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History of Graduate Education at Virginia Tech

a timeline of graduate education milestones noted by decade, from 1890 to the 2000s
Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown ; graduate school sign; architectural detail

Graduate study was introduced by President John M. McBryde in 1891, and the college began that year awarding financial aid to some graduate students who were selected to serve as assistants. The first master of science was awarded in 1892. A Graduate Department was established in 1907 with William E. Barlow serving as the first dean and 13 graduate students pursuing the master of science degree. Nathan Sugarman, the first recipient of a Doctor of Philosophy degree, awarded in 1942, studied chemistry. In 1953, Betty Stough became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. at Virginia Tech. She studied parasitology. In 1971, Alfonso Smith became the first Black student to earn a Ph.D.; his degree is in fish and wildlife management.  

In 1964 the board of visitors passed a resolution calling for “greater emphasis on strengthening graduate programs and offering graduate degrees in all areas where the need is demonstrated,” and in 1969, the university began offering graduate programs in Reston, Va. (Northern Virginia). In 1981, the Northern Virginia Graduate Center campus opened in Falls Church. The Southwest Virginia Higher Education Campus opeend for students in 1991, and the Roanoke Higher Education Center opened in 2000. 

In 1975 the board approved a formal constitution for a graduate honor system. Previously, violations of the honor code by graduate students were handled through an adaptation of the undergraduate system.

By 2021, more than 6,500 graduate students were enrolled in more than 150 degree and certificate programs across the university's campuses.

You'll find a timeline of key milestones below, followed by information about the evolution of the Dean's position.

The green-domed cupola of the Graduate Life Center seen through trees in the fall
Graduate Life Center, fall

1892: first master’s degree awarded to Charles McBryde in bacteriology

1916: first international student awarded a graduate degree: Karl Emil Edward Quantz

1919: Julian Burruss becomes university president while still a graduate student


  • first woman to receive a master’s degree: Mary Brumfield
  • Committee on Graduate Programs and Degrees established

1935: first Ph.D. program established in chemical engineering

1942: first Ph.D. awarded: Nathan Sugarman

1949: graduate enrollment is 300

1950: first vice president and director of graduate studies named: Louis A. Pardue

1953: first woman earns Ph.D.: Betty Stough, in parasitology

1963: graduate enrollment is 800


  • First extended campus site for graduate education opens in Reston, VA
  • Graduate Student Assembly is chartered

1971: first African-American student, Alfonso Smith, earns PhD in fisheries and wildlife

1975: Graduate Honor System is chartered


  • Three doctoral degree programs approved for Northern Virginia, the first terminal degrees offered off the Blacksburg campus.


  • First dean of Research and Graduate Studies is named: David Roselle
  • Northern Virginia Graduate Center campus opens in Falls Church

1991: Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center opens

1997: VT becomes first university to require electronic theses and dissertations (ETD)

2000: Roanoke Higher Education Center opens


  • Graduate School separates from Research Division
  • Richmond Center opens
  • First Graduate Education Week celebrated


  • First woman Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Dean of the Graduate School named: Karen P. DePauw
  • Graduate Education Development Institute (GEDI) and Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiatives begin

2003: First Graduate Distinguished Alumni Award winner: Robert Richardson, Nobel Laureate

2004: Alpha Epsilon Lambda Graduate Honor Society chartered


  • Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center transformed into Graduate Life Center
  • Citizen Scholar program launched


  • First Global Perspectives Program cohort
  • Graduate School moves into the GLC


  • GLC Plaza opens
  • First GLC Café
  • Thanksgiving break lunch tradition begins


  • Weekly GLC Café begins
  • Communicating Science courses begin
  • Iota Delta Rho Interdisciplinary Honor Society chartered


  • Diversity Scholars program established
  • Global Perspectives Program coordinated a special Graduate Deans Experience for leaders of U.S. graduate schools
  • Global Perspectives Program sends six students to Chilean universities
  • Scholarly Ethics and Integrity Requirement established for all graduate students

2014: Academy for Graduate Teaching Excellence launched


  • Virginia Tech establishes Edward A Bouchet Graduate Honor Society Chapter
  • Introduced holistic admissions for graduate students
  • Little Hokie™ Hangout Childcare Co-op opens
  • First Individualized Interdisciplinary Ph.D. program approved


  • Dean DePauw receives the Debra W. Stewart Award for Outstanding Leadership in Graduation Education from the National Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and the Outstanding Contributions to Graduate Education Award in the Southern Region for CGS.


  • Graduate School hosts first regional graduate education conference: A Space and A Place
  • Inclusion and Diversity Requirement for all graduate students established


  • First Individualized Interdisciplinary Ph.D. awarded
  • Graduate School celebrates 50 years of graduate education in Northern Virginia

In 1949 the office of the vice president—the college had only one vice president at the time—assumed the duties of director of graduate studies upon the retirement of Louis “Shag” O’Shaughnessy, who had served as director of graduate studies. The title was changed to vice president and dean of the Graduate School in 1963, when the vice president for academic affairs, Warren Brandt, assumed a two-year leadership of graduate studies following the death of Louis Pardue. A full-time Graduate School dean was named in 1965 with the appointment of Fred W. Bull to the post.

In 1983 the posts of dean of the Graduate School and dean of research were combined in one position—dean of research and graduate studies—held initially by David P. Roselle (1979-83)—but the title was changed to vice provost for research and dean of the Graduate School in 1990. In 1990 the university consolidated the vice provost for graduate studies and research and the dean of the Graduate School to reduce administrative costs, only to separate the position in 2001. One position would be vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the Graduate School; the other, vice provost for research. The position of vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the Graduate School was filled in 2002 by Karen P. DePauw.

photo of the Alumni Hall GLC entrance as seen through trees in the spring

Information about the history of the Graduate School is from archival sources and the University Relations history webpage, and from Graduate School sources. Photos courtesy of the Graduate School.