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Carmen: Okay. My name is Carmen Bolt. It is April 22nd 2016 and we are here in Squires Student Center with Ms.?

Lisa: Lisa Ellison.

Carmen: Okay. And we are taking part in an interview for VT Stories. Just to start out you've already given the name and I've given the date, but what years did you go to Virginia Tech?

Lisa: So, I attended from the fall of 1982 until the spring of 1986.

Carmen: Where were you raised? A lot of people come here because they're locals or there's a family legacy; what about you?

Lisa: Right. So my maiden name is Carter. I was Lisa Rochelle Carter coming to Virginia Tech from Martinsville, Virginia, so I was born and raised in Martinsville, which wasn't too far, but far enough that mom wouldn't just stop by on the way to the grocery store. [Laughs]

Carmen: Was that a concern of yours that she didn't try to do that for you?

Lisa: Yeah. Well my original goal as a high school student 1:00was to get far away from home, and so I really didn't end up that far from home but it was far enough.

Carmen: What about the rest of your family, what was your family like?

Lisa: Well, I grew up in a blue-collar family. My dad worked at DuPont in Martinsville, Virginia which was a big plant in the area. The area I grew up in had a lot of furniture factories, a lot of textile, really kind of a rural city that was doing well because there were a lot of industries there. My grandparents all lived in the area, aunts and uncles. I had some aunts and uncles in the area and some aunts and uncles who had moved away from the area, but really most of my relatives were very close in terms of aunts, uncles, cousins there in the Martinsville area.

Carmen: Did you have any siblings?

Lisa: One brother. I forgot to mention him. So I have a brother who is 11 years younger than me, so I was the only child for a good bit of time and then along 2:00comes that brother. [Laughs]

Carmen: I can't tell about the way you said that if you're excited or...

Lisa: Yeah, I don't know what I was. It was probably a mix of things at the time.

Carmen: Definitely a difference from I guess your status quo at this time I'm pretty sure.

Lisa: Yeah. So yes, I have a young brother so when I came to college he would have been like 6 or 7 years old.

Carmen: Right. When did you first start thinking about college or even deciding, I know you said you wanted to get far enough away, but why Virginia Tech?

Lisa: It's interesting. I kind of came to Virginia Tech as a decision point. It wasn't like the first place on my mind. I always knew I wanted to go to college, so when I was in the 7th grade and we had to at that time declare whether you were going to take college preparatory courses or if you were going to take vocational courses in high school, I had filled out the little paper and said I'm going to take college prep courses of course. I took it home to have my parents 3:00sign, and my mom was like, "Well wait a minute, maybe you need to take some vocational courses. Maybe you need to learn how to type," and I was like, "No! There's no way. I don't need to know any of that. I'm going to do this college prep course path." So I always knew I was going to go to college. I had to figure out where and I would say I probably had a small world at that time, so I was thinking about Virginia schools and looking at all the various schools. And it was probably my senior year when I decided on Virginia Tech. It was really that Virginia Tech came coming to the forefront. I had cousins who were going to Virginia Tech so I had familiarity from knowing people who were here. The person who was recruiting for Virginia Tech at that time was a person who had gone to my high school, so Calvin Jamison was often back at my high school talking about 4:00Virginia Tech and promoting Virginia Tech. And then I had gone through career counseling and had been recommended to look at engineering as a career, so I was constantly faced with Virginia Tech being a top engineering school, and so I had to look at Virginia Tech because of its credentials. And that's kind of how it came to be that I was on campus a lot as a high school student. So I came here for a summer program, spent a week in the MIT program for engineering. There were other opportunities for me to come up for weekends and kind of experience the campus.

Carmen: Right. So you kind of got acclimated to it before you even had to officially come here as a student?

Lisa: Correct. And then all the other places it was like a one visit and done, and so I was so much more familiar with Virginia Tech.

Carmen: I can certainly see how that would influence that decision. So you came directly as an engineer. What was your specialization?

