Virginia Tech Magazine
Virginia Tech

A day at the beach ... for everyone


Billy Almond '78
Billy Almond '78
Most people take for granted the ease of a beach day. For many, it's effortless to stroll the shoreline or bulk up one's seashell collection. However, not everyone has the ability to bask in the benefits of life in a traditional oceanfront community. For those who must use wheelchairs, a day of sand and surf can mean a day of spinning one's wheels on a beach's soft shores--not the idyllic, lazy day that others might imagine.

When Virginia Beach, Va., native Billy Almond (landscape architecture '78) recognized the problem, he decided to take initiative in the design and construction of America's first handicapped-accessible beach playground, JT's Grommet Island Beach Park and Playground For EveryBODY, on Virginia Beach's oceanfront.

The inspiration spawned from Josh Thompson, a local boy diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2006. At that time, beach inaccessibility prevented him from enjoying days by the shore with his family.

Almond watched on television as Josh's father, Bruce Thompson, pitched the idea for a fully accessible beach park to the city council. "I've known Bruce for the better part of my life," Almond said. "When I saw him making a proclamation for Josh, I immediately texted him, 'We'll do it.'" The park opened on May 22.

"It's truly the highlight of my career to be involved in something like this," said Almond, vice president and managing principal of WPL Site Design, the landscape architecture firm that designed the park. "It feels so good to give back to the oceanfront community where I was born and raised."

Virginia Beach isn't the only community where Almond shows his support and appreciation. He chaired the Virginia Tech Department of Landscape Architecture Advisory Board for 20 years and recently became the first landscape architect on the advisory board of the School of Architecture + Design.

Meaghan Hinder (communication '10) is an intern with Virginia Tech Magazine.

SmallBizLady thrives on social media


Melinda F. Emerson '94
Melinda F. Emerson '94
Melinda F. Emerson (communication '94) has mastered the art of social media networking. As president and CEO of MFE Consulting LLC, a full-service communications firm based in Philadelphia, Pa., Emerson develops audio, video, and written materials to educate and train small-business owners.

Using Twitter as a vehicle to reach rising entrepreneurs, Emerson hosts #SmallBizChat, a weekly forum reaching more than 4,100 Twitter users. Additionally, her @SmallBizLady Twitter stream boasts more than 10,000 followers and offers resources for those wishing to or just beginning to start their own business. Emerson was recently named to Forbes' Top 20 Women for Entrepreneurs to Follow on Twitter.

The "SmallBizLady" has been recognized as one of the Top 50 Women in Business in Pennsylvania, a Woman of Distinction by the National Association of Women Business Owners, and a Black Business Pioneer by the Pennsylvania Department of Commerce, among many other honors. Her first company, Quintessence Multimedia, was ranked 29th on the list of 100 Fastest-growing Small Businesses in the Philadelphia region and has won eight Telly awards for outstanding production.

As part of her work with MFE Consulting, Emerson has helped more than 1,500 start-up companies launch and grow their businesses. "Your network is key," Emerson said. "We live in a 24-hour economy. It's all about the value you add to the customer experience."

Emerson pens a monthly career column for, a start-up column for, and her own resource blog at "Author" was recently added to Emerson's impressive list of accomplishments with the March 2010 release of Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months. "My mission is to end small-business failure," she said. "On top of creating a realistic planning system to start a business, I wrote this book to supply the confidence and encouragement people need to succeed as their own boss."

Emerson also enjoys giving back to Virginia Tech and serves on the College of Science Alumni Board and the Multicultural Alumni Advisory Board. "Virginia Tech is my heart," Emerson said. "I am a proud member of the Hokie Nation."

Meaghan Hinder (communication '10) is an intern with Virginia Tech Magazine.

Supporting those "in the arena"

Mike Melo '79
Mike Melo '79
At age 12, Mike Melo (forestry '79) was gifted a piece of paper on which was written a quote from Theodore Roosevelt. That quote, given to him by his father, has served as the North Star in Melo's career--not only during his 23 years in the Navy, but also in his current line of work as the president and CEO of ITA, a government defense contractor that provides clients with analysis, planning, and training.

The name ITA stands for "in the arena," a reference to Roosevelt's 1910 quote: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena."

"Our philosophy as a company is that we've worn a uniform at one time, and so we know what it's like to be in the arena," said Melo. Eighty-five percent of ITA's employees have a military background. "What I've found in the service industry is that it's really easy to be a critic. At ITA, we provide solutions to meet our clients' requirements. Our job is to make our clients successful in their missions. That's our mission."

Since landing its first government contract in 2005, ITA has grown rapidly. It now has 115 employees, and in 2010, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce ranked it the commonwealth's fastest-growing company. From 2005 to 2008, the company's revenue increased 5,779 percent, and despite the rough economy, business is still expanding approximately 15 percent each year. Melo's goal is for ITA to become a $100 million company within the next 10 years.

Of his accomplishments, Melo noted, "It's all because of my bachelor's degree from Virginia Tech. I loved my time at Virginia Tech. That college degree gave me the opportunities I've had in the Navy and in my business."

Hokie Spirit is fast becoming a family tradition. Melo's daughter is a recent graduate of Tech, and his youngest daughter is now in her first year at the university.

Have skills, will travel

Andrew Selsky '78
Andrew Selsky '78
Veteran Associated Press (AP) correspondent and editor Andrew Selsky (communication '78), has a knack with pen and paper that has parachuted him into many of the world's hot spots.

In May 2009, Selsky was named Africa editor, charged with leading news coverage for one of five international AP desks. The 54-year-old Hokie oversees bureaus in Johannesburg, South Africa; Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Senegal; and correspondents across 45 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. He and his wife, Zoe, live in Johannesburg with their 14-year-old son; the eldest son, 18, recently moved to the United States for college.

When there's piracy off the coast of Somalia, Selsky is guiding coverage. When the Taliban imposed its fundamentalist laws in 1996, Selsky was in Kabul. He was in Haiti in 1994, when the U.S. military intervened to restore democracy, and he's covered drug-trafficking in Colombia. In a December 2006 story, Selsky provided the first full account of former Guantanamo Bay prisoners, demonstrating that they were routinely freed after being transferred to other countries for continued detention.

"I definitely would say Guantanamo coverage has been the most important and rewarding reporting I have done," said Selsky, who covered the base for about four years while stationed in Puerto Rico. For the coverage, he was named a finalist for the 2008 Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting, and earned a 2006 Pulitzer Prize nomination. "We managed to shine a light on a secret place."

Such coverage doesn't come risk-free. In 1998, he survived a stark reminder about miscalculations. Selsky followed South African soldiers into Lesotho, assuming it was a routine "mopping-up" operation. But Lesotho forces fought back fiercely. Selsky and two colleagues were pinned down for seven hours by bullets, escaping only after darkness fell.

Selsky was born in D.C. to a father in the CIA, and his childhood included Spain, Holland, and Chile. He chose Virginia Tech for its big-school-but-small-town feel. He specifically recalls the teaching of James I. Robertson Jr. and Bruce Nurse. Both exhibited "that ability to vividly create a situation and explore it from all angles," Selsky said. "Now that I think about it, I've carried that into journalism."

Selsky can't imagine anything better at this stage of his career. Though he's not doing much reporting since leaving San Juan, he's able to shape coverage and coach younger talent.

"I leave work at the end of the day just as satisfied as if I wrote the story," Selsky said. "It's been said that journalists write the first version of history. That's been really special."


digital edition
Go to digital edition »
Fall 2010