Alumni Shorts
Gobble, gobble, gobble: The HokieBird fights hunger
Mike, Mike, and Mike In 1998, newly elected program chairman for the Tri-Cities alumni chapter representing Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater, Fla., William "Bill" Duckhardt (agriculture '53) of Sarasota, a retired vice president of marketing and sales, knew he "wanted to do something for the community."

The result was the HokieBird Fights Hunger campaign, an idea inspired by the live gobbler that was Tech's mascot when Duckhardt was a cadet. Enthusiastically approved by former chapter president Mike Pietrzyk (civil engineering '76), secretary Will Allanson (industrial engineering '57), and treasurer Bill Sams (electrical engineering '64), the campaign, now approaching its fifth year, raises money to buy holiday turkeys for families in need. To date, the chapter has distributed more than 300 birds annually, and last year's poultry donation tipped the scales at 4,000 pounds.

Mike Pietrzyk '76, Mike Leahy '88, and Mike Schnell '86

With funds solicited from its approximately 300 members, the Tri-Cities chapter buys the gobblers, rents a truck--which is adorned with a Virginia Tech banner--and donates one turkey to each family chosen by Metropolitan Ministries, the areas largest organization fighting poverty and homelessness.

Duckhardt notes that the chapter selected the not-for-profit, faith-based organization because of its commitment to helping the homeless. "I also spend a couple of days during the holidays working there," he says.

Due largely to the chapter's ongoing dedication and service, the event has become so successful that Metropolitan Ministries has invited other universities to participate in its Turkey Bowl competition to raise funds and secure food and toy donations for area families during the holiday season.

The program has also generated plenty of local press for the Tri-Cities chapter, which has received three consecutive outstanding chapter awards from the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, encouraging fellow chapters to undertake similar programs that embody the Ut Prosim spirit. In response, the Alleghany Highlands chapter, the First State (Delaware) chapter, the Middle Tennessee chapter, the New River Valley chapter, the Philadelphia chapter, and the Tidewater chapter each sponsors an annual HokieBird Fights Hunger campaign.

Duckhardt admits that the Tri-Cities chapter hopes that someday "all 90 alumni chapters will follow our lead, for most have more potential than we do." And that's talking turkey.

Toy story
Jacobson and Art HouseFor 13 years, Curtis Jacobson (industrial engineering and operations research '89) developed and tested automotive electronic systems for Volvo Trucks North America, formerly Volvo GM Heavy Trucks, in Greensboro, N.C.

These days, he's set up shop in his garage in Longmont, Colo., where he designs and builds houses--for kids.

Jacobson's new company, Storyboard Toys!, was launched in February at the industry's biggest trade show, Toy Fair, in New York City. Since then, business has been brisk, thanks to the engineer's first toy invention, a delightful dollhouse called ArtHouse.

The idea for ArtHouse came while Jacobson was still at Volvo's drawing board. He liked to sketch toys, and after detecting an error in a magazine advertisement for a dollhouse, he thought that kids would enjoy creating their own space.

At 14 inches tall, 14 inches deep, and 26 inches wide, ArtHouse consists of two rooms with five magnetically attached double-sided walls and a removable roof. The fun part is that kids can craft their own exteriors and interiors, as well as customize the clear plastic walls that open to accept standard 8 1/2-by-11 paper.

To get kids started, each ArtHouse is accompanied by a decorating kit that helps create either a cottage or a firehouse. And to encourage its use as an educational tool, Storyboard also offers accessory decoration kits that feature a workbook of pre-designed walls, blank walls that can be colored, and lessons in art and social studies specific to the set's theme. Presently available are kits for a traditional Japanese home, a Viking longhouse, and a horse barn.

The recipient of awards from the Dr. Toy and Parent's Choice organizations, ArtHouse is available in a growing number of museum shops and independent toy stores across the country, including eight stores in Virginia, such as Blacksburg's Imaginations Toy and Furniture.

Despite the time he spends constructing, marketing, and distributing ArtHouse, Jacobson continues to develop new ideas. In the works are "a new way to fold paper dolls so they stand up better; a new way to make display cases stackable; and some really nifty plastic animals that have magnets inside their paws so that when several animals are together, the resistance and attraction of magnets in different combinations cause some unexpected movements and arrangements."

To learn more about Storyboard Toys, call toll free at 866/668-TOYS or go to

A pig-out
As Paul "Farmer" Minor (secondary education '70) tells it, once his son and daughter had left for college, his wife Victoria didn't like how "empty" their house seemed.

She suggested they get a pig, a Vietnamese potbelly pig.

Although Minor confesses to having enjoyed the peace and quiet, he soon acquiesced to his wife's request and brought home a two-week-old piglet that the couple named Daisy.

A retired director of community affairs for Southern New England Telephone Company, Minor is the proprietor of Minor's Farm & Cider Mill in Bristol, Conn., the oldest continuously operating farm in the state. The Minors sell lots of apples, apple cider, and pumpkins, but it's Daisy, now eight years old, who's the real attraction.

Daisy loves being read to--she even has her own library card--and she has a knack for getting children to read. To that end, Farmer Minor and Daisy travel the country by van, with Daisy's modified baby carriage, her favorite books, and her numerous press clippings in tow, and visit schools and libraries to conduct "Pig Out on Reading" programs that promote reading among school-age children. In most schools, for instance, if the students have read a prescribed number of books during the school year, their principal has to kiss Daisy--a sight that all students love.

