Alumni Shorts

Hokies boost morale

In Kandahar, Afghanistan, on the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Capt. David Lee (B.S. technology education '91, M.S. technology education '94, and B.S. electrical engineering '97) lowered the American flag to half-mast in memory of those who lost their lives that day.

Lee, an Army Engineer Officer with the Army Materiel Command Logistic Support Element for the 82nd Airborne, arrived in Afghanistan in June. Since then, he says, he has been surprised to discover at least 50 other Virginia Tech alumni and fans also stationed in Kandahar. As a way to generate camaraderie and high spirits, Lee contacted the university and asked if it could send Hokies merchandise for the fans in Kandahar. The Tech Bookstore shipped 50 hats, t-shirts, and a Virginia Tech flag to the base--gear that has been useful this fall when, thanks to American Forces Network broadcasts, soldiers stationed in Kandahar have been able to watch college football games, giving them a sense of familiarity in a time of chaos.

"We are thousands of miles away from home in a hostile, foreign land in harm's way and away from our loved ones," Lee says. "Being able to watch your favorite team play makes you forget you are in Kandahar for at least a couple of hours. For me, seeing Lane Sadium reminds me of how wonderful and beautiful Blacksburg is. It is definitely a morale booster."

The Wright stuff

pilot candidatesOn Dec. 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, N.C., Orville and Wilbur Wright started the four-cylinder engine of their 600-pound glider. After Orville's 12-second, 120-foot flight, they landed in the pages of aviation history. In December 2003, a replica 1903 glider will take off from Kitty Hawk at the same time, 10:35 a.m., to commemorate the flight. But while the Wright Brothers flipped a coin to decide who would be the first in flight, four pilots are vying for two slots to fly the glider. Two of those candidates are Virginia Tech alumni.

Six years ago, Kevin Kochersberger (mechanical engineering '83; M.S. '84; Ph.D. '94) was advising a team of his Rochester Institute of Technology students on the construction of a replica 1896 Chanute hang glider when he was introduced to Ken Hyde of The Wright Experience in Warrenton, Va. Hyde, who had been commissioned to build the reproduction 1903 flyer for the 2003 reenactment, asked Kochersberger to join the project. Since then, Kochersberger, who started flying hang gliders at 15, has provided engineering support for the construction of the 1903 plane and has learned to fly it. "The glider has been challenging in some respects, but it really flies pretty well when one considers that it is a 100-year-old design," he comments.

Terry Queijo (animal science '78) had a different approach to flying, beginning her aviation career as a skydiver. Although she earned her pilot's license on weekends, Queijo worked as a laboratory technician until a budget-mandated layoff made her realize she wanted to fly for a living. After several years as a freelance and commuter pilot, Queijo was hired by American Airlines in 1985 and the following year served as co-pilot of the first all-female flight crew in commercial aviation history. Hyde, a fellow American Airlines captain before his retirement, flew with Queijo a number of times, and his recollection of her skills led him to recruit her for the Wright reenactment.

Both alumni believe the value of the Wright Brothers' contributions to manned flight cannot be underestimated. "As an educator, I feel it's important to show the next generation of Americans the payoff of innovative thinking and persistence that is central to the Wright story," Kochersberger says. Queijo reports that all of the pilots who are participating are "very excited to be able to exhibit the incredible work of the Wright Brothers and keep their dream alive."

"Believe in yourself and the magic will happen"

So says Santa Barbara, Calif.-based illustrator Christine Miller (studio art '90), who believed. After developing her own line of greeting cards-- Swirly Girl, which featured a dozen or so designs--in 1995, she printed the cards locally and sold them nationally for several years, then made the leap into licensing.

To date, Miller's line of licensed products appears on the shelves of such popular stores as Target, Michaels, Kinko's, and Borders, generating more than $1 million in retail sales. Along with cards licensed to Recycled Paper Greetings, Swirly now features mugs, plaques, journals, rubber stamps, photo albums and boxes, picture frames, pajamas, and seasonal items, all bearing Miller's distinctive designs, whimsical use of color, and inspirational messages.

Aptly, the sentiments proclaimed by Swirly products are nowhere more evident than in Miller's own success, considering that she began with no money, no business experience, and no specific long-term goals, only a desire to "unleash [my] creative spirit into the world with the ultimate goal of reaching out to people and encouraging them to follow their dreams."

