Virginia Tech Magazine
Alumni Shorts -|- Spring 2006

Building character

Ritter architects
From left to right: Camilo Bearman '00, Thomas Pettin '05,
Matt McBride, Leah McBride '04, Tim Hill, and Leo Salom '05.


To say that Leah McBride (architecture '04) has found her niche is wildly understated.

More accurately, the young architect, declaring that "every day is an adventure," lives the life she's dreamed of since the fourth grade when, in a gifted and talented class, she was introduced to architecture.

In light of such enthusiasm, it's no surprise that McBride--who's employed by Ritter Architects, led by principal James W. Ritter (architecture '65), in Alexandria, Va.--initiated a pro bono project to design and build several homes in Pass Christian, Miss., a town of some 6,500 devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

The three designs were created by McBride and a group of young Hokies at Ritter that includes Camilo Bearman (M.Arch '00), Heather Grutzius (M.Arch '03), Thomas Pettin (architecture '05), Leo Salom (M.S. architecture '05), and John White (M.Arch. '04).

"We set out to design three models of simple, yet well-designed homes," McBride recalls. Despite the designs' adherence to FEMA's specifications, securing building permits in Pass Christian has been a slow process, in part because the town is "wrestling with deciding what should be rebuilt" in order to adhere to new building codes for the storm-prone area.

Not to be deterred, McBride and her father, Matt, a building contractor based in Dale City, Va., visited Pass Christian in October. By all accounts, the town, which lost some 2,000 buildings, is still cluttered with debris.

McBride reports that the drawings are now in the hands of a man affiliated with the Falls Church--the Episcopal church for which Falls Church, Va., was named--who has direct connections with an Episcopal church in Pass Christian. "My dad has provided him a list of materials," says McBride, "and we anticipate we'll have to continue to be involved to help purchase materials, which will be funded by donations through the church.

"I'm excited about this lead," McBride continues, "because we will get to see the faces we'll be building for. It is our hope that once these drawings make it through permit the first time, they will easily be able to be built for other families in need in Pass Christian."

To learn more about the Pass Christian project, e-mail or call 703/680-2473.

Ambassador for agriculture

Richard Crowder
Richard T. Crowder '60, '62


In a widely commended appointment, Richard T. Crowder (agricultural and applied economics '60; M.S. '62) was nominated by President Bush, confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and in January sworn in as the chief agriculture negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, an agency of more than 200 people who negotiate directly with foreign governments to create trade agreements, resolve disputes, and participate in global trade policy organizations.

Formerly the president and CEO of the American Seed Trade Association, an Alexandria, Va.-based lobby group for U.S. agricultural corporations, Crowder will direct all U.S. agricultural trade negotiations worldwide, including those in the World Trade Organization.

Crowder's 30 years in the food, agriculture, and international trade industries have featured stints as senior vice president, international, of DEKALB Genetics Corp., a leader in agricultural genetics and seed biotechnology; executive vice president and general manager of Armour Swift-Eckrich; and senior executive positions at Pillsbury. From 1989-1992, as undersecretary of international affairs and commodity programs for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Crowder played leadership roles in major trade negotiations and the 1990 Farm Bill.

Crowder received a Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University.

For more information, go to

Rare university honor for rare individual

Shelley Duke
Shelley Duke with Vice President for Alumni Relations Tom Tillar '69


Although Shelley Duke, the owner-manager of Rallywood Farm in Middleburg, Va., didn't attend Virginia Tech, she's an exemplary Hokie nonetheless.

For starters, the native Californian has put in some 20 years of service to the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center (EMC) in Leesburg, Va.--one of three campuses that comprise the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM)--and is a former member of the Virginia Tech Foundation Board of Directors.

These days, Duke chairs the EMC's Advisory Council and is a member of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, the Ut Prosim and Legacy societies, the Capital Campaign Steering Committee, and Women and Leadership in Philanthropy.

Shelley Duke is, in a word, committed to Virginia Tech. And her seemingly boundless service and generosity have earned her a rare recognition from the university.

