Five of the state’s best and brightest senior high school students who had their choice of some of the nation’s most esteemed colleges have chosen to attend West Virginia University as 2019 Foundation Scholars, the highest academic scholarship the University awards.
These students believe Yale, Harvard, Davidson and Johns Hopkins cannot compete with the “kinship and never-ending Mountaineer pride” that they believe stem from attentive faculty, an abundance of multidisciplinary research and academic achievement, as well as travel abroad opportunities.
“This is a group of ‘all-stars.’ Any college in the country would be thrilled to have them,” President Gordon Gee said. “Like many of our other top students, they have found a great academic program and the sense of community at WVU. They will get real opportunities to change the world as future leaders and innovators.”
The scholars will matriculate this fall, but first they will be celebrated May 7 at a luncheon hosted by Gee at Blaney House.
Lillian Bischof, a Wheeling native, who discovered her love for science in sixth grade through the Regional Environment Action Program at Oglebay Park, is anxious to research the role of genetic modification for food security and accessible health care. She will major in chemical engineering and finance and join the Society of Women Engineers and other student organizations that empower women in STEM. She is a four-year member of Wheeling Park High School cross country team, former member of the swim team and as the president of Key Club, she spearheaded a winter weather fundraiser for local homeless youth. She also serves as a docent at the Oglebay Good Zoo. She is the daughter of Deborah and Lee Bischof, a WVU alumnus.
Piper Cook, who will major in biology with an emphasis in neurobiology, made the decision in middle school to become a pediatric neurosurgeon while serving as a volunteer at St. Francis Hospital. After witnessing a swath of destruction from the opioid crises in her hometown of Danville, she is excited to immerse herself in research on deep brain stimulation for the treatment of addiction. She will volunteer her time to WVU Camp Kesem and the Monongalia County Child Advocacy Center. Cook will use her stipend to expand her research on safe non-pharmaceutical alternatives to opioids. She attends Scott High School and is the daughter of Roger and Lisa Cook, who named her after a fictional character from the television series “Charmed.” She is a first-generation college student.
Michael DiBacco, who has a passion for English and writing but wants to “be there” for big breakthroughs in future genetic-engineering technology, will major in English and biology. Inspired by CRISPR, he plans to bridge the two degrees by using his writing skills as a tool to spread innovation. He has considered other universities but could not pass up the sense of community and connection he feels at WVU. He is an avid outdoorsman from Elkins who is looking forward to attending football games and joining the Men’s Ultimate Frisbee team. DiBacco is a three-year member of Elkins High School varsity soccer team and an Eagle Scout who has been participating in the scouting program since kindergarten. He will use his stipend to study abroad in South Africa or India to study postcolonial literature. His parents, John and Erin DiBacco, are both graduates of WVU.
Marleah Knights, the daughter of Marlon and Doolarie Singh-Knights of Morgantown, is a senior at Morgantown High School. She has dreamed of becoming a conservation ecologist since she was a child witnessing the impact of climate change in her parents’ native country of Trinidad and Tobago. She will major in biology and minor in journalism, and has been recognized for her keen interest in creating sustainable systems to address food insecurity. In 2018, she won the West Virginia Governors School of Entrepreneurship pitch competition for her vertical SkyFarms idea; and recently, she won the high school pitch competition at the West Virginia Collegiate and High School Business Plan Competition for her idea of WV2U, a farm-to-work meal kit service. Ultimately, she would like to bring vertical farming to abandoned buildings in West Virginia.
Daisy Levine of Shepherdstown and daughter of David and Monica Levine, believes that degrees in physics and mechanical engineering will provide a strong foundation for her career as a research scientist focused on sustainable energy products. Her long-time goal to move out of state came to a halt after visiting several Ivy League schools, where unlike WVU, she did not feel like a priority. She plans to use her stipend for study abroad in Barcelona, Spain, where she can master the Spanish language and improve her intercultural skills. She is the captain of the Jefferson High School varsity soccer team, an avid snowboarder and a pianist. As the president of her school’s Key Club, she coordinated outreach programs in all local Title 1 schools as part of the governor’s project to improve literacy rates in West Virginia.
To qualify for the Foundation Scholarship, students must meet a rigorous set of criteria, including holding West Virginia residency, possessing a minimum GPA of 3.8 and achieving a minimum composite score of 31 on the ACT or the equivalent SAT score. Nearly 170 high school students initially applied for the scholarship, and of those, 20 were invited to campus for interviews. The value of the Foundation Scholarship, when paired with the PROMISE Scholarship, is more than $90,000 over four years.