Norris Mitchell ’58 and his wife, Wendy, have committed $35 million to the Virginia Tech College of Engineering. The gift will go toward construction as well as activities and programming for a showcase building for the college, which will replace the more than 60-year-old Randolph Hall.
Per approval of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, the new building will be known as Wendy and Norris E. Mitchell ’58 Hall.
Plans are for Mitchell Hall to be 284,000 square feet and contain classrooms, instructional labs, space for student team projects, research labs, and office spaces for faculty, staff, and students. Significant space is also earmarked for student advising and a variety of collaborative uses by students and faculty.
Norris Mitchell’s personal story began in Virginia’s Carroll County, where he grew up without running water or electricity in his home. He entered college on scholarship and worked his way through Virginia Tech in a co-op program. Mitchell earned his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering in 1958.
“My mother was a schoolteacher and principal, and the value of education has been clear to me ever since I was a boy,” said Norris Mitchell, who was an aerospace executive with several leading firms before transitioning careers to found companies in real estate and banking. “Virginia Tech equipped me with the knowledge and the skill set to have an extremely fulfilling career across several industries,” Mitchell said. “I appreciate the university’s key role in my life. Wendy and I are happy to be able to make this gift to help Virginia Tech prepare tomorrow’s engineers.”
Wendy Mitchell attended Virginia Tech for a brief period before leaving to help address a family emergency, then embarked on a career in banking that saw her rise to senior leadership positions at several institutions.
“Out of all the ways that we could give money to Virginia Tech, we thought this building project was the right choice,” she said. “You can have as many bright students as possible, but if you don’t have places for them to get together and work on projects, they’re not going to get as far. We hope this money will be a turning point for this great building the university has in mind to get built.”
Randolph Hall was built between 1952 and 1959 in the university’s North Academic District. After more than a half-century of use, there is a recognized need to replace the building. Along with having modern spaces and resources, Mitchell Hall is projected to be more than 70 percent larger than Randolph Hall, providing needed space to accommodate growth in the university’s engineering programs and account for shifts in how research and teaching take place today.
“The Mitchells’ inspiring story illustrates the power of education to create new opportunities for service and achievement,” Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said. “Their extraordinary gift will make this important project a reality, and I look forward to seeing Mitchell Hall become a nexus of ideas, innovation, and learning experiences that support the success of our students, our university, and the commonwealth.”
Total project costs are projected at $248 million, most of which would come from state funding. The gift from the Mitchells satisfies the university’s obligation to provide funding to the project. Depending on the timing of approvals from the General Assembly, the project could be ready for construction funding by summer 2023, according to the university’s capital budget request to the state.
The Mitchell gift comes at a pivotal moment for the engineering college, which is growing as part of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Tech Talent Initiative, a statewide push to increase graduates in key computing fields. As the university’s largest college with programs spanning 12 departments and two schools, engineering’s total enrollment grew to over 12,000 in 2020.