Four local high school students have been named as recipients of a scholarship honoring the legacy of two longtime Albemarle County educators.
Casey Alexander, Jordan Burnley, Karuna Dahal and Shemya Key were honored as Minor Preston Scholars at a reception held at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center on Friday night.
“We have four outstanding, successful students — not only successful students, but successful people,” said Sylvia Terry, an adviser with the Minor Preston Scholars program and a former associate dean of the University of Virginia’s Office of African-American Affairs.
The Rives C. Minor and Asalie M. Preston Educational Fund has awarded more than $3 million in scholarship funds to more than 1,000 local high school students since 1983.
Minor Preston Scholars receive a $3,000 annual scholarship that is renewable for up to four years. Recipients also are matched with an adviser who serves as a source of support.
To apply, students must be a senior in a Charlottesville or Albemarle public high school and be either a first-generation college student-to-be or a minority or immigrant student. Applicants also must have a demonstrated financial need and have the grades and a program of study that will allow them to apply to a postsecondary institution.
Alexander is graduating from Western Albemarle High School and will be attending Longwood University in the fall. She plans to become an elementary school teacher.
“I’m going to do the five-year master’s program for elementary [education] … graduate from there and then end up somewhere back here, not too far away from home,” Alexander said.
Burnley, a senior at Charlottesville High School, also hopes to become a teacher. She will be attending Virginia Commonwealth University and said she wants to become a high school math teacher.
“If teaching ends up being what I do, I’m definitely coming back to Charlottesville,” Burnley said.
Dahal and Key both will be attending UVa in the fall.
Dahal, who is graduating from Albemarle High School, said she wants to major in either chemistry or biology, and apply to UVa’s nursing school after her first year.
Key, who is graduating from Monticello High School, plans to major in biology and minor in African-American studies. Both said they envision themselves entering medicine.
Scholarship recipients build a relationship with an adviser — many of whom are retired educators — throughout their college experience. This advising initiative has been incorporated into the Minor Preston Educational Fund’s programming in recent years.
“The impact has been building relationships with the students and really being impactful in their lives not just from a financial standpoint, but the development of the whole child, the whole person,” said Shamika Terrell, a counselor at Monticello High who serves as an adviser and who was a recipient of the scholarship when she was a senior at CHS.
Tariq Carrington, who just finished up his first year at UVa, attended the reception, along with his adviser, Edie Wheeler. He said he appreciated the support Wheeler provided him throughout his first year of college, which included texting each other questions and meeting up for lunch.
“I’m not his mother, and so I don’t tell him what to do. I just check in to make sure that he has all of the resources that he needs and that he meets all of the deadlines and guidelines for the program, that he gets his work turned in on time, socially is he involved in things,” Wheeler said. “We form a friendship, and we get to know [the scholars] and encourage them.”
“Just having that support there, and knowing that’s there, makes it a little bit calming,” said Carrington, who is on a pre-med track.
“He’s going to make it into medical school,” Wheeler said. “He’s got a lot of people in his corner.”
“These students are given an opportunity — a financial opportunity and the emotional support to go off into a new environment and do marvelous things with their education,” said Raymond Carey, president of the fund’s board of directors. “Some would not have had the opportunity to go to school if it were not for the Minor Preston fund.”
Minor was born into slavery in Albemarle in 1856 and started his teaching career at the age of 17. He taught for nine years in Bath County and 21 years in Albemarle. He died in 1926.
Like her father, Preston also became a teacher in Albemarle. She taught in the county schools from 1922 to 1933 and after attending St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, she returned to Albemarle and taught from 1936 until she retired in 1969.
The fund was endowed with Preston’s estate after she died in 1982, and her two sisters also contributed significantly to the fund.
The sizable estates came from the sale of land Minor had acquired over the course of his lifetime.
“It really is a testament to the Minor-Preston family that they made this legacy possible and that it’s still going for 35 years,” said Brian Menard, the fund’s executive director.