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VA Tech Achievers Receive Top Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame Honors

Setting a good example for young people comes naturally for three Virginia Tech leaders recently honored by Junior Achievement of Southwest Virginia.

Long-time university supporter and business leader Sandra Davis and Virginia Tech Vice President for Health Sciences and Technology and neuroscientist Michael Friedlander were inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame as the 2022 laureates.

In addition, Robert Gourdie, a heart reparative medicine scientist with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and founder of the Roanoke-based Tiny Cargo Co., accepted the organization’s 2022 Entrepreneur Award.

Davis and Friedlander were honored for leadership, improving quality of life, and promoting workforce development and entrepreneurship.

John Asbury, president and CEO of Atlantic Union Bank, welcomed more than 400 business and community leaders, and also took a moment to say farewell to Katherin Elam, who retired after 24 years as president of Junior Achievement of Southwest Virginia.

Master of ceremonies John Carlin, a WSLS-TV news anchor, introduced the honorees, noting that their achievements began during their childhoods.

Success Builder

Born in Radford, Davis inherited a strong work ethic from her parents and developed an enduring passion for education — evident today in her extensive record of service to Virginia Tech, New River Community College, and Radford University.

After high school, Davis attended night classes at New River Community College and went on to become administrative supervisor for the health district including Floyd, Giles, and Montgomery counties and the city of Radford. She graduated from Retail Bank Management School at the University of Virginia, and as senior vice president became the first woman to serve as an officer for the Bank of Christiansburg, now Wells Fargo.

Davis was a founder of BCR Real Estate and Property Management, which addressed the need for student housing in Radford and Blacksburg and grew into a multihousing company. She recently transitioned from BCR to devote time to her leadership positions on a host of regional and community boards promoting economic development.

At Virginia Tech, Davis’ history of service and commitment was recognized with an honorary life membership in the Virginia Tech Alumni Association. In addition, she is a recipient of the William H. Ruffner Medal, Virginia Tech’s highest honor now known as the Ut Prosim Award. Davis currently serves on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

High-energy Achiever

Friedlander was born in Miami and was involved in Junior Achievement at an early age. His project involved starting a company and selling services door-to-door.

After high school, he studied political science and economics at Florida State University, but changed direction to pursue biology and chemistry. He earned his Ph.D. in physiology and biophysics at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Virginia.

Friedlander’s talent for research led him to the University of Alabama-Birmingham, where he taught and conducted developmental brain research, became the founding director of the Neurobiology Research Center and chair of the Department of Neurobiology, and directed the Civitan International Research Center.

He came to Virginia Tech in 2010 from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, where he was chair of the department of neuroscience. As the inaugural executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, he began to recruit some of the world’s brightest scientists to Roanoke, leading the city’s transformation toward biomedical and health sciences research and innovation.

While serving as the institute’s executive director and senior dean for research at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, Friedlander was named Virginia Tech’s first vice president for health sciences and technology in 2016. In this role, he spearheads biomedical and health science research across the university and leads the development of the VTC Health Sciences and Technology campus.

Among his honors and recognitions, Friedlander is an elected fellow of the world’s largest scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and is a recipient of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship in Neuroscience, a National Institutes of Health Fogarty Senior International Research Fellowship, the American College of Physicians’ William Menninger Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Science of Mental Health, and the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine’s Distinguished Scientist award.

Serial Entrepreneur

Gourdie is an engineer, scientist, and entrepreneur who creates knowledge and translates his laboratory discoveries into solutions for medical problems.

The director of the Center for Vascular and Heart Research of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, Gourdie is the first Virginia Tech researcher to receive an Outstanding Investigator Award from the National Institutes of Health, giving him a wide range of freedom to explore inventive research concepts.

Gourdie, also a member of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics in the College of Engineering, has started three companies, all based on his cutting-edge research. He co-founded FirstString Research Inc., now called Xequel Bio, in 2006. His newer companies, Acomhal Research Inc., which he co-founded with Samy Lamouille, an assistant professor with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, and Tiny Cargo Co., are based in Roanoke and both work on ways to revolutionize drug delivery and treat brain cancers.

In addition to making basic science discoveries and translating them into clinical innovations, he is a role model for undergraduates and graduate students interested in biotech and entrepreneurship. Gourdie teaches about patents, governmental regulatory agencies, clinical trials, entrepreneurship, and investment.

His commercialization course culminates in a shark tank-style pitch presentation, and his teams have gone on to win national competitions.

Gourdie received a master’s degree with first class honors in cell and molecular biology from the University of Auckland and his doctoral degree in biophysics from the University of Canterbury. He was recently named to the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering College of Fellows.

  • John Pastor

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