Virginia Tech President Tim Sands announced a $15 million gift from the A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation, the largest scholarship gift ever made to the university.

The gift endows the foundation’s signature A. James Clark Scholars Program, which provides students with a full-tuition scholarship and a holistic approach to engineering education.

A. James Clark Scholars will pursue rigorous engineering and construction coursework, take at least two business classes, volunteer in community service activities, and participate in enrichment seminars and events with leaders in the field. This fall’s inaugural class of 10 students from the College of Engineering and the Myers-Lawson School of Construction will grow to 40 in-state students by 2020.

“We’re profoundly grateful to the A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation for this extraordinary gift,” Sands said. “The foundation’s work to open doors and equip talented students to address the world’s problems strongly supports our vision as a global land-grant university. This is an important new partnership and a powerful statement about the value of college access, inclusion, and diversity.”

The foundation was started by the late A. James Clark, who built Maryland-based Clark Construction Group into one of the nation’s leading construction companies.

“Mr. Clark never forgot that his dream of becoming an engineer was made possible by a generous scholarship; he otherwise would not have been able to attend college,” said Joe Del Guercio, president and CEO of the foundation. “He believed in eliminating financial barriers so promising students could achieve their full potential. Virginia Tech’s efforts to ensure access and affordability are in keeping with Mr. Clark’s vision. We are proud to partner with Virginia Tech, a leader in engineering and construction education.”

Under the leadership of A. James Clark, who passed away in 2015, the Clark Construction Group transformed the Washington, D.C., landscape, building the Verizon Center, the World Bank Headquarters, and the National Museum for African American History and Culture, among many other buildings. Clark Construction also built the Virginia Tech Research Center – Arlington.

As part of Virginia Tech’s campus-wide initiative to increase access and double enrollment among underrepresented minorities by 2022, the university will provide additional funding to ensure that Clark Scholars attend tuition-free and have their room, board, and fees covered. The Beyond Boundaries Scholars program, championed by President Sands, has a similar aim. It was launched last year, and is supporting more than 130 students this fall.

“If I did not receive the Clark Scholarship, I do not think I would be able to go to Virginia Tech,” said Ricabelle Pagara, of Alexandria, Virginia, a building construction major. “It’s very important to me and my family. Due to our financial situation, I would have probably just gone to a community college. This scholarship is not just helping financially; it’s helping me pursue an education and reach my goals in life.”

The Virginia Tech Clark Scholars participated in a Summer Bridge program and will have the support of mentors throughout their undergraduate studies. Academic achievement, leadership experience, community involvement, and financial need, particularly among students from underrepresented communities, are among the key criteria for selecting Clark Scholars at Virginia Tech.

Richard Cotman graduated near the top of his class at An Achievable Dream Academy in Newport News. In addition to excelling academically, he was a peer tutor and served as a youth leader in a civic organization that engaged youth and community leaders to address inner-city challenges.

“I’ve always liked helping people,” said Cotman, a general engineering major. “In the neighborhood that I was in, I felt like that’s what my community needed. People needed peers with a positive attitude. I’m extremely excited to come to Virginia Tech and be part of this special group. This is what I dreamed about in high school.”

The first Clark Scholars are:

  • Richard Cotman, of Newport News
  • Xueming (Erica) He, of Virginia Beach
  • Nefetari Heath, of Roanoke
  • Clemence Hidalgo, of Newport News
  • Trent Kinney, of Newport News
  • Makenzi Moore, of Midlothian
  • Ricabelle Pagara, of Alexandria
  • Mia Taylor, of Manassas
  • Julio Villarroel, of Falls Church
  • Ezekiel Volk, of Hampton

“The promising talent and broad perspectives of our Clark Scholars make the university a better place,” said Clark Scholars faculty liaison Sheila Carter-Tod, an associate professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and director of curricular and pedagogical development for the university’s College Access Collaborative. “They have all demonstrated a drive to overcome obstacles and improve their communities.”

The Clark Foundation made its gift in June, capping a record-setting fiscal year for fundraising at Virginia Tech – $162.28 million in new gifts and commitments were received.

The A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation, formerly the Clark Charitable Foundation, invests in hard workers with a drive to achieve. The foundation seeks out grantees that build practical, immediate, and concrete connections between effort and opportunity, with a focus on education and community investments across the Washington, D.C., metro area; engineering education; and veteran-reintegration programs.

The foundation is also supporting Clark Scholars engineering scholarships at The George Washington University, Johns Hopkins University, and Vanderbilt University.

Written by Rich Polikoff