Ask any outstanding student about their influences, and theyll probably identify an outstanding teacher who sparked their desire to learn and achieveor credit a supportive family.

Ask Natalie and Neil Bumgarner about their influences, and youll learn that they had both right at their familys Wirt County home.

Father Phil drives a bus for Wirt County schools. Mother Coleen, trained as a teacher, decided not only to stay at home and raise her three children but to teach them herself. Not only did Phil and Coleen raise two of West Virginia Universitys eight top graduating seniors, Coleen was their sole instructor for their pre-college education.

With two of her prize pupils earning WVU s highest student honor, admission to the Order of Augusta, Coleen credits the siblingssuccess to four elements:family, church, home-schooling and 4-H.

Family is foremost. I chose to be a full-time mom while the kids were young,Coleen explained.The kids grew up with one grandma living next door and the other set of grandparents nearby. Home-schooling was an extension of putting the family first and for the preservation of our family unit. We did our school work and had time to spare for other activities.

Church fosteredmoral development and a strong value system,where Natalie and Neil were active in youth group and planned programming for younger children in the congregation. Coleen and Phil passed on their love of 4-H to their kids, and Natalie and Neil excelled as they learned leadership skills and a sense of citizenship.

Going to Jackson’s Mill for contests was a family tradition,Coleen said.When the kids were in high school, Natalie was the 4-H leader and Neil was the president for a couple of years. Instead of taking classes at camp, they were teaching them.

As the siblings reached their high school years, they got a preview of college life by taking courses at WVU Parkersburg.Mom wasnt too sure of her chemistry, so we took that at WVU Parkersburg for high school credit,Neil explained. By the time they had received their high school diplomas, Natalie and Neil had earned a number of college credits and honed college-level study skills.

Both are students in WVU s Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences. Natalie, who transferred to the Morgantown campus after two years at WVU Parkersburg, has earned a degree in horticulture. Younger brother Neil will receive a degree in agribusiness management and rural development. While both have maintained excellent grades in challenging curricula, they havent confined their achievements to the classroom.

Natalie has been a fixture at the Davis Colleges Plant and Soil Sciences Greenhouse, both as a student worker and coordinating projects that focus on greenhouse production of plants such as poinsettias and cut flowers. Shes completed internships with the City of Morgantown and spent the current semester working at a large commercial greenhouse in Pennsylvania. One of her instructors, Sven Verlinden, assistant professor of horticulture, was instrumental in Natalie pursuing the American Floral Endowments Vic and Margaret Ball Internship to fund the experience.

I probably never would have gone after the internship without Professor Verlindens encouragement,she said.He sat me down and said, �€~Natalie, you really need to do this.Shes glad she did, as the semester has allowed her to further apply knowledge gained in the classroom to a professional setting. Natalie will complete her semester-long stint with Oglevee Limited just in time for commencement.

Shes been active in student organizations such as Block and Bridle and the Plant and Soil Sciences Club, and shes given her time to Wirt Countys 4-H program as a counselor. Club activities have been a highlight, whether its traveling around the state with Block and Bridle or a horticultural study tour to Mexico last summer with the Plant and Soil Sciences Club.

Natalie will return to WVU to earn her masters degree in horticulture in the fall. She hopes to use her training to become a County Extension Agent and continue her work with 4-H organizations. The career will allow her to combine two of her passions, horticulture and 4-H, while serving her community.

She picked up her interest in horticulture at home.One summer, Nathan, my older brother, built a greenhouse in the back yard. Between that and 4-H activities, I knew thats what I wanted to study.Before college, Natalie worked part-time in a local greenhouse.

Neil has made the rounds of the Davis College, expanding on his classroom education with work study and independent projects in a range of other disciplines. He spent a year as a student worker for the multi-faceted Organic Research Project, and worked for two years in the animal nutrition laboratory of Gene Felton, assistant professor of animal and veterinary sciences.

It was there that he completed his senior project for the Honors Program, contributing research to the Davis Colleges study of feed efficiency in livestock and taking his results to an undergraduate research event at the State Capitol in Charleston. The highlight of his stint at WVU was participating in the dairy judging team, traveling and competing with fellow students.

Im a firm believer in trying as many different things as I can,Neil said of his wide range of undergraduate activities. That expansive approach combined with his academic major have opened a number of career doors:This degree program has qualified me for an incredible number of jobs.

Neil has accepted a position as operations associate with Cargills turkey facility in Dayton, Va. He hopes to carry on the family farming tradition, and hes considering a career in public service somewhere down the road.

While the idea of two children in college at the same time might give many families the financial shivers, Coleen notes with pride that Natalie and Neil will graduate without debtthanks to their work ethic and scholarship support.

One detail that just amazes us is that we have paid not one penny of their college education,Coleen said.Not only are they graduating with no debt load, they financed their own education. Neil spent two summers working with the local roads department

and last summer on a big ranch in Montana. Natalie spent two summers working for WVU Extensions Energy Express and last summer with the City of Morgantown. They’ve earned many scholarships and have really made the most of their college experience.

Thats handy, as Coleen had her own continuing education to finance.During the home-schooling years I went back to school for a teaching certificate in language arts from Glenville State. Later I completed a masters degree in communication studies from WVU . The same week the kids moved to Morgantown, I returned to the work force as a teacher of family and consumer sciences. I’m currently a student at Fairmont State adding another endorsement to my teaching certificate.

As flattered as Neil is by inclusion in the Order of Augusta, hes as pleased with what it says about his academic home at WVU , the Davis College.Weve got three students in the Order of Augusta from three different programs,he says, referring also to Katherine Lott, a major in animal and veterinary sciences.Weve got four Foundation Outstanding seniors,including the Bumgarners, Lott, and agricultural biochemistry major Jessica Clark.I think that says a lot about the college and its faculty.

Natalie shared the sentiment, but she might be happiest about the fact that she can share the honor with her brother.Im really glad that I got into the Order of Augusta, but Im also really relieved that Neil did, too. If only one of us had gotten in, that might have gotten ugly,she explained with a laugh.