Alumni James “J.” and Renae Pearson, of Lavonia, Georgia, have endowed a faculty position to support the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.

Their gift creates the James A. and Renae C. Pearson Collegiate Faculty Fellowship, which is tied to the department’s Kohl Agribusiness Centre, a visionary experiential learning program named after Virginia Tech Professor Emeritus Dave Kohl, one of J. Pearson’s life-long role models and mentors.

The position is designed to bring someone with both industry and academic experience into the classroom to engage students in thinking beyond individual classes and degree requirements. Using this model, they can explore opportunities that have the potential to impact agribusinesses and entire industries.

“The lessons I learned from Dr. Kohl and other faculty in the department have been invaluable to me in my life and career,” said J. Pearson, an ’87 agribusiness management graduate who went on to establish Carry-On Trailer, which became the largest trailer manufacturer in the world. “I want to see the department and its future graduates continue to thrive, and this gift is just one way I can help make that happen.”

J. Pearson sold Carry-On Trailer in 2010 and is now the managing director of a private equity firm he co-founded in 2013. He serves a number of roles within the university, including being a professor of practice in the agricultural and applied economics department. Both J. and Renae Pearson, who earned her bachelor's in family and child development in 1990, have been highly engaged and committed alumni of the department, the university, and the Corps of Cadets, where they both served.

“J. and Renae have been long-time champions for our agribusiness management program at Virginia Tech,” said Alan Grant, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “They repeatedly demonstrate what the spirit of giving back truly means through their actions, generous financial support, and ongoing engagement with our college and university.”

Agricultural and applied economics Department Head Matt Holt said, “J.’s role in our department is highly valued, not only as a generous donor, but as a tireless advocate for our students and faculty and as an important conduit between us and the private sector. He appreciates the importance of integrating traditional teaching with experience-based learning, which is what the position he and Renae have endowed is designed for.”

J. Pearson and applied economics faculty envision the gift expanding opportunities for Virginia Tech students as well as elevating an already highly successful agribusiness program through increased instruction and expanded course options, as well as internship and job opportunities.

In keeping with the spirit of Kohl, a prolific entrepreneur and proponent of academic-industry networks, the position is designed to engage with external stakeholders to facilitate experiential learning.

Agribusiness students move into careers in food, fiber, and energy, some of the largest industries in the world.

Not only will this gift benefit these students, but by enhancing the agribusiness program, Virginia Tech has an opportunity to make a significant impact well beyond its Blacksburg campus – an impact that will likely last for generations.


- Written by Jillian Broadwell

Share this story