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WVU names 2022 Foundation Scholars

Top row: Laya Chennuru (left), Emma Fleming (right); Bottom row: Luke Graham (left), Julia Leyden (middle), Sarah Warder (right)

Top row: Laya Chennuru (left), Emma Fleming (right); Bottom row: Luke Graham (left), Julia Leyden (middle), Sarah Warder (right) 

Focused on discovery and finding creative solutions to the issues that have commanded the attention of their generation, five rising freshmen have been named to the 2022-23 cohort of West Virginia University Foundation Scholars, the highest academic scholarship the University awards.  

Eager to make a difference and improve the overall quality of life in their communities and beyond, Laya ChennuruEmma FlemingLuke GrahamJulia Leyden and Sarah Warder will begin their journeys at WVU in search of novel therapies for complex diseases, a better understanding of how our universe works, and strategies to mitigate climate change and advance social justice.

“Each of our five Foundation Scholars exemplifies our West Virginia University values, especially curiosity and service,” President Gordon Gee said.  “They are thoughtful young people with purpose who want to use their talents to help others. I am impressed with Laya, Emma, Luke, Julia and Sarah and welcome them to our University.”

Chennuru from Martinsburg High School, a diversity champion who believes “the spirit of love should be shared among everyone” is equipped and ready to serve as a change agent to advance inclusion in her new communities while exploring research options through the lens of cognitive neuroscience. Bridging her love for science and desire to connect with others “to pursue a cause greater than herself,” she plans to use her degree in neuroscience as a path to a career as a physician assistant in emergency medicine. Chennuru, a four-year member of her cross country and track teams who enjoys painting and playing guitar, plans to join the WVU Global Medical Brigades and Student Government Association and serve as a student diversity ambassador

Fleming from Parkersburg High School, who “learned the beauty in helping others” while serving as a “gopher” at the West Virginia Baptist Camp at Cowen, will use her English and Spanish majors as the path to becoming an immigration lawyer and writer fluent in Spanish. Propelled by her passion to protect the rights of others, she believes bilingualism is crucial in breaking down cultural barriers and empowering others. The captain of her varsity soccer team, avid snow skier and a cappella singer, Fleming enjoys writing poetry and movie reviews and has been featured in “Wood Whispers” literary magazine. She looks forward to joining WVU Cru, the Student Government Association and WVU Film Club, and eventually studying abroad in Spain.  

Graham from George Washington High School, who wants to be a part of future revolutionary technology discovery, strives to create future environments where he can solve problems and support his communities. Volunteering his time to The Maker’s Center, a gospel-centered nonprofit committed to helping those in need, has “challenged him to become the best version of himself” and deepened his resolve to help others. He is a four-year member and captain of his cross country and track teams and spearheaded a competitive high school chess club during his junior year. Considering a career in software development, Graham will major in computer science and computer engineering and looks forward to immersing himself in undergraduate research at an R1 institution and community service. 

Leyden from Morgantown High School, whose passion to eradicate health inequities was propelled by stories of sickle cell disease and “Cancer Alley,” aspires to become a civil rights attorney. Driven by an interest in societal effects on disease and medical management, she plans to research the interrelations of social, biological and medical factors in mitigating implicit biases in healthcare. Leyden, who lived in Galway for a few years as a child, is also interested in studying the Gardai of Ireland in relation to law enforcement in the United States. President of her high school band and a tuba and base player, she looks forward to joining a Moment of Magic and working with Arts and Entertainment to help plan and market WVUp All Night. Leyden will major in history and minor in biology

An aspiring astronomer majoring in physics, Warder from Pocahontas County High School, is a first-generation college student who is starting her journey to bring her childhood dream to fruition. Warder, who had an attraction to space and dreamt of becoming a scientist since she was a young girl, overcame her fear of physics through the encouragement of her engineering and robotics teacher. She was later inspired by her high school robotics team advisor who serves as a software engineer at the Green Bank Observatory in Pocahontas County. Growing up in a rural community with a lack of resources to travel, she is eager to immerse herself in a multicultural campus environment while conducting research in astrophysics and eventually studying abroad in Chili. 

To qualify for the Foundation Scholarship, high school students must meet a rigorous set of criteria, including holding West Virginia residency, possessing a minimum GPA of 3.8 and achieving a minimum composite score of 31 on the ACT or the equivalent SAT score. Twenty of the applicants who interviewed for the Foundation Scholarship were named Neil S. Bucklew Scholars. All Foundation Scholars have qualified for the Honors College at WVU, and the scholarship may be used in addition to the state’s PROMISE Scholarship. The value of the Foundation Scholarship, when paired with the state’s PROMISE Scholarship, is more than $90,000 over four years.

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