Jim and Pam Penny: Four decades of giving back
Their gift to the Global Business and Analytics Complex is the most recent in a long history of philanthropy
Jim and Pam Penny have helped the university advance toward completing the Global Business and Analytics Complex with their recent commitment of $500,000 to the initiative, helping to bring the total raised to more than $40 million.
As part of the university's six year capital outlay plan, the complex, often referred to as GBAC, will be known for delivering an innovative educational model that keeps pace with the digital revolution through talent production and transdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate research, fueling the pipeline to key economic regions. Comprised of two academic buildings and two living and learning communities, GBAC is the catalyst to secure the university's position as a world leader in data analytics and decision sciences.
The Data and Decision Sciences Building is the first of the two academic structures. Opening this fall, the 120,000 gross-square-foot building serves students and faculty from the College of Engineering, College of Science, and the Pamplin College of Business.
With its first transdisciplinary building bringing together colleges to directly support the Commonwealth’s Technology Talent Investment Program, made possible by the commonwealth, the creation of the Data and Decision Sciences Building is expected to be a transformational moment at Virginia Tech.
As the Pennys make this leadership commitment to GBAC, they describe their gift as inviting and encouraging others to provide financial support to Virginia Tech.
“We hope that our gift will motivate others to do the same,” said Jim Penny. “It’s not a hard thing to do, to give back to an incredible university.”
Four decades of giving back
The Pennys, who recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, have contributed to their alma maters since graduating. Jim Penny earned his Virginia Tech bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1977 and a law degree from the College of William & Mary in 1983. Pam Penny earned her bachelor’s in business administration from William & Mary in 1977.
“Giving back, it’s amazing how much it grows over time,” added Pam Penny. “Both Jim and I received a high-quality education, and we want other people to have that same opportunity.”
The education referenced by Pam Penny ultimately led to their marriage, as Jim and Pam met in the office, much like another “Jim and Pam” in popular culture.
After graduating from Virginia Tech, Jim Penny began working in Roanoke at the accounting firm Peat Marwick Mitchell & Co., a predecessor to KPMG. After a few years, Jim Penny transferred to the firm’s Norfolk office just as Pam Penny was joining that same office after moving from rival accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand.
Their burgeoning careers would eventually take the couple to Houston, Texas, where Jim Penny practiced as a tax attorney at Vinson & Elkins for over 30 years, finally retiring in 2015. Pam Penny followed suit shortly after, retiring from her role as executive vice president and chief accounting officer of HCC Insurance Holdings Inc. in 2016.
Upon retirement, the couple moved back to Virginia and settled down in an 18th century home in Williamsburg, near the William & Mary campus.
Spreading the wealth
For the Pennys, to spread the wealth does not just mean to share their financial resources with their respective alma maters, rather, it also means to support various diverse philanthropic interests and initiatives.
At Virginia Tech, the couple established the James D. Penny Scholarship and the James D. Penny Accounting Excellence Fund. They have also supported the Konrad W. Kubin Senior Faculty Fellowship in Accounting and Information Systems, the Wayne E. Leininger Fellowship in Accounting and Information Systems, the Williamsburg Alumni Scholarship, the Hokie Scholarship Fund, and the Moss Arts Center, which features the Penny Box Office. The Pennys are members of the university’s Ut Prosim Society and Pylon Society of donors.
The Pennys’ philanthropy to William & Mary is just as extensive, supporting several endowments and initiatives, including Pam Penny’s service as a charter member of the Society of 1918, which works to encourage, inspire, and celebrate women in leadership roles.
“I want other students to have the same opportunity as Jim and I had,” said Pam Penny. “That is why we have supported different scholarships, professorships, and capital projects. It's a cross-section of things that we support, but they all go back to helping students.”
“We had such a wonderful bargain in our respective educations as far as cost,” added Jim Penny. “Virginia used to be incredibly supportive financially of its universities, and that support has declined significantly over the years. Today, students face a much higher bill for that education, so I think it's important for alumni to give back and help today’s students be able to afford their educations.”
The Data and Decision Sciences Building and the entire Global Business and Analytics Complex are designed to foster collaboration, especially among the colleges of business, engineering, and science. Along with classrooms and faculty and graduate student offices for the three colleges, the Data and Decision Sciences Building includes specialized labs, dozens of student team rooms, and visualization spaces.
The building will also connect to the second academic building in GBAC, where the Pamplin College of Business will be fully relocated. The new business building is currently under design per Board of Visistors approval in April 2022. Also under design are two living-learning communities anticipated to be built in the proposed Student Life Village, which, upon their completion, will bring to life the full vision of the GBAC initiative.
“I’m excited about the way the GBAC project supports President [Tim] Sands’ vision to have various disciplines learning together,” Jim Penny said. “This is exactly what happens in business, where people from various disciplines come together and make decisions to move the business forward. It is incredibly perceptive of President Sands to move the university in this direction. It will be an immense help to today’s students and that’s something I want to support.”
The complex is one of the top fundraising priorities of Boundless Impact: The Campaign for Virginia Tech. Major fundraising is ongoing to help bring the full vision of the project to fruition. To date, the GBAC is the largest private capital fundraising initiative in Virginia Tech's history. GBAC will be built through a blend of state funding tied to the Amazon HQ2 initiative, philanthropy, and university financing for the living-learning communities.
“The team approach to education at Virginia Tech is perfect,” added Pam Penny. “You can't get a stronger education than that. If you can develop that approach when you're in college, you can do most anything as you move forward in life.”