Pioneers and record-holders

These alumni are recognized for their contributions to the university's history and other historic events. 


Roger Craig

Roger Craig (biology 1999, biochemistry 1999) became the highest one-day total winner on the game show “Jeopardy!” in 2010. He won $77,000 in one evening, surpassing the previous record of $75,000. His seven-day total winnings of $231,200 -- amassed before his run as the show’s champion ended Sept. 21, 2010 -- was third highest for the show, excluding tournaments.

Andrea Ballengee Preuss

Andrea Ballengee Preuss (political science 1995) was crowned Mrs. America in 2005. Preuss, who also holds an MBA from Pepperdine University, currently works as a district sales leader for the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly.

Kylene Barker Hibbard

Kylene Barker Hibbard (clothing, textiles, and related arts 1978) was crowned Miss America in 1979.

William W. Lewis Jr.

William W. Lewis Jr. (physics 1963) was Virginia Tech’s first Rhodes Scholar and went on to earn a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Oxford in 1966. Lewis has held positions with the U.S. Department of Defense, Princeton University, the University of California, the World Bank, and the U.S. Department of Energy. He was the founding director of the McKinsey Global Institute of McKinsey and Co., one of the nation's most prestigious and influential management-consulting firms. He also has published regularly in the Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune, and The New York Times.

Charlie L. Yates

Charlie L. Yates (mechanical engineering 1958) was the first African American to graduate from Virginia Tech and the first African American to graduate from a traditionally white college in the South. Peddrew-Yates Residence Hall was co-named in his honor in 2003.

William A. Moon Jr.

William A. Moon Jr. (geology 1955; M.S. 1961) received an Honorary Order of the British Empire, an equivalent of knighthood bestowed by the queen of England on foreign nationals, "in recognition of his contribution to Texaco and the United Kingdom upstream oil and gas industry."

Irving L. Peddrew III

Irving L. Peddrew III (electrical engineering) not only was the first African-American student to enroll at Virginia Tech (in 1953), he was also the first African-American undergraduate student to go to a historically white public school in the former Confederacy. The only black student on campus his freshman year, he was required to participate in the corps of cadets but had to live and eat off campus. Disillusioned by his experiences, he left at the end of his junior year and did not return. Peddrew-Yates Residence Hall was co-named in his honor in 2003. (Did not graduate.)

Robert F. Titus

Robert F. Titus (mining engineering 1948), a brigadier general, was the first to fly an aircraft non-stop over the North Pole. He also shot down three MiGs during the Vietnam War, which is considered to be a significant achievement for that conflict. (Did not graduate.)

Marian Spearman Bengel

Marian Spearman Bengel (architectural engineering 1949) was the first woman in Tennessee to become a licensed professional engineer.

Harry D. Temple

Harry D. Temple (industrial engineering 1934), a colonel who headed the U.S. Army’s Institute of Heraldry, designed the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was established by President John F. Kennedy as the highest award the nation bestows on civilians. Temple also designed the coat-of-arms for Tech’s corps of cadets and successfully shepherded the crest through official registration with the U.S. Office of Heraldry.

Mary Brumfield

Mary Brumfield (biology 1923; M.S. 1925) was the first female student to graduate from Virginia Tech. She enrolled in 1921 with four other women as the school’s first coeds; as a transfer student, she graduated in two years. She then enrolled in the master’s program and received a second degree from the university.

Charles B.D. Collyer

Charles B.D. Collyer (mining engineering 1919) established, in 1928, a record for a trip around the world -- 23 days and 15 hours. He traveled by monoplane, which he piloted; steamer; and rail. Collyer and a passenger traveled approximately 20,000 miles at an average speed of 800 miles per day. They broke the former record by almost five days. In October 1929, Collyer also established an east-to-west non-stop flight record by covering the distance from New York to Los Angeles in 24 hours, five minutes, bettering the existing record by two hours. He was killed when his plane crashed in November 1929 while he was attempting to break the west-to-east nonstop flight record. (Did not graduate.)

Fred K. Prosser

Fred K. Prosser (civil engineering 1911) designed the first Virginia Tech class ring in 1912. The ring, which was for the class of 1911, cost $6 to $8. Ironically, Prosser later lost his own class ring.

William Addison "Add" Caldwell

William Addison "Add" Caldwell (agriculture 1876) was the first student to register at Virginia Tech, known at the time as Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College. Caldwell walked about 28 miles from his Virginia home in Craig County to Blacksburg to register.