Laura Belmonte ‘Hits the Jackpot’ with Her New Role as Dean

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Laura Belmonte
Laura Belmonte

Historian Laura Belmonte began her new position as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences on Aug. 1. Lee Friesland, a content creator on the University Relations team, caught up with her on her first day. Their conversation follows, as does Friesland’s video, which captures Belmonte’s first walk across campus with her dogs, James Madison and William Howard Taft.

Why did you choose Virginia Tech?
Virginia Tech is one of the most visionary, innovative institutions in the United States, and I really wanted to be a part of that community. This college in particular has an incredibly interesting mix of programs that were a good fit for my administrative and academic background. I also thought that Blacksburg would be a great place to live.

What do you hope to accomplish here?
I want to offer a vision for why the liberal arts and human sciences are critically important to life in the technocratic age. I want to promote the remarkable things our faculty and students are doing. I want to make sure we’re recruiting and retaining world-class faculty. And I want to engage our alumni, so they can be part of all the exciting things that are happening here now.

I also want to grow resources for the college, so we can support the innovative programs that we already have, and I have ideas for new programs I’d like to start. I want to strengthen our collaborations with other colleges and programs across the campus.

For students and parents, I want to correct misinformation flying around about the liberal arts, especially the career applicability of the liberal arts. I want to articulate for students the many terrific career opportunities that are available for people with the skills we teach.

I also want to build our ability to support students who want to undertake internships or study abroad, to make sure they’re getting as many experiential learning opportunities as possible.

Experiential learning experiences are the transformative ones, where you can take book learning and have it click in a way that makes you realize, Oh, this is how I can make a difference in the world. Or you can see how, with research skills, you can help build a digital history project or develop a policy paper for a lawmaker. For many students, that approach brings learning to life in a way that classroom experiences alone can’t accomplish.

What do you bring to your new position?
I bring an eclectic background of leadership experiences as an advocate and an academic. I’ve directed an interdisciplinary program. I’ve been a department head and an associate dean, so I know how to manage a large organization. I’ll be able to draw on my experiences working in the policy arena, and I have a lot of energy.

I believe in what we’re doing, and I understand the importance of thinking through what the future of higher education should look like; the institutions tackling that are the ones that will thrive. The vision this institution is putting forward is cutting-edge. It’s exciting to join Virginia Tech at a time when so much is happening.

How has your welcome to the Hokie Nation been?
Oh, my gosh. From the minute I interviewed here, I’ve been blown away with how warm and welcoming people have been. I have heard from alumni, donors, students, faculty, fellow administrators. I couldn’t feel more welcomed.

How excited are you about bringing your knowledge to this global institution?
I feel like I hit the jackpot. I’m still pinching myself; it’s just a dream job. Every day I read about what’s going on at Virginia Tech and around the state and about the Innovation Campus.

At a time when many public institutions are struggling, to see one so forward-thinking and vibrant and to know that I’ll be able to play a significant role in this critical phase of the university’s history — it’s just a spectacular opportunity.

Interview and video by Lee Friesland; photograph by Leslie King