The Cranwell family has spent decades supporting Virginia Tech's diverse and vibrant international student population, and their legacy continues with transformative generosity totaling $7 million to benefit Cranwell International Center. This represents the largest giving in the history of Student Affairs.

This record-setting generosity developed from Bill Cranwell’s '57 desire to contribute to the university's Boundless Impact campaign in support of international students. After he and his wife, Ellen, made a record commitment to the center, they encouraged their family members to join them. Cranwell's brother, Bob Cranwell '60, and sister-in-law Susie Cranwell answered the call and soon joined in with a significant gift of their own.

The family’s philanthropy positions Cranwell International Center to expand the depth and breadth of its institutional impact through the development and implementation of a wide range of initiatives. These initiatives are designed to support international students while also advancing the development of global and intercultural competence in all students. Currently, the center supports over 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 100 countries.

Cranwell family gifts have already enhanced several current initiatives, including the Global Fellow in Residence Program, pre-departure programs in China, the International Street Fair, and a range of intercultural training and assessment programs using the Intercultural Development Inventory and the Global Competence Aptitude Assessment. The funds will also be used to enhance the welcoming environment in the center's Mozaiko Living-Learning Community, which connects international and domestic students in a diverse community to learn about each other’s culture, immerse themselves in language practice, and prepare for a lifetime of intercultural leadership.

“We are incredibly grateful for the Cranwell family's generosity to Cranwell International Center and Student Affairs,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. “Their dedication to the university’s international students is meaningful to all of us. International students enrich our community with unique perspectives, enhance research and teaching, and help Virginia Tech prepare the next generation of world leaders who will work across language, culture, and borders to solve shared global challenges."

Recent initiatives made possible by the family’s generosity include the center's new program development grants. Launching in fall 2021, the grants will support initiatives from student organizations, living-learning programs, and departments that have a significant impact on the international student experience and/or on the development of intercultural competence in Virginia Tech community members. One of the family's gifts will also endow a full scholarship for as many as five years of study, to benefit one undergraduate international student at a time. This scholarship, which will be funded in perpetuity, is intended to expand access to college and ensure that the recipients can focus on their college experience.

The Cranwell family's long connection to the center began with the Cranwell brothers attending Virginia Tech in the late 1950s. When Bill learned of the tragic death of an international student during a winter break, he was greatly affected. This planted the seed for him to think about how he and fellow Hokies could do more to create a campus environment for international students that felt like a home away from home. This began a lifelong dedication to the international student population at Virginia Tech.

"Our family wants international students to know how valued they are by the entire Hokie community," said Bill Cranwell, speaking on behalf of the family. "Their contributions to Virginia Tech help make our university and the Southwest Virginia region the special place that it is. These gifts represent our family's promise to international students that the university is committed to building a welcoming community where they can thrive."

Bill Cranwell's family generously donated its home to the university in 1986, when the international student population was just over 1,100. For nearly 30 years, the home served as a nexus on campus for students to connect over events often centered on home-cooked meals and provided a community gathering space where students could unwind. Today, the legacy of this welcoming environment remains embedded in Cranwell International Center’s mission and programming.

"I'm inspired by the Cranwell family's decades-long commitment to Virginia Tech's international students," said Frank Shushok, vice president for student affairs. "The Cranwell family has been instrumental in shaping the Hokie community's core message to the international students we serve: you are welcome here and you belong here."

The family's ongoing investment in international students is particularly important right now. As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic rippled across campus and affected every member of our community, the international student population faced unique challenges.

"The Cranwell family's care for and dedication to international students is remarkable. Without their extraordinary support, our center would not be what it is, and that has been especially clear during the COVID-19 crisis," said David Clubb, the director of Cranwell International Center. “These gifts will allow us to accelerate the advancement of a holistic model for international student support and success that is rooted in our vision of building lifelong relationships with our students. The Cranwell family's support not only benefits our international students and the entire university campus, but their generosity also has a global reach and impact.”

"The center's support makes it feel like someone at Virginia Tech cares about us," said Jianuo Huang '20, a master's degree student in mechanical engineering from Wuhan, China, who has been involved closely with the center since he came to Blacksburg as an undergraduate. "The team spends a lot of effort making Virginia Tech a second home for all international students. Their team reacted quickly before COVID-19 reached the U.S. based on what they were hearing from students. We felt heard — and proud of their fast reaction."

Cranwell International Center recently participated in the International Student Barometer, a survey that rates the quality of the experiences that international students have at over 200 institutions around the world. While international students generally had a high affinity for Virginia Tech, the area they highlighted as most in need of improvement was the initial arrival to campus. The Cranwell family’s gifts will have a tangible impact on the center’s ability to provide support for international students during the transition to college. Additionally, the entire Virginia Tech community can be partners in welcoming international students.

"It takes time to adjust to life in the United States and deal with culture shock," said Kabyl Oxikbayev '21, a civil engineering major from Almaty, Kazakhstan, who served as president of the Council of International Student Organizations during the 2020-21 academic year. "Other Hokies can help ease the transition by having an open mind and engaging in conversation if they are curious about international classmates. It makes us feel more included."

As Cranwell International Center looks to the future, its team looks forward to continuing to advocate for the growing population of international students and continuing to make connections with all Virginia Tech students. Whatever changes come to the center, the Cranwell family's record-setting generosity will be what made it all possible.

"Our family is committed to supporting Virginia Tech's international student population and finding new ways to connect international and domestic students," Bill Cranwell said. "We know that to thrive in our interconnected world, we need to prioritize learning from one another and being curious about others' experiences and cultures. We are proud of the work that Cranwell International Center is doing to advocate for international students and to highlight the value they bring to the Hokie Nation."

Written by Lindsey R. Gleason

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