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History of VT SPIA

  • 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 –

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 (CAUS). 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.


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