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Record donation propels new Virginia Tech engineering hall

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Norris and Wendy Mitchell

With help from a record-setting donation, Virginia Tech is designing the replacement for its old engineering hall, university officials announced Tuesday.

Former aerospace executive Norris Mitchell graduated from Virginia Tech in 1958, and along with wife Wendy, the couple recently committed $35 million to the Virginia Tech College of Engineering, according to the university. A news conference about the announcement is scheduled for 10 a.m. It's the largest donation from a single alumnus, according to the school.

That donation will contribute to the replacement of 1950s-built Randolph Hall, a new state-of the-art facility that will be renamed after the Mitchells. Building plans for a new Mitchell Hall include concepts for a new, 284,000-square-foot engineering hall projected to cost $248 million, funded otherwise mostly using requested state money, according to documents.

“This new facility is one that we truly need. It's going to be quite transformational for us,” said Julia Ross, dean of the College of Engineering. “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 during an interview. There are also 2,600 students enrolled in the university’s graduate engineering programs.

“Every engineering student will be touched by this new facility,” Ross said. “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 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.”

Norris Mitchell graduated from Virginia Tech one year before the east wing of Randolph Hall was added in 1959. The west section was completed in 1952, and it could be demolished for replacement as soon as summer 2023, pending further state approval.

“I appreciate the university’s key role in my life,” Mitchell said in a news release. “Wendy and I are happy to be able to make this gift to help Virginia Tech prepare tomorrow’s engineers.”

Norris Mitchell is from Carroll County, where he grew up in homes without electricity or running water, and where his mother was a school teacher and principal, according to a university webpage. He became an aerospace executive before transitioning careers to start companies in real estate and banking.

“The value of education has been clear to me ever since I was a boy,” Mitchell said in the release. “Virginia Tech equipped me with the knowledge and skillset to have an extremely fulfilling career across several industries.”

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.”

Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said in the release that Mitchell Hall 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.”


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