In a ceremony in October at The Inn at Virginia Tech, Duke was designated an honorary Tech alumna. "I feel that I am not particularly special by my gifts to the university of time, money, and experience," Duke said at the event, "however, the honor I receive today is indeed very special."

Duke's connection to Virginia Tech began when she sought care for her award-winning horses at the EMC, which is in close proximity to her farm. When the center's founding director, Dr. G. Frederick Fregin, learned of Duke's experience as an investment banker and her leadership of the University of California at San Francisco Hospital's Board of Directors, he asked her to launch a volunteer program for the EMC hospital. Her work prompted the former dean of the VMRCVM, Peter Eyre, to appoint Duke to the college's Advisory Committee, a post which ultimately brought her to the Blacksburg campus and solidified her relationship with university.

"Virginia Tech has become a significant part of my life. I have made Virginia my home," says Duke, who has lived "from coast to coast" before settling in Middleburg with her husband, Phil. "I am so impressed with the culture of this institution, which fosters outreach and public service by one and all. The opportunities for personal growth are endless [and] the administration, faculty, staff, students, and the members of the board of visitors of Virginia Tech represent a team with whom I am honored and proud to be associated."

Another four-star alumnus

Gen. Lance Smith
Gen. Lance L. Smith '69


Formerly the deputy of the command overseeing combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gen. Lance L. Smith (business administration '69) received his fourth star in November, joining Gen. Thomas C. Richards (business administration '56), USAF Ret., as Virginia Tech's highest-ranked alumni (see the Fall 2005 issue).

Smith, who assumed command of both the U.S. Joint Forces Command and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Supreme Allied Command Transformation, both headquartered in Norfolk, Va., is the first Air Force officer to undertake the traditionally maritime post. Responsible for more than 1.16 million active and reserve soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, along with a 2,700-member staff, Smith is also one of two NATO strategic commanders.

A native of Washington, D.C., Smith has flown more than 165 combat missions and more than 3,000 hours as a command pilot. His military decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Purple Heart.

The birth of a business
by Jennifer Tomko

After an exciting co-op assignment with Burroughs Wellcome Pharmaceuticals during her sophomore and junior years at Tech, chemist Mimi Harrison (chemistry '93) worked in various R & D environments following graduation, aspiring to a career in the pharmaceutical industry.

But motherhood changed everything--and not in ways that immediately come to mind.

During her pregnancies, Harrison, an avid sports fan and loyal alumna, was unable to find any collegiate maternity apparel. A few years later, the stay-at-home mother of two boys set out to fill the void. In less than 12 months, she researched options, wrote a business plan, designed a few preliminary outfits, and shipped her designs to potential customers and retailers. And University Maternity LLC was born.

Featuring clothing that moms-to-be can wear with pride for their alma mater, University Maternity currently offers halter tops and short- and long-sleeved shirts bearing licensed logos from Tech, University of Virginia, and Ohio State University, with University of Tennessee apparel in the works.


Mimi Harrison
Mimi Harrison '93 with her sons

The company, which has already received favorable press in The Roanoke Times and the Bristol Herald Courier, is committed to products made in the U.S. "All design, manufacturing, and materials come from U.S. suppliers," Harrison says, "and University Maternity will not deviate from this status as the company grows."

Harrison attributes her success to hard work and plenty of support, as well as to her time at Tech. "Many of my professors encouraged thinking abstractly and thinking 'outside the box,'" notes Harrison. "This philosophy enabled me to establish my new business with confidence."

Confidence, indeed. The proud proprietor of University Maternity handles all aspects of the business, from research and design to marketing, sales, and accounting. "I have goals for my company," which include pursuing licenses from all Division 1-A schools and offering high-quality college logo maternity apparel besides just shirts, says Harrison.

"I will achieve these goals much like I achieved my degree 10 years ago--through hard work, dedication, and a relentless passion for learning."

To browse University Maternity's apparel, visit

Jennifer Tomko is an intern for University Publications.

Virginia Tech