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Program offers path to brighter futures
Four UMW graduates credit a new program with giving them a brighter future

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Date published: 5/12/2012


Five years ago, Rita Thompson had never heard of the Northern Neck. And Lancaster County native Shanita Mitchell had never heard of the University of Mary Washington, where Thompson works as the senior assistant dean of admissions.

But this morning, when Mitchell walks across the stage to receive her UMW diploma in English literature, it's a safe bet that Thompson will shed tears of joy.

Mitchell and the three other inaugural graduates of the Rappahannock Scholars Program said they owe their diplomas--and their dreams--to Thompson.

The program began in 2007 when the university's admissions office attempted to reach out to Virginia locales not well represented at UMW.

Martin Wilder, dean of admissions, suggested starting with the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, the rural areas southeast of Fredericksburg bounded by the Potomac, Rappahannock and York rivers.

Assistant deans of admissions reached out to high schools in Lancaster, Northumberland, Westmoreland and Richmond, Essex and King and Queen counties.

The admissions counselors met with qualified high school students--those with a grade-point average of at least 3.5 and who were enrolled in college-level courses. And they walked three students through the admissions and financial-aid processes.

A fourth student, Charnele Young of Heathsville, joined the program a year later. Because she finished school in three years, she is among the Rappahannock Scholars' first graduating class.

Each graduate received an array of support from Thompson and the admissions counselors. The program offered financial assistance, mentoring, leadership seminars and help with job searches and internships.

More than that, the program offered a support system, said Amanda Jenkins of Montross, who graduates today with a degree in computer science.

"I was in the program with other people from the Northern Neck that I could relate to," she said. "And overall, the students in the program and the faculty all became a big family."

The four graduates said that when talking about home, most classmates had never heard of the peninsulas that extend to the Chesapeake Bay.

"It's comforting, knowing that someone else here knows where you're from," Young said.

While at UMW, each of the four graduates found distinct ways to excel.

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