Nearly 17 years after the passing of WVU alumna Paula Muscatello, a namesake scholarship established in her memory continues to help students pursue careers in special education.
West Virginia University alumna Paula Muscatello’s lifelong battle with Type 1 diabetes offered one blessing in disguise: Her placement in special education classes helped her find her purpose as a teacher.
Nearly 17 years after her passing at age 50, she continues to enhance education for students with special needs through a scholarship established in her memory at her alma mater. The Paula Jan Barber Muscatello Scholarship has helped 16 students earn degrees from WVU to pursue careers in special education.
Her husband, Joseph P. Muscatello Jr., established the scholarship in 2006 as a way to deal with his grief.
“I hope it sends more people into special education, especially in West Virginia, because it is so important for every family that has to deal with the challenges of raising a special needs student,” he said. “For the students themselves, it’s very important. And it’s important to me because I saw what Paula had to go through. I know the pain she suffered on a daily basis with diabetes. I want to make sure the opportunity exists to keep teachers in place, if someone has a love for that like Paula did, that’s living in West Virginia and wants to go to WVU.”
Paula was a proud native of Richwood, West Virginia, a small town about 30 minutes east of Summersville in Nicholas County. She and her husband met as students at WVU, where Joe earned a bachelor’s degree in recreation, parks and tourism in 1975 and a master’s degree in public administration in 1976. He served as city manager for his hometown of Welch while she completed her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, graduating in 1978.
Paula devoted her career to special education, teaching in McDowell and Wood counties. The couple later moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where Joe spent most of his career working for the University of Tennessee. Paula continued to teach there as they expanded their family to include son Christopher and daughter Joanna. Both children graduated from the University of Tennessee – where their dad also earned a master’s degree in organizational development – yet they root for WVU.
Following Paula’s passing on Aug. 12, 2006, a friend suggested creating a scholarship in her memory. Joe contacted a friend at the WVU Foundation for help and reached out to family and friends to raise more than $100,000 in a few months to establish the endowment.
“I can’t thank the Muscatello family enough for their continued generosity and support of special education here at WVU,” Autumn Cyprès, dean of WVU’s College of Applied Human Sciences, said. “I can’t think of a better way to honor Paula’s memory and legacy than to help support other students who want to pursue such a noble and honorable career. Scholarships like these are a difference-maker in providing opportunities for students.”
First preference for the Paula Muscatello Scholarship goes to students from McDowell or Nicholas counties. Maralea Young, a native of Summersville who now lives in Ripley, was the second recipient back in 2008-09.
“Receiving the Paula Muscatello Scholarship as a student had a great impact on helping me financially while in college,” Young said. “Students get so inundated with financial loans, it can be such a burden and deter people from furthering their education. This helped ease some of that burden, and I was extremely grateful. Because of the scholarship support, I was able to continue to further my education and graduate with a master’s degree.”
Young was a special education teacher for six years before switching to third grade. She said her special education background helps differentiate her teaching to better reach students – with or without an individualized education plan – who may be struggling.
Joe Muscatello received lots of support from friends in the Volunteer State, so he established a second scholarship in Paula’s name at the University of Tennessee. He said the two scholarship endowments combined are now worth nearly $500,000.
More than 200 people have contributed to the WVU scholarship. Joe continues to give annually to carry on Paula’s legacy, and he held regular fundraising events pre-COVID to boost the two scholarships.
Paula has also continued to teach at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, where her body was donated to support scientific research per her wishes.
Joe Muscatello remarried in 2015. He and his wife, Dr. Melissa Anderson, divide their time between Anna Maria Island, Florida, where Joe served as a city commissioner, and Shepherdstown, West Virginia, where they operate the historic Thomas Shepherd Inn.
All gifts are made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University.