Gift from alumnus and family to help tackle the challenge of environmental security
July 1, 2020
Alumnus Mike Melo (’79 B.S.) has crafted a career defined by the Virginia Tech motto Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) and built a company based on the “In the Arena” philosophy espoused by Theodore Roosevelt for making the world a better place.
Through their ongoing engagement and a recent $500,000 gift to the college, Melo and his wife and business partner, Kathy Gravely Melo, are working to ensure that Virginia Tech will be ready to take on what may be the next great challenge in the sustainable management of natural resources: environmental security, the proactive management of environmental and natural resources risks to ensure a secure, stable, and sustainable human ecosystem.
Melo offers a unique perspective on this emerging field. His father gave him the text of Theodore Roosevelt’s “In the Arena” speech when he was 12 years old, and the president’s words have shaped his approach — first to life and then to business — ever since. Following graduation, Melo served in the U.S. Navy and then started a company — ITA International, named in admiration of Roosevelt’s speech and philosophy — that provides integrated global support services for the U.S. departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
The Melos’ gift is helping bring one of these ideas to fruition by providing discretionary resources to aid Virginia Tech and the college in pursuing a school of environmental security in the greater Washington, D.C., metro area. Dean Paul Winistorfer views this as a natural evolution of the college’s successful graduate program housed in the region’s Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability.
Melo, the inaugural chair of the Dean’s Advisory Council, said, “With the research that CNRE is doing in sustainability, remote sensing, weather, water, forestry, geography, big data, and many other pertinent areas, it is the perfect college to address the issues of environmental security.” He points to the water: resources, policy, and management degree in particular as a great example of the interdisciplinary approach that is needed and how the college has been able to execute.
A donation by the Melos has already been used to convene an Environmental Security Forum held in April 2019, where representatives of government and industry, as well as Virginia Tech academic leaders and faculty, met to kick off a conversation about operationalizing data for evidence-based decision making in relation to environmental issues.
Melo hopes that the ideas generated and the connections made at the forum will be the beginnings of a research agenda for the creation of the school. Winistorfer indicated that environmental security has not traditionally been an area of study for natural resources programs. However, researchers, educators, and industry professionals are now realizing how fundamental natural resources are to security issues.
“As we become more globally connected and resources become more valuable, security issues will surely become more obvious,” Winistorfer said. “Our faculty do work that is data intensive, and they are modeling, predicting, and working to solve big problems by operationalizing data for decision making. The Melos’ gift will allow the college and campus to focus on an area that may lead to recognition in the national context.”
The forum and the recent gift are just the first steps in moving this agenda forward. Mike and Kathy Melo are also interested in further engagement with Virginia Tech and the college through internships and career opportunities through their company. Ultimately, this effort will allow the college and Virginia Tech to get in on what Melo describes as the “ground floor” in terms of defining the field of environmental security and preparing the leaders who will operate in this arena.
Winistorfer also envisions the future benefits of the Melos’ vision and generosity: “What humbles me the most is the Melos’ willingness to share their resources with us, to provide them at our discretion, and to work with us on a grand vision that, if successful, will be a major programmatic initiative for Virginia Tech that begins in the Washington, D.C., area but reaches around the globe.”
This vision also rings true with Melo, who continues to take his inspiration from Theodore Roosevelt. “In the Arena” is exactly where Mike Melo says he wants his company and the College of Natural Resources and Environment to be.