Not only has Miller lived these sentiments, she continues to live by them, committed to giving back because, she says, she has been "given so much." Since 2000, the artist has donated thousands of her products to the Dream Foundation, the first national organization to grant dreams to terminally ill adults. Besides her commitment to the Dream Foundation, which has several times honored her with its Dream Maker's Circle Award, Miller has donated her time and talents to a number of organizations, including the Compassionate Friends (an organization for parents who have lost children), the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Cancer Center, the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, and the Breast Resource Center of Santa Barbara, and she works as a teacher's aide at a Santa Barbara elementary school.

Miller, who was president of the Virginia Tech Union (VTU) during her senior year, attributes her leadership skills to her Tech experience, specifically her interaction with VTU advisor Alan Glick. "Virginia Tech gave me so much of what I needed to just go for it and start a business, even though I had no idea what I was doing." And go for it she did, along the way reminding others to go for it, too. To learn more about Miller's creations and upcoming ventures, visit

Tech stakes claim to the North Pole?

Most of us typically don't travel by helicopter, much less board a Russian nuclear icebreaker for the next leg of our journey, but that's exactly what Gerald H. Elkan (Ph.D. bacteriology '59) did to reach the North Pole last summer--and with a Virginia Tech flag in tow. Professor emeritus of microbiology at North Carolina State University, Elkan was invited, as a member of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, to take part in the expedition, an opportunity that he admits was "hard to turn down."

Gathering in Oslo, Norway, the multi-national group flew via charter to Spitzbergen in the Arctic and via helicopter further north before boarding the Yamal--a Russian icebreaker whose bow sports a sneering red mouth with shark's teeth--for an 11-day roundtrip. Upon arriving at the Pole, the Russian crew, as is the custom, raised the flags of the participating countries, which included Austria, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Russia. And there, alongside the familiar reds, blues, yellows, and whites, waved the maroon and orange of the Virginia Tech flag that Elkan had brought especially for that moment.

Besides making what many might consider the trip of a lifetime, Elkan experienced more than just remarkable sights. "The Russians are great souvenir hunters," he reports, "so they wanted to keep the [Tech] flag, I guess thinking it was of one of the countries, but I told them it was more important than that! Having wrestled it away from the Russians, I want to give it to Tech." True to his word, Elkan has donated the flag to the corps of cadets museum, where it will be placed in an exhibition of items collected from North Pole expeditions.

Alumna appointed to trading commission

As a kid whose father was a farmer in White Hall, Va., whose first real job was at a farm market, and whose best friends were fellow 4-H members, economist Sharon Brown-Hruska (economics and international studies '83; M.A. '90; Ph.D. '94) learned firsthand the potentially hard-knock life of farmers. Not surprisingly, this rural backdrop cultivated her interest in agricultural commodities and what influences their prices, an interest that has underpinned her years spent learning and teaching others about futures and derivatives contracts.

An assistant professor of finance in George Mason University's School of Management, Brown-Hruska was appointed by President Bush to serve a two-year term as one of five commissioners for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), an independent federal agency that regulates commodity futures and option trading and protects market participants against manipulation, abusive trade practices, and fraud. In her role as a commissioner, Brown-Hruska will set the policies for and govern the operation of the commission itself, as well as "enforce the rules and regulations to assure that the markets are competitive and operate efficiently.

"It's a very exciting time to be at the CFTC," she adds. "Derivatives markets have been at the forefront of financial innovation, and Congress passed legislation in 2000 to help create a flexible and responsive regulatory environment that is consistent with the innovations and changes of the industry. My immediate plans are to guide the CFTC in its rulemakings, enforcement action, and litigative and appellate decisions to ensure that we implement the legislation in the spirit it was intended."

Brown-Hruska is not new to the CFTC. From 1990 to 1995, she served under former chair Wendy Gramm as a staff economist in the commission's Division of Economic Analysis. Of her return to CFTC as an "executive of the agency," Brown-Hruska says, "I am pleased and honored to be back in the service of this great agency [and] I will work hard to ensure that the commission continues as a strong and effective regulator, fulfilling its mission to guard the public interest, and making sure that the markets are efficient, transparent, and financially sound."