With commencement around the corner, many graduating students are looking forward to starting new lives and jobs and applying the knowledge and skills they gained at Virginia Tech. 

Looking back on their student years, three Pamplin College of Business alumni — a senior corporate executive in Chicago; a professor-turned-owner-operator of an award-winning winery near San Francisco; and the young founder of an organic recycling startup in Washington, D.C. — recently shared their thoughts on what their education has meant to them.

Brian Cook, who earned a bachelor’s degree in management in 1979 and an MBA in 1981, is the senior vice president of human resources at USG Corp., a Chicago-based manufacturer and distributor of building materials, including Sheetrock brand drywall. 

His HR courses at Pamplin were “substantive and practical,” he recalls. “As a result, I felt that my education prepared me to hit the ground running and be a productive member of the team right away. At the same time, I also had the grounding in all business disciplines that served me well, as I became a senior manager and gained responsibility for broader strategic issues.”

Indeed, Cook says he has grown increasingly impressed with his former teachers, including management professors Rich Wokutch, Terry Cobb, Steve Markham, and Kent Murrmann (recently retired), “as I realized how valuable their classes and teaching were to me.”

That he considered a career in HR at all, he says, is due largely to the encouragement of former Pamplin management professor Dow Scott, now at Loyola University and with whom Cook has kept in touch.

Raised on Long Island, N.Y., Cook has a daughter who is a Pamplin student as well as a brother and sister-in-law who are also Pamplin alumni. He chairs the management department’s advisory board.

Anisya Thomas Fritz, who co-owns the Lynmar Estate winery and vineyard in Sonoma County, California, with her husband, earned a master’s degree in management in 1989 and a Ph.D. in 1990.

A native of India, Fritz came to Virginia Tech at the suggestion of relatives, one of whom is a Pamplin alumna who introduced her to Robert Litschert, then management department head.

Litschert, who died in 1994, encouraged Fritz to undertake doctoral studies in strategic management and was her mentor and role model. Her professors were “smart and empathetic” scholars, recalls Fritz, who cites Hap Bonham, Julie Ozanne, Terry Cobb, and Rich Wokutch as among those who inspired and challenged her.

“I have valued everything I learned at Virginia Tech,” Fritz says. It is where she learned to learn, including “how to frame problems and ask questions” — and, she adds, where “I learned to have fun learning.”

Tinia Pina received bachelor’s degrees in business information technology and management in 2006.

After a few years in the financial services industry in New York, Pina, whose hometown is Woodbridge, Va., launched Re-Nuble, as an organic recycler and energy generator in the metro D.C. area, in an effort to reconcile her day job with her environmental and social convictions.

Her Pamplin education, as well as participation in student organizations, she says, helped develop and strengthen her analytical, leadership, project management, and communication skills. “Pamplin provided the base necessary to understand the multiple challenges that can affect a business’s operations and ability to scale.”  

Professors such as Robin Russell, Wanda Smith, and Devi Gnyawali motivated her to go beyond getting good grades. “I attribute my perseverance and aspirations to be a well-rounded leader to the experiences I had in their classes.”

Read the full stories on these alumni and their different career paths in the spring issue of Pamplin magazine.