Tracey Beck and his two daughters stood in the heat of a June afternoon. Like many of those gathered around the downtown market square, they donned their masks and stayed physically distant from others while taking part in a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally in Lake Forest, Illinois.

At his older daughter’s urging, Beck, a 1987 alumnus who majored in political science and economics at Virginia Tech, attended the rally. He shared his daughters’ deep-seated interest in advocating for diversity and equity. Together, they listened to the experiences of neighbors who faced discrimination in their lives, and heard the struggles of those within their community and the larger Chicago area. And it moved them.

The occasion only strengthened the Beck family’s desire to do something in their personal lives to help advance diversity and inclusion. To foster this desire, Tracey Beck, his wife, Kathy, and their daughters, Lauren and Alexandra, have established the Beck Family Endowed Scholarship in the Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences to help provide educational opportunities for underrepresented students.

“Simply put, I believe in the power of education,” said Beck, vice president and chief counsel for marketing and government affairs at Conagra Brands. “It’s a great equalizer. As we think about social justice and trying to further a more equitable society, education is so foundational, and ensuring that everyone has equal access to it is essential. If you overlay that with the mission of land-grant institutions like Virginia Tech to provide quality higher education for the greater population, there’s just a natural synergy and connection in my mind to inclusion and diversity.”

Beck added that the major events of the past year, from the pandemic to the death of George Floyd, highlighted ongoing systemic issues and inequities in the United States. For Beck’s family, these events reinforced the critical need for student diversity from underrepresented populations.

As a member of the Dean’s Roundtable of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Beck felt the time was right for his family to make a scholarship gift to help those who might not otherwise have access to higher education.

“All the tremendous work I have the privilege of being exposed to through the Dean’s Roundtable solidified our desire to support those efforts,” Beck said, noting that he appreciated Dean Laura Belmonte’s placing such a high priority on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Beck, who holds a juris doctorate from the University of Virginia Law School, believes diversity comes in many shapes and forms. Growing up on a family farm in Augusta County in Virginia, he said he was fortunate to be the son of two college graduates, and both his father and older brother also graduated from Virginia Tech. Many from rural areas do not have the same opportunities or support, and Beck said he could imagine the scholarship going to first-generation students from a rural area.

“If someone from a rural background has a particular ethnicity or other underserved space that the college wants to attract to create a more representative student population to enhance the learning environment, that to me would be win-win. I truly want to give the college the flexibility to think holistically and look for students from as many diverse backgrounds and experiences as possible.”

Beck’s participation in the university as an alumnus also extends beyond the Dean’s Roundtable. He is active with alumni chapters and a diversity focus group in the college. He is also a member of the William Preston Society, which includes past Board of Visitors members and presidents of the university.

During his senior year at Virginia Tech, Beck was the undergraduate representative to the Board of Visitors. Through that experience, he learned not only how the university operates, but also how its mission has a profound impact on students, faculty and staff members, and the broader community. He said that experience strengthened his advocacy for Virginia Tech.

“For Virginia Tech graduates,” Beck said, “the years that we spent there hold such a special place within us. And while you may not fully appreciate it as a student, the whole notion of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) becomes embedded in the fabric of who you are as a person throughout your life. And that translates into how you want to give back in some capacity.”

And now he and his family are doing just that with the onset of this new scholarship, which will be offered beginning in the fall of 2021.

“We are so grateful to the Beck family for their advocacy of inclusion and diversity,” said Laura Belmonte, the college’s dean. “Their scholarship will help create a new generation of students who will bring a range of backgrounds to the university.” 

Written by Leslie King