Altria Group Inc. has donated an additional $500,000 to Virginia Tech’s Presidential Scholarship Initiative, bringing the total company contribution to $1 million.

The initiative provides full tuition, fees, room, and board annually 
to dozens of in-state students from low-income families.

The Richmond, Virginia, based company’s latest gift follows a $500,000 donation in 2014.

“The Presidential Scholarship Initiative helps connect talented ‘Gen1s’ – those who are the first in their families to attend college – with high-quality college opportunities,” said Kathryn Fessler, director of corporate citizenship at Altria. “As a Fortune 200 company based in Virginia, we see that keeping our most promising students close-by is good for Altria, for the commonwealth, and for other companies doing business here. We’re proud to partner with Virginia Tech to support these talented students.”

The Presidential Scholarship Initiative was created in 2008 to help keep Virginia Tech accessible to high-achieving students regardless of family income. It targets first-generation students in particular. In 2016, the program was expanded to help more than 80 incoming students a year, up from 55. Overall, 272 students were in the program at the start of the fall 2017 term.

Virginia Tech has set a goal of doubling underrepresented minority enrollment by 2022. Fueled by philanthropy, programs like the Presidential Scholarship Initiative, the Beyond Boundaries Scholars initiative, the InclusiveVT Excellence Scholarship, and the recently announced A. James Clark Scholars Program help the university’s recruiting among underrepresented communities.

“The leadership and vision demonstrated by Altria’s support of Virginia Tech’s Presidential Scholars Initiative is extraordinary,” said Menah Pratt-Clarke, the university’s vice president for strategic affairs and vice provost for inclusion and diversity. “It reflects their recognition of the importance of corporate giving to promote inclusion and diversity in higher education within Virginia.”

“This scholarship has meant so much,” said Presidential Scholarship Initiative beneficiary Felicia Haynes, of Portsmouth, a senior majoring in accounting and information systems within the Pamplin College of Business. “My background isn’t the best, financially, so getting it was the only way I could come to this school.”

Haynes said the Presidential Scholarship Initiative not only brought her to Virginia Tech, it allowed her to maximize her education by participating in extracurricular programs. She is on the executive board of the university’s American Red Cross Club, is treasurer of the Virginia Tech chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants, and studied abroad in the Dominican Republic this past summer.


felecia haynes
Virginia Tech Senior Felicia Haynes (accounting and information systems ’18)

During her first year on campus, Haynes participated in the mentoring program run through the Presidential Scholarship Initiative, which paired her with a junior from her hometown. She said that experience helped tie her into her university from the start.

“Virginia Tech is the friendliest place I’ve ever been,” Haynes said. “That really helped me to break out of my comfort zone and explore new experiences.”

Haynes and other Presidential Scholarship Initiative students recently met on campus with representatives of Altria, including several alumni who work at the company. Brian Timana, of Manassas, was among several first-year students at the event.

“Learning about donations like this one – the belief that a company is showing by supporting you – is great motivation,” said Timana, who was still deciding on a major within Pamplin. “This scholarship has opened a gateway for me. Now, I don’t have to worry about having a job while in college and can stay more in focus and explore clubs and other learning opportunities outside of class. I’m so thankful for this opportunity.”

Jennifer Brown coordinates the Presidential Scholarship Initiative’s enrichment programming as director of the Virginia Tech Student Success Center. Along with financial aid, President Scholarship Initiative students benefit from a special orientation and tailored academic support. They also participate in social and community building activities as a group.

“In this program we expect our students to be actively engaged in the Virginia Tech community and to find ways to give back themselves,” Brown said. “The program transforms the lives of students and their families, which in turn may transform communities.”

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