Virginia Tech wasn’t even on her radar, but after Jamaica Sykes visited the campus at the urging of her high school guidance counselor, she knew she had to rethink her decision on where to attend college.

“When I came here, the community attracted me,” said Sykes of Portsmouth, Va., a sophomore majoring in biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “The campus was nice, the food was good, everybody was just encouraging and nice to me, and they basically just reeled me right on in.”

Sykes had her pick of colleges, having been accepted to all eight to which she applied. In the end, she chose Virginia Tech.

As did Monique Weldon of Richmond, Va., another sophomore, who is double majoring in psychology and philosophy in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Like Sykes, Weldon didn’t really have Virginia Tech on her list of potential colleges until she set foot on campus.

“It just kind of felt right when I came here,” said Weldon. “A lot of other colleges have psychology and philosophy as majors, but I just felt like [Virginia] Tech had the most to offer me.”

And thanks to the Black Alumni Endowed Scholarship and other forms of financial aid, Sykes and Weldon are being rewarded for their hard work as they pursue their dreams.

Sykes received the alumni scholarship in addition to a Pamplin Leader Award, a merit-based, one-year scholarship from the Pamplin Scholars Program for Virginians. As the first member of her family to attend college, she said these scholarships were very important to her and her family.

“Honestly, without the scholarships, I probably wouldn’t even be attending college,” said Sykes, who wants to be a pediatrician. “My dream of being a doctor probably wouldn’t even be possible without the aid of scholarship money.”

Along with Weldon and Sykes, Brandon Marsh of Newport News, Va., a sophomore in the College of Engineering, is one of the first three recipients of the Black Alumni Endowed Scholarship. Unlike Sykes and Weldon, he knew he wanted to come to Virginia Tech because of its nationally ranked engineering programs.

The graduate of An Achievable Dream High School, which is also located in Newport News, Va., understands the importance of the scholarship established by alumni who came before him, and he looks forward to the day he gets to thank them in person.

“Without them, much of this wouldn’t be possible for me, and I probably wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in right now,” Marsh said.

“It’s not just helping me money-wise,” added Sykes. “Emotionally it makes me happy to know that people actually care and it’s a really big factor in my life.”

The scholarship that she, Marsh, and Weldon received was designed to help its recipients while also helping the university maintain a diverse student body. Students of all backgrounds are eligible to apply, but are expected to explain in writing how they will add to campus diversity, which is defined broadly at Virginia Tech. All three of the scholarship’s first recipients said they plan to contribute to its fund as soon as they are able.

“As an alumna, I would hope that I would be able to give back as much as the alumni have given back to me,” Weldon said. “I’m really grateful that they’re keeping up with relations with Virginia Tech after they’ve graduated, and that they’ve started this scholarship, because I think it’s really helpful.”

Helpful indeed. Sykes has finished one year in college and is already inspiring others -- namely her 7-year-old sister.

“She’s been making all A’s on her report cards because she looks at me and says, ‘I want to be like you when I grow up,’” Sykes said.

Though its first scholarships were just issued last school year, this initiative driven by generous alumni is already making its mark on current and future generations of Hokies.

Written by Gary Cope. A version of this story first appeared in the fall 2012 issue of Impact, Virginia Tech's philanthropy magazine.

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