A pair of local Hokies is making a $2 million investment in one of their alma mater’s newest courses of study.
Virginia Tech alumni Willis and Mary Nolen Blackwood made a $2 million donation to the university’s Program in Real Estate, an undergraduate major that the couple has supported since its inception in fall 2013.
Willis Blackwood, who graduated in 1972 with a bachelor’s in business administration, is founder and president of Blackwood Development, a Midlothian-based firm behind such projects as the recently approved Winterfield Crossing, a $40 million mixed-use development planned along Midlothian Turnpike.
The program, which offers a bachelor’s degree in real estate, integrates subjects such as finance, law and property management through academic courses, guest lectures by industry professionals and internship opportunities.
Blackwood, who also has an MBA from VCU, said the real estate program provides VT students with a more direct path to careers such as his.
“I’m a developer. I don’t have an engineering or building construction degree,” he said. “I’m a jack of all trades and master of none and need to understand accounting and law and development and construction and leasing. The real estate program gives a much broader perspective to the industry.”
Mary Nolen is a ’73 Tech grad and holds a bachelor’s in psychology. She also received a master’s in health administration from what is now the VCU School of Medicine. The couple’s son, Nolen Blackwood, is also a Tech grad and works as a partner at Blackwood Development.
In addition to Winterfield Crossing, the firm’s Richmond-area projects include a planned redevelopment of a dance club building in Scott’s Addition. It is also partnering with fellow developer UrbanCore on a gut-job of the former Calypso Café in Shockoe Bottom, and on a mixed-use Fan project that will house a satellite location for Steam Bell Beer Works.
The Blackwoods’ gift is the largest single donation to date for the program, which has previously benefited from their giving. In 2014, the couple endowed the Willis and Mary Blackwood Junior Faculty Fellowship, currently held by an assistant professor of property management. Willis also chairs the Virginia Tech Real Estate Industry Advisory Board.
Their latest gift names and endows the real estate program’s director position, currently held by Kevin Boyle.
In a release, Boyle said the donation would help fund experiential-learning opportunities and access to financial and market-analysis software, as well as connect students with industry professionals.
The real estate program is offered through 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 also earn a real-estate minor through Pamplin.
The program started in August 2013 with four students and has grown to more than 200 undergraduates. It had 41 graduates in spring 2017.
“That speaks volumes on how much demand there is from the students,” Blackwood said. “Funding is always an issue with any university program, especially a new one, so I wanted to demonstrate our commitment to the program and hopefully set an example for other possible donors to step up.”
Blackwood said the donation is as much about helping to get the word out about the program as it is about financial support, which he hopes comes from others in the industry.
“Hopefully other people will step up and really grow the endowment and fund a lot of the experiential and classroom instructions and quality of instructors and availability of different courses,” he said.