Virginia Tech Magazine
Fall 2007 [ Alumni Shorts ]

Hands-on Hokie | by Adina R. Young

When J. Braxton Powell (business administration '67) was accepted by several colleges in the early 1960s but had not yet heard from Virginia Tech, he took matters into his own hands. Powell boarded an overnight train to travel from his hometown of Suffolk, Va., to Cambria Station near Blacksburg, Va. From there, he hitchhiked to campus and asked to meet with the dean of admissions, P.H. Farrier, who took Powell's application out of a stack on the right side of his desk and interviewed him on the spot. After the interview, Farrier placed Powell's application on top of the stack on the left and told Powell that he was accepted--a done deal.

Today, Powell is the treasurer of Virginia, appointed by Gov. Tim Kaine on Jan. 16, 2006. He is responsible for managing the agency's annual budget of $18 million, disbursing $7.1 million in checks annually, and overseeing debt management in excess of $20 million. Yet he still prefers to take a hands-on approach.


J. Braxton Powell
J. Braxton Powell '67, treasurer of Virginia
"Sometimes, when I get a citizen's inquiry, I

handle it myself rather than refer it to someone else," says Powell. "Solving the citizen's problem first-hand helps me identify weaknesses in our systems that need to be addressed."

Prior to this position, Powell was named deputy state treasurer by Republican Gov. James Gilmore and was reappointed by Democratic Gov. Mark Warner. "I have enjoyed working for the state government as a civil servant," comments Powell. "It is rewarding to create new programs or streamline old programs to the greater good of the commonwealth and its citizens."

Powell met his wife, Judy, at then-Radford College: Women's Division of VPI and says that she has always considered herself to be a Hokie. He also notes that his proudest moment came when his oldest daughter, Christina Powell Jenkins (communication '93), graduated from Virginia Tech. And she evidently embraces the spirit of Ut Prosim, too: Christina is currently president of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Alumni Advisory Board.

The proud grandfather of two, Powell is already looking toward the future. "We're hopeful that one or both will be Hokies someday."

Websites without worry

Go ahead and admit it--besides answering our e-mail, a good many of us run from the mere mention of Web technology.

Helping folks confront that cyber-phobia is Larissa Chadwick Olsen (psychology '93; M.Ed. instructional technology '02), who launched Websites Without Worry LLC to create websites for health and wellness professionals.

In a nutshell, she takes the headache--and fear--out of establishing a Web presence.

Noting that she'll handle the "techie stuff," Olsen works closely at home with her clients to design user-friendly sites with them. And she'll even teach them how to update their websites on their own. "I enjoy collaborating with clients to create a website for their business that really reflects them," says Olsen. "People are so creative and have so many wonderful ideas; it's just my job to bring that to life. When it comes together, it's a team project, not just 'my work.' The collaboration and teamwork are the best part for me."


Larissa Olsen
Larissa Olsen '93 (right), working with Deborah Henthorn '97,
who owns Adagio Massage Therapy in Blacksburg, Va.

In an early 2006 story in The Roanoke Times, Olsen admitted that when she was finishing up her master's degree at Tech, she still "hadn't found that thing that lit me up yet." However, her experience as a graduate assistant with Housecalls--the Information Technology Services Unit's technical support team--and working in the Education Technology Lab pointed her in the right direction.

"I enjoy working one-on-one with people and teaching. There is an element of educating clients that I really enjoy in my business," Olsen notes. "I also enjoy the variety of tasks involved in Web design and development. It seems I'm always doing something different. It's like having 10 different careers in one, and I get to learn new things all the time."

Learning new things is right up there with what Olsen likes best. "As a student in the instructional technology program, what most influenced me was the value of becoming a lifelong learner," she says. "You don't stop learning once you leave the classroom, and in a career involving technology, you can't stop."

As for some of her online designs, Olsen points to her work for Virginia Natural Living, "a website that provides a directory of holistic health and sustainable living services and resources for residents of the New River Valley. I'm excited about providing this service to the community and proud of it."

The Renaissance man | by Adina R. Young

Joe T. May
Delegate Joe T. May (R-33rd District) '62


Imagine finding time to serve as a Virginia legislator, an entrepreneur, an engineer, an inventor, a pilot, and a scuba diver--all at once. For Del. Joe T. May (R-33rd District) (electrical engineering '62), this busy life is a reality.

Elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1993, May serves as chairman of the Science and Technology Committee and is a member of the Appropriations Committee, where he chairs the Subcommittee on Commerce and Technology. The sixth-generation Virginian also is chairman of the Joint Commission on Technology and Science and serves on the Virginia Rural Prosperity Commission and the Virginia Research and Technology Advisory Commission.

But public service is not all that May is known for. He is a registered professional engineer who holds 18 patents, including one for the yellow line that appears during televised football games to show the distance between the line of scrimmage and the first down. He is also the founder and CEO of Electronic Instrumentation Tech (EIT) in Sterling, Va., an engineering and manufacturing company that is home to more than 200 employees and conducts business in 30 countries worldwide.

May's many achievements have not gone unrecognized. Among his many honors, May received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award in Industry from the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Science Museum of Virginia in 1996 and the Governor's Legislative Leadership Award in Technology in 2000. The following year, May was presented with both the Greater Washington Area Engineer of the Year award and the Virginia Biotechnology Legislator of the Year award.

Not surprisingly, May says he owes much of his success to the education he received at Virginia Tech. "It requires very careful time-budgeting to serve in my positions as an elected official, businessman, and engineer," May notes. "I simply wouldn't have been able to do all three without my four years in Virginia Tech’s engineering school.

May specifically recalls a professor who influenced his life. "Dr. George Barnes, professor of electrical engineering, frequently shared a bit of philosophy that I still remember and share with my engineering colleagues," says May. "He said, 'Engineers have to be right because, unlike other disciplines where you can hide or bury your mistakes, engineering mistakes remain visible, tangible monuments to your stupidity.'"

It's evident from May's track record that he took those words to heart; this Renaissance man has proven time and again his diligence and dedication to every undertaking--no matter which among the many it is.

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