While growing up on a farm in King George, Virginia, Brian Plum learned agricultural practices and applied sciences through the Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension. That experience helped him gain a deep connection with Virginia Tech and a respect for higher education, both of which are at the heart of his new role as associate director of development at the Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.
Although Plum began his employment with the university as Virginia Tech’s first leadership gifts officer, a position he held in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, joining the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences taps into his own interest in liberal arts. Both of his degrees — a bachelor’s from Longwood University and a master’s from George Mason University — are in history.
“I want to give back to the university that was so important to my family,” Plum said. “I also want to give back to liberal arts because my background in history has helped me understand the world.”
Plum gained further insights from a stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala.
“The Peace Corps helped open my eyes to the impact that higher education can have on the world,” he said. “Here we take learning for granted, but in many places around the world, people desperately want an education. In the village where I served, people worked all week to save up for classes on the weekend.”
Although Plum’s assignment was to teach agricultural practices to Guatemalans, he realized he needed to have a rapport with the villagers before they would trust him enough to implement his lessons. History helped him understand their culture and the implications of their past, which involved 30 years of warfare.
By the time Plum left the Peace Corps, he had refined the ability to connect with others. He became a community organizer, starting with the Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together, in Charlottesville, where he raised a budget of more than $140,000.
Then he went to work with Together Colorado and created a regional recruitment effort that drew in 15,000 new members. He also advocated for the Colorado Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow legislation, a law allowing eligible undocumented students to pay in-state tuition and receive a stipend that defrays some of their educational expenses when they attend a participating Colorado public college.
Then, to be closer to his roots, Plum and his wife moved back to Virginia to raise a family. Emily Wong, a friend from Plum’s Peace Corps days and now the associate director of major gifts at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, suggested that with his background he would do well in advancement at Virginia Tech. He joined the university in 2016.
In his new role, Plum continues to build relationships for the university.
“We hired Brian because of his dedication to liberal arts and his passion for higher education,” said Daniel Cleveland, assistant dean of advancement at the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “With his talent for forging meaningful, long-lasting connections, we’re confident he can make a real difference here.”
Plum looks forward to working with both donors and prospective donors to make a major impact for students and faculty.
“I want to align people’s philanthropy with their passions,” he said, “and help them feel the fulfillment of transformational giving.”
Written by Leslie King and photographed by Tim Skiles