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Twenty-five years of Yeager Scholars celebrated at banquet

Nov. 18, 2012 @ 11:46 PM

HUNTINGTON -- A quarter century ago, 20 students were in the middle of their first semester at Marshall University as the first class of Yeager Scholars.

A few of the 19 who went on to graduate, along with nearly two dozen other Yeager alumni, recently got together for an alumni banquet at Marshall University Foundation Hall. The event was organized by current seniors Shaina Taylor and Rikki Miller as part of the annual Yeager Symposium.

Among the members of the first class to attend were Sharon Shaffer and Mike McCarthy, both of whom came to Marshall from the Dayton, Ohio, area.

"There were really high expectations, and you felt you couldn't achieve it," said Shaffer, who now serves as senior vice president of Asset Management for The Wallick Companies, located just outside Columbus, Ohio. "But they pushed you to get out of your comfort zone. We were chosen to be the best."

The Society of Yeager Scholars was co-founded by the late Joseph Hunnicutt III. A 1957 graduate of Marshall, Hunnicutt returned to his alma mater to become president of the Big Green Foundation. While attempting to collect donations for athletic scholarships, he discovered some people would have been more willing to donate to an academic scholarship program.

According to the spring 2012 Yeager newsletter, Hunnicutt met with Dale Nitzschke, Marshall University president at the time, and presented his idea to create a program for academic scholars. The pair worked together throughout the 1985-86 school year, shaping the program and raising money to help promote it.

Hunnicutt is also credited with suggesting the program be named after retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager. The Lincoln County, W.Va., native became the first person to break the sound barrier in 1947. In January 1986, Yeager officially agreed to support the program and allowed the use of his name.

Yeager scholars receive a full scholarship, totaling the cost of tuition, room and board, standard fees, book allowance, personal computer, a stipend, summer study program at Exeter College, Oxford, as well as funds for further study abroad assistance.

After coming to Marshall, McCarthy never left. He currently serves as assistant dean for Information Technology and Medical Informatics for the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

"I was blessed to receive the benefits of the program," said McCarthy, who has taught the Yeager program's freshman and sophomore seminars in the past. "There were generous donors who preceded me and invested so I would receive those benefits. Now we are at a point to pay it forward."

Another alumnus was Maj. Matt Powers of the U.S. Marine Corps. The Proctorville native graduated in 2000, then took those academic skills into the military where he served two deployments to Iraq. He later attended law school through the Marine Corps and has been a military attorney for the past four years.

He said the discipline he learned as a Yeager Scholar laid the foundation for him to go on and be a successful Marine.

"I was well suited for the initial Marine Corps training because it focuses on leadership, academics and physical fitness," Powers said. "The Yeager program helped me in the first two areas."

Kyle Burner, who graduated in May, is now a first-year medical student at Marshall. The Spring Valley High School alumnus said being a Yeager Scholar means you took advantage of an opportunity to be a step ahead of other college graduates.

If he could speak to high school students about the Society of Yeager Scholars, he would tell them "It's definitely difficult, but if you want to further your education, the Yeager program is the way to do it."

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