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History of VT SPIA

1957 Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) first offered at Virginia Tech (6th oldest program in the U.S.)
1961 MURP accredited
1964 CAUS established
1966 Center for Urban and Regional Studies created in CAUS - offers MURP, Master of Urban Affairs (MUA), and Master of Urban Design
1975 CAUS creates college-wide professional doctorate in Environmental Design and Planning (EDP)
1977 Center for Public Administration and Policy (CPAP) established and the Ph.D. in Public Administration and Public Affairs created within it
1979 CAUS organized into Division of Architecture and Environmental Design and the Division of Environmental and Urban Systems (EUS). EUS offers graduate degrees in Urban Design, Landscape Architecture, Urban and Regional Planning, and Urban Affairs, plus undergraduate degrees in Urban Affairs and Landscape Architecture
1982 Professional doctorate in EDP becomes Ph.D. degree
1983-1985 CAUS reorganized, creating the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning, UAP responsible for MURP, MUA, and undergraduate Urban Affairs degrees
1988 Master of Public Administration degree created in CPAP
1989 CPAP becomes part of CAUS. At the time, CPAP offered degree programs at multiple locations across the state, including Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Dahlgren
1990 B.S. in Public Administration created under UAP

B.A. in Public Affairs and B.S. in Public Administration merged into B.A. in Public and Urban Affairs; new B.S. in Environmental Policy and Planning created; minors for both degrees offered; option for 4+1 accelerated program with MURP

School of Public and International Affairs, a network of 6 departments in 3 colleges, is created; coordinated in UAP

Washington Semester program established

1999 MUA converted to Master of Public and International Affairs (MPIA)
2002 MURP degree offered in Northern Virginia

VT and CAUS reorganization; School of Public and International Affairs becomes a unit within CAUS that includes UAP, CPAP, and a newly created Government and International Affairs (GIA) program; responsibility for MPIA degree shifts from UAP to GIA; cross-college SPIA is disbanded

CPAP assigns a full-time faculty coordinator to its Richmond program

2006 The Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance (IPG) was established by a merger of the Institue for Governance and Accountabilities and the Institute for Policy Outreach
2007 Ph.D. in Planning, Governance, and Globalization (PGG) created as a spin-off program of the Ph.D. in EDP; PGG offers two tracks -- Governance and Globalization, and Urban and Environmental Design and Planning; PGG is the responsibility of SPIA; the Ph.D. in EDP remains in CAUS
2008 Graduate certificate in Local Government Management is created in partnership with the Virginia Local Government Management Association
2016 Delivery of the Master of Public and International Affairs (MPIA) is moved entirely to Northern Virginia 
2017 Richmond Campus adds a full-time associate director and has authority to apply for sponsored research
2018 Undergraduate program shift from UAP to SPIA; B.S. in EPP is eliminated; B.A. in PUA is restructured, creating majors in Smart and Sustainable Cities (SSC) and Environmental Policy and Planning (EPP), with corresponding undergraduate minors
2019 Pathways minor in Community Systems and Engagement (CSE) created, administered through SPIA, as a collaboration with VT Engage, Sociology, and Human Development and Family Sciences

The accelerated BA-MPA option is approved

SPIA's Richmond academic campus becomes operational in Fall 2020 semester

2022 SPIA moved to the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences (CLAHS), strengthening the connection between the school and a variety of programs at Virginia Tech focused on the humanities and social sciences, along with interdisciplinary programs.
  • James Bohland, 1993 – 1995
  • Richard Rich, 1996 – 1997
  • James Bohland, 1997 – 2003
  • John Randolph, 2003 – 2008
  • Gerry Kearns, 2008 – 2010
  • John Randolph, 2010 – 2011
  • Anne Khademian, 2011 – 2018
  • Joel Peters, 2018 – 2019 (Interim)
  • Mehrzad Boroujerdi, 2019 –2022

The Founding of SPIA

The School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) was created to facilitate the ordination of interdisciplinary instruction and research in the policy fields. It was directed to provide a focus for the policy sciences on campus and to help those departments become better known, more interdisciplinary in perspective, and more collaborative in their approach to curriculum and research.

