The question for Ezekiel Volk wasn’t if he would be going to college — it was whether he would be playing football to get there.

In high school, the determined young athlete from Hampton, Virginia played football for Hampton High School and was on track to play football at Norfolk State once he graduated. By all counts, it looked as if Volk was going to be a Division I student-athlete.

“I just knew people ended up having an opportunity to go to school if they play football, but that’s all I see in my area. You don’t see people going to Virginia Tech,” Volk said.

In fact, Volk hadn’t given much thought to applying to Virginia Tech. Though he had always been a focused and hardworking student, he didn’t think he would get in and said he couldn’t afford it if he did.

But his high school college career counselor sent him to Virginia Tech’s fall visitation, a two-day on-campus introduction to the university that is particularly focused on underrepresented high school seniors and first-generation students. Volk fell in love with the campus, still convinced it was out of the question.

He came home from school one afternoon in March 2017 to find a letter placed on his bed. Inside was an offer for a full-tuition scholarship to attend Virginia Tech in the first cohort of the A. James Clark Scholars Program.

Volk decided to stop playing football. When he told his coach why and showed him the letter, his coach stopped the team’s practice to commend Volk and to remind the team they had choices — that football was one route, but that Volk was embarking on another.

“It just made me feel so good that for once, I’m seeing all my work amount to something,” Volk said.

At Virginia Tech, Volk is a sophomore studying building construction in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction.

He has found a close circle of supportive friends, many of whom are also Clark Scholars from the first cohort. He lives in West Ambler-Johnston in an apartment-style dorm room — and all three of his roommates are fellow Clark Scholars.

Outside of the program’s financial support, Volk also said he has found a major source of support from the Clark Scholars Program’s staff.

"I got everyone behind me. It's really nice. I feel like I'm given the right attention and means to succeed where I'm at,” Volk said.

He said he and his fellow Clark Scholars can take any challenge in or outside of school to the program staff — staff like Clark Scholars faculty liaison Sheila Carter-Tod, an associate professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

It’s by design.

“As faculty liaison, I really feel as if my job is to help the Clark Scholars connect with as many of the university’s support systems as possible. I see myself as one of those support systems,” Carter-Tod said.

One of Volk’s highlights in his time at Virginia Tech so far has been a trip abroad to Belize the summer after his freshman year. While there, he and other students from the Myers-Lawson School of Construction were responsible for land development on a construction site. Aside from being an early opportunity for hands-on work, the trip was also Volk’s first time out of the country.

Back in Blacksburg, Volk still works part-time to support himself and to pay for summer and winter classes and maintains his hardworking, academic mindset. He is busy with classwork, his dorm’s leadership responsibilities, and searching for internships. And he remains sound in his choice to attend Virginia Tech.

“I always knew school was important, that’s why I tried to do my best in it, just because I could. But I never knew — I just wanted to go to college,” Volk said. “Even if I didn’t necessarily know what for. But I’m glad I can figure that out here.”

The Clark Scholars Program

Because of the financial support and philanthropy of the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, Virginia Tech was able to recruit a smart, hardworking student like Volk.

The program supports Virginia Tech’s campus-wide initiative to increase access and double enrollment among underrepresented minorities by 2022 and was made possible by a $15 million investment from the foundation in fall 2017, the largest scholarship gift ever made to Virginia Tech.

The Clark Scholars Program provides the scholars with paid tuition, room, and board for fall and spring semester. It also offers programmatic support for community service volunteer activities, enrichment seminars, and leadership and business acumen development.

Philanthropy like this provides talented students with financial need to attend and thrive at Virginia Tech. It enables the university to attract high-achieving students who will be the next generation of Hokies representing Virginia Tech as they solve the problems of the 21st century.

Students just like Volk — the kind of students who will proudly represent Hokie Nation as they go on to impact the world.

“Virginia Tech — man, I love this school. It’s the best,” Volk said. “I couldn’t picture my life going anywhere else now.”

If you want to have an impact on students like Volk, you can support Virginia Tech students. Any gift size can make a difference. For example, you can fund a Beyond Boundaries scholarship for $3,000, $5,000, $10,000, or $13,000. These scholarships help Virginia Tech recruit far more students from underserved communities and reduces the number of high-achieving students from all communities who chose competing schools based on financial aid. For more information on funding a Beyond Boundaries scholarship, call (540) 231-3628.

Written by Erica Corder

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