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So much more than money: How scholarships are helping Tech students make their mark

A scholarship can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. For parents and guardians, it can be a weight lifted. For students, it’s a powerful motivational tool. For donors, it can be a way to leave a legacy after a successful career or to extend a helping hand to those who have the drive, but not the means, to chase down that dream career.

Shawn Ball and Tech student Leland SwaffordShawn Ball and Tech student Leland Swafford.

For students like Leland Swafford, a sophomore psychology major from Beckley, West Virginia, a scholarship is a launch pad for a career that benefits others.

Swafford wants to be a counselor and work with those in need of guidance and advice. And since both his parents are social workers, looking out for others is in his blood.

"I got into this field because, all through school, people have come to me for help, and it drives me to continue helping people,” he said.

He’s attending Tech thanks in part to a scholarship provided by Shawn Ball, owner of L&S Toyota in Beckley.

Swafford was able to meet with Ball at a special event during Homecoming.

"He wrote an incredible essay and I found out that he was going to Tech," said Ball. “He really stood out and I wanted to help.”

Ball and his wife Angela have been supporters of WVU Tech since the University announced its purchase of the Beckley campus. Beyond the scholarship for Swafford, the two have established more than $150,000 in scholarships for engineering and nursing students alike.

"The community is driving this. Tech came into my town and we need this to do well. I want this school and these students to do well here. Hopefully, that success will trickle into the rest of the community and be a really strong foundation for this town,” said Ball.

"One of my favorite things about Tech is that these students are going to get jobs, and that's important,” said Ball. “If you give a scholarship to a student like Leland so that they can make that happen, it's worth it.”

Swafford agreed.

"For some kids, it's not easy to get money for school,” he said in a message to Ball. "You've helped me out through a lot so far, and I wanted to thank you for that. It helped because it lets me do what I actually need to do.”

For donors like Bob DeHart, giving is a way to help students follow in their own path.

DeHart is a graduate of the class of 1972. He went on to earn his master’s at Texas A&M and built a successful career as an electrical engineer in the petrochemical and oil and gas industry. Now retired, he and his wife live in Boone, North Carolina.

The couple recently set up a scholarship for deserving engineering students as a measure of thanks to the school that DeHart says set him up for a great career.

"I'm thankful I got a degree from Tech,” he said. “It prepared me well for my master's, for my career and for what I did in life. I'm grateful for that. I feel very blessed to have had an opportunity to get a degree here and it's been very, very rewarding.” 

DeHart said he feels lucky to have the opportunity to pay it forward.

"It's a way to give back. I think our nation depends on bright young, capable students that can carry forward what previous generations have done. Education is the key to the future, and this is one small way we can give back,” he said.

Because of the support of people like DeHart and Ball, there are many bright and capable students earning their degree at Tech.

Tech student Julia PetersonNursing major Julia Peterson.

That includes students like Julia Peterson, a sophomore nursing major who was among 21 students who recently pledged their time and talents to caring for their communities in a special white coat ceremony.   

Peterson was born in Minnesota and moved to Mount Hope, West Virginia just over seven years ago. Now she’s earning her degree at Tech on a scholarship provided by the Carter Family Foundation.

"It helps a lot. It minimizes the hours you have to work on top of school. It minimizes the amount of loans that you have to take out, so it helps you get through without getting yourself in a ton of debt or getting overworked,” she said.

But beyond mere finances, Peterson said the award is helping her follow her passion – and she’ll be able to take that passion anywhere in the world.

"I've always liked helping people. That's a common answer for nurses, I think, but I truly like helping people and, ultimately, I want to be able to take nursing and go overseas to help where I can,” she said.

For students like Philip McKee, a sophomore computer science student from Buckhannon, West Virginia, it’s also a badge of honor. He’s working through his degree with the help of the Marjorie A. Poland Scholarship, which was established to West Virginia residents.

“It drives me because I need to keep up my grades to make sure I can keep affording college,” he said. “It’s also a great reward. You work hard, and to be recognized like that is rewarding and it’s extremely helpful as a motivator.”

When he’s done with school, he’s sees a world of options ahead of him.

Tech student Philip McKeeWVU Tech student Philip McKee.

"I was thinking about going to work for the government in Maryland after I get my degree, maybe doing work with the NSA or in computer security. Or I could make it big with the tech companies out in California,” he said. “I just know that I’ll be able to do what I want.”

Scholarships impact parents, too. Roberta Barley is from Beckley, West Virginia. Her oldest son Caleb is a mechanical engineering major, a wrestler and a member of numerous student organizations.

"We explored other universities and colleges, but when he visited Tech, that was a fit for him. He knew right away that this was where he was going to go to school,” said Barley.

She said that the family was thrilled to hear that he was awarded the Nelson Endowed Scholarship for engineering students. 

"It helps us because it gives him a little more independence. He's earned this on his own and can be proud of it,” she said.

Barley said that having someone else believe in her son’s potential was touching.

"I think it shows the community that these donors are behind the students here at Tech. Tech is a community. Everyone knows everybody, and they care about each other. That includes the people who support the students here,” she said.

View photos from our Homecoming scholarship luncheon on Flickr, and be sure to check out our video featuring this story’s scholarship recipients on our YouTube channel: 


If you’re interested in supporting a scholarship, today’s the perfect day to do so. Check out WVU Tech’s Day of Giving page  to find out more.

Interested in starting a scholarship fund? Contact Stephanie Allard, WVU Tech’s director of development at 304.929.1403.