Lisa: So I came in as an electrical engineering and major at Virginia Tech. I 5:00did not stay in engineering over the long-haul, but I did spend two years in the engineering program.

Carmen: That is intensive.

Lisa: Yeah, so it was very intensive.

Carmen: What did you end up switching out into?

Lisa: I moved into the business school maybe the first semester of my junior year. So one of the big challenges for me as I had gone through two years of engineering and decided that I really wasn't happy in that field, it wasn't feeling good. And the thing that happened was you come into engineering and folks tell you it will get better the next year, because like you're kind of buried in the 5-hour calculus and the chemistry, and then all this it gets better when you get into your specialty. And so I waited until the second year and I went through physics and all these courses like you know it's not really getting better. [Laughs] So I ended up majoring in finance, the Pamplin College and a finance 6:00major.

Carmen: I guess you ended up where you needed to be.

Lisa: Right, exactly. Then I had to really buckle down and get all those primary courses done for the business school, but I still was able to do the four years. So I went to summer school and got it knocked out. [Laughs] Pretty intense.

Carmen: I would say. Those are both really intense programs in their own right, so you've done a little bit of both. Outside of the 5-hour calculus and the physics and all that what were some of your first or maybe your best memories being at Virginia Tech?

Lisa: Oh wow, so best memories. You know I would say my best memories were comradery among the students. I came in and I did know a few people on campus, but really there was kind of a network and a flow as a minority student coming in, connecting or getting matched up with other people in my field that had kind 7:00of gone through. So I was in the beginning matched up with other engineering students that kind of helped me through the process of what you have to do to be successful, and it was those relationships. So really the best memories are about the different relationships. And then I did get in a lot of student organizations and ended up as my junior and senior year being the President of the Black Organizations Council. So I kind of had to touch to all of the student organizations, but even more impactful for me was the touch with the administration in that role. So as that position gave me a spot on the Omicron Delta Kappa leadership roundtable and I had direct access to the Vice President of Student Affairs. It was taking me from being a student to being a student 8:00with a voice speaking for a group of people.

Carmen: You ended like a liaison. You really were. That was a prime position to be able to do those sorts of things.

Lisa: Yeah.

Carmen: I can imagine you got introduced to a number of people with faculty, administrative, and students through those roles.

Lisa: So I had an opportunity I was with Dr. Lavery who was the President at the time a lot, and I was also able to meet the Governor of the State. There were a lot of opportunities that I received as a student leader at Virginia Tech that I would have never had otherwise.

Carmen: That's excellent. I can see how those would stick with you as some of your favorite memories. What about your very first memory, do you have one even? That's hard.

Lisa: It is hard, because the first memory is being left by your parents at Virginia Tech. I was dropped off and your mom and my brother was there and they were leaving and I just remember thinking well, 9:00if it doesn't work out I can always transfer. It was like those thoughts in our mind about is this going to work out or not? But I have to say that was the last moment I ever thought about it. The moment they dropped me off I was like well if I don't like it maybe I will transfer somewhere else. But, I never had that thought again. [Laughs] But that was the first one.

Carmen: Maybe I would relate to that one a little bit. Did you have any difficult experiences?

Lisa: You know what, I think that most of the things that happened I kind of pushed through it. I definitely had a difficult kind of growth moment changing majors. That was a really hard thing because I had to grapple with is does changing mean failure? At the time it felt like changing meant failure and really that's probably why it also took me long to make the 10:00change because I had come in with a lot of voices saying things like there aren't that many women in engineering. There aren't that many minorities in engineering and I really didn't want to fail at it, and so that was probably one of the tougher decisions that I made while at Virginia Tech and probably maybe the second year, first or second year I was here, there was an incident where I was walking and someone yelled out of a car the 'n' word to me and that was the first time that had ever happened to me. I had grown up in this rural place, come to Virginia Tech and then had that experience and it happens at Virginia Tech. Who knows who they were, people in a car driving by, but I was on campus and I remember... I had heard of that happening to people before, not on Virginia Tech campus but just in general. You just hear it and you think oh wow, 11:00that happened, but it doesn't really impact you until it actually happens to you. And then I was really surprised of how upset it made me.

