An Extraordinary Opportunity for Talented Students with Financial Need
Jessica Blackwood wanted to do more than just get a good grade on the two-year research project she developed as part of her studies at the Governor's School of Southside Virginia. She wanted to help her younger brother Carson, a basketball-loving teen whose left foot was amputated years before.
So Blackwood persuaded high-school classmates to work with her to design a prosthetic foot that offers greater range of motion than the one her brother uses.
Fast forward to the present. The Meherrin, Va., native recently began studying biology at Virginia Tech. She plans to become a neurosurgeon. She still views education as a tool to use on behalf of others.
"I've always wanted to try to help people in the biggest way that I can," Blackwood says.
Virginia Tech officials have launched an ambitious program to make it easier for students like Blackwood reach their extraordinary potential.
For qualifying in-state students, the Presidential Scholarship Initiative is designed to complement all other aid options to make a Virginia Tech education available at no cost.
The university plans to award up to 50 scholarships through the initiative to undergraduates each year. To renew their scholarships students must maintain an adequate grade point average (GPA).
Private contributions are essential to allow the program to grow to serve up to 200 students a year by 2012.
"These are incredibly talented students who want to be part of our Hokie Nation but can’t afford to do so, so I think it's one of the greatest opportunities for giving to the university," says Virginia Tech Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Kevin McDonald, who helped devise the program and is leading the fundraising effort.
While deciding which of the nearly 600 candidates to select, officials weighed each candidate's financial situation, high school GPA, family size, whether they came from a single parent household, and whether their parents had gone to college.
The average GPA of the 49 students receiving scholarships this year is 3.85. The group averaged about 1,150 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.
These are students that any school would be delighted to have, and the Presidential Scholarship Initiative increases the odds that they will choose Virginia Tech over other schools that might offer more financial aid, McDonald says.
It is also expected that the Presidential Scholarship Initiative will help Virginia Tech maintain a diverse student body by addressing the financial challenge higher education often poses for students from groups that are underrepresented at the university.
Students in the program are expected to participate in social and community-building activities. An academic support program that includes faculty mentoring has been set up for them.
The Presidential Scholarship Initiative was announced in June 2008, but its first students arrived on campus in August 2009. They are a talented, excited, and grateful segment of the Class of 2013.
Blackwood says she's thrilled to be coming to Virginia Tech and hopes supporters of the program that helped her to do so understand that "they're going to make a huge difference in someone's life and probably make someone's dreams come true -- [someone] who couldn’t do it all on their own right now."