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First rural practice scholarships awarded at WVU College of Law

Nathan Bennett and Sarah Petitto are recipients of the first scholarship at the West Virginia University College of Law meant to increase the number of lawyers practicing in the state’s rural communities.

Established by the West Virginia State Bar, the Rural Practice Scholarship pays tuition and fees for three years of law school in exchange for the student’s commitment to three years of post-graduate legal practice in a rural county.

Bennett and Petitto were chosen for their academic performance and strong commitment to practicing law in the state’s under-served areas after they graduate in 2020. The inaugural Rural Practice Scholarship was offered only to members of the WVU College of Law’s Class of 2020.

“I applied for the scholarship because I want to dedicate my career to serving those who are in need of affordable, equal access legal representation in rural West Virginia,” said Bennett. “As a single parent, this scholarship will also allow me to concentrate less on the financial cost of law school and more on my family and my studies as I obtain my legal education.”

Bennett is from Denver, Colorado. He earned a bachelor's degree in sociology with an emphasis in criminal justice in 2017 from Western State Colorado University.

Petitto, who is from West Milford, is excited to give back to a community like her hometown.

“I have seen the impact one person can make on a small community and I'm very thankful I attend a law school that is so willing to invest in its students and the state,” she said. “I want to practice public interest law, and this scholarship will provide me with the opportunity to stay in West Virginia after graduation and focus on serving rural communities without having to look for a job solely to repay my school loans.”

Petitto graduated from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 2017 with a B.S. in biology.

In addition to their scholarships, Bennett and Petitto will receive guidance from the state bar’s Rural Practice Scholarship Committee in finding summer jobs after their first and second years of law school. This summer, Petitto is a Public interest Advocates Fellow at Legal Aid of West Virginia in Clarksburg and Bennett is working in the Public Defender's Office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The committee will also help the students secure permanent positions after they graduate and pass the bar exam.

The Rural Practice Scholarship was established through the WVU Foundation in conjunction with “A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University.” The fundraising effort, which ended December 2017, raised more than $1.2 billion for the university.

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