Michael Quillen to receive Virginia Tech’s highest honor
By Brian Snell
In honor of his decades of dedication to his alma mater, leadership in the energy industry, and service to his community in the spirit of Ut Prosim, Michael Quillen ’70, ’71 will be awarded the Virginia Tech William H. Ruffner Medal for 2020.
The Ruffner Medal is the university’s highest honor. Quillen, a resident of Bristol, Virginia, will be recognized for his achievements during the spring 2020 University Commencement Ceremony.
“Being named a Ruffner Medal recipient by Virginia Tech is one of the most significant recognitions I have ever received,” said Quillen. “As a proud member of the Class of 1970, to receive this honor in our 50th anniversary year makes it even more special.”
Industrious and hardworking from an early age, Quillen got his first job in his early teens, doing weeding and groundskeeping in a cemetery owned by his grandfather in Gate City, Virginia. It was around the same age that Quillen developed his interest in engineering, which would guide the trajectory of much of the rest of his life.
Quillen earned his bachelor’s in civil engineering from Virginia Tech in 1970, followed by his master’s in 1971. He earned money for tuition by working with the Virginia Department of Highways to help build the four-lane road that now runs through Gate City. He put his education to good use in the energy industry, where he worked in roles of progressive responsibility with both private and public companies over four decades.
Quillen founded Alpha Natural Resources in 2002 and served as the company’s first CEO, guiding it through rapid expansion fueled by a series of acquisitions. Under his leadership over the next 10 years, Alpha Natural Resources grew into a Fortune 500 company with 13,000 employees. During that time, Quillen developed a reputation for compassion and dedication to Alpha Natural Resources’ workforce. He retired as chairman of the company’s board of directors in 2012.
Quillen continues to consult in the energy sector and to serve on the boards of several leading firms, including Martin Marietta Materials. He is deeply engaged in promoting the economic prosperity of Virginia. As a chairman for the Go Virginia economic development initiative, he is responsible for Region One, which spans the counties of Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise, and Wythe. He currently serves as chairman of the Virginia Energy Advisory Council, is a past chairman of the Virginia Port Authority Board of Commissioners, and co-chaired an $8 million capital campaign for the historic Barter Theatre in Abingdon.
Quillen has contributed to the growth and success of Virginia Tech for decades. He was a member of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors from 2010-2018, serving as rector in 2013 and 2014, and chairing the finance and building and grounds committees during his tenure. He has served on the advisory boards of the College of Engineering, the Virginia Tech Foundation, the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, the Virginia Tech Athletic Association, and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and on the advisory board of the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research.
Quillen is on the steering committee of Boundless Impact: The Campaign for Virginia Tech, and serves on the Class of 1970 50th Reunion Committee. Along with his wife, Deborah, he is a member of the President’s Circle within Ut Prosim Society of Virginia Tech’s most-generous donors. They are also members of the university’s 1872, Legacy, and Pylon societies of donors.
Quillen was named College of Engineering Distinguished Alumnus for 2006 and elected to the Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Academy of Distinguished Alumni in 2008. He is a member of the College of Engineering Committee of 100, and has a daughter, two sons, three stepchildren, and 15 grandchildren.