Kaylee Crockett plans to become a farm manager when she graduates. Isabella Jimenez wants to become an advanced care provider. Although the two Virginia Tech seniors have different career goals, they share an important commonality — they are the two 2020 Dorothy Foster McCombs Endowed Scholarship recipients.

“This annual scholarship,” said Emily Satterwhite, an associate professor in the Department of Religion and Culture, “is for undergraduate participants in Appalachian studies who are from the Appalachian region or can demonstrate close ties to it.” 

The scholarship committee also chooses recipients for their academic qualifications, financial need, and academic and leadership potential.

Both undergraduates have taken the Intro to Appalachian Studies course. Crockett, from Wytheville, Virginia, is an agricultural technology major, while Jimenez is majoring in biological sciences and is from Nimitz, West Virginia, but lives in Pearisburg, Virginia.

“Kaylee and Isabella impressed us because they articulate specific plans to serve the needs of Southwest Virginia,” said Satterwhite, who also directs the Appalachian studies program, based in the Department of Religion and Culture. “Kaylee is proud to be from Appalachia and refuses to allow the stereotypes that hound it to limit her. Isabella plans to work toward being a part of a health system that honors local values.”

Portrait of Kaylee Crockett with mask.
Kaylee Crockett. Photo by Leslie King for Virginia Tech.

Crockett, who is a senior, took the Intro to Appalachian Studies class to learn more about the mountains and area of her heritage. 

“Taking the course gave me a better understanding of what it means to be an Appalachian,” she said. “I learned that where I am from is so unique and holds a lot of potential. I had a false understanding of Appalachia until I took the intro course. Harsh, false stereotypes riddle these mountains I’ve known, but I learned that stereotypes are everywhere, and these mountains built me into who I am today. 

“Appalachians are strong and witty, and have extraordinary survival skills,” Crockett added. “I am proud of where I’m from, even though it lacks diversity. But that’s one of the many reasons I love it so much. I take pride in being a minority because I am determined to be a voice for minorities while being successful in my life.”

Also a senior, Jimenez credits her family with helping her develop her interest in science and in health care. Her grandfather was the first physician from his community in Tamayo, Dominican Republic. He immigrated with his family to Hinton, West Virginia, in 1969, to serve as an internal medicine physician. Her mother, who grew up in Appalachia, is an emergency room nurse.

“Relationships are essential in the delivery of care, especially in rural health,” Jimenez said. “The relationships we honor between health care providers and our populations are vital in improving the health and wellness of the community. I hope to continue my post-baccalaureate education in order to obtain a doctorate in pharmacology or serve as an advanced care provider to promote rural health in my home of Southwest Virginia.”

Portrait of Isabella Jimenez with mask
Isabella Jimenez. Photo by Leslie King for Virginia Tech.

The scholarship is a memorial to Dorothy Foster McCombs, a retired reference librarian and history bibliographer at the Newman Library. Her family and friends funded the scholarship to assist students from the Appalachian area attending the university. 

Faculty members Anita Puckett and Elizabeth Fine also give regularly to the scholarship fund. Puckett is an associate professor in the Department of Religion and Culture, from which Fine is a professor emerita.

The Appalachian studies program hopes to increase the size of the endowment so that deserving students can receive even greater support as they learn more about their history and become responsible stewards to the community, just as Crockett and Jimenez exemplify.

“The selection committee is excited to award the McComb Scholarships to students with a strong commitment to the well-being of the people and places of Appalachia,” Satterwhite said. “People who feel let down by a place can respond with what sociologists label ‘loyalty,’ ‘exit,’ or ‘voice.’ Youth raised in Appalachia often feel forced to love it or leave it — to accept it unwaveringly or move out. 

“McCombs scholars like Kaylee and Isabella choose ‘voice.’ They choose to stay but they demand better; they advocate for change.”   

Written by Leslie King