Virginia Tech Magazine

Volume 17, Number 2
Winter 1995


Pamplins favor Virginia Tech with new gift

Business graduate Robert Pamplin Sr. and his son Robert Pamplin Jr. have made a $3.5-million contribution to the university's Pamplin College of Business. With their recent commitment, the Pamplins have given more than $22 million to Virginia Tech--$20 million to the Pamplin College of Business. The latest gift will be used to provide scholarships, support new professorships, and supplement five existing professorships endowed by the Pamplins. The gift is yet another example of the Pamplins' long-standing philanthropic support of the university and of the college which bears their name. The Pamplins own the R.B. Pamplin Corporation in Portland, Ore., a company with textile mills in the Southeast, and sand, gravel, concrete, and asphalt operations in the Northwest. Pamplin Sr., who earned a degree in business administration from Virginia Tech in 1933, is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Georgia Pacific Corp. Pamplin Jr. attended Virginia Tech during 1960-1962 before completing his undergraduate degree at Lewis and Clark College. The Pamplins chaired the university's last fundraising campaign, which brought in over $118 million. Pamplin Sr. served on Virginia Tech's board of visitors during 1971-1979. He and his son have lectured in the business college on their business philosophy and operations and provided information on their operations for a case study used in finance and management courses.

University becomes leader in Civil War history with Billings gift

by Deborah S. Harris

After more than 12 years of researching potential recipients, a Civil War historian has donated artifacts, books, and manuscripts valued at more than $1 million to Virginia Tech. The collection, combined with the Virginia Tech library's existing Civil War holdings, places the university's Civil War collection among the three largest in the country. The gift consists of more than 6,000 Civil War books, several hundred manuscripts, and numerous artifacts pledged to the library's Special Collections Department by Elden E. "Josh" Billings, a retired analyst and economist for the Congressional Research Service. Billings, considered one of the leading authorities on Civil War books, has compiled the most extensive Civil War collection ever amassed by an individual. Particularly unique are the regimental histories and personal memoirs which emphasize the war from the North's perspective. "This collection elevated Virginia Tech to a prominent position in the country for Civil War history," says James I. "Bud" Robertson, C.P. Miles Professor of History and eminent Civil War scholar. "As a member of the faculty and a good friend of Josh, I am extremely proud the university will house this remarkable and valuable literary collection." "I researched university facilities for over 12 years," Billings says. "My decision to donate the collection to Virginia Tech is due, in large measure, to my admiration and respect for Bud Robertson and the fine facilities of the Special Collections department." Billings also has established an endowment to maintain and expand his collection. "We now have volumes that even the Library of Congress would envy," says Stephen Zietz, head of the special collections for the Virginia Tech library. Billings remains an active researcher, writer, and lecturer. He belongs to eight Civil War history round-tables and is a charter member of Robertson's "Campaigning with Lee" summer seminar. Deborah Harris is a graduate intern in university relations and development.

$8 million bequest boosts biotechnology research

An anonymous gift of about $8 million will come to the university from the estate of a deceased alumnus. It will be used initially to support biotechnology research and to nurture the teaching of advanced biology at the high-school level. The biotechnology facility is pursuing research in the areas of human and animal health and agricultural productivity. The gift will also help finance the development and implementation of new executive training and business leadership programs.

Helping women break the prison cycle
by Netta S. Eisler

For many prison inmates, there's something much harder than prison life--life on the outside. Many of those behind bars are repeat offenders who have never learned how to be successful outside of prison. Beth Pessner, Virginia Tech Powhatan/Goochland Extension agent, decided to help women prisoners break the cycle of repeated arrests by teaching skills to help them succeed in the community. The key, she says, is giving them the knowledge to build new lives and resist the bad habits that have caused them to get into trouble in the past. "Taking Charge of Your Life," a program Pessner began in 1993 at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland, uses volunteers to teach parenting skills and money management, including how to use credit wisely. There is a waiting list for the program, which meets a day each week for four weeks. Many of the women in the maximum security facility in Goochland County have been convicted of credit fraud or embezzlement. Sixty-two percent are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. The majority of the prisoners have young children or plan to start a family when free. To date, 114 women have participated in the program. Of the 73 already released, few have returned to prison. While it's too early to know if the program has made a lasting difference, those involved feel confident it is worthwhile. "What I liked was learning that I can survive without doing something illegal," says one participant. Prison officials credit much of the program's success to the fact that it is taught by volunteers from the community, whom Pessner recruits and trains. For transition specialist Kim Hull, the critical thing is "to get human beings in contact with the offenders. The fact that someone cares enough to show up on schedule to teach tells these offenders, 70 percent of whom were abuse victims, that they are worth something." Hull says the program plays an integral role in bringing effective, as well as practical, methods to the two critical areas that bring people back to prison--financial mismanagement and dysfunctional families. Jean Ritchie, an attorney with the Virginia Credit Counseling Service who teaches the consumer credit component of the course, says, "About two-thirds of the women are here because of a crime involved with money. Many of them have never thought about saving or investing or even opening a checking account. We teach them how to do those things and how to get their financial life on the right track." The chance to interact on a personal level with the volunteers, successful women who can be strong role models, is very important, Pessner says. The classes are small, providing opportunities for volunteers to get close to individuals. "Almost everybody in each class bonds with someone," says Hull. Being taught by local residents helps the women realize they have community support. "When the volunteers get to know these women and realize that they're human beings with the same needs we all have, it makes them much more willing to help them after they're released," Pessner says. The volunteers make sure their students know about the services provided by Virginia Tech Extension offices. Pessner is still waiting for a "big" success story, but, for now, she is pleased that many of the former students are holding down jobs and rebuilding their families. The program is funded through a grant from AT&T given through the National Coalition for Consumer Education.

Virginia Tech Magazine Volume 17, Number 2 Winter 1995