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ODU Classmates' Friendship in the 1970s Was Genesis for Highly Successful Business Partnership

It was a very different Old Dominion University campus that Ed Pence and Roger Stroud drove to in the evenings for their master's program studies almost four decades ago.

The year was 1973, and the two young engineers worked for different firms in the community, learning tricks of the trade from some of the best structural engineering instructors in the region, like the late Dick Bigelow, the first chairman of ODU's civil and environmental engineering department.

"We didn't know each other, but started ending up in the same classes," Pence said. "Going to school at night, working full time, that's a long process, trying to get a graduate degree at night. I remember what Hampton Boulevard and ODU looked like in 1973. It was basically a commuter school at the time."

Nearly 40 years later, Pence and Stroud can't believe the change in their graduate school alma mater. Not only that, the company they formed in 1979 after meeting at ODU - Stroud, Pence & Associates Ltd. - has played a huge role in the transformation of the campus.

The company is the structural engineer of record for many of the new and renovated buildings constructed on campus in the last three decades, including the Ted Constant Convocation Center, Constant Hall, the Student Recreation Center and the E.V. Williams Engineering & Computational Sciences Building.

In fact, Stroud, Pence & Associates is one of the largest pure structural engineering firms in the State of Virginia, with offices in Virginia Beach and Richmond, as well as Raleigh, N.C. The firm counts the Virginia Air & Space Center in Hampton, the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia Beach and hundreds of other buildings around the region and the state among its achievements.

And it all started with casual, friendly conversations during breaks in evening classes at Old Dominion.

"It was probably about 90 percent serendipity, being at the right place at the right time. I'd like to say we planned it," Stroud said with a smile.

Both men always intended to go into business for themselves at some point, but were a little daunted at first.

"The economy was not real great in the early '70s, especially. Interest rates were 18 percent. It wasn't a great time to be in a consulting business. So we kind of communicated for a couple of years thereafter," Pence said.

"Since we had not worked together, we had to decide how it was going to work. I went to work for him in the fall of 1977. And the idea was, if our working relationship is good and things turn out OK (we would form a partnership)."

Fifteen months later, on Jan. 1, 1979, the corporation was launched, and the small local firm evolved over the next several years into a regional firm of 50 employees with projects throughout the East Coast. "It all just kind of clicked for us," Pence said.

Things have changed dramatically in the more than 30 years the company has been in operation. Pence said the firm initially freehand-drafted engineering blueprints and typed letters with carbon paper when they started out.

Now the company uses state-of-the-art technology in an effort to build the most efficient buildings possible. But Stroud said the interesting thing is their principles haven't wavered from day one.

"I think a good engineer has always been someone who will make safe, long-lasting buildings that will conserve materials as long as they possibly can. I think there's more incentive to do that today, but if we do our charge, that's what we've always intended to do," he said.

Another common thread in their experience is that the two men - and the company - retain very close connections to ODU.

"I think our experience at Old Dominion has been tremendously important," Stroud said. "We were fortunate to study under some of the best structural engineering professors in the country. But since then we've drawn students from there for new employees, and as interns occasionally. We've even used some of the ODU professors as consultants on special projects when we felt like we needed their particular expertise.

"We've worked very closely with Old Dominion University over the years, and it's been a real asset to us."

Pence said he feels incredible pride in his graduate school alma mater when he's back on campus, especially since his firm has played such an active role in its growth.

"It's phenomenal to see," Pence said. "It was a commuter campus that was on the rough part of Hampton Boulevard when we were there. It's now a world-class university, in my view."

This article was posted on: February 15, 2011

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