The Pylons. The Drillfield. Burruss Hall. These are just some of the iconic spots on Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus that come to mind for Hokies around the world when they picture campus. Student Affairs looks forward to a new spot joining the list of must-see campus attractions: the Quillen Family Spirit Plaza.

The Spirit Plaza is made possible by a $2 million gift from three siblings of the Quillen family: Chris Quillen ’98 and his wife Jennifer, Hunter Quillen Gresham, and Matt Quillen '06 and his wife Kelsey. The gift is one of the largest outright gifts in the history of Student Affairs

The Spirit Plaza will be located in the area outside Dietrick Hall that faces Washington Street. It will transform and modernize a central campus gathering place that connects residential spaces to Athletics via Dietrick Lawn. The plaza will be a location for special events, including potential pep rallies, and will continue to be an integral part of everyday living, learning, and playing on campus. 

“Dietrick Hall is a destination for almost every student, summer conference guest, and visitor to Virginia Tech,” said Frank Shushok Jr., vice president for student affairs. “In so many ways, Dietrick is our front porch — a place where we greet old friends, gather new ones, and step out toward endless possibilities. The new plaza will be a poignant articulation of our compelling history, our contagious spirit, and our far-reaching hospitality, signaling welcome to all. To see this come to fruition because of private philanthropic support from such a special family is both humbling and inspiring.”

Five members of the Quillen family dressed in formal wear smile at Matt and Kelsey Quillen's wedding.
Members of the Quillen family in spring 2016. From left to right: Kelsey and Matt (youngest sibling), Hunter (middle sibling), and Chris (eldest sibling) and Jennifer.

The family's Hokie connections run deep, beginning in the 1930s when the Quillen siblings' paternal grandfather, Hicklen B. "Jack" Quillen Jr. '40, attended Virginia Tech. The siblings' parents, Michael J. Quillen '70 and Sherwood P. Quillen '71, shared their love for the university with their children.

The three Quillen siblings all have many happy childhood memories of traveling from their small hometown of Gate City, Virginia, to Lane Stadium for football games. In addition to imparting abundant school spirit, their parents also demonstrated the importance of philanthropy. 

"Our parents instilled the value of generosity in us," said Chris Quillen, who graduated in 1998 with a degree in business from Pamplin College of Business. "The three of us were looking for ways to make a gift together, and our interests in Athletics and Student Affairs merged with the Spirit Plaza project."  While a student, Chris was a track and field athlete and also served with the German Club.

While the current area in front of Dietrick Hall is widely used, the planned renovations will expand the available usable space, infuse more elements that build on the school spirit atmosphere, and help foster social interaction and collaboration. Ideas include incorporating more brand elements throughout the plaza; building stadium seat walls; incorporating new accessible pathways, seating, a sloped lawn, landscape beds, outdoor seating, and tables; and adding a HokieBird statue for photo opportunities. 

The Spirit Plaza is part of a larger renovation project to Dietrick Hall that includes a variety of interior improvements – a new Urban Market dining venue, upgrades to Deet’s and DXpress, and enclosing the first-floor overhang to capture nearly 200 additional seats.

A detailed rendering of the planned changes for the Spirit Plaza.
The site plan showing some of the key elements of the planned renovations to Dietrick Hall and the new Spirit Plaza.

Hunter Quillen Gresham may not have attended Virginia Tech, choosing a different shade of orange as a 1998 graduate of the University of Tennessee, but she's a Hokie through and through. After spending more than 18 years of her career at Virginia Tech, the majority of it dedicated to Student Affairs, she's likely clocked more hours on campus than the rest of her family combined. For years, along with her family, she's watched the campus and region transform into a very different looking place than her grandfather and parents knew while they were enrolled.

"We're excited to be a part of a dynamic new place on campus that people can connect to," Gresham said. "Virginia Tech has been a huge part of our lives, from our childhood to gathering together from across three states as adults with our respective families at football games."

The Spirit Plaza is a project years in the making and is targeted to break ground at the end of 2021. The Quillen siblings are looking forward to being a part of this unique place on campus. They hope it becomes another must-see part of campus that creates the same kind of lasting memories they share for generations of Hokies to come. 

"We have been working to make this idea a reality for over five years," said Ted Faulkner, assistant vice president for dining, housing, and student centers. "I am so touched that three siblings with deep connections to Virginia Tech saw the positive impact and importance this space can have for the institution and made the choice to model Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) with this gift."

The three Quillen siblings smile as they gather outside Lane Stadium.
The Quillen siblings outside Lane Stadium in fall 1999. Left to right: Matt, Hunter, and Chris.

Matt Quillen knows the power of an exciting space on campus. He graduated in 2006 with a degree in horticulture from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, but his time at Virginia Tech was also marked by a three-year stint as a HokieBird. He helped rev up packed stands at Lane Stadium and away games, sometimes throwing in a bit of crowd surfing. He's excited to introduce the next generation of his family to Hokie traditions.

"I'm looking forward to showing my son all of it," said Matt. "We spent so much time there as kids. The three of us have always wanted to give back to Tech. I think if you can help make a positive difference, you should. " 

The timing of the family's gift was intentional. They wanted to contribute to Boundless Impact: The Campaign for Virginia Tech and they hoped it inspires others to give as well. Their generosity has already inspired many around campus who look forward to using the revitalized space each day, and on game days.

"Hokies worldwide know that electric feeling of campus buzzing on game day," said Whit Babcock, director of athletics. "The Spirit Plaza is a new space that will help us generate even more excitement in the days leading up to games. Knowing that three die-hard Hokies wanted to make this happen is thrilling to us."

And on those game days, you might spot the Quillen siblings and their families on campus, cheering on the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Written by Lindsey R. Gleason

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