Three converging factors - an inspiring upbringing, longstanding respect for his MBA alma mater and awareness of the national context - have led Thomas R. Watjen (MBA '81), of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, to pledge $1 million to the University of Virginia Darden School of Business to create an endowed fellowship for military students. The Edward A. Watjen Military Fellowship Fund will benefit select students in any of the three formats of the MBA program while honoring the donor's late father, a World War II veteran who was himself a recipient of financial support following the war.
"I have always felt strongly about making sure that Darden continues to attract the very best leaders," said Tom Watjen, who has for many years supported funds for Darden military students, including the Yellow Ribbon Fund and the Darden Military Scholarship Fund, and been involved with the Darden Military Association. "With so many high-quality military members returning home from Afghanistan and elsewhere amidst a weak economy, there has never been a more important time to invest in our veterans. I am very fortunate to be in a position to do so."
Watjen has served since 2003 as president and CEO of Unum Group, a Fortune 250 company that provides employee benefits in the United States and abroad. He holds a bachelor's degree in economics from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). At both Darden and VMI, he benefited from scholarship support.
Throughout his upbringing, Watjen said he was always inspired by his father's powerful example.
The first in his family to graduate from college, Edward Watjen served in the U.S. Navy as an aircraft mechanic and obtained his bachelor's degree after returning from the war. He went on to become an engineer.
"This fellowship at Darden is symbolic of everything for which my father stood," Tom Watjen said.
"As the son of immigrants, he started with very little, and everything he got he achieved through hard work."
Watjen's commitment joins other gifts to the Darden Military Initiative, which aims to make the School the premier MBA program of choice for exceptional current and former military officers.
"Students with military backgrounds enrich our community in unique ways, and many personify the highly effective, principled leadership that Darden is so intent on developing," said Darden's Dean Bob Bruner. "The Edward A. Watjen Military Fellowship Fund will help enormously in our goal of seeking excellent students from the ranks of the military."