Alumni Association

Torgersen Hall

A photo taken by College of Engineering (COE) Dean Richard Benson captures Torgersen Bridge, reflected on War Memorial Court's cenotaph, as a tribute to former COE Dean and President Emeritus Paul Torgersen, who died March 29. For more on Torgersen, see "Teacher, President" in this edition.

Reaching for the clouds

Tom Tillar '69

Vice President for Alumni Relations

Tom Tillar

In March, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting with two of our alumni, both living in Texas—Christopher C. Kraft (aerospace engineering '45) and Patrick M. Matthews (finance '02). Despite their age difference, each has had a career associated with "clouds."

Kraft, one of our earliest aerospace engineering graduates, retired as director of the Johnson Space Center, where the mission control center is named in his honor. He worked in aeronautical research for more than a decade before joining the newly formed NASA and its Space Task Group. As NASA's first flight director, he was associated with America's first human spaceflight, first human orbital flight, and first spacewalk.

Kraft has vivid memories of his experiences at Virginia Tech, where he was part of a class during World War II that was accelerated to complete degrees a year early. As a cadet and member of the baseball team, he recalls the renowned Bosco Rache and other professors who influenced his choice of aerospace engineering. He also is proud of the honor he received 50 years ago, when Virginia Tech declared a Christopher Kraft Day to celebrate his achievements in the space program.

Matthews had a different kind of early career touching clouds—cloud computing—that started during his years at Virginia Tech. At one point, he took time off to create a dot-com, which eventually grew into an email-hosting start-up in Blacksburg called After returning to complete his degree, he devoted time to expanding his company, later selling it to Rackspace. He then worked as a Rackspace executive for six years as senior vice president for cloud computing and also in a corporate development role.

Today, the San Antonio resident is an angel investor and advisor to dozens of young companies who describes his time-out from college as a period that inspired him to follow his dream and create a company from an idea. Community service, perhaps influenced by his time at Tech, remains an important value in Matthews' life, represented by his volunteer role with Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas.

I was truly delighted to visit with two proud Texas Hokies and learn how the university has helped shape their career choices and pathways. Their reach for the clouds has certainly benefited many lives and industries.

Chapter speakers help bring the university closer to alumni

James Wightman

James Wightman is one of the most sought-after speakers for alumni chapter events.

Alumni Association chapters across the country host various events that feature inspiring Virginia Tech faculty and administrators, providing an opportunity for attendees to learn about university initiatives and programs while enjoying fellowship with alumni in their communities.

In 2014-15, the roster of speakers included university administrators and faculty favorites, who traveled as far as Seattle and San Diego and, more regionally, to Roanoke and Richmond. Topics were as diverse as the locales, from Alumni Distinguished Professor Rosemary Blieszner's "That's What Friends Are For" to Vice President for Student Affairs Patty Perillo's "Student Life: Then and Now." Maj. Gen. Randal Fullhart visited chapters to provide an update on the growing Corps of Cadets, while Dave McKee, director of the Marching Virginians, discussed the ongoing construction of the band's rehearsal facility.

This year, the Alumni Association celebrated two popular speakers—both Alumni Distinguished Professor emeriti—who reached the milestone of delivering more than 100 presentations. Civil War scholar James I. Robertson Jr. spoke on a variety of topics, including "Untold Civil War Stories" and "The Presidency: What You Want and What You Get." And James Wightman, a retired chemistry professor, delivered a presentation on his most requested topic: "The Chemistry of Beer," an entertaining examination of the chemistry behind brewing.

The chapter speakers' program serves as a valuable outreach opportunity for the university and the Alumni Association. Each occasion brings the university closer to alumni who may not otherwise have such access to campus personalities. Likewise, faculty and administrators enjoy networking with alumni to learn firsthand the impact and influence the university has had on the personal lives and careers of alumni.

Recent chapter speakers

Stephanie Adams, Professor of Engineering Education

Whit Babcock, Director of Athletics

Rosemary Blieszner, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Adult Development and Aging

John Boyer, Senior Instructor, Geography

Cyril Clarke, Dean, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine

Randal Fullhart, Commandant, Corps of Cadets

Nikki Giovanni, University Distinguished Professor of English

Cynda Johnson, Dean, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine

David McKee, Director, Marching Virginians and Concert Bands

Lu Merritt, Senior Director of Development for Intercollegiate Athletics

P. Buckley Moss, Renowned Artist and Philanthropist

Patty Perillo, Vice President for Student Affairs

Paul Quigley, Director, Virginia Center for Civil War Studies

James I. Robertson Jr., Alumni Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History

Timothy D. Sands, President

Edward Spencer, Vice President Emeritus for Student Affairs

Tom Tillar, Vice President for Alumni Relations

Jesse Tuel, Editor, Virginia Tech Magazine

Ruth Waalkes, Executive Director, Center for the Arts, and Associate Provost for the Arts

Peter Wallenstein, Professor of History

James Wightman, Alumni Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Chemistry

Craig Woolsey, Associate Professor, Aerospace and Ocean Engineering

2015 reunions and homecomings

Six action-packed weekends for alumni


The Highty-Tighties in downtown Blacksburg; photo by Chelsey Allder

For more information on the 2015 homecomings and reunions, visit the Alumni Association's website.

Sept. 7 — Ohio State

Class of 1990 – 25th reunion

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences homecoming

College of Veterinary Medicine homecoming

Sept. 12 — Furman

College of Natural Resources and Environment homecoming

Corps of Cadets homecoming

Oct. 3 — Pittsburgh

Class of 1975 – 40th reunion

College of Architecture and Urban Studies homecoming

Pamplin College of Business homecoming

Oct. 9 — North Carolina State

Class of 1980 – 35th reunion

Class of 1970 – 45th reunion

Graduate School homecoming

Multicultural alumni homecoming tailgate

Marching Virginians homecoming

Oct. 24 — Duke

Alumni Association open house and tailgate, Holtzman Alumni Center

Class of 1965 – 50th reunion

College of Engineering homecoming

Highty-Tighties homecoming

Young alumni reunion

Resident Advisor and Residence Hall Federation alumni reunion

Nov. 21 — North Carolina

Class of 1985 – 30th reunion

College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences homecoming

College of Science homecoming