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Promising young leaders in West Virginia vie for WVU Foundation Scholarship

Composite of the 20 students chosen as the WVU Bucklew Scholars. They are organized in a grid pattern, with three rows of headshots.

The 2023 West Virginia University Bucklew Scholars, shown here, are motivated by their empathy, hope for the future and drive to find solutions for issues facing Mountain State communities. (WVU Photo)

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(Editor’s note: This news release has been revised since its initial publication to include Daniel Curtis of Winfield High School, Sara Ellem of Parkersburg South High School, Mildred Cushwa of Martinsburg High School, Sidney Reed and Shelby Davis from University High School, and Ayaan Shaik from George Washington High School as Bucklew Scholarship recipients.)

Empathy, hope and a drive to find solutions that will change their communities and the world for the better characterize the new cohort of Bucklew Scholars beginning their journeys at West Virginia University focused on building a more sustainable and inclusive future.

Each year, the Bucklew Scholarship is given to 20 high-achieving West Virginia students accepted to the University and qualifies them to be considered for the Foundation Scholarship, the highest academic scholarship at WVU.

The talented high school seniors selected for this scholarship are equipped with intellectual curiosity, ambition and critical thinking skills needed to create positive change. 

Multiple scholars are pursuing careers in medicine.

Jayla Boyd from George Washington High School, Lillian Floyd from Parkersburg High School and Samantha Guenther from University High School will begin their time at WVU as neuroscience majors.

An avid runner who wants to help save lives by providing specialized care to stroke and opioid-depended patients in rural areas of West Virginia, Boyd also has a keen interest in reducing the stigma around mental health and has not ruled out a career in psychiatry.

Floyd, who became fascinated with the brain while reading “100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Age-Related Memory Loss,” is not sure if she will attend medical school or pursue a doctoral research degree. However, she feels confident she’ll find her niche at WVU. 

Both scholars said their career aspirations were further solidified while attending the WVU Department of Neuroscience and Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute Brain Camp.

Mildred Cushwa, a pre-pharmacy major who served alongside her twin sister as the Martinsburg High School drum major, said living on a farm and raising a small flock of Romney sheep fueled her interest in STEM. (Editor's note: Cushwa was offered and accepted the Bucklew Scholarship after the initial publication of this release.)

An aspiring neurologist who provides care for a loved one suffering from an unexplained neurological disorder, Guenther also got a firsthand view of the pioneering research at RNI as a member of the WVU Medicine Junior Volunteer Academy. (Editor's note: Guenther declined the Bucklew Scholarship after the initial publication of this release.)

Mariana Alkhouri from Wheeling Park High School and Nathaniel Lange from Frankfort High School will use their degrees in immunology and medical microbiology  as a path to medical school. 

A published poet inspired by her father’s dedication and compassion for his cancer patients, Alkhouri said she believes her degree will distinguish her from other medical school applicants. She has not chosen a medical specialty but said she feels certain she will return to her hometown to practice medicine.

A trombone and trumpet player fascinated by the human body systems and their functions, Lange is eager to immerse himself in research at an R1 research institution and eventually pursue a career as a physician or research scientist focused on toxicology or immunology. (Editor's note: Lange declined the Bucklew Scholarship after the initial publication of this release.)

Following an iron deficiency diagnosis that affected her athletic performance as a soccer player and a gratifying experience serving as a volunteer U6 soccer coach, Kierstn Posey, an exercise physiology major from Lincoln High School, aspires to become a pediatric hematologist.

An aspiring dentist who enjoys cooking in his spare time, Ayaan Shaik from George Washington High School will also major in exercise physiology as the path to a career where he can serve his state and “alleviate health care deserts.” (Editor's note: Shaik was offered and accepted the Bucklew Scholarship after the initial publication of this release.)

Inspired by her father’s career as a pathologist and intrigued by the outcome of a coronary stent placement she observed while shadowing at Mon Health Medical Center, Amy Lu, a biology major from Morgantown High School, is considering a career as a cardiologist. (Editor's note: Lu declined the Bucklew Scholarship after the initial publication of this release.)

After watching a family member suffer from the effects of muscular dystrophy, Brent Marcus from Spring Mills High School plans to use his degree in biochemistry to help develop therapeutic strategies for genetic and other diseases while working to destigmatize individuals with disabilities.

Rounding out the scholars bound for health professions are biomedical engineering majors Sidney Reed from University High School and Alexander Tadros from Morgantown High School

After watching a family member suffer from injuries sustained in a car accident, Reed, who serves as a youth volleyball coach in her spare time, is considering a career as a physician scientist in search of innovative medical solutions to help improve patients’ quality of life. (Editor's note: Reed was offered and accepted the Bucklew Scholarship after the initial publication of this release.)

Tadros, a second-generation Egyptian American high school soccer player and member of the track team who was inspired by his physician parents to work in the medical field, is considering a career devoted to research on innovative treatments for incurable diseases. 

