Member of the Cornerstone Society
Michael Russell (Engr ’87) knows the importance of a strong foundation. He is the chief executive officer of H. J. Russell & Company, an Atlanta-based firm built by his father that provides construction, real estate development, and property management services. Russell's company managed the construction of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons. H. J. Russell also helped build two UVA Health facilities: the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center and the hospital expansion.
It's a strong foundation that Russell will provide to Black students with his support for scholarships at the School of Engineering and Applied Science. “I want my scholarships to give diverse students who otherwise couldn't come to UVA the opportunity to be a part of the fabric of the institution,” he said. “I hope their UVA experience provides a foundation—the launching pad, if you will—to do bigger and better things with their lives.”
Russell, who is also vice chair of Concessions International, first established his scholarship fund in 2007 through the Ridley Scholarship Program. He recently made plans to provide additional scholarship support through his estate. Russell is quick to note that a diverse University has reciprocal benefits. “It makes the person stronger, and it makes the institution stronger. I want Black students to experience UVA and for UVA to experience them.”
“I hope their UVA experience provides a foundation—the launching pad, if you will—to do bigger and better things with their lives.”
Michael Russell is chief executive officer of H. J. Russell & Company and vice chair of Concessions International. H. J. Russell & Company has provided construction management for large-scale projects across the country, including the DFW International Airport Terminal and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, pictured above.
When he returns to Grounds, Russell likes to take in the ways the space has changed. “I'm in the construction and real estate business,” he said, “so it's always fascinating to see how UVA continues to evolve.”
Although he has an appreciation for the large and tangible, it's the less quantifiable aspects of his UVA experience that Russell values most. “It's the relationships and those experiences you continue to build with the people you met that to me are most impactful,” he said. One way Russell stays connected to his UVA friends is by regularly attending Black Alumni Weekend. “I think it speaks well to UVA and it speaks well to the experience of Black alumni that we still engage at that level,” he said of the biennial gatherings.
Russell has also given his time and expertise to the University. He has served on the College Foundation Board, the Engineering Foundation Board, and the Health Foundation Board. “I like trying to give back and add value as I'm older and wiser,” he said.
One of Russell's two sons, Michael Russell Jr. (Batten ’16), also graduated from UVA. The elder Russell sees more similarities than differences in their UVA experiences. Russell Jr. stays connected to the University by attending Virginia Club of New York events and returning for Black Alumni Weekend.
Russell hopes the future engineering students his scholarship will support will have similarly connected and full experiences on Grounds. “My hope is that they enjoy the journey like I did and embrace the environment, the relationships, and the learning—embrace the University in its fullness and be willing to experience all its diverse offerings.”