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Couple donate $2 million to Virginia Tech real estate program

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Alumni couple Willis Blackwood and Mary Nolen Blackwood of Richmond and Bonita Springs, Fla., have donated $2 million to name and endow the director’s position at the rapidly growing Virginia Tech real estate program.


According to the school, the gift is the largest ever made to the program, which began with four students in August 2013 and has grown to more than 200 undergraduates.


“Virginia Tech is on the leading edge in this industry,” Willis Blackwood ’72, said in a statement. He is the founder and president of Blackwood Development Co. Inc., a privately owned real-estate firm in Richmond.  “Students from this program are extremely valuable to future employers because they get a comprehensive foundation in the industry that other schools just don’t provide.”


The Blackwoods have supported Tech’s real estate program since its inception. Willis Blackwood earned bachelor’s degree in business administration from Virginia Tech and has an MBA from Virginia Commonwealth University. He chairs the Virginia Tech Real Estate Industry Advisory Board. Mary Nolen Blackwood, '73, earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Virginia Tech and has a master’s in health administration from what is now the VCU School of Medicine.


In 2014, the Blackwoods endowed the Willis and Mary Blackwood Junior Faculty Fellowship, now held by Erin Hopkins, an assistant professor of property management at Virginia Tech.


Kevin Boyle, director of the Program in Real Estate, said in a statement that he was “deeply grateful” for the ways Willis Blackwood has promoted the program. “His vision and support help us recruit top students and bring great industry people into the program. He’s an inspiration to our program’s students, faculty, and supporters.” In spring 2017, Tech had 41 students graduate from the real estate program.


Willis Blackwood said he and his wife hoped their gift would inspire other leaders in the real estate industry to support the Program in Real Estate and its students. “One thing Tech does very well is that it generates employable graduates.”


The Program in Real Estate is an academic unit of the Pamplin College of Business in collaboration with the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Architecture and Urban Studies, Engineering, and Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Students can earn a bachelor of science in real estate or a real-estate minor through Pamplin.


The program’s curriculum includes many aspects of real estate, including planning, construction, finance, property management and sales. Students majoring in real estate can choose a second major or minor in a related field to further their education and professional preparation.


“If somebody likes diversity in their work challenges, it’s a fun industry to be in,” said Willis, whose company has developed more than 2 million square feet of retail space.  “It’s people oriented, it’s bricks-and-mortar oriented, it’s law, it’s accounting, it’s a lot of different things. It’s entrepreneurial, and the sky’s the limit for anybody that wants to go out and work hard and be creative.”

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