NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Eleven high school students in Hampton Roads could have already been considered pretty lucky, but then Something in the Water took it to the next level.
Not only did they recently learn that they’d receive $3,000 in additional scholarship funds, but they also were awarded three-day passes to what has easily become Hampton Roads’ marquee music festival.
Since 2021, the United Way of South Hampton Roads African American Leadership Society has awarded scholarships to Black students in the region who plan to pursue higher education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and/or math, also known as STEM.
Data from the Pew Research Center shows that Black students and professionals, particularly females, are underrepresented in STEM-related fields both in academics and in the workforce according to Dr. Mark Davis, manager of the scholarship fund.
While 11% of the U.S. workforce is Black, they represent 9% of STEM workers. In Hampton Roads, where advanced manufacturing jobs and shipbuilding are key industries, Davis thinks it’s more important than ever that STEM education is encouraged.
“At United Way of South Hampton Roads, we recognize the need to remove barriers and support Black youth in their efforts to pursue higher education degrees while also increasing the number of Black professionals in STEM fields,” Davis said. “Our African American Leadership Society saw this as a fitting opportunity to help promote equity and bridge that gap and we are grateful to USAA for the multi-year funding to do so.”
USAA has funded the program to date with $1.6 million in grants. As a result, more than $925,000 in scholarships have been paid out to 270 students. The scholarship is open to high school seniors and veterans. Each recipient can receive up to $10,000 to use toward their education.
For 2023, in connection with United Way of South Hampton Roads’ 100th anniversary as well as the return of Something in the Water to Virginia Beach, the two groups partnered to bring about some priceless reactions.
Eleven students were selected to participate in a photo shoot for professional headshots. During that shoot, video was also being taken as Davis was able to tell the students that they’d be getting tickets to Something in the Water and an additional $3,000 toward their education.
Davis said some of the reactions were priceless, and while the students seemed more excited about the tickets, the parents appreciated the extra money for school.
“We loved it, Something in the Water loved it, it really was a wonderful partnership,” Davis said.
All scholarship recipients who have remained in school and remain in good academic standing will ultimately receive an additional $3,000 towards their education, due to additional funding provided by United Way and Sentara Healthcare.
United Way plans to award an additional 100 or more scholarships this year. The next application round opened Friday and the deadline to submit is June 30. To learn more or apply, visit unitedwayshr.org/STEM.