AcES is an academic success and professional development bridge program that allows freshmen in the Fundamentals of Engineering Program to come to campus one week ahead of other students for a week-long series of activities designed to acclimate them to campus life.
Last year, the program was awarded a $955,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to provide five-year merit scholarships to AcES students from underrepresented groups, such as first-generation college students, females, African-Americans and Hispanics.
“Scholarships are provided to AcES students to alleviate the pressure of financing their education,” said Melissa Morris, teaching associate professor and academic advisor for the Fundamentals of Engineering Program. “Our goal is to allow students to focus on exceling in their studies and becoming part of the WVU community without worrying about financial burdens.”
The students each received a $4,500 scholarship that will increase by $1,000 per year for a maximum of five years.
For first generation college student Giorgi Kapanadze, receiving the award will help him and his family achieve the American dream.
Kapanadze grew up in the Middle East in Tbilisi, Georgia, with his parents who dreamed of giving their son a better life in the United States. Although Kapanadze’s father worked for the military and both his parents were able to obtain green cards, they still did not have enough money to make the journey to America.
Not willing to give up on their dream, his father picked up a second job as a gas station attendant to make extra money, a decision that would change the family’s life forever.
“My mother told me that one night really bad weather was expected in our area and she begged my father not to go to work at the gas station,” said Kapanadze. “He said it was his job to provide for his family and went anyway.”
The gas station happened to be nestled in a valley between two mountains, one of which was struck by lightning that night, causing a massive landslide. The entire valley was buried under debris; Kapanadze’s father did not survive the incident.
“It was hard for my mother to realize that my father would never achieve his dream,” said Kapanadze. “But she was committed to getting me to the U.S. to follow through on their plans.”
Six months after the tragic event, Kapanadze’s mother left behind her four-year-old son and moved to Brooklyn, New York. Unable to speak a word of English and without a penny to her name, she worked hard to establish a stable life for her family. A year later Kapanadze was able to join her in New York.
“My mother sacrificed a lot and worked really hard to give me a normal childhood and a better life,” said Kapanadze. “She came to this country with nothing so that I could one day have a chance at a better education.”
His mother always reinforced the importance of education in their household and he knew that it was his father’s dream for him to get a college degree. His desire to make his parents proud and to secure a stable future for himself led him to WVU.
“I always knew that I needed to go to college,” said Kapanadze. “I couldn’t let my mom down after everything we had been through and I wanted to repay her in some way. Going to WVU and excelling in life is my way to repay her.”
Kapanadze possesses a talent for building things, something he believes he inherited from his dad, and plans to major in civil engineering with hopes of one day working to improve the infrastructure in the United States. Receiving a scholarship from AcES will help him achieve his goals with added peace of mind.
“I was always going to get my college degree no matter how many loans I had to take out but getting the scholarship showed me that there are people out there who are willing to help you reach your dreams,” said Kapanadze. “The scholarship will help make life a little easier for me and my family and allow me to focus on succeeding.”
“The scholarship was designed to help people like Giorgi reach their full potential,” said Morris. “We hope that the scholarship will increase diversity and inclusivity in the engineering profession and that all of our recipients will be better able to concentrate on the college experience.”
In additional to Kapanadze, the following students were scholarship recipients: Bridget Barrett (Lewis, Delaware), Hugo Perez (Keyser), Kenneth Corhn (Bluefield), Benjamin Jackson (Brick, New Jersey), Joseph Keck (Fairview, North Carolina) and TJ Kelley (Flushing, Ohio).
Students were selected based on financial need and academic talent and must maintain a 3.0 GPA to renew the award.