Students at the Myers-Lawson School of Construction enter a supportive, inclusive culture that feels like family, sometimes quite literally.
Carrying on the family tradition looks different in every home. But for many families, it’s coming to Virginia Tech to be a Hokie — specifically at the Myers-Lawson School of Construction. In the past four years alone, the school has been home to more than a dozen families and five sets of twins.
The family ties that are so integral to Myers-Lawson reflect the construction industry as a whole.
“Many businesses within the industry start out as family owned, and many continue to be run as family ventures,” said Brian Kleiner, Myers-Lawson school director and the Ralph H. Bogle Jr. Professor. “Similarly, the Myers-Lawson school has strived to build and maintain a strong, diverse, and inclusive family culture.”
Named after its founders John Lawson II and A. Ross Myers, the Myers-Lawson School of Construction is dedicated to creating future leaders in construction by bridging the gap between academia and industry. The school recently completed a full transfer into the College of Engineering, and it’s one of only three schools of construction in the United States that offer both engineering and non-engineering construction degrees.
“The industry loves our students,” said Renée Ryan, assistant director of student affairs for the Department of Building Construction within Myers-Lawson. “In fact, Hitt Hall, which is under construction, is a testament to the generosity of our donors who realized that we needed more space to put out more students.”
Hitt Hall, a 100,000-square-foot facility that includes a dining facility, is part of a broader initiative to grow the rapidly expanding school. The building was made possible through many generous donors, including alumni like Myers and Lawson who both sent children back to Virginia Tech and into the construction industry.
Following in their steel-toed footsteps
For Kirsten Leckszas ‘88, a senior project manager at Procon Consulting, Virginia Tech has always been like a second home. She graduated from the building construction (BC) program before the school was created in 2006 and now serves on the school’s building construction subcommittee, where she helps guide the future of BC.
Alek Leckszas ‘14, her oldest son by marriage, was raised around the construction industry but initially came to Virginia Tech as a nanoscience major. After his first semester on campus, he knew he wanted less time behind a desk and more experiential learning opportunities.
In his search for change, Alek met the former construction engineering and management (CEM) program chair, Christine Fiori, who introduced him to the program. Inspired by her passion for the industry, Alek found his match in CEM and changed majors. The switch was a shock to Alek’s family, but they were glad to see him follow in their steel-toed footsteps.
“Everybody thinks that we influenced him, but when he said he met Dr. Fiori, we knew,'' said Kirsten.
While Alek focused on his studies, Kirsten served on the board alongside many of his classmates’ parents. The board prioritized growth, both for the school and in each of the programs and departments within it. Members were focused on strategically taking steps to enhance every aspect of the student and industry experience.
“I felt like there was a real genuine interest in the students, but, in particular, having a kid there was extra special,” said Kirsten.
Generations of memories
Third-generation Hokies Ethan and Kyle Beliveau both majored in building construction. Ethan graduated in 2022, and Kyle is currently finishing his senior year, but their ties to the program go beyond sharing class notes and a Blacksburg apartment. Their grandfather Yvan Beliveau, now a professor emeritus, served as head of the BC department for 15 years. He was a faculty co-founder of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and served as its first director for five years.
It’s a legacy not lost on the brothers. Whenever they walk through the stairwells of Bishop-Favrao Hall, they're able to take a step back in time by viewing decades of class photos hung on display, many of which include their grandfather at the helm.
Despite their family’s deep Hokie heritage, neither brother felt pressure to attend Virginia Tech. They just knew it was where they wanted to be.
“I know Yvan, and I think very similarly to him. If he was the head of this, I thought I would probably succeed in it and enjoy it a lot,” Kyle said.
During their time together as students, the brothers lived together and even interned for the same company — Holder Construction in Northern Virginia. But they leveraged their differences as individuals to develop their professional paths. Ethan found his passion for the industry in the field and Kyle in the office. Now that Ethan has graduated, he has started working full time with Holder.
Creating a supportive atmosphere
For the Mitchell siblings — John, Chris, Mark, and Julia — the maroon and orange runs deep. The Mitchells’ grandfather, mother, father, uncles, and cousins all graduated from Virginia Tech. For one semester, the Mitchell siblings were even all in the school at the same time. The Myers-Lawson construction-specific job fair, held each semester and featuring more than 100 companies, highlighted the family’s deeply entrenched presence.
Mark Mitchell, a building construction junior along with his twin sister, Julia, was walking around the career fair when a representative from William A. Hazel, Inc., stopped him. From Mark’s face alone, the representative could tell that he was part of the Mitchell family. Mark’s older brother, Chris ‘21, who majored in construction engineering and management, also interned for the company.
“Word of mouth is the most sincere form of marketing,” said Ryan. “And even more so because our students are bringing their brothers and sisters into a program that they feel passionate about. I know of no other program on campus where this is happening.”
As more siblings and family members graduate and become part of the workforce, Alek Leckszas says the family atmosphere created within Myers-Lawson holds steadfast after graduation.
“We all stay connected, keeping in touch with each other and encouraging each other,” Alek said. “The family that you create with your friends there in school, you're able to build upon once you get out into the industry.”
Since graduation, Alek has joined the same Industry Advisory Board on which Kirsten continues to serve. While Kirsten focuses on building construction, Alek serves as a young alumni voice on the construction engineering and management subcommittee. The new role has strengthened their familial Hokie bond even further.
“I just feel so lucky. I didn’t give birth to Alek, so it was an awesome connection to kind of relive Virginia Tech through him. It was really special,” Kirsten said.
In May 2021, Kirsten and Alek attended the Myers-Lawson Industry Advisory Board meeting together for the first time.
“It was a cool full circle moment,” Alek said. “With family being on opposite coasts, it is great to come back and get back to the Blacksburg focal point that’s always been a huge part of our family.”
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