Emi Scott and Bailey West may be majoring in different subjects within Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, but they have a great deal in common.

They are both members of the Class of 2012. They both developed their love for animals while spending considerable time on dairy farms as young children. And they both plan to go on to become large animal veterinarians in order to address the strong need for such doctors in their home region of Southwest Virginia.

In addition, both Scott and West are recipients of an extraordinarily generous scholarship funded by the late Margaret Groseclose “Peggy” Skelton, a former associate professor at Virginia Tech who died in July 2010.

West, a senior majoring in dairy science, is from the Willis section of Floyd County. She was working as a summer intern at Silver Spoon Farm in Garrettsville, N.Y., when she learned she was one of the scholarship’s first two recipients.

“My mom called to tell me, and I was so happy,” West said. “She said it would basically pay for my tuition. To be able to help my parents out by getting this scholarship is really, really nice.”

When West was very young her father, a milk truck driver, would take her along on his runs.

“I would get to go with him at night and see the baby cows, see the [dairy] operations behind the scenes,” she said. “I’ve wanted ever since I was seven to go to vet school and that still hasn’t changed.”  

Katharine Knowlton, a professor who coordinates undergraduate programs for the dairy science department at Virginia Tech, said West stood out in classes for several reasons.

“She’s engaged, enthusiastic, and brings good questions,” said Knowlton. “She’s the one who’s always asking, ‘How is this going to affect farmers in my area?’”

Skelton grew up in Smyth County and named the scholarship for her parents, Roy E. and Thelma R. Groseclose, who had a dairy farm.

The scholarship is endowed so that it will provide thousands of dollars to two students each year. First preference is given to dairy-science students from Smyth County. If no such students are available, the scholarship can go to dairy science majors from other counties in Southwest Virginia. Students from Smyth County who are majoring in different subjects within the agriculture- and life-sciences-college are eligible as well.

Scott, the other recipient for 2010-11, is from Marion, a town in Smyth County. She is due to graduate in May with a degree in animal and poultry sciences.

Professor Dave Gerrard, who heads the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, said many students in his program are aspiring veterinarians, but most tend to be interested in the companion-animal side of the discipline, as opposed to the large-animal, food-production-based side that appeals to Scott.

“It’s not so much that people don’t like large animals like she does,” Gerrard said. “It’s just that they probably haven’t grown up around them. … The bulk of our students today, they don’t grow up on farms.”

While Scott was a girl, however, she spent a good deal of time on her uncle’s dairy farm.

“I always liked working with the cows,” she said. “I know there’s more money in small animals, but there’s more of a need for large animal veterinarians, especially in this region, and I want to stay in Smyth County.”

Scott said she was unaware the scholarship Skelton created even existed until the day she learned it had been awarded to her. But she instantly recognized the name of the woman who endowed it.

Both Skelton and her husband – William E. Skelton, a former Virginia Tech dean of Extension who passed away in August 2008 – were highly involved in the commonwealth’s 4-H program.

“I was involved in 4-H since I was nine, and it was a big deal for me,” Scott said. “Mrs. Skelton’s estate also endowed several thousands of dollars for my church [in Marion]. So with all that, and the scholarship, she’s really affected so many areas of my life.”

During her long association with the university, Skelton affected the lives of numerous students through her activities as both a faculty member and one of the university’s most generous donors. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is just one of many Virginia Tech programs to benefit from her generosity.

The university’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, athletic department, and University Honors program also have scholarships created by Skelton. Though she technically was an alumna of James Madison University and the University of Tennessee, in 2001 the Virginia Tech Alumni Association made Skelton an honorary, lifetime member.

Even beyond her lifetime, Skelton created a legacy of helping Virginia Tech’s students that is ongoing, as can be seen in the stories of Bailey West and Emi Scott.