About three dozen community college students from all corners of the state traveled to Richmond last month to learn more about the prestigious scholarships they had recently received and meet some of the people who had made those scholarships possible.
Members of the 8th class of Valley Proteins Fellows were joined by their peers from the 5th class of Potomac Health Foundation Fellows. New to this year’s orientation gathering were Fellows from the inaugural class of the Ben and Betty Davenport Institute for Early Childhood Development and Inova Health System.
“It was the ongoing success of the Valley Proteins program that enabled us to create the other three fellowship programs,” said Dr. Jennifer Gentry, executive director of the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education which administers the scholarships. “Corporate citizens from across Virginia were watching and when they saw what we were accomplishing, all of the good that we were doing, they wanted to jump in because like us, they believe these students are our future and we want them to succeed.”
Since it was created in 2010, the Valley Proteins Fellows program has helped dozens of second-year students finish community college and prepare for their next challenge, be it to transfer to a four-year institution or jump directly into the workforce with an associate degree in hand.
Were it not for these scholarships and the donors who helped create them, some members of this group of Fellows would likely have been forced to abandon their community college experience altogether. Just last year, a Wisconsin Hope Lab survey found that a substantial percentage of community college students nationally experience food insecurity. “A lot of our students and their families just don’t have the resources to pay for a college education,” Gentry observed.
Savanna Gwynn, who’s a second-year student at Patrick Henry Community College and one of this year’s recipients of the Davenport Institute scholarship, describes herself as a “full-time mom and a full-time student.” Resources are stretched thin in her household and opportunities are “limited” where she lives in Russell County. “This (scholarship) has given me the opportunity to achieve my dream. Without it, I just don’t see myself finishing and bettering myself because my children come first,” Gwynn said.
For Lisa Mullins, who’s also a working mother, becoming a Davenport fellow meant she could continue her community college experience at Virginia Western uninterrupted. “I don’t have to struggle. I don’t have to look for the money to pay for the books, the tuition and the things I might need,” she noted.
For Alisha Reakoff, who’s a student at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown and a part-time firefighter, being selected as an Inova Health System Fellow came as an unexpected but welcomed surprise. “Not only is the financial portion of the scholarship an immense relief but, the opportunity to network and meet other like-minded individuals is almost more exciting to me than the financial part of it.”
After orientation, the Fellows were treated to dinner and later, a theatrical production of West Side Story. The following day, they visited the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts where they immersed themselves in the Napoleon Exhibit. Then it was time to head back home and finish the job the Fellows had already started – community college completion. This time, though, they would be imbued with a renewed sense of optimism and determination, thanks to the philanthropic efforts of others who are equally determined to see them succeed.
The Fellows Program is an innovative, statewide initiative with a mission to help promising, second-year students enrolled at Virginia’s Community Colleges pursue their academic and career success. In addition to financial support, the Fellows Program provides recipients with mentoring, coaching, networking opportunities and leadership development activities.
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