Top 50 Hokie Spotlight: Paul Torgersen
“A professor who is also serving as president”
Often, when I reflect on some of the best scenery that Virginia Tech has to offer, the same iconic image usually comes to mind… the view from Alumni Mall looking out towards the drill field with Torgersen Bridge, which happens to be my favorite building on campus, spanning over the top of the Pylons.
The reason Torgersen Bridge is a personal favorite is not only its unique architecture but also because of what a bridge represents. Bridges connect people and places. Bridges create new opportunities, increase mobility, and provide access. Also, this particular bridge just happened to be one of the quietest places on campus to help reflect and study after a long day of classes, away from the noise and distraction from dorm life.
To be honest, I didn’t know very much about Paul Torgersen other than he had served as President of Virginia Tech, and Torgersen Hall was dedicated in his honor. In fact, until this column, I never really came to realize just how fitting of a tribute it was to name a building consisting of classrooms on one end that connected to the university’s library on the other end, via a bridge.
But if there is one common narrative I came to appreciate about Paul Torgersen, it’s that he loved being an educator first and foremost, which would be assumed for a man who dedicated his life to serving as a faculty member at Virginia Tech's College of Engineering (COE) since 1967.
For nearly 50 years, Paul Torgersen's greatest achievements occurred every day in the classroom, where his teachings and expertise in the field of engineering connected students with exciting new opportunities for innovative and groundbreaking research.
However, its Torgersen's leadership and accomplishments outside of the classroom that makes him an all-time Hokie great. Shortly after he arrived in Blacksburg, he was appointed as the Dean of the COE, a position he served in from 1970-1990, transforming the COE's research capacity and building the reputation up from being considered in the bottom 10% of research into the top 10% of research.
Following his success leading the COE, Torgersen spent the next decade serving as President of the Corporate Research Center and finally President of Virginia Tech, where he established a top 50 ranking for the Colleges of Engineering and Business, doubled the university endowment, increased the levels of diversity and inclusion among Tech’s top leadership positions, and laid the foundation for Tech's entrance into the 21st century.
Yet when his tenure as president ended in 2000, Paul Torgersen humbly returned to his primary mission, educating future students all the way until his passing in 2015. Today, it's still safe to say that his legacy lives on in the very structure bearing his name, by continuing to serve as a bridge, connecting students to new ideas and research.
Not bad for someone who considered himself a professor who served as president.