Director of Sustainability Denny Cochrane, who has bonds to Virginia Tech as strong as Hokie Stone, will retire from the university on July 1.

For the past 55 years, Cochrane has been a proud Hokie – as an undergraduate in the Corps of Cadets, a cadet leader in the U.S. Army, a campus administrator, and as a sustainability champion.

Public service and building enduring connections with others - especially students - have been uniting forces throughout his career. In reflecting on his career, one thing stands out. “It has been all about the people and teamwork,” he said.

U.S. Army

In the Army, Cochrane fostered bonds on a global scale. Prior to retiring as a colonel, he was stationed all over the world, including Germany, South Korea, Hawaii, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. He served with distinction in the Air Defense Artillery and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. 

Cochrane was also stationed at West Point as an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanics teaching thermodynamics to cadets. 

Cochrane’s final duty station was at his alma mater as the department head of the Army ROTC New River Battalion, which encompassed both Virginia Tech and Radford University. He was an active advocate for the Corps of Cadets. Cochrane promoted corps’ leadership and teamwork skill-building initiatives among faculty, staff, students, and parents. He was also a mentor to his cadets and has maintained lifelong relationships with many of them.

2012: Denny Cochrane was invited onto the field at half-time during the Virginia Tech vs. Clemson football game for Military Appreciation Day. Photo provided by Denny Cochrane.

Virginia Tech

In 2000, Cochrane transitioned to civilian life as executive assistant to the dean of the then College of Arts and Sciences. This was the largest college at Virginia Tech. He helped implement organizational changes to support the formation of the new  College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and College of Science from the existing college.

Cochrane would become executive assistant to the vice president for business affairs, interacting with a wide range of university and external stakeholders. In April 2007, he led efforts to establish the university’s first governance group focused on sustainability, the Energy and Sustainability Committee. This would be the first of many Virginia Tech sustainability initiatives in which Cochrane would play a key role.

At Virginia Tech, he remembers every person he has worked with and what they accomplished together in service of others. His commitment to service, community, and humble leadership was demonstrated when 32 Hokie lives were lost on April 16, 2007. Cochrane assumed the role of special assistant to Virginia Tech president Charles Steger and assistant to the director of the office of recovery and support, Jay Poole.

He dedicated himself to the families of those lost on April 16, meeting with them often in the months after the tragedy.

Cochrane helped lead the university’s first remembrance event that August to honor the lives and legacies of the Hokies taken tragically. Thousands of students, employees, friends, and families gathered on the Drillfield in support. 

In September 2007, Cochrane was tasked with starting and leading a new unit to Virginia Tech: the Office of Sustainability. He rolled up his sleeves, researched his new line of work, and identified campus leaders to build the team.

One month later, the new office led Virginia Tech’s first sustainability collaboration with the Town of Blacksburg and the local citizens group Sustainability Blacksburg that launched Sustainability Week. This annual event was recognized at the state level as a model for a town-gown sustainability partnership and received a Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award.   

The following year, Virginia Tech was awarded Tree Campus USA status and charter member by the National Arbor Day Foundation. Courtesy of a grant from Toyota North America, 100 trees were planted on the Blacksburg campus to celebrate the achievement during Sustainability Week 2008.

In December 2007, Cochrane mentored a passionate group of students who presented to President Steger a request to sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. A uniquely Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment would ultimately be developed by the Energy and Sustainability Committee and it was unanimously approved by the Board of Visitors in 2009. Its original tenets still offer a lasting foundation for the 2020 Climate Action Commitment catalyzing sustainable change at Virginia Tech today. 

2019: Tim and Laura Sands, Denny Cochrane, and students learn proper tree planting techniques at the Grove. Photo by Sarah Myers for Virginia Tech.

“The true embodiment of what it means to be a Hokie, Denny Cochrane is truly a cheerleader for the university community. He is the first to share messages of support for his colleagues and their work with a heartfelt ‘Bingo!’ His positive spirit and dedication to others have made an enormous impact on our division, on sustainability at Virginia Tech, and the university at large,” said Chris Kiwus, vice president for campus planning, infrastructure, and facilities. 

Over the past 14 years under Cochrane’s leadership, the Office of Sustainability has advanced environmental stewardship at Virginia Tech in countless ways. Delivering sustainability engagement opportunities for students, including the award-winning internship program, and the Green RFP program, which has provided university funding for the implementation of 110 student-generated campus sustainability projects over the past decade, are just a couple of highlights.

The university’s continued recognition as a national leader in sustainability can be attributed in large part to the office’s efforts. Virginia Tech’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) Gold rating, Tree Campus USA certification (13 consecutive years), and Princeton Review top 50 Green Colleges status (11 consecutive years) reflect Virginia Tech’s dedication to the environment.

“Denny's commitment to partnership building and sustainability were key ingredients in advancing both the 2009 and 2020 Climate Action Commitments. His work bettering the university and the world we live in is what our motto, Ut Prosim, is about,” said John Randolph, senior faculty fellow for climate action.

How will he be spending his retirement? Cochrane is looking forward to spending time with his family — and quite a few visits to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

Stop by to wish Denny Cochrane well in his retirement between 2-4 p.m. on Wednesday, July 21, in the Latham Ballroom A at The Inn at Virginia Tech. All are welcome. 


Denny Cochrane displays his Dollywood goodies. Photo by Sarah Myers for Virginia Tech.
Denny Cochrane at Dollywood, a special place for his family. Photo provided by Denny Cochrane.
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