Last spring marked Farmer Minor and Daisy's first official tour, a six-week, 24-city affair in celebration of National Library Week. This past summer, they completed an extensive Virginia Library Tour, including a festive stop at Tech's Newman Library.

Because of her mission, Daisy has appeared on television, in newspapers across the U.S., and in magazines such as The Weekly Reader, American Libraries, and Time for Kids. As a guest of Connecticut Congresswoman Nancy Johnson, Daisy became the first pig invited inside the U.S. Capitol. Though the First Family was not in town, Daisy later received a personal note from First Lady Laura Bush, thanking her for encouraging children to read.

Minor, who notes that his two children grew up watching "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," names the late Fred Rogers as one of his heroes. In fact, Minor says, one of his most prized possessions is a letter he received from a teacher saying that he and Daisy help fill the void left by Mr. Rogers' death.

To learn more about Daisy's adventures or her future library appearances, visit

Hokies at the helm in higher-ed
Do you know how many Hokies are calling the shots as president of a U.S. college or university? Here are the ones we're aware of.
  • William M. Anderson Jr. (Ed.D. educational administration '77) has been the president of Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va., since 1983.
  • Judith I. Bailey (M.S. educational administration '73; Ed.D. '76), president of Northern Michigan University since 1997, was named the seventh president of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich., in May.
  • O. Rebecca Hawkins (M.S. vocational education '68) has been the president of Columbia State Community College in Columbia, Tenn., since 1996.
  • Katherine E. Keough (Ed.D. educational administration '85) became the fifth--and first female--president of St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y., in 1996.
  • Jerry C. Lee (M.S. educational administration '74; Ed.D. '77) has been the president of National University in La Jolla, Calif., since 1989. In mid-2002, the Board of Trustees announced that a new president of National University would be named in 2003, allowing Lee to prepare for his duties as chancellor of a newly formed National University system comprised of allied independent educational institutions.
  • Jack M. Lewis (Ed.D. educational administration '76) was named the fifth president of New River Community College in Dublin, Va., in 2000, having served the college in various capacities since 1974, most recently as dean.
  • Eric McKeithan (Ed.D. educational administration '77), the president of Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, N.C., since 1994, was the president of Caldwell Community College from 1984-1994.
  • Linwood H. Rose (economics '73) was named the fifth president of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., in 1998, having worked at JMU since 1975.
  • Charles W. Steger (architecture '69; M.Arch. '71; Ph.D. environmental sciences and engineering '78) became Virginia Tech's 17th president in 2000.
  • Dianne Boardley Suber (Ed.D. educational administration '96), named the tenth president of Saint Augustine's College in Raleigh, N.C., in early 2001, is the college's first female leader in 137 years.
  • Curtis J. Tompkins (industrial engineering '64; M.S. '67) has been the president of Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich., since 1991.
  • Linda Edmonds Turner (clothing and textiles '70; M.B.A. '75; Ph.D. business administration '79) was named the president of Urban College of Boston in Boston in late 2002. (See page 14 of the Summer 2003 issue for more on Dr. Turner.)
  • John A. White (M.S. industrial engineering '66) has been the chancellor of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., since 1997.
Getting it together
Fresh out of Tech, Bijal Mehta (computer science '89; electrical engineering '89) and Ali Jani (computer science '89; electrical engineering '89) received coveted job offers from industry giants Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle. But these two had other plans.

Launching their own software development company, Array Inc., Mehta and Jani at the same time established a sister company to generate additional funding, Accel Inc., which would assemble and sell "low-cost but quality PCs."

The joint venture more than worked. By the end of 1989, Accel had recorded $400,000 in profits, which grew to $4 million by the close of 1990. The next year, Mehta and Jani brought in a third partner, Sanjay Shah (M.S. computer science '88), and disbanded Array Inc. to form a new company, Icode Inc. When Accel's profits burgeoned to $33 million in 1993, the three partners decided to focus exclusively on software development, selling Accel and channeling all funds to Icode, headquartered in Chantilly, Va.

Now a multinational corporation of nearly 400 employees and 2,200 customers in 30 countries, Icode is one of the most successful computer companies in Northern Virginia. The firm has won numerous industry awards, including the Microsoft Small Business Solution of the Year, and Mehta was nominated for the 2003 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Icode Hokies: (front, left to right) Allison Brannon ’01, Bijal Mehta ’89; (second row) Rob Black ’02, Kabir S. Kamboh ’02, Ali Jani ’89; (back) Mike Berry ’00, Jake Kruchten ’00, Phillip Kennedy ’99, Ryan Brown ’02, Tim Harms ’02

Mehta, Jani, and Shah's ability to create and sustain a mutually beneficial partnership between their companies can also be found in Icode's thriving relationship with Virginia Tech--the firm routinely hires qualified Tech graduates. To date, alumni on the Icode staff include Mike Berry (accounting and information systems '00), Rob Black (business information technology '02), Allison Brannon (marketing management '01), Ryan Brown (accounting and information systems '02), Tim Harms (accounting and information systems '02), Kabir S. Kamboh A(accounting and information systems '02), Phillip Kennedy (accounting and information systems '99), Gary "Jake" Kruchten (accounting and information systems '00), and Michael Zodun (business information technology '02).

"Icode was specifically targeting Virginia Tech graduates when I was hired," says Kruchten. "I had my resume posted online with Career Services and was contacted by Icode two days before graduation and hired two days afterward."

For more information about Icode, go to

Alumni Shorts