Carmen: Did anything like that happen again after that?

Lisa: No. It was that one time and I still remember it. I was walking back from Dietrich after dinner, and my reaction even surprised me in terms of being upset about it.

Carmen: Right. Just not knowing how you would respond to something like that, and why should you, how you would respond to something like that, but it stays with you I suppose.

Lisa: Some of the down or negative experiences that I did have.

Carmen: Was there anything during the time you were on Tech's campus was there anything more broadly controversial that was going on, whether in the nation or on the smaller Virginia Tech campus?

Lisa: You know, there were things that happened that I remember. I remember the spacecraft blowing up that happened while I was here. 12:00But, most of my memories are more focused on what was happening on campus, the things I was very much involved in. At the time when I was the President of the Black Organization's Council we were putting forward a proposal for the Black Cultural Center, so that was a big thing that was going on that I spent a lot of time on. And when I began to get involved in kind of the student leadership and things that were going on on campus I had heard about this idea of a Black Cultural Center. I wasn't really 100% sold when I first heard the idea, but people were talking about it and when I became the President of the Black Organization's Council then it became my role to either push this proposal forward or not with the administration. I remember kind of trying to get to the 13:00source of who came up with this idea and Brian Roberts who was another student had put together this proposal. I kind of stopped him on the drill field, stopped him somewhere on campus and said, "Hey what about this? Why do you think we need it?" He talked to me about what his ideas were, what he was thinking, and he gave me this piece of paper that was like all written out, a proposal for this Black Cultural Center. I was like well I can see what he's saying. I'm still not 100% sold, but saw the benefits that he was talking about and started to explore and look into what would it look like, what would it be, and presented that exact proposal to Dr. Sandra Sullivan who put it up for conversation at this Omicron Delta Kappa roundtable. And the timing was right when Squires was going to be renovated and they were working with blueprints for 14:00the renovation of Squires. We had an opportunity to try to get it in there when this thing was being redesigned and make a space for a Black Cultural Center. And so I remember the day that it was going to be discussed and voted on at this roundtable. I was so naive, and this is like one of those moments where you don't know that it's a teachable moment until much later. And so this thing is coming up for a vote, but I don't remember what day, maybe a Wednesday we'll say hypothetically and there was a 4 o'clock meeting, and I was in McBryde in a class and as I was walking out of class I see one of the other student leaders that sits on the panel and he says, "Your thing is coming up for a vote today isn't it?" And I was like, "Yeah it is, it's on the agenda." He said, "Well have you talked to anybody about it?" And I thought why do I need to talk to anybody 15:00about it? It speaks for itself. It's on its merits you know. And then it was just like wow, I guess I should be talking to people about this. So for like from 1 o'clock to 4 o'clock I'm trying to find all the other students because the panel was half student and half faculty, so it was six students and six faculty and then Dr. Sullivan was the head of it. I said well, it never occurred to me that I should be like campaigning for this. To me it was just here it is, what do you think? And so we go into the meeting and I had maybe only been able to talk to about three other students before we go in. And there was quite a debate and people were asking me questions that I never really thought I would be asked. I just thought well here's a proposal, yes or no. So I'm sitting there and I'm answering these questions, you know, questions from faculty about well won't this be divisive having a Black Cultural Center? If we give you this Black Cultural Center won't we have to give one to every group on 16:00campus? And I was like wow, these questions, I'm fielding these questions and then there's a vote and literally I think the vote was 7 to 5. It was really really close and all the students voted with me for this cultural center, and I think one or two faculty members voted. Most of the faculty administration did not vote it but it passed.

Carmen: That's amazing.

Lisa: Yeah. The head of Squires, the Director of Squires was told to go back to these architectures, because he had already drawn up, they had already had a preliminary draft of what was going to be at Squires, to go back and put it in, put it in there.

