John Grizzard walked into his final engineering exam at Virginia Tech three days before his graduation in 1985. With the diploma so close, he and his classmates hoped the professor might take it easy on them.

“We’re all seniors in the class and we’re all thinking, ‘oh, we’re all going to graduate, this is going to be an easy exam, the professor is going to let us get through,'” Grizzard said. “And we were absolutely wrong.”

He passed, of course, but not without learning something he still values today as president of Modesto, California-based defense supply manufacturing company Westland Technologies.

“All the way to the end, Virginia Tech pressed us hard, they pushed us, they never made it easy. One thing it taught me was until you finish something completely, you’re never done,” Grizzard said.

Throughout his career, the electrical engineering alumnus has taken the lesson to heart.

Grizzard has worked across the full spectrum of the electromagnetics field, specifically focusing on radar. He’s done research and development for the Navy, worked at DARPA on a new ship program leading survivability design, run consulting companies, and now, at Westland, leads a manufacturing company.

“So at the end of my career I’ll be able to say I really did everything: from the acquisition program management, to the research and development, to actually making the products,” Grizzard said.

It was the rigor of the education he received at Virginia Tech that Grizzard says prepared him for his varied career — which is why Grizzard began giving back to the university.

In December 2016, Grizzard established a fund that provides scholarships to students studying either materials science and engineering or power systems and electrical engineering.

“Both of those I’ve found are obviously very important to society, and it’s very important to try to build an engineering capability in the younger people to take the place of those folks who are in their 50s and 60s and who are going to retire soon,” Grizzard said.

His involvement is a benefit to industry as a whole and to Westland specifically, as they actively recruit Virginia Tech students. Walking around the company’s campus, Grizzard is quick to point out the Hokies he’s hired as interns and full-time employees, who come from all different disciplines, even outside of engineering.

“The one thing about Virginia Tech, whether you’re in the engineering school, or whether you might be in the business school, or accounting, chemistry, you pick it — one thing I feel about the school is they challenge their students from the day they walk in the door to the moment you graduate,” Grizzard said.

Grizzard said he’s always wanted to give back to Virginia Tech, both because he felt the school forced him to truly earn his degree and because he hopes to foster the next generation of engineers.

“The school did a lot for me,” Grizzard said. “I know they’re doing that for a lot of other students everyday. I know those students are going to be very capable young men and women, and I want to help them have similar opportunities.”

Written by Erica Corder