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MILES influences graduate student training at Virginia Tech and the future of science and engineering in the United States


The Macromolecular Interfaces with Life Sciences (MILES) IGERT program at Virginia Tech, funded by the National Science Foundation, is influencing graduate education at Virginia Tech and helping to meet the U.S. needs for Ph.D. scientists and engineers with interdisciplinary skills. Ph.D. trained professional scientists and engineers are retiring more rapidly than new, young Ph.D. scientists and engineers can be educated. This gap in trained scientists and engineers places United States industry, government and academic communities at risk continuing rapid progress in basic scientific and applied knowledge and engineering technologies needed for future growth and scientific advancements. The federal government is addressing that problem through funding of Ph.D. multidisciplinary trainee programs, such as the National Science Foundation Integrated Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. Such programs are intended to train new generations of Ph.D. scientists and engineers who are more adept at working across disciplinary lines.

The MILES program include basic and applied research and education in oxidative processes in health and wellbeing, food quality and packaging materials, finding new sources of bioactive components and undervalued and underutilized food waste, and developing new materials for advances in medical aids and treatments related to disease and health. The MILES program has 17 PhD degree and graduate certificate recipients and program alumni since its inception in 2004. Graduates have represented educational programs/departments of animal science (1), biological systems engineering (1), chemistry (4), chemical engineering (1), civil and environmental engineering (2), food science and technology (4), human nutrition, foods and exercise (2). This graduate certificate program has 16 active students in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Biochemistry, Food Science and Technology, Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences who will complete their requirements within the next 1-3 years. The MILES advanced training in the sciences, communication and grant writing skills, and ability to engage in conversations with diverse audiences have been valuable in attaining professional positions for MILES graduates. Alumni have received professional placement in research and management positions at major research universities (Virginia Tech, Purdue University, Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Colorado State University), corporate research centers (Proctor & Gamble, Dupont Inc), federal laboratories (Food and Drug Administration), and start-up companies.

Address Goals

The MILES program has had a powerful impact on students and alumni, as determined by faculty and student interviews. Students spoke of their experiences including the MILES group road trips to visit with corporate industries, federal laboratories, and professional meetings. They were pleased with the access they had a wide network of faculty and resources across campus. These and other benefits can be maintained without future federal funding commitments through departmental, college and graduate school policy development for increasing expectations for student-faculty interaction across departments and colleges. MILES graduate courses, such as the Grant Writing and Ethics course (FST/CHEM/VMBS 5094) can be institutionalized into the graduate school program.