Mia Adlawan and Rami Ghaith share a fascination for how the brain works and a profound sense of gratitude for a powerful scholarship initiative that has helped them and nearly 500 other Virginia Tech Beyond Boundaries Scholars to pursue their dreams since the program started providing financial aid roughly five years ago.

“Like many students here, I’m kind of on my own when it comes to paying for college,” said Adlawan, a first-year-student from Chesapeake, Virginia, who is majoring in neuroscience. “If it wasn’t for this scholarship I’d be in a lot more loan debt. Having the scholarship opened up opportunities for me to have extracurriculars and not constantly be worrying about money and trying to scrape by.”

Adlawan, whose mother and sister are both pharmacists, has long planned to pursue a career in medicine. Adlawan had planned to follow in their sister’s footsteps and attend Virginia Commonwealth University until the chance to become a Beyond Boundaries Scholar emerged.

For Ghaith, becoming a Beyond Boundaries Scholar helped him be first in his family to attend college, which was the case for nearly 60 percent of the 268 scholars enrolled for the 2021-22 academic year.

“At first, my parents were very worried about me going away for college this far from home,” said Ghaith, a computational neuroscience major from Chantilly, Virginia, and member of the Class of 2023. “Now they are extremely proud, and you have no idea how much this scholarship has helped in taking a lot of stress off my shoulders and theirs.”

Virginia Tech President Sands announced the Beyond Boundaries Scholars program in 2016, and the first students to benefit enrolled in August 2017. The program is one way the university is working toward a goal of having 40 percent of its undergraduate student body come from underrepresented or underserved groups.

Over 150 households donated in support of the program during the 2020-21 fiscal year, collectively giving over $1 million, which was matched, dollar for dollar, by the university to double the impact of giving. The university’s fiscal years run from July 1 through June 30.

Fundraising for the Beyond Boundaries Scholars program is ongoing, with qualifying gifts made through June 30 eligible to be matched and start helping students this fall.

Sands highlighted the program’s importance, and thanked those whose generosity makes the program possible, at a recent gathering of donors and scholars. It was the first such gathering since 2019 because of the pandemic.

“Our strategic plan, titled ‘The Virginia Tech Difference – Advancing Beyond Boundaries,’ envisions this university as a global leader in higher education,” Sands said at the event. “To achieve that goal, we must advance our status as the destination for the world’s most talented students. The Beyond Boundaries Scholars program plays a critical role in helping us achieve that objective.”

Cameron Parsons was among many scholars gathered for that event. A native of Virginia Beach, Virginia, he transferred to the university from Tidewater Community College and is on pace to graduate in 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in national security and foreign affairs.

Parsons said the financial aid he receives as a Beyond Boundaries Scholar is “immensely helpful. Virginia Tech offered me the most reasonable financial package of any school that I applied to and was by far the best option. Having worked for much of my life, I understand the value of the gift that has been given to us. It’s difficult to overstate how many hours I would have had to spend working to earn that much myself. … I would not be able to attend school if not for these sorts of [scholarship] resources.”

Visiting the university’s Blacksburg campus through an awareness program called the Black College Institute during the summers following her sophomore and junior years of high school put Virginia Tech on the radar for Ruth Alemu. But it was the Beyond Boundaries Scholars program that helped cement her decision to enroll.

“It just made my decision that much more gratifying and rewarding,” said Alemu, a member of the Class of 2025 who majored in public health, “because if I went anywhere else I wouldn’t have gotten such a chance to focus on my studies with having this support to help me pay for school.”

The Alexandria, Virginia, native said the chance to meet Beyond Boundaries Scholars donors at the recent gathering was “super inspiring. It was cool to see how so many of them were Virginia Tech alums themselves and to hear their experience and what Tech has made possible for them. They are not only still involved with the school, but are helping out so generously.”

Alemu said she was extremely grateful for the support she now receives through the Beyond Boundaries Program and previously received through the Black College Institute programs she participated in while in high school. She plans to serve as a counselor for the institute this summer as a way of giving back herself.

Written by Albert Raboteau