Carmen: That's huge.

Lisa: That was in retrospect a learning of you have to promote your ideas in advance of the vote, right, which I really didn't do, but at least I got a clue beforehand. One of my fellow student leaders' kind of gave 17:00me a 'Hey, have you talked to anybody?' Which made me thing oh my God, I need to talk to people. And then the power of the vote. We got the numbers. We got the vote and there it was, it was going to be in the plan. But then the next lesson was I had not done a very good job of succession planning in my own organization, so I was about to graduate when this was all happening, and then I had to like quickly want to bring up the next person who was going to take my role up to speed as to what has happened and when the blueprints came back and they put us on the third floor, the black culture center was going to be on the third floor, kind of in the back in the corner. At that time the third floor of squires was like nothing but cinderblock walls and like there was nothing there. I said, "There's no way you can put it up there. It's not going to work. It's not going to be in the traffic flow." And so I had to talk to the 18:00person who was taking my role which was Ed Green, and said, "Ed, this has happened. This is the blueprint. You cannot let them put us on the third floor in the corner in the back." But then I had to leave it, after you've been fighting for a year and a half to get it to get it to get it, and then to get it and then say oh my God, and the work is not over and somebody now has to make sure it's in a good spot and make sure that it's not just an office with a desk, but it's a place that people want to come. That was a big thing that was happening when I was here. That was a very positive experience.

Carmen: No, absolutely. I don't even know that I have anything to relate to that. That's amazing, but good foresight though because even still Squires' third floor is not the most readily access.

Lisa: Yeah, why would you have to go there, right? Who would go there? And so I will say that kind of fast-forward, once I graduated the next time I came back to campus for a visit was my ten-year 19:00reunion. So I came back in '96 and the Black Culture Center opened in '91 but I hadn't had a chance to visit it. So when I came in and I saw it right at the entrance, the artwork and the space I was just so proud that it all turned out to be such a beautiful space.

Carmen: And you had been so integrally involved in that.

Lisa: Yeah, and it was beautiful. Like that succession planning whoever came behind they did what they had to do to get us a good spot in a nice place.

Carmen: That's excellent and in a legacy in a way, I mean it really is, just to have that to come back to. Have you visited many times? I don't know how often you come back to Tech.

Lisa: I do come back often because I'm currently on the Alumni Association Board of Directors. I'm about to roll off so it's my last year. But my daughter also graduated from Tech, so she graduated in 2014, so 20:00when was here I came back and then she was using the Center and so it was kind of special.

Carmen: We were the same graduation year. I graduated in 2014 too.

Lisa: Oh really? Oh okay.

Carmen: I stayed another two years for my master's, but yeah. I would like to say we ran into each other. We might have. Our class was what, 5,300. It's hard to say, but yeah. That's cool, 2014, a good year. So you did come back a lot. I guess it's whatever changed.

Lisa: The sheer number of buildings, you know.

Carmen: Every year, right? Every year a new building.

Lisa: Yeah, it's really something, and the whole dining facility situation. It's like okay. We had three dining halls. They all served exactly the same menu and it was just...

Carmen: We're spoiled now. When we come out of here it's like what do we do? We can't get lobster every day. What are we going to do now? How do we deal with that reality?

Lisa: Is that on your meal plan? My daughter is like, "Is that on the meal plan?" "I don't think so."

Carmen: Nothing is on the meal plan anymore. I think everyone always 21:00has a Virginia Tech cafeteria story. There's always one of those too, but yeah wow, I can see why just being involved in that would stick out in my memory. I'm sure that will stay with you forever.

Lisa: Yeah, it will. It's a place you can go to. But at the time it was just an idea.

Carmen: Something like now it's easy to take things like that or anything else that had been established for granted because it's always been here if you've just come in the past decade or so. But there was hard work and student work put into that, I think that's another thing, people might not realize how much students are integral in that process.