Eight more scholars come to WVU as engineering majors.

William Behrens from Notre Dame High School, Benjamin Blackwell from Saint Albans High School, Anna Brusoe, a home-schooled student from Morgantown, as well as Garrett Hutson from Grafton High School, will major in mechanical and aerospace engineering.

The elected governor of the 83rd American Legion Mountaineer Boys State, Behrens plans to bridge his “spirit for engineering” and interest in patent law by attending law school in the future. Ultimately, he will explore his options as a patent attorney in the aerospace industry.

Blackwell, a 16-year soccer player and kicker for his high school football team who is still exploring his career options, cites a summer job at a friend’s auto body shop with creating his interest in mechanics while attendance at the Envision National Youth Leadership Forum at Georgia Tech piqued his interest in space exploration.

Brusoe, a piano player and the author of the children’s book “Reaching for the Stars: 5 Influential Women Scientists Who Changed the World Through Courage and Curiosity, aspires to work for NASA or SpaceX. She also volunteers her time fostering STEM interest among young women in rural West Virginia and elsewhere. (Editor's note: Brusoe declined the Bucklew Scholarship after the initial publication of this release.)

The president of his high school’s Spanish National Honor Society and active member of Future Business Leaders of America, Hutson, who credits his junior physics course as “sealing the deal” on studying to become an engineer, also aspires to work for NASA or SpaceX so he can use his love for math and science to “create something tangible.”

A cross-country mountain biking state champion and an aspiring flight test engineer, Sara Ellem from Parkersburg South High School will major in aerospace engineering as path to earning a doctoral degree in aeronautical engineering. (Editor's note: Ellem was offered and accepted the Bucklew Scholarship after the initial publication of this release.) 

Inspired by the movie “Hidden Figures,” Juliana Veazey, another aerospace engineering major from Charleston Catholic High School, said her love of space was reaffirmed while conducting research at the Green Bank Observatory as part of the West Virginia Governor’s STEM Institute. She also dreams of designing rides for The Walt Disney Company.

Propelled by her passion for sustainability and a fascination with cars sparked by the Netflix series “Driving to Survive,” Rose Puzzini, a mechanical engineering major from Washington High School, seeks a career committed to making car manufacturing “as green as possible” — from the shipping methods to the engine and other parts. (Editor's note: Puzzini declined the Bucklew Scholarship after the initial publication of this release.)

An interest in machinery sparked by her physics teacher and inspired by her mother’s longtime "passion for caring for Earth," Shelby Davis, a member of the University High School cross country team who enjoys photography in her spare time, will major in civil and environmental engineering. (Editor's note: Davis was offered and accepted the Bucklew Scholarship after the initial publication of this release.)

The remaining scholars will begin their journeys at WVU in various disciplines.

Daniel Curtis, who served as his high school mascot and graduated from Winfield High School at the age of 16, will use his degrees in physics and astronomy as a path to earning a doctoral degree in astrophysics and ultimately a career in research. (Editor’s note: Curtis was offered and accepted the Bucklew Scholarship after the initial publication of this release.)

Benjamin Golden from Berkeley Springs High School said he believes a degree in music business and industry will bridge his passions for storytelling and film music. Inspired by the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 2” soundtrack, Golden plans to pursue his dream of becoming a film composer.

Michael Groh from Washington High School plans to use his degree in economics as a path to working on Wall Street or a career as a federal government economist harnessing economic opportunities for sustainable growth in ghost towns. Ideally, he would like to reinvent and bring back prosperity to the rural areas of West Virginia. (Editor’s note: Groh declined the Bucklew Scholarship after the initial publication of this release.)

Joss Poteet from Jefferson High School, a vocalist who plays the saxophone and piano, said he hopes his degrees in geography and jazz studies will teach him how to bring different cultures together through music. His grandfather’s stories about traveling the word have inspired Poteet to one day serve as a geography and cultural ambassador.

Colin Street from Morgantown High School plans to bridge his degrees in political science and environmental, soil and water sciences with his passion for sustainability to cultivate grassroots solutions to environmental issues in West Virginia. A co-founder of the SAGA Initiative, he lobbied for LGBTQ+ youth across the state at the Fairness for All lobbying day and is considering a future run for public office.

Inspired by her mother who works as a special education teacher, Isabella Bottini, a secondary education major from Ripley High School, plans to become a high school math teacher in West Virginia. Bottini said her job as a cheer and gymnastics coach at a family-owned business sparked her desire to work with the younger generation.

The Neil S. Bucklew Scholarship is named for the 20th president of WVU and is valued at $40,000, providing its recipients with $10,000 per year over four years to be used toward educational costs. All Bucklew Scholars have qualified for the Honors College at WVU, and the scholarship may be used in addition to the state’s Promise Scholarship.

The scholarships are part of the University’s comprehensive awards program and are supported, in part, by the WVU Foundation, the private nonprofit corporation that generates, receives and administers private gifts for the benefit of WVU.



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