Alumnus creates professorship with global reach
by Zeke Barlow
C. Gordon Thornhill — owner of one of America’s largest livestock exporting businesses and a 1975 graduate of the university’s animal science department — has established the Thornhill Professorship for Agricultural Trade. The professorship will help the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences expand its international programs and cement Virginia Tech’s reputation as a leader in agriculture — both nationally and globally.
“This is a global market we are competing in today. It’s no longer just big companies that are trading with Europe, Asia, and Africa,” Thornhill said. “Every company, from the smallest to the largest, is working around the globe. The hope is that this donation helps to prepare Virginia Tech students for that international market where they can be competitive and successful.”
The new professorship will not only benefit the students at Virginia Tech. According to Alan Grant, dean of the college, it will also have a wide-reaching influence on government agencies and private businesses involved in international trade through Virginia Cooperative Extension.
“As Gov. Bob McDonnell and others have been emphasizing, agricultural trade has an enormous impact on the Virginia economy,” Grant said. “Virginia Tech is committed to growing its presence internationally, and this professorship will help us build relationships around the world that will benefit the university, the state, and private businesses.”
Thornhill, owner of Culpeper, Va.-based T.K. Exports Inc., has been a generous contributor to Virginia Tech. In addition to the Thornhill professorship, he has supported leadership initiatives in the college by establishing two undergraduate scholarships and providing significant start-up funding for the Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results (VALOR) program.
The faculty member holding the Thornhill professorship will have a primary emphasis on teaching and Extension. The professorship will also help leverage Virginia Tech’s relationships with government agencies, businesses, and stakeholders to broaden trade opportunities and increase the value of Virginia and U.S. agricultural products abroad.
Thornhill knows well the value of an education that focuses on international agriculture trade.
He quickly went from being the first member of his family to finish college to being the president of an international company that exports dairy and beef cattle to more than 45 countries around the world.
Thornhill hopes his gift will inspire others to contribute to the university so it can continue to expand its international reach and prepare students to be global leaders.
“Virginia Tech opened the world to me,” he said. “I wanted to give back to the university.”