semiannual general membership meetings, email updates, and the publishing of a quarterly newsletter. LDDI has established its own website as well as corporate and individual sponsorship programs to raise working capital that directly supports LDDI’s primary goal of improving land development design education. Organization of the LDDI group has resulted in the creation of two major committees: the Curriculum and Course Enhancement Committee (CCEC) and the Practitioner Involvement Committee (PIC).
The major objective of LDDI’s CCEC is to develop a strong land development design curriculum with coursework that prepares students for the land development design profession. Prior to the formation of LDDI, Virginia Tech offered a single senior-level Land Development Design course. Historically, this course was taught by an adjunct instructor, usually a fulltime practicing professional engineer. Constant turnover in the position was difficult to handle and an adjunct could not expand the course into a program. After consulting with the Department Chair, we decided it would be best for me to take over the course and involve practitioners in the development of a larger curriculum. Progress made by the CCEC has developed a number of new courses, all of which include significant practitioner involvement. Through the efforts of LDDI, Virginia Tech now provides students with seven land development course offerings.
The senior-level Land Development Design course has long been one of the department’s “design courses”, one of which must be taken by each student as a requirement for attainment of a Bachelor of Science degree in CEE at Virginia Tech. Along with traditional means of individual student assessment in the form of tests, homework, and quizzes, students taking the course are assigned a semester-long design project which they complete in groups of three or four students. Beginning in the fall 2006 semester, student design groups have been paired with a professional engineer who serves as a mentor throughout the entirety of the course. The course offering is tremendously popular among students. Facilitated by LDDI, course instructors have been able to secure between 9 and 11 professional engineers each semester to serve as mentors to the student design groups. Other new classes that have been developed through the efforts of LDDI include:
1. Introduction to Land Development Design – This junior-level course was first offered during the fall 2009 semester, and is intended to introduce CEE students to a wide range of topics in the field of land development design. Topics include governmental roles and basic engineering principles underlying the land development design process.
2. Advanced Land Development Design – This senior-level course expands upon topics first introduced in Land Development Design. The course is coordinated by University faculty, but taught exclusively by three teams of industry professionals. This arrangement ensures that course content and structure meets University requirements while simultaneously exposing students to front line issues facing the industry.
3. Sustainable Land Development – This senior-level course is coordinated by University faculty and taught by a licensed professional engineer whose firm specializes in sustainable development projects. The course is open to all Virginia Tech students regardless of their major, thereby promoting interdisciplinary perspectives.
4. Municipal Engineering – This senior-level course is being offered during the spring 2010 semester for the first time. The course was developed and is being taught by the retired Director of Public Works and Environmental Services for Fairfax County, Virginia and the Director of Engineering and GIS Services for the town of Blacksburg, Virginia.
Similar to the CCEC, LDDI’s Practitioner Involvement Committee (PIC) is chaired by a practicing professional engineer, and is responsible for developing a strong and sustainable relationship between the private and public sectors of the land development design profession and undergraduate civil and environmental engineering students at Virginia Tech. This relationship is intended to generate interest and to help students prepare for a career in the land development design profession.
The PIC has been responsible for developing a number of events in support of the committee’s charge. Among these events are “Land Development Information Nights.” These information sessions are held each semester on the eve of the civil and environmental engineering career fair. Attended by representatives from LDDI’s partnering firms, the event provides an opportunity for students and practitioners to meet and mingle in a casual environment. During the spring 2010 semester, the PIC organized a field trip to a number active construction sites in and around the city of Richmond. The committee has also created an LDDI website, brochures about land development career opportunities, and has provided support for the creation of a student club to further facilitate interactions between students and practitioners. Furthermore, the PIC has encouraged participating companies to ensure meaningful internship experiences for students by adopting a list of best practices for internships.
LDDI is making a significant impact in the lives of Virginia Tech civil and environmental engineering students and providing a means for the land development design profession to be integrated into the educational process of the next generation of engineers. The program has achieved strong financial support from its corporate and individual sponsors, even during this difficult economic time, attesting to the strong belief in the program from the professional community. Perhaps most flattering to those who have made and continue to make the program a reality was LDDI’s second place award in the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) 2009 contest titled “Connecting Professional Practice and Education.”
If you or your firm would like to become involved with LDDI, please contact me at email@example.com.