Terry Herdman, associate vice president for research computing, retires after 48 years of service | VTx

Terry Herdman, associate vice president for research computing, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Mathematics, and professor of mathematics, retired from Virginia Tech effective Sept. 9, 2022. During his 48-year tenure, Herdman made significant contributions to the university’s research mission, helping to expand Virginia Tech’s research computing capabilities, secure millions in funding for interdisciplinary research projects, and build one of the strongest university-focused research computing teams in the nation. 

After earning his master’s degree and Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Oklahoma in 1970 and 1974, respectively, Herdman came to Virginia Tech, where he joined the mathematics department as a visiting professor. He later accepted a full time position, and has remained a part of the department for his entire career. As professor of mathematics, Herdman directed Virginia Tech’s undergraduate program in applied and computational mathematics on the Blacksburg campus as well as the graduate program in interdisciplinary applied mathematics at the Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church.

In 1987, Herdman, John Burns, a fellow professor in the mathematics department, and Eugene Cliff, professor of aerospace and ocean engineering (now emeritus), co-founded the Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Mathematics (ICAM), which supports and facilitates transdisciplinary research in applied and computational mathematics and has gained international recognition for the caliber of research produced and its outstanding students. Herdman also served as ICAM’s director for the last 35 years.  

When Herdman and his colleagues obtained ICAM’s originating grant of nearly $1.4 million from Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) in 1987 for their “Integrated Research Program for the Modeling, Analysis and Control of Aerospace Systems,” it was the largest grant ever awarded to a Virginia university for research in mathematics. Herdman said that this grant, plus considerable support from key figures across campus, helped ICAM get off to a strong start, allowing the center to purchase computing resources as well as renovate the Wright House, where ICAM is still located today. 

We started ICAM really because it was time to invest in interdisciplinary research,” Herdman said. “Almost every modern scientific and engineering research project, especially large national and international efforts, requires applied and computational mathematics. Advancements in technology during the 1980s, particularly with respect to large-scale scientific computing, made it possible for researchers to solve increasingly complex problems using new mathematical tools and methods. ICAM became a vehicle for us to enable research by providing access to these tools and facilitating collaboration among researchers both at Virginia Tech and at laboratories across the world.”

Since its inception, ICAM has managed more than $60 million in external funding from industrial partners and federal agencies, including large center grants such as Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative grants from the Department of Defense (DoD). In 2010, ICAM led Virginia Tech’s effort in the $122 Million Energy Efficient Buildings HUB effort, a multi-university collaboration through the Department of Energy, which resulted in an award of $5 million to the university. ICAM was named a State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Commonwealth Center of Excellence in 1990 and a DoD Center of Research Excellence & Transition in 1996. In addition, ICAM’s international influence has grown steadily over the years —between research collaborations and student placements, ICAM has had a presence in more than 32 states and 14 countries.

“Terry is a unique talent and visionary,” said Burns, who was named interim director of ICAM upon Herdman’s retirement. “Most of what we have built these past 35 years is a direct result of his leadership. Terry is without question one of the best academic leaders I have encountered during my career in higher education.”

In 2005, Herdman was appointed associate vice president for research computing, taking on the leadership for Virginia Tech’s Advanced Research Computing (ARC) unit, which provides the university’s central research computing infrastructure and support services. His responsibilities in this area included advocacy, planning, funding, and organization of research computing campus-wide. 

Virginia Tech had established itself as a pioneer in high-performance computing (HPC) in 2003 when System X went online. Management of that system was transferred to the Division of IT and the newly-formed ARC unit in August of 2005, a moment that marked Virginia Tech’s commitment to providing HPC as a permanent service to the university research community.

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