Beyond Boundaries Scholars program fuels student success
Initial class of scholars just celebrated commencement.
Daniel Aragon arrived in Blacksburg in 2017 as the first member of his family to attend college. He was also one of the very first Hokies to benefit from a powerful scholarship program that took effect that year.
As a Beyond Boundaries Scholar, Aragon received significant financial aid throughout his four years studying toward a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering.
“It definitely helps you get through,” the native of Caroline County, Virginia, said shortly before graduating in May 2021. “It was very beneficial for me to have.”
The Beyond Boundaries Scholars program was announced in 2016 by university President Tim Sands as a way to help efforts to recruit and retain high-achieving students from a diverse range of backgrounds. The first students to benefit arrived in August 2017.
Diversifying the undergraduate student body is a major Virginia Tech priority, and the Beyond Boundaries Scholars program has been one way the university has made major progress toward this goal in recent years.
This month saw a major milestone for the Beyond Boundaries Scholars program, as dozens of members of the very first class of scholars to enroll were conferred their bachelor’s degrees at Spring Commencement.
More than 100 scholars were due to graduate this past academic year. All eight colleges that enrolled undergraduates when the Beyond Boundaries Scholars program began had at least one scholar scheduled to graduate this past academic year.
In all, more than 330 scholars benefitted from the program this past academic year, thanks to more than $1 million that was donated, all of which was matched dollar-for-dollar by the university, doubling the positive impact for students and their families.
The number of students who will be able to benefit from the Beyond Boundaries Scholars program next year will be determined by how much is donated prior to June 30, when the university’s fiscal year ends.
Nearly 120 households have stepped forward to give so far this fiscal year, and many new donors to the program will actually have the impact of their giving tripled thanks to a $100,000 challenge gift by Preston White ’63 and his wife, Catharine White, which will be applied on top of the university match.
“Helping those in need makes them stronger and Virginia Tech stronger,” Preston White said when announcing his challenge gift in December at an event related to Virginia Tech’s Boundless Impact fundraising campaign. “Remember, it’s not what you keep, but what you pass on that makes you who you are.”
As of late May, the university was closing in on its yearly $1 million fundraising goal for the Beyond Boundaries Scholars program, but opportunities to give in ways that will be matched were still available.
Among the many students from the program’s first cohort who recently graduated was Ciara Summersgill who, like Aragon, was a first-generation college student.
Virginia Tech was Ciara Summersgill’s first choice of universities due to its highly ranked major in water, resources, policy, and management within the College of Natural Resources and Environment.
“I remember sitting down with my mom trying to figure out a way for me to go to Tech,” Summersgill recalled. “Thankfully, with this four-year scholarship, that really made a difference.”
Along with making it possible for her to enroll, Summersgill’s scholarship reduced the hours she had to work to help cover the cost of her education, freeing up time for her to participate in extracurricular activities. These included co-founding the Omicron Chapter of Alpha Sigma Kappa at Virginia Tech, a sorority for women pursuing technical majors; and continuing to run competitively. As a senior, she was women’s distance captain for the Virginia Tech Running Club.
One tradition of the Beyond Boundaries program has been to bring together students and donors for an event during the fall. That tradition was suspended for 2020 due to the pandemic, but Summersgill said she looked back fondly on the gatherings as way of getting to know her fellow scholars and some of the many alumni and friends who support the program.
“Everyone I have met through this program has come from so many different backgrounds, and so many of the students have said that if not for this scholarship they would not be here,” Summersgill said. “Just seeing [the program] evolve into such a big thing was really cool.”
As an out-of-state student from Silver Spring, Maryland, Yohannes Afework said being named a Beyond Boundaries Scholar helped to ensure he could enroll at Virginia Tech.
“Otherwise, it might have been a closed door for my parents and me because, financially, it would have been a little too much, just being out-of-state,” he said.
Afework recently earned his bachelor’s in computational modeling and data analytics from the College of Science. Like Summersgill, he credited his scholarship with freeing up time to pursue interests outside of the classroom. While enrolled, he got involved in the Ethiopian and Eritrean Student Association.
Afework said he deeply appreciates the donors who provided his Beyond Boundaries Scholars funding. Along with their generosity, he said, they’ve “been great mentors to me, been supportive, and kept faith in me. … It’s an opportunity I can’t thank them for enough.”