Katelynn Miller (left) and Yasmeen Jenami (right).
Now in its 20th year, an endowed scholarship established by a West Virginia University alumnus in memory of his late mother is empowering young women from the Nitro area to pursue higher education.
James Humphreys, a personal injury attorney and former state lawmaker based in Charleston, contributed $200,000 to establish the Darlus Silman Humphreys Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded to female graduates of Nitro High School who attend WVU. To date, the scholarship has provided more than $80,000 to nearly 50 West Virginia students.
Humphreys and his mother both graduated from Nitro High School. He said she always wanted to attend college, but her family did not encourage higher education or have the financial means to afford it.
“This was something she dreamed of, but it was forever unattainable,” Humphreys said. “I wanted to do something to help young women who have the drive but don’t have the cash.”
Humphreys graduated from WVU with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1969. He worked to finance his undergraduate education and earned fellowships that supported his graduate studies. Humphreys has a master’s degree in political science from The Ohio State University (1970), a master’s degree in public administration from Princeton University (1972) and a law degree from George Washington University (1979).
Humphreys believes financial barriers to higher education are destructive not only to individuals, who must often choose between higher education or significant debt, but also to society, which requires an educated citizenry to meet workforce demands and nurture democracy.
“I hope that this scholarship will give heart and hope to some of the students who want to go to WVU, our state university, and might have been discouraged and not made the effort because of money,” he said.
‘A better start in life’
The Darlus Silman Humphreys Memorial Scholarship was one of two awards Yasmeen Jenami received upon graduating from Nitro High School in 2015.
“I was incredibly thankful to receive these scholarships,” Jenami said. “Going to college was always part of the plan for me. But I came from a lower middle-class household, so I knew I would need financial aid.”
Scholarships afforded Jenami the ability to participate in community service activities as a sorority member, gain professional experience via WVU Extension’s Energy Express summer reading program and complete her unpaid student teaching requirements without worrying about finances. She completed her master’s degree in elementary education from WVU this spring and was recently hired as a special education teacher at Cheat Lake Elementary School, in Monongalia County.
Abby Waldorf also used her Humphreys Scholarship funds to become a teacher. She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in secondary education (2010) from WVU and teaches sixth-grade English at Poca Middle School, near Nitro.
“When you start off, especially being a teacher, you’re not making all kinds of money,” Waldorf said. “I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to get a few private scholarships. Any money you don’t have to take out in loans gets you off to a better start in life.”
Humphreys agreed: “Nobody should start out life trying to carry a rucksack of rocks,” he said.
Paying it forward
Katelynn Miller Webb grew up in a low-income, single-parent household. Her family moved frequently, and she knew that higher education would help her build a steadier life. As she pursued her bachelor’s degree in psychology (2014) at WVU, she spent two years collecting data and working in a classroom setting with elementary school children with behavioral difficulties.
“Receiving the Darlus Silman Humphreys Memorial Scholarship meant stability and the chance to study new and exciting topics,” Miller Webb said. “…The experiences I had at WVU helped me to see that working with children others would call ‘difficult’ or ‘troubled’ was what I was meant to do.”
Carly Costello found a similar passion. She went to WVU because the Humphreys Scholarship and others made it affordable, minimizing her debt load. After completing her bachelor’s degree in social work (2010), she went on to earn a master’s degree (2013) and now works with teenagers and young adults as a therapist at Lasting Solutions in South Charleston.
Costello said the scholarship awards she received boosted her confidence and inspired her to seek out the graduate assistantship that helped her further her education.
“Getting a scholarship, it validates your self-worth almost,” Costello said. “It’s like, ‘Wow, someone who doesn’t even know me is willing to invest X dollars in my future.’ That’s powerful.”
Humphreys said his mother would be happy to know the scholarship has benefitted the Nitro community. He hopes to bolster the fund to make a greater impact and urges recipients of the Humphreys Scholarship to show their gratitude by paying it forward.
“People need to recognize that they are succeeding because of those who went before and helped them succeed,” Humphreys said. “We all need to put some money in the plate. Everybody who’s in a financial position to do so should make a contribution to the University.”
Humphreys’ gift was made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University.
“We Are Stronger Together,” a special fundraising initiative launched by the Foundation, aims to boost unrestricted scholarship support for students in need due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gifts can be made via a secure, dedicated giving page or by contacting Jena Prokopchuk, WVU Foundation executive director of leadership annual giving, at 304-282-5929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.