SPIA began in 1996 as a collaboration of already established programs in their field – the department of Urban Affairs and Planning (UAP) and the Center for Public Administration and Policy (CPAP), both in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies (now named the College of Architecture, Arts, and Design). It was during the tenure, and with the strong support of, Dr. Patricia Edwards, then Dean of CAUS that SPIA was officially formed.

The SPIA Network: Interdisciplinary Since Its Founding

In 1997, Dr. James Bohland, who was then serving as the chair of the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning and was also the primary architect of the SPIA’s design, became the Director of SPIA. According to his vision, SPIA became a network organization within CAUS and beyond to bring together relevant units with foci in politics and public affairs. It became a collaborative effort of CPAP; UAP; the Department of Geography, now in the College of Natural Resources; the Departments of International Studies, Political Science, and Science and Technology Studies, all in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences (CLAHS); and the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

As one of its first efforts, the newly established SPIA initiated a very successful Washington Semester program at College facilities in Northern Virginia. The 12-week summer intensive program for upper-division undergraduates involved faculty and Ph.D. students from UAP, CPAP and Public Affairs.

SPIA Continues to Grow

In 2003, in response to Virginia Tech’s overall plans for restructuring, SPIA became an official administrative unit in CAUS, incorporating the programs of UAP and CPAP, in addition to a newly formed program Government and International Affairs (GIA). UAP began to offer its Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) degree and GIA, the Master of Public and International Affairs (MPIA) degree, in northern Virginia along with streams of the School’s Ph.D. program in Planning, Governance and Globalization in Urban and Environmental Design and Planning and Governance and Globalization, respectively. The Center for Public Administration and Policy continued to offer its Master of Public Administration (MPA) and Ph.D. in Public Administration and Public Affairs in Blacksburg and northern Virginia.

Also around this time, the Metropolitan Institute in northern Virginia was founded with the aim of expanded sponsored urban research and outreach to that region during this time too. As a part of that collaboration, the College funded and oversaw the Institute’s operations directly.

The Center for Public Administration and Policy created the Institute for Policy Outreach in Blacksburg during this period as well. For its part, the School created the Institute for Governance and Accountabilities, with a presence in both Blacksburg and Northern Virginia. In addition, in 2005, CPAP began to lay the groundwork to offer its MPA program in Richmond, which it successfully launched thereafter.

The Great Recession of the late 2000s made continued innovation difficult amidst stretched resources and therefore became a period of coping with State budget reductions while the SPIA pressed to institutionalize earlier changes successfully.


In 2022, SPIA moved to the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences (CLAHS), strengthening the connection between the school and a variety of programs at Virginia Tech focused on the humanities and social sciences, along with interdisciplinary programs.

SPIA continued to grow in size of faculty and programs across all three SPIA locations — Blacksburg, Northern Virginia and Richmond. The annual Ridenour Faculty Fellowship conference was formed to encourage a multi-disciplinary vision and integrated programming across the three campuses. An Alumni Council was also created to focus on building an alumni community, providing connections and opportunities for internships, and shepherding a SPIA Alumni Hall of Fame selection process and nominations.

In 2015, SPIA developed a Diversity Task Force to highlight and explore the issues of race, inclusion, and community; creation of professional development programming with a focus on social equity. Currently, SPIA hosts a myriad of research projects and new opportunities arise consistently. For example, International Refugee Research partnership was founded with Kent, Bundeswher University in Germany, and University of Bucharest in Romania. In 2018, VT SPIA introduced two undergraduate majors in Smart Sustainable Cities and Environmental Planning & Policy.

In line with Virginia Tech’s 2019 announcement of its the Innovation Campus in Northern Virginia and partnership with Amazon, VT SPIA moved into a state-of-the-art facility in Arlington, Virginia.

Innovation Campus Model
Virginia Tech Innovation Campus