Blockchain Certificate Program creates a space for new ideas and applications

With the support of a Go Virginia grant and a gift from, Virginia Tech’s Department of Computer Science has initiated several projects in the interest of exploring non-fungible tokens (NFTs), cryptocurrency, and more broadly, blockchain. 

Blockchain acts as a digital ledger, said James Harder, external engagement project manager with the Department of Computer Science.

“It functions like a large interactive spreadsheet, similar to Excel or Google Sheets,” he said. “People have the ability to add things to the ledger, and those changes are accepted into the blockchain by distributed users. And what everyone generally accepts as the record becomes the blockchain.” 

The technology is usually associated with things like banking and cryptocurrency, but it has the potential to be used for much more, which is partly why the department’s new Blockchain Certificate Program is so exciting for Harder.

The Blockchain Certificate Program, launched in the spring semester and offered again in the summer, provides participants — both mid-career professionals and students — the opportunity to better understand blockchain.

“We want participants to have the ability to understand the applications and the basic jargon around the technology,” Harder said. “It’s thrilling to see students conceive inspiring and exciting new applications and ideas. Students get exposure to NFTs, blockchain ethics, business applications, decentralized autonomous organizations, and fintech.”

Neal Henshaw, technical director at the Calhoun Honors Discovery Program at Virginia Tech, said he participated in the program this spring to help his students better understand the use cases around blockchain technology. 

“When I first heard them mentioning blockchain, I was confused because like a lot of people, I had only associated it with Bitcoin,” said Henshaw. “I had no idea there were other uses for it. So I knew I needed to learn more. I feel now that I am better equipped to help my students see it as a possible solution to one of their problems.”

Nelson Chu, a managing director at Kinetic Ventures, was prompted to enroll this past summer because the growing technology has been on his company’s radar for several years. 

“I’ve been in the venture capitalist business since 1998, and it’s part of our role to determine the types of companies in which to invest,” Chu said. “In this class, there were many interesting applications I hadn’t thought of before, like simplifying vehicle loaning processes or raising funds for new businesses. I’m very glad I took the class. It was definitely worth the time.”

The program is taught by blockchain industry experts, including James Gatto, a partner at Sheppard Mullin; Greg Lee, chief operating officer at nft42 who graduated in 1994 with degrees in computer science and economics; and John Fields, senior product manager at Capital One. 

The Blockchain Certificate Program enables participants who may not necessarily have a computer science background to learn the technologies so they can apply them creatively in new areas such as art, education, business, and finance.

Harder said there is increasing interest from legislators and regulators around the uses of blockchain. “They want to explore how this will work out, and what will be some of the rules of blockchain. My background is actually in political science, so I’m excited to see where that goes.” 

Virginia Tech will offer the Blockchain Certificate Program to both students and professionals in the spring. Visit this page for more information about the program and to register.

Written by Hannah Lee, intern in the Department of Computer Science