As a high school student in Newport News, Erica Corder grew up with dreams of going to college in Manhattan or Los Angeles, but as she was one of three children in her family, that dream proved too pricey.

But Corder’s education at Virginia Tech still landed her the opportunity to learn in a large city and venture far away from where she lived as a teen.

The junior political science and creative writing major studied abroad in London, where she worked in Parliament. Corder has rooted out and reported stories as editor of the Collegiate Times, a student newspaper. In addition, she’ll soon oversee a hyper-local news site devoted to long-form storytelling.

“You think about it and you’re paying so much money for the same education,” she said of her decision to attend a university in Virginia instead of out-of-state. “Education is what you get out of it.”

Corder is a recipient of the McNamara Scholarship within the University Honors program, which she credits with landing her at Virginia Tech and making numerous learning opportunities possible for her.

“I wouldn’t have been able to attend Virginia Tech had I not gotten the scholarship,” she said. “It really did change my life.”

Her scholarship was established with a gift from Don and Joan McNamara, of Dallas, Texas. They created it to provide significant assistance to students from middle-income families who are in the University Honors program and may not quality for other aid.

Such students “are often a group that doesn’t qualify for much, if any, financial aid, yet family contributions toward college are not always that high,” said Christina McIntyre, interim director of University Honors.

That was the case for Corder, who said scholarships for families like hers aren’t common, but she still needed help paying for school.

“I have two brothers and I have a family that’s working class; we’re definitely by no means rich,” she said. “The fact that I was able to get a scholarship intended for middle-income students was something I couldn’t find elsewhere.”

Corder said she is grateful that, in addition to the many opportunities she’s had while studying at Virginia Tech, she’ll graduate without the burden of excessive debt.

“It would have been overwhelming to enter the world with that much debt,” she said. “Having the scholarship has allowed me to get an education without completely submerging myself in student loans.”

Corder is one of 10 McNamara scholarship recipients for the 2015–2016 school year. Like her, other recipients of the scholarship say it has enlivened and enriched their learning.

“I’m an out-of-state student, so obviously I would not able to attend Virginia Tech without the scholarship,” said senior Hannah Toutkoushian, of Athens, Georgia. “It’s also given me flexibility in terms of what I’m able to do.”

The biochemistry major said she’s been able to work in a microbiology lab studying a proteolytic enyzme. During the summer of 2015, Toutkoushian studied how ribosomes select messenger RNA; dysfunctional ribosomes have been implicated in several developmental disorders.

She hopes to enter a doctoral program in biochemistry and continue research, perhaps running her own lab eventually.

“I would say that where I am right now as a student and researcher is mostly due to the fact I was able to attend Virginia Tech,” Toutkoushian said. “That wouldn’t have been possible without the McNamara Scholarship.”

Written by Annie McCallum