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Record Donation Propels New Virginia Tech Engineering Hall

Record Donation Propels New Virginia Tech Engineering Hall

A brand new Randolph Hall opened its east wing the year after Norris Mitchell graduated from Virginia Tech in 1958, and multitudes of other engineering students have studied in that building during the decades since.

But partly because of a $35 million donation from Norris Mitchell and wife Wendy, planning is underway to replace Randolph Hall, school officials said during a news conference Tuesday.

It’s the largest single alumnus donation in school history and one that Mitchell said he and his wife are proud to make.

“Most of my senior-level courses were taught at Randolph Hall,” Mitchell said. “I’m very familiar with Randolph Hall, first floor”.

Rather than Randolph Hall, engineering students at Virginia Tech in years to come will instead familiarize themselves with a brand new Mitchell Hall, planned to be more than twice the size of the current facility.

Preliminary plans call for a 284,000-square-foot engineering hall, projected to cost $248 million, funded otherwise mostly using requested state money, according to university documents.

Construction could begin as early as summer 2023, pending further state approval, said Julia Ross, Dean of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering.

“This new facility is one that we truly need. It’s going to be quite transformational for us,” Ross said during a phone call Monday. “We are just crammed to the corners of the facility now, and our ability to replace it with a much larger facility is a very big deal”.

VT’s engineering college has grown in the last decade from 6,400 enrolled undergraduate students, up to 9,400 prospective engineers in 2021, Ross said. There are also 2,600 students enrolled in the university’s graduate engineering programs.

“I’m a firm believer in the value of a good engineering education,” Mitchell said during the press conference. “It has served me very well for many years”.

Mitchell is from Carroll County, where he grew up in homes without electricity or running water, he said. After graduating from Virginia Tech, his engineering career led him to become an aerospace executive before he transitioned to start companies in real estate and banking, according to a university webpage.

“It’s our hope that this gift will accelerate the process of design and planning for the building, and the timing of funding needed to make it happen,” Mitchell said. “We were motivated by the fact that approximately one-half of the qualified students who applied to the College of Engineering could not be accepted”.

He said his decision to donate to a new building also came from meetings with current students who told him that improved facilities would be preferable to more scholarship opportunities.

“Every engineering student will be touched by this new facility,” said Ross, dean of the engineering college. “As we look to our ability to do more hands-on learning, with students working in teams across disciplines, really blurring the lines between classroom teaching and learning in our research labs, this facility is really going to enable us to do all of those things in ways that we just can’t do today”.

The building is being designed with flexibility of use and optimization of space as a top concern, as education continues to change with modern developments, she said. As an example, classroom spaces might dual-purpose as areas for groups to use whenever a class isn’t in session.

“We’re really thinking about how to squeeze every bit of activity we can get out of this new building … and to be creative in how we do that,” Ross said. “It really is about helping us dream about what our future can be”.

Randolph Hall was built in 1952, with the east wing added in 1959, according to a university webpage. Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said in a press release that the new Mitchell Hall, which will stand where Randolph is today, will become a nexus for students.

“The Mitchells’ inspiring story illustrates the power of education to create new opportunities for service and achievement,” Sands said in the release. “Their extraordinary gift will make this important project a reality”.

Wendy Mitchell also attended Virginia Tech for a time, before beginning a career in banking that led her to senior leadership positions, according to the release.

“Out of all the ways that we could give money to Virginia Tech, we thought this building project was the right choice,” she said in the release. “We hope this money will be a turning point for this great building the university has in mind to get built”.