Moraco Challenge positions the College of Engineering to create lasting support for recruiting and retaining top talent
With the $1 million commitment, Tony and Cathy Moraco are encouraging their fellow Hokie alumni and donors to boost funding for junior faculty and graduate student fellowships.
Tony Moraco ’82, M.S. ’84 knows a thing or two about the concept of force multiplication. Through an esteemed career with connections to the defense and intelligence communities, including a stint as the CEO of SAIC, he has long held an interest in amplifying output and increasing potential.
So when Moraco and his wife, Cathy, were ready to commit $1 million to Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, they wanted to do so in a way that not only supported the college’s strategic initiatives, but also multiplied their gift’s impact.
The Moraco Challenge seeks to do just that — and aims to create up to 20 endowed fellowships for engineering faculty and graduate students. The initiative is expected to increase the college's endowment by roughly $4.4 million while creating fellowships that can be awarded quickly at a time of rapid growth.
Through the challenge’s focus on fellowships, the Moracos are encouraging their fellow Hokie alumni and donors to create sustainable streams of funding for junior faculty and graduate student recruitment and retention. These fellowships can play a critical role in bringing the best and brightest in the field of engineering to Virginia Tech, supporting academic advancement and exploration, and keeping quality researchers and instructors at the university.
“As supporters of the college, we have a clear interest in wanting to keep the highest-caliber faculty at Virginia Tech,” said Moraco, who received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering. “These individuals not only generate a quality education for our students, but they’re also building robust research programs and often representing the university to the rest of the world. Being able to augment an early career faculty member’s salary and recognize their potential through a fellowship is an investment that pays real dividends to Virginia Tech’s reputation and funding along with higher-quality experiential learning experiences for the faculty and students.”
And through graduate student fellowships, students are able to receive valuable support to pursue their studies at Virginia Tech while faculty simultaneously benefit from the contributions that high-performing students can bring to their research programs.
So how does the Moraco Challenge work? Typical fellowships require a commitment of $250,000 to endow, but through this challenge, a donor can pledge $200,000, payable over five years. The Moracos then will provide an additional $50,000 in matching dollars to meet the funding requirement for each fellowship. The arrangement also is structured to allow each fellowship to be available to award funds right away, rather than waiting years until the full pledge has been fulfilled.
Such an immediate benefit is crucial during a time when the College of Engineering is growing rapidly and often contending with other institutions to attract and keep the best faculty. The college hired a record 57 faculty members during the 2023 fiscal year hiring cycle, with plans for additional large cohorts in the coming years.
“Like other institutions, we have to compete for top faculty,” said Julia M. Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering. “And when we talk about faculty who are in the early- to mid-career timeframe, that’s often when we’re most vulnerable to losing them. We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to fully support our faculty and provide them with the resources they need to be successful here at Virginia Tech, and fellowships are one important way we can do that.”
Jonathan Boreyko, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, knows the value these fellowships can bring to an early to mid-career professor’s portfolio. As a recipient of the John R. Jones III Faculty Fellowship, he has been able to use those additional funds to get creative in the lab, pursue new research opportunities, and even support graduate students between funding cycles.
“If my students want to pursue an idea that’s not part of an existing funded project, we can do that with this fellowship support,” said Boreyko. “And often, it’s these random side projects that can result in the next big thing — and lead to important external funding down the road.”
Boreyko also said the recognition that comes with a named fellowship can be significant for retaining faculty who might be recruited away from the university. “That recognition demonstrates value,” he said. “And that value is important — it gives you the freedom to do creative research, and it lets you know your work is both supported and rewarded.”
Moraco, who has served on both the college’s advisory board and the Charles E. Via, Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering advisory board, sees the need to support that type of creative, transdisciplinary research, especially as the pace of technological advancement accelerates.
“Likewise, that’s why it was so important to us to accelerate and broaden the impact of this gift to yield real, tangible near-term outcomes for faculty,” said Moraco. “Instead of funding a single fellowship, which we’ve done in the past, we thought, 'How can we get more aggressive?' We hope this approach is doing that by directly supporting multiple faculty and graduate student fellowships while indirectly enhancing the education of the wide range of engineering students at Virginia Tech.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Moraco Challenge and faculty and graduate student fellowships in the College of Engineering, please contact Assistant Dean of Advancement Jeremy Weaver at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-235-6708.