Virginia Tech Magazine
Alumni Shorts
Winter 2009
Fulfilling a dream
by Barbara Micale

Ask George Makrinos (M.Arch. '04) what he did on his summer vacation and his reply will encompass a 3,360-mile journey across America.

Makrinos, an adjunct faculty member at the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center, rode his 21-speed titanium frame mountain bike for 56 days through 14 states and four time zones, beginning in San Francisco and ending in Delaware. His bike, which was built for touring, carried everything he needed: tools, tent, maps, sleeping bag, clothing, a laptop, a digital camera, and GPS.

Makrinos's enthusiasm for bicycling began during his undergraduate days in Blacksburg and has never waned. "I have never felt the need to own a car and have instead invested in my love for cycling."

George Makrinos '04
George Makrinos '04

He planned his cross-country adventure not only as a personal journey but also as an example of environmentally responsible travel and a way to raise money for four charitable organizations through pledges per mile. On his blog, Makrinos notes that he chose charities that are representative of what is important to him: nature and the local environment, Friends of Dyke Marsh; media and radio, local NPR station WAMU; music and grassroots giving, Rex Foundation; and philosophy and divine knowledge, Assumption Greek Orthodox Church.

Makrinos typically biked six to eight hours a day, which usually equated to about 60 miles, depending on wind, weather, and elevation gains. Tommy Price (finance '02) rode with him from San Francisco to Sacramento, and Makrinos received other support along the way. "Throughout the trip, I received a great deal of support from random passersby who would acknowledge my Virginia Tech T-shirt by giving me a thumbs up and cheering, 'Go, Hokies!'" he says.

To chronicle his journey, Makrinos blogged along the way, giving family and friends the opportunity to follow his travels. While he visited many historic sites and downtown urban areas across the United States, his route also took him past wildfires in California, snow in the Rocky Mountains, tornadoes in Nebraska, and floods in Iowa. "I became more aware of America as a whole and what it means to be American," Makrinos says.

Bicycling across America was Makrinos's second long-distance tour. He previously rode 2,000 miles on a 35-day tour of Japan. So where might he and his bike venture next?

This bicycling devotee didn't even have to think about his answer: "Alaska to Argentina."

For photos, journal entries, and videos of Makrinos's trip, visit his blog at

Alumna named National Mother of the Year

Jo Blackwood '93 with her husband
Jo Blackwood '93 with her husband

Those who say motherhood is a thankless job may have to rethink their words if they meet Jo Blackwood (Ph.D. curriculum and instruction '93), who was selected as the 2008 National Mother of the Year by American Mothers Inc.

Blackwood raised her two sons while teaching high school and advising for the school's yearbook, the latter of which required a lot of late hours and evenings. Her two sons, now grown with children of their own, used to play with toy cars in the hallway on those evenings.

"I asked them [later on], 'Did you feel slighted?' And they said, 'No, we felt like we were part of it.' Teaching is very conducive to being a parent," adds Blackwood, now a professor at the University of Charleston, where she educates future teachers.

Blackwood was working on her Ph.D. at Virginia Tech at the same time her son Matthew was working on his M.B.A., and so the two shared an apartment. "One night, I was studying at the library until midnight," Blackwood reflects. "When I came home, my son said, 'Mom, where have you been? I was worried.' I thought that was really neat, switching roles. I went after my doctorate for me, not for job advancement or more pay," she adds.

Blackwood chose Virginia Tech because at that time it was the only school she could find that would allow her to write a qualitative dissertation that focused on her participation in the restructuring of a school. "It was almost like a calling. I had to tell this story," says Blackwood.

She also set a good example for her sons, both of whom are Virginia Tech graduates. Andrew Neale Blackwood (M.S. mathematics '90) is director of the National Youth Science Foundation. Matthew Joseph Blackwood (M.B.A. '93, Ph.D. environmental design and planning '03) is director of homeland security for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.

As Mother of the Year, Blackwood, now a grandmother of six, travels around the United States speaking to American Mothers Inc. chapters about motherhood and sharing her experiences.

She offers a piece of advice to new parents trying to manage parenthood alongside work and other duties. "I think the key word is balance. The family is the backbone of society," says Blackwood, who reminds younger parents that they have their children with them for such a short time and encourages the parents to make the most of their time as role models for their children.

The National Mother of the Year Award honors a mother at least 45 years of age who is married to the father of her children--who are at least 15 years old--and who is active in community, national, or international organizations and is an active member of a faith-based group.

Steady paycheck, variety are spice of life

It is not every day that someone gets to lead a chorus in the dining room of the U.S. Army chief of staff for a group of U.S. senators. But it was just another day on the job for U.S. Army Band Associate Conductor and U.S. Army Chorus Director Capt. Scott McKenzie (music '94), who has conducted in the great hall of the Supreme Court and has performed with the chorus for President George W. Bush and Speaker of the House Sen. Nancy Pelosi in the Capitol rotunda.

McKenzie set out along his educational path with the goal of directing high school bands, but because his education at Tech gave him a background in choral as well as instrumental music, he had the opportunity to try myriad roles. He taught middle-school music for four years before joining the Army, intent on becoming a staff arranger of music. Knowing the benefits of military service--his father served in the Navy--McKenzie saw a chance for a good, steady paycheck, something that can be hard to come by for a musician.

McKenzie's first job in the Army was as a saxophone player in the band for the 82nd Airborne Division, in which he also served as a parachutist, jumping eight times during his 18 months with the division. "I thought, 'What an adventure that would be,' so I went ahead and did it," says the Army captain.

Scott McKenzie '94
Scott McKenzie '94

McKenzie, who is currently working on a master's degree in composition, won the Dallas Wind Symphony Call for Fanfare competition in 2007 for his "Fanfare for Enduring Freedom for Brass Choir and Bass Drum." He recently arranged the Spanish piece "Granada" for a November performance in New York City and set to music an Army cadence for chorus, which the chorus sang for U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and several U.S. senators. When performing for visiting leaders, McKenzie adds, the chorus tries to include a song in those leaders' native language to "see their eyes light up."

McKenzie, who will conduct during the upcoming presidential inauguration and had the opportunity to direct the herald trumpets for the Christmas celebration in Washington, D.C., says he enjoys the variety of his job. "We get to sing and perform for so many important people--it never stops."

And, on top of that, he has the fortune of being a musician with a steady paycheck. "It's a great job--I'm actually using my major. I'm really fortunate that way," McKenzie says.

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