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Alumni Offer Words of Advice to Soon-To-Be Hokie Grads

Virginia Tech’s campuses will soon welcome family, friends, and visitors to celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of new Hokie graduates during spring 2024 commencement ceremonies.

Employees working in the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities embody the university’s Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) motto, as many have chosen to serve their alma mater through maintaining, improving, and advancing the Blacksburg campus and beyond.

A handful of Hokie alumni in the division took a moment to reflect on their time as students:

  • Sarah Myers ’07 is a web and digital content specialist who earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish with minors in international studies and Russian.
  • Mike Dunn ’93, ’94, is assistant director of campus planning who earned bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering and mechancial engineering.
  • Victor Zimbardi ’23, is an assistant project manager who earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture.
  • Kyle White ’10, M.S. ’12, is a supervisory project manager who earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in civil engineering.
  • Nicole Obenchain ’22, is maintenance reserve coordinator who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing management.

Why did you choose Virginia Tech?

Zimbardi: For the lovely weather and ocean views – just kidding. Actually, after high school I watched a documentary on Netflix called “Abstract: The Art of Design,” which interviewed a leading architect named Bjarke Ingels. After the documentary, I learned what architecture actually was and decided to go to school for it. It just so happened that Virginia Tech’s undergraduate architecture program is consistently ranked among the top 10 in the world, so I set out to get a degree in architecture at Virginia Tech. After many long nights and getting a lot of questions answered with more questions, I think it was a fantastic choice.

White: I started coming to football games in the late 1990s with my family, and I fell in love with the campus. My interests in school were always math and science related, so engineering seemed like a good path to follow after high school. The campus and surrounding community, reputation of Virginia Tech’s engineering program, and in-state tuition made Virginia Tech a no-brainer for me. I applied for early acceptance, and it was the only college application I submitted.

What is one of your favorite memories as a Hokie? 

Dunn: Being on campus my freshman year was a great time. Away from home, it was my chance to make it on my own. The community and friends in the dorm made it a great experience. I would also catch up with high school friends on campus and we would play basketball Friday nights at War Memorial Gym, and then head back to the dorms for pizza. It’s the small things that made it feel like my new home. Later, I joined a fraternity and made more off-campus friends.

Obenchain: One of my favorite memories as a Hokie was experiencing “Enter Sandman” for the first time as a freshman. I remember jumping up and down in Lane Stadium as a child, but there was something different about it when I was officially a Virginia Tech student. Being surrounded by fellow students and friends was such an amazing experience that I will forever cherish.

Why did you choose to stay and work at Virginia Tech?

Zimbardi: Working for a university is unlike working for any other corporate organization. What other corporate organization works in tandem with 22 nationally recognized sports teams, houses over 10,000 students on a central campus, has grounds which are as beautiful as ours, demands architectural continuity as beautiful and prominent as ours, affords its students, staff, and faculty as diverse a bank of resources as ours? There’s an immeasurable quality that benefits employees at universities, and that’s why I work at Virginia Tech.

White: I want to contribute to maintaining and furthering the character and beauty of this campus, which has been at the center of some of my best experiences. Ever since I was a student, I had the idea of working for Virginia Tech in some capacity and having a life in Blacksburg. Capital construction is a perfect intersection of my technical skill set, service to the university, and where I want to live.

How did Virginia Tech prepare you for your career?

Myers: I had so many life-shaping experiences at Virginia Tech. I studied abroad in Mexico and Russia. I found a strong community rallying together in spring 2007 when I was graduating. I had professors of all styles and worked with a diverse group of peers. My time with all of that as an undergraduate student has prepared me for anything, which is exactly what I needed. I never had a clear vision of what I wanted to do with my life, but I was confident I could work with what life threw at me because of my Hokie experiences.

Dunn: At first, the course load was a lot to take in, but once I got the hang of it, it was amazing how the science, math, and engineering helped me understand the real world. It really helped in the junior and senior years to do team projects on real life situations. I learned how to work as a team and how to later apply what I had learned. The diversity of Virginia Tech helped as well.

What is your best piece of advice for recent Hokie grads?

Myers: Be flexible, set goals, but go with the flow. You can still be successful if you go out into the world without a clear path forward.

Dunn: Before you graduate, get a job in the area that you think you’d like. Focus on the experience to confirm that’s what you want to do when you graduate. You’d be surprised what a real job might entail that you didn’t expect, and it might reaffirm your love of that area of study and give you more motivation. Once you graduate, stay connected to your fellow Hokies and the university. Come back to visit as much as possible. Take in the beautiful campus and interact with students. There’s always something to do on campus or in Blacksburg.

Zimbardi: Keep your notes from class, you paid a lot of money for them, and you never know when you might need to reference them.

White: Gain a breadth of experience early in your career, because you never know what opportunities might come along. Expanding your skillset will only make you more marketable and less dispensable, so don’t ever allow yourself to be pigeonholed. Finally, you are responsible for your career, don’t ever relinquish that responsibility to someone else.

Obenchain: My biggest piece of advice for recent Hokie grads is to not be discouraged when you may not get the “perfect” job right away. Building up experience is such a crucial part to starting your career, it can be discouraging when you are just starting out and not pursuing what you have studied and are interested in.

By Rosie Cicmanec

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