For Mark Armstrong, higher learning helps people confront the most fundamental ethical question.

How should one live?

“While no discipline pretends to have the complete answer to this question, English studies confronts students with approaches to think about the well-being and destinies of individuals and communities,” said Armstrong, a senior instructor in the Virginia Tech Department of English. “This discipline teaches the productive arts of critical and persuasive writing, and it teaches various strategies of practical reasoning.”

Armstrong wants to help provide more students with the opportunity to address complex issues through the Department of English.

To support this vision, he and his family recently established the Armstrong Endowed English Scholarship through the Armstrong Family Foundation.

The fund, managed by the Virginia Tech Foundation, will provide scholarship support for undergraduates majoring in any academic discipline within the English department.

Armstrong, who joined Virginia Tech in 1995, said his experience in higher education differs greatly from the path many students face today.

“I attended college in the 1970s when state governments supported public education at levels approaching 50 percent of the cost,” Armstrong said. “To help pay for my education, I worked for the food service for four years on campus, loading trucks and boxcars my first two summers. During that time, I bought a veneer-clipping machine to cut veneer for drawer bottoms at night for several major furniture manufacturers. That business continued for my third summer. In my final summer I bought an inlay machine and made furniture with my brother. I graduated debt-free.”

Armstrong said few students now have the opportunities that he had, given the decline in public funding for schools and a stagnant minimum wage for the past several decades.

“My family sees this scholarship as a way to help students be less burdened with the cost of an excellent education,” he said.

An educator for 43 years, Armstrong said perhaps his greatest joy “has been working with such wonderful students at Virginia Tech.”

Armstrong was part of a team that developed the Professional and Technical Writing Program in the English department. His grant-writing course has a service-learning component.

“My students have helped nonprofits in tasks ranging from funding animal rescue programs to advising a group considering creating a county museum in central Virginia,” he said.

During his time at Virginia Tech, Armstrong has earned a university service award for teaching medical writing in Tanzania, a Department of English teaching award, and a university technology award for helping to create an online technical writing course.

“The Armstrong Endowed English Scholarship exemplifies the generosity of spirit of the department’s faculty and alumni,” said Rebecca Weaver-Hightower, chair of the English department. “We are grateful for the Armstrong family support. This award will allow us to attract top professional and technical writing students to our nationally known program.”

Written by Andrew Adkins