Jessica Sun 2016 Scholarship Recipient

Gratitude for Scholarships and the Donors That Fund Them

A Few Words from Jessica Sun, 2016 Virginia Tech Faculty Women’s Club Scholarship Recipient

“My parents are both immigrants from China, and had to work hard to provide for my siblings and me – my dad as a carpet salesman, and my mom as a real estate secretary. When I was still young, my grandmother lived with us. We loved her and did everything we could for her, but she was terminally ill and my family paid for her medical care. In addition, when the recession hit, my dad’s sales were a fraction of what they had been before. My grandmother’s medical costs depleted first my parents’ savings, and then my college account. We sacrificed new clothes, brand-name products, social functions, and more just to get by.

Yet, that trying time was one of the best things to happen to me. I became motivated to excel academically and apply for scholarships because I knew I needed a successful career to support my family. I used free online resources and visited my library in lieu of expensive private tutors and prep programs. The past few years have inspired me to be resourceful, and I have immersed myself in bettering the community since then, especially at Virginia Tech.

As someone who has struggled to access the same resources given to others, I care deeply about quality STEM education accessibility for those in underprivileged socioeconomic situations. I started working with Kids Are Scientists Too, a national, student-led science education non-profit, five years ago and proudly serve as its CEO today. We spark elementary school students’ interest in science by leveraging high school volunteers to teach interactive lessons with topics ranging from microbiology to magnets. Every year, my 501(c)3 non-profit impacts over 1,800 people across 9 states. Over the years, we have developed around 60 lesson plans and two summer camp curricula. I am very proud of my executive board, and our Virginia branch alone runs at 12 high schools and teaches at 17 elementary schools.

My family’s perpetually strained financial situation has taught me that health issues are not the only barrier to academic achievements, which has motivated me to spread empowerment and opportunities to those from diverse backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. With no savings, retirement plan, or college money for my siblings and me, our family of five has had to make do with a much smaller allowance. My childhood was not filled with scientists, doctors, or engineers. It did not suggest computer science as a career, provide me with volunteer opportunities, or emphasize mental health activism. Instead, it gave me the confidence, imagination, and support to do all those things myself with the help of family, friends, and scholarships.

Everything I’ve done, everything I strive for, everything I hope for is made possible because of scholarships like those at the Community Foundation of the New River Valley. My family could not afford to send me to college otherwise. Without donors like you, I would never have come to Virginia Tech or continued my work with Kids Are Scientists Too. I would never have been on track to complete my degree in computer science and work as a software engineer to support my parents. I have so much gratitude for scholarships and the donors that fund them. I have them to thank for my successes. Behind every successful person is a network of supporters and I am proud to have the Community Foundation as part of my network.”

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