Lisa: It was our idea to push.

Carmen: Well that's great. Is there anything you would like to talk about that we haven't covered?

Lisa: No. I think I monopolized with that story.


Carmen: That's great. That's exactly the type of thing we're trying to get, so that's good to get on a recording. A lot of these get really open-ended, so this one, if someone says the words 'Virginia Tech' was in your very first thought?

Lisa: Mine. [Laughs] Yeah, that's my place. Those are my people. What about them?

Carmen: That's good. You already told me you're still really involved, why do you think so many alumni at Virginia Tech stay involved? I don't know if you ever heard, the way this really got started was that Gallup poll that showed how many stay involved with Tech. Why do you think that is, what is it about Tech?

Lisa: You know what, I think that while you're here you have such a positive experience that when you see the opportunity, of course I can only speak for myself, but I imagine that when you have the opportunity you just say yes because you had such an overall positive, 23:00and that's not to say that everything you did was positive, but overall positive. And even things that may have felt negative at the time you can see in the future, or not in the future, but you can see after you've lived a few more years how much it helped you in your life, either in your business or in your personal life. So I was away from campus a long time. Like I mentioned to you I didn't come back between '86 and '96, but as soon as I was asked to volunteer on a board, because I think it was like 2003, Dr. Prendergast asked me to sit on the Board with the Black Cultural Center. It was like I didn't even have to contemplate it. I was like of course. They're asking me to do something and I'm more than willing to do it. And the reason also, I'll mention that I lived in Chicago, so kind of a distance away, and so it wasn't that easy for me 24:00to get back to campus, but when I was asked I was more than willing to come back and do the work that I was being asked to do.

Carmen: Yeah. So maybe those positive experiences overshadow the crazy Blacksburg weather or the drill field in the middle of a Blacksburg winter and things like that.

Lisa: Well definitely, because your memories are more about the beautiful days and even in the trekking across the drill field in the rain it was like everybody had to do it so you have that in common.

Carmen: Solidarity.

Lisa: Yeah, exactly. And so that also I think goes to the building the relationships, because even if you see someone with Hokie gear on and you don't know them you still feel like you know them. Because like they also probably walked across the drill field in the rain.

Carmen: That forms a comradery there, right.

Lisa: So it's like yeah, if somebody... And living in Chicago I didn't see a lot of Hokie stuff. There weren't a lot of cars... 25:00there were no cars with Hokie bumper stickers when I was driving, and I just recently moved back to the Northern Virginia area and everybody has a Hokie bumper sticker. So it's kind of funny now, it's like somebody cuts you off in traffic and you're like grrr, you're mad and then you see a Hokie sticker and you're like okay they're a Hokie. They must have had a good reason. They have somewhere they had to get really fast so it's okay. So I judge the driver by whether or not...

Carmen: Totally understood. We all had to learn to drive these same roads and roundabouts. I think that makes sense, absolutely. We talked about some of the changes, just a new building or two or three every year, but is there any type of change you would like to see Virginia Tech make in the future?

Lisa: You know what, I'm still hopeful that Virginia Tech will be able to improve its diversity numbers. I do think that Tech still struggles in that area, and I think the opportunity is there. I think I'm seeing 26:00changes now that I think will help us move in the right direction. So yes, changes I would still like to see is we will improve our numbers and we will become more of that global community that people need, the students need just to be competitive. And any major corporation it's not a Virginia economy or a Virginia world, it's really global. And so there's a good business case that Tech should be striving towards more diversity and student body as well as its faculty and staff. So I'm still hopeful that that's going to be turned in the right direction.

Carmen: Absolutely. I think that would definitely be a positive direction for it to go, and honestly just to create more well-rounded students. Thank you. I know we rushed through a bunch of questions, but I have enjoyed listening to your stories and interviewing you. If there's nothing else, you 27:00would like to add we can bring this to a close.

Lisa: Thank you very much.

Carmen: Thank you.