Tom Winters '86 found his passion for industrial engineering while completing a co-op with IBM during his junior year at Virginia Tech. He started taking industrial engineering classes and learned the science behind optimizing business and manufacturing processes, cementing his excitement in the field.

Winters spent the first 15 years of his career with Procter & Gamble. He later held various high-level roles at PepsiCo, including senior vice president of supply chain and vice president for Gatorade, Quaker, Tropicana, and Pepsi operations. Currently, Winters is the chief supply chain officer for Flowers Foods, one of the largest baking companies in the United States.

Over the years, Winters’ fascination for industrial engineering has evolved from focusing on personal success to giving back to the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) through volunteering, providing industry insight, and endowing a scholarship.

“Giving back has given my wife, Shauna, and me an indescribable feeling. The best part has been watching others flourish,” Tom Winters said.  

The IBM impact

Winters’ IBM co-op played a pivotal role in shaping his engineering journey. After a visit to the company’s Manassas, Virginia, office to learn more about its three engineering groups, he was drawn to the industrial engineering team, especially seeing how it improved and shortened IBM’s business practices through cost accounting, process control, and optimization. The allure of what the industrial engineering professionals were accomplishing ignited his newfound enthusiasm. 

After switching his major to industrial engineering and operations research late in his junior year, Winters kept busy his senior year to stay on track. He also stayed involved in extracurricular activities such as the American Institute of Industrial Engineers and the social fraternity Alpha Tau Omega.

Winters admits that for over 25 years following graduation, although he was a proud Hokie, he was not an engaged one. The more he volunteered with the department, the more he realized that simply keeping up with Virginia Tech sports wasn’t enough. Finding and sharing his passion within ISE led him to be more involved, ultimately making a difference in students’ lives.

Opening doors

One of Winters’ proudest achievements has been establishing an endowed scholarship for ISE students. Through this gift, Tom and Shauna Winters have had the opportunity to meet and impact the lives of five exceptional students thus far.

Since the couple endowed the scholarship in 2018, Eileen Van Aken, now the department head for ISE, has provided opportunities for them to meet their recipients at advisory board dinners and formal events. Even when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Tom and Shauna Winters continued to engage with the scholarship recipients through Zoom meet-and-greets. These enriching experiences have allowed the couple to witness the students’ growth firsthand, leaving a lasting impression and reinforcing their commitment to giving back.

Tom Winters remembers the heartwarming moment meeting their first two scholarship recipients at Van Aken’s house during an advisory board dinner. 

“Shauna and I were emotional meeting these powerful young ladies. When we envisioned who would receive our scholarship, it was students like them — students who were smart, accomplished, engaging, and confident,” Winters said.

Tom Winters (far left), Shauna Winters, and their scholarship recipient Marah Ghanem sit together at the ISE Academy of Distinguished Alumni induction dinner.
(From left) Tom Winters, scholarship recipient Marah Ghanem, and Shauna Winters sit together at the ISE Academy of Distinguished Alumni induction dinner. Photo by Jordi Shelton for Virginia Tech.

This year, Winters was inducted into the ISE Academy of Distinguished Alumni. While in Blacksburg for his induction, Tom and Shauna Winters had the opportunity to meet their fifth scholarship recipient, Marah Ghanem '23, and her parents at Ghanem’s senior design presentation. Tom Winters said meeting the parents of such a driven student took the experience to a whole new level. And Ghanem enjoyed getting to know the couple and adding them to her support system.

“This scholarship has not only been financially supportive, but gave me a sense of moral support in achieving my dream at Virginia Tech. Being recognized by Mr. Winters has allowed me to see myself in him and other highly accomplished Hokies,” Ghanem said.   

Tom and Shauna Winters with the HokieBird.
Tom and Shauna Winters with the HokieBird. Photo courtesy of Tom Winters.

Inspiration behind the gift

When Winters returned to the Blacksburg campus in 2017 for a PepsiCo recruiting trip, he met Van Aken, who was then the department’s interim chair. The interaction sparked his interest in reconnecting with the department, and he agreed to join the ISE advisory board. Being a board member for five years has allowed Winters to understand the department better, follow its progress closely, and provide valuable industry insights. 

In addition to his work on the board, Winters leverages his 35 years of industry experience to review student presentations for the department’s engineering communications course. In his reviews, he ensures that students can effectively communicate their technical analysis, a skill he said helps gain leadership alignment for investment. Each year, Winters also advises a senior design team, providing mentorship by narrowing down their problem statement, formulating their option analysis, and helping them successfully communicate their project.  

Winters credits his wife for instilling in him a genuine sense of pride in helping others — a quality he first noticed when they met as Virginia Tech students. With the university's motto Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) as a foundation, Shauna Winters has set an example for her husband by helping raise money for nonprofits like the Ronald McDonald House Charities, multiple school districts, and Greene County Habitat for Humanity.

Tom Winters urges fellow alumni to find their passion while attending Virginia Tech, as he did during his IBM co-op, and then use their skills after graduation to make a difference for others. He firmly believes that true impact lies in individual connections and the change alumni can make on a personal level.

“Giving back, no matter the scale, has a profound impact on individuals and fosters a sense of unity within the Virginia Tech community,” Winters said. “Each connection made and each life touched is a testament to the power of philanthropy and the lasting impact it can have on future generations of engineers.”

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