B.S., Aerospace Engineering, Virginia Tech, 1958
Norris Mitchell’s transition from country boy to real estate mogul found its way through Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering. He spent his freshman year at Lynchburg College, and decided aeronautical engineering was for him. He transferred to Virginia Tech, and was able to secure a co-operative education appointment with the U.S. Navy at Patuxent River, Maryland. As he enjoyed his work experience with the Navy during the winter and summer quarters, he considered becoming a pilot, then settled on an engineering career involving missiles and rockets. He excelled in his coursework, with inductions into a few of the University’s honor societies, and served on the Honor Court Investigation Committee.
At the time of his graduation in 1958, Sputnik I had just orbited the Earth, and the space race was on. Everyone in his aerospace class was getting four or five job offers, and he elected to travel 3,000 miles across the country to join Douglas Aircraft of Long Beach, California. He spent two years on aircraft development and then moved to its space division. In 1960, he was transferred back East to Charlotte, N.C., where he labored behind locked doors performing classified work. While there, he served as the chief of the aerodynamics program, and worked on a number of proposals for peripheral parts of the space program. In 1966 he was transferred to the Washington, D.C. office of Douglas Aircraft.
Mr. Mitchell later became one of about 25 scientists and engineers engaged in a think tank with the Research Analysis Corporation, performing weapon system analysis studies for the U.S. Army after leaving Douglas. During this time, the Vietnam War was also raging, and Mitchell’s efforts were mostly devoted to air defense projects. Among his projects, he worked on the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System, now considered the world’s most advanced air and missile defense system. Eventually, a private company acquired the Research Analysis Corporation, and Mitchell relocated to Science Applications International Corporation, today called SAIC.
In 1968 Mr. Mitchell had a desire to move into the real estate market and, with friends, purchased his first apartment building. He spent five years combining his full time job the real estate. Along the way, Mr. Mitchell and a group of local Northern Virginia businessmen founded Virginia Commerce Bank, a commercial bank that has now grown to a $2.9 billion institution with 28 Northern Virginia branches. Mr. Mitchell is currently one of the two remaining founders on the bank’s board of directors.
An avid Hokie, Mr. Mitchell says he has always had “an infinity” for Virginia Tech. He has given back many times over, establishing the Mitchell Professorship in aerospace and ocean engineering and a scholarship endowment. He is a charter member of the University’s Ut Prosim Society.