Alumni and friends of Virginia Tech joined university leaders and guests on Friday, Oct. 13, to celebrate the launch of Virginia Tech Advantage, kick off a $500 million fundraising effort for the initiative, and recognize a $10 million gift that will fund scholarships for students.
President Tim Sands announced plans for Virginia Tech Advantage last fall, and the initiative is now a call to action – a multiyear commitment to offer a broad educational experience to undergraduate students from Virginia who have financial need.
“Virginia Tech Advantage supports our land-grant mission and our Beyond Boundaries vision. And it honors the spirit of our guiding principle and motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve),” Sands said. “Today we are calling on Hokies all over the world to join us and help every student succeed.”
At Friday’s event at The Inn at Virginia Tech, Sands welcomed two members of the Hokie community who have already answered this call with a $10 million gift endowing a scholarship in their name. The Preston and Catharine White Endowed Diversity Scholarship was announced Oct. 11 and will eventually help 70 to 80 students each year.
“Preston and Catharine are a shining example of a Hokie family stepping forward in support of the university’s commitment to meet the needs of our students, and we are extremely grateful,” said Sands.
As Preston White took the stage, his favorite song played. Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” offers a message of optimism and human potential, said White, a message that is needed today.
“When President Sands launched Virginia Tech Advantage, Catharine and I thought, ‘How can we help?’ We thought about what people can become with education and training. We encourage other Hokies and Hokie supporters to take this opportunity to make not just a better world, but a ‘wonderful world,'” said White.
Colin Roberts, president of the Class of 2024 and recipient of the Preston and Catharine White Endowed Diversity Scholarship, shared his story and what the scholarship support has meant to him.
“Coming here and finding my sense of place was made easier with the help of the Preston and Catharine White Diversity Scholarship. It made college more affordable, taking a weight off my shoulders – and it was recognition of my hard work,” Roberts said.
He said the financial support gave him the time and opportunity to focus on his studies, participate fully in extracurricular activities, and invest in the resources, books, and technology to be successful.
“For me this is not just financial assistance,” Roberts said. “It is a symbol of my ability to make a meaningful impact on our society through my education and future career. I am committed to making the most of this opportunity and, one day, giving back to the community that has supported me.”
Rachel Holloway, vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs, works closely with strategies, programs, and resources that support the undergraduate educational experience. She explained during Friday’s celebration that the challenges many students may face while pursuing undergraduate education range from insufficient dining dollars and cash at the end of the semester to difficulty covering costs during a summer internship to working long hours to meet their basic needs.
“By changing these dynamics, Virginia Tech Advantage will make a rich and full educational experience a reality for all Virginia students,” said Holloway, who co-chaired a working group that helped to outline the structure of the initiative.
Juan Espinoza, associate vice provost for enrollment management and director of undergraduate admissions, reiterated the need to provide more financial and programmatic support to students.
“Here at Virginia Tech, we are committed to providing life-changing learning experiences that prepare all Hokies to lead fulfilling lives and serve their communities.”
During the next 10 years, the university plans to raise $500 million to support the effort.
From the funds raised, $450 million will support undergraduate scholarships for in-state Pell- and state grant-eligible students. The remaining $50 million will fund student success initiatives, including basic needs, career preparation, transformational learning experiences, and more.
The philanthropic dollars will complement other sources of revenue, including state and federal support and university resources. At scale, Virginia Tech Advantage aims to add $51.5 million per year in need-based gift aid for in-state undergraduates.
The Virginia Tech Advantage fundraising effort is part of Boundless Impact: The Campaign for Virginia Tech, an effort to generate the philanthropic resources that are critical to student success. Virginia Tech Advantage will focus on four support strategies:
Increasing affordability for undergraduate Virginians by increasing financial aid and doubling the size of the Presidential Scholarship Initiative
Increasing support for basic needs, including food assistance through The Market of Virginia Tech and through emergency funds
Increasing resources for career preparation by facilitating paid internships and co-ops, offsetting hidden internship costs, and enhancing advising and mentoring
Increasing resources for transformational learning experiences such as study-abroad, research opportunities, and summer experiences
These strategies were shaped by a steering committee co-chaired by Menah Pratt, vice president for strategic affairs and diversity, and Matt Holt, professor and head of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. The committee and two working groups focused on student experience and financial feasibility deliberated throughout the spring and summer months to arrive at a series of recommendations that university leaders have adopted.
Both Pratt and Holt cited the life-changing impact financial support during college made in their own lives. Both were proud to “pay it forward” through their involvement in Virginia Tech Advantage.
“Approaching my last year, I ran out of money and couldn’t pay tuition,” Pratt said. “I shared my predicament with the director of the [University of Iowa] Honors Program, Professor Sandy Barkan. She loaned me $5,000 and told me to pay her back whenever I could. … It took me some time to pay her back, but I did.”
Holt, a first-generation student who worked part-time throughout college and received Pell grants, spent his summers working. He never considered an internship or other transformational learning experiences that Virginia Tech Advantage will support.
“My perspective was limited and, truthfully, I was scared,” said Holt. “I felt confident I could earn the money I needed by working long hours on the farm or in construction. Even though many years have passed, I believe that many first-generation students face similar concerns and constraints today.”
Pratt and Holt are proud to be part of shaping Virginia Tech Advantage, an initiative that will change the lives of current and future Hokies for generations to come.
For more information about Virginia Tech Advantage and ways to support the fundraising effort, please visit vt.edu/advantage.
Tracy Vosburgh for Virginia Tech