Building a future

by Sara Gordon–

Blacksburg, Va., April 24 — PIECING IT TOGETHER: Jimmy Atkinson, a senior at Virginia Tech in the Wood Enterprise Institute course, assembles the various pieces of his team’s product, a custom dog bowl holder. Photo: Sara Gordon

Since 2007, the two-semester Wood Enterprise Institute (W.E.I.) course at Virginia Tech has been providing students with a hands-on entrepreneurial experience to design, create, market, and sell a wooden product through their own business. According to the W.E.I. website, the course is organized as a 501(c)(3) student owned-business which operates in the Innovation & Design Laboratory and Classroom in the Brooks Forest Products Center at Virginia Tech.

The first semester of the course involves brainstorming ideas of a product to develop, conducting market research, and creating a business plan. During this time, students must present their product idea and have their business plan approved by the board, which includes students from the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials, many of whom have already taken the class.

Jimmy Atkinson, a member of the 2018-2019 W.E.I. course said market research was the most challenging aspect for his team. “I think that was one of the areas we fell short in, we did not do enough market research to see how many of these [custom dog bowl holders] we were going to sell,” said Atkinson. Currently, his team has sold 25 dog bowl holders out of their goal to sell 80.

Development, production, marketing, and sales are the main areas of focus during the second semester. The team must take their final design and begin marketing the product, followed by taking orders from customers to fulfill their production goal and shipping the final product out.

Dr. Earl Kline, Director of W.E.I., said some of the most unique products he’s seen are also those that have not had the most successful business. “The more complex a product is, the more costly it is, and to try to find a customer that is going to pay you back for that cost isn’t the easiest thing to do,” said Kline.

The College of Natural Resources and Environment reports that nearly 150 students have participated in the course since it came to fruition, generating over $47,000 in revenue, which goes directly back into the course to supply funding for future teams.

Facing reality: the issue of drinking and driving in college towns

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 20 – Downtown Blacksburg: The stretch of road between the intersections of Alumni Mall and Clay Street with South Main Street contains the 16 bars of Blacksburg’s downtown area, right next to Virginia Tech’s campus.  Photo: Sara Gordon

by Sara Gordon–

According to the Magnitude of and Trends in Alcohol-Related Mortality and Morbidity Among U.S. College Students Ages 18-24 study published in 2005, 3,360,000 college students across the country between the ages of 18 and 24 drove under the influence of alcohol. While there are no overarching statistics regarding whether these students got caught and potentially received a charge for Driving Under the Influence (DUI), the issue is clear: college students getting behind the wheel of a car after they have consumed alcohol.

As a university with approximately 35,000 students enrolled each school year at Virginia Tech, with nearly half of those students being of legal drinking age, the issue of alcohol-related incidents is much higher. This is particularly true in a town where most students only have to drive 5-10 minutes to reach their destination. 16 bars are located right in downtown Blacksburg, along with a multitude of beer, wine, and liquor stores also in close proximity.

Assistant Director of Virginia Tech Hokie Wellness, David Andrews, sees a common misconception among students believing that as long as they remain under the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of .08, they are fine to drive. “There’s a disconnect between ‘don’t be drunk and drive’ and ‘don’t be drinking at all and drive.’ It doesn’t take much, like I said, to become impaired to some degree, regardless of [what] might happen legally or not,” he said.

Click the image above to be taken to a site for an interactive version of this infographic.

If a driver’s BAC is below the legal limit, their ability to drive safely is still impaired. According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, “drunk driving” refers to driving with a BAC at the level where a person can be arrested for a DUI, while impaired driving means that a person’s judgment and response time are affected much earlier before they reach a BAC of .08.

Results of the most recent National College Health Assessment, which is completed every two years at Virginia Tech, revealed 22% of college students, out of the approximately 1000 students that responded, reported driving after consuming any amount of alcohol in the past 30 days and 1.4% reported driving after having five or more drinks in the past 30 days. Statistics from the Virginia Tech Police Department show a total of 62 DUI arrests made during the 2016-2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019 school years.

Sergeant David Tribble of VTPD has applied for the DMV DUI Grant for the past four years, which allocates government funds to address the issue of drinking and driving to all of the local departments. “Virginia Tech has been able to get some of that money to pay for extra officers to be on the street, looking specifically for alcohol or drug-impaired drivers,” he said.

According to Sergeant Tribble, curbing the issue of drinking and driving all comes down to accountability: “You’re not going to stop people from drinking, but the main thing you want to do is get them to stop driving. If you’ve had a few drinks, don’t plan on driving home, find another way.”