The 2013 UVA Issue: Four dialogues changing Mr. Jefferson’s University

Photo: John Robinson. Photo: John Robinson.

“What do you think?”

Four undergrads—all science majors and members of a UVA genetic engineering competition team—had gathered around a second-floor conference room table in the Physical and Life Sciences building for much of the afternoon to debate project concepts. They were getting ready to pick one project—heavy stuff like creating miniature cells from modified bacteria that can deliver antibiotics, using microbes to stop gene expression—and run with it to work on through the summer and fall to turn it from idea into reality.

As they sit around post-meeting to scarf cookies, prop their feet on the table, and talk to a reporter about their self-directed research, about beating MIT at last year’s regional competition, and about changing the world with science, a question from an older team member came from across the room: “What do you think?”

Did they like the competitive nature of the idea selection process, the way they had split into groups, worked all semester on proposals, and were now arguing for the survival of their own projects?

There was a pause before they chimed in, just long enough for the words to hang in the air for a moment.

“What do you think?”

A mundane little sentence, maybe. A simple conversational turn. But is there any question more basic to an institution devoted to disseminating knowledge? Research, read, write, process, teach, tell, but above all, ask: What do you think?

For this year’s UVA issue, which hits stands as another crop of students gets ready to turn their tassels, we sought out some of the most interesting discussions happening on Grounds. The biology and engineering undergrads putting their heads together to develop a new drug delivery system. A new wave of Darden thinkers figuring out how to teach innovation. Black historians exploring the future of race relations by turning a documentarian’s eye on the University’s past. Professors pushing the boundaries of the classroom and teaching tens of thousands of eager students online. Ask them “What do you think?” and you can bet you’ll want to stick around for the answer. Stories by Graelyn Brashear and Laura Ingles.

Bright young things: UVA’s self-directed synthetic biology stars

Members of UVA’s iGEM team, a student group that tackles complex synthetic biology challenges in an annual international competition, are in the process of selecting a project that they’ll work to develop for the next six months. Photo: Elli Williams


Idea, inc.: Darden’s iLab incubator opens its doors to entrepreneurs from UVA and beyond

JR Gentle, creator of a local music streaming site called GigDog, is a member of the first class of entrepreneurs at Darden’s newly revamped iLab. Photo: Elli Williams

Black progress: As enrollment drops, African-American faculty and students try to preserve culture

For the filming of Sugar Coated Arsenic, UVA students dressed in ’70s swag and said they felt a new connection to Black culture as a result of the project. Photo: Magdeldin Hamid

When a MOOC is more than a MOOC: How online learning is shifting the academic goalposts at UVA

UVA professor Lou Bloomfield demonstrates the laws of physics at play in everyday activities while filming video for the online version of his popular "How Things Work" course. Photo: John Robinson

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