West Virginia University’s 2006 class of Foundation Scholars could not be more diverse �€or more ambitious.

One wants to be a jazz musician, another dreams of being the CEO of his own company, while a third student ultimately would like to become the general manager of a professional sports team. The other two plan to shake up the biology and aerospace engineering worlds.

Gov. Joe Manchin, WVU President David C. Hardesty Jr. and WVU Foundation President F. Duke Perry introduced the new scholars Thursday morning (May 11) at a special ceremony at the State Capitol.

Winners of WVU ’s top academic award, valued at approximately $50,000, demonstrate the highest academic achievements and leadership potential.

Foundation Scholarships cover tuition and fees, books, room and board and other expenses for four years, plus recipients qualify for a stipend of up to $2,500 for academic enhancement opportunities including travel, study abroad and internships.

The members of WVU ’s 2006 class of Foundation Scholars are: Liz Banta of Morgantown, Monongalia County; Brandon Benchoff, also from Morgantown; Lydia McDowell of Davis, Tucker County ; Isaiah Richie of Middlebourne, Tyler County; and Colin Wood of Charleston, Kanawha County .

�€?Today we are recognizing the outstanding academic performance of some of West Virginia’s top students,�€? Hardesty said. �€?They have not only attained an exceptional grade-point average; they have demonstrated great leadership and made a difference in their communities.�€?

At the ceremony, Manchin applauded the scholars for their many accomplishments as high school students and called them wonderful role models.

�€?As the governor of West Virginia and a proud WVU alumnus, I am pleased to call these students Mountaineers,�€? Manchin said. �€?This new class of Foundation Scholars continues the University’s long tradition of academic excellence.�€?

Perry added, �€?The WVU Foundation is proud to be a part of this distinctive scholarship program. Raising funds for scholarships is central to the Foundation’s mission. We believe that our donors’investment in students, especially those we celebrate today, is, indeed, an investment in the future of our state and nation.�€?

The Foundation Scholarship is the keystone of the WVU undergraduate scholarship program, which annually benefits more than 3,500 students in excess of $4.5 million.

One-hundred state high school students have received WVU ’s most selective scholarship since the program was established in 1987.

The Foundation Scholar award is restricted to West Virginia high school seniors who have a minimum 3.8 grade point average and a 30 composite ACT (or 1,340 SAT ) score.

Twenty students were awarded the Neil S. Bucklew Scholarship several weeks ago (another four-year award valued at $21,000) and interviewed on the Morgantown campus in April. From this group, five were awarded the Foundation Scholarship.

Meet WVU ’s 2006 class of Foundation Scholars:

Liz Banta , one of two scholars from Morgantown, plans to major in biology with a possible focus in animal behavior.

�€?I’m just fascinated with animals,�€? she said. �€?I think it all started when I went to Sea World and said, �€~I want to be the person who trains the seals, dolphins and whales.’�€?

Banta volunteers at the pound and enjoys horseback riding. At WVU , she hopes to get involved in the Equestrian Club as well as some type of volunteer work.

Community service has always been important to Banta, who serves as president of Hi-Y, a youth leadership program based on service-learning principles, and chair of the National Honor Society.

Her interests also include music �€Banta plays the flute in the Wind Ensemble and Red&Blue Marching Band at Morgantown High School �€and civic engagement.

As a three-time participant in Youth in Government, she learned about parliamentary procedure and proposed bills: one requiring high school students to take a minimum of two semesters of a foreign language; another recommending a later start time for West Virginia schools so students can reap the health and psychological benefits of sleep.

The first in her graduating class of about 350, Banta has landed spots on the honor roll and received the Band Director’s Award every year.

Last year, she was named the MHS Symphonic Outstanding Junior Musician, selected for the Model United Nations delegation and WVU Math Symposium, and honored with the �€?I Make a Difference�€? Award.

Banta describes herself as �€?eager�€? because she enjoys trying new things; �€?passionate�€? because she is passionate about life; and �€?compassionate�€? because she wants to help others.

In her spare time, Banta enjoys riding horses at Valley Ridge Farms, hanging out with friends and listening to all types of musicfrom classical to rock.

One of the people she admires is Elle Woods, the character Reese Witherspoon portrays in the movie �€?Legally Blonde,�€? a comedy about a sorority girl who decides to follow her ex-boyfriend to law school to get him back �€but ends up excelling in law school and landing a top job.

�€?You can’t laugh until I tell you my reasons,�€? Banta said. �€?She does whatever she wants, no matter what people say, and always excels at it. She works hard until she gets what she wants.�€?

Growing up in the University City, Banta said she looks forward to starting at WVU because she is familiar with the campus and wanted to attend a large, major university.

�€?I started looking at other campuses, and I realized that a lot of the ones that were my favorites were a lot like WVU ,�€? she said. �€?I could pay a lot of money to go out of state and get the same education that I can get here �€probably an even better education here.�€?

Banta is the fifth Morgantown High School student to be awarded the Foundation Scholarship.

Gold and blue run in her blood. Her parents are Larry Banta, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Connie Banta, a writer and editor in the College of Business and Economics.

Brandon Benchoff of Morgantown wants to study sport management or psychology at WVU . His dream job would be to become a general manager of a professional sports team.

�€?WVU has an incredible sport management program and one of the best psychology programs in the country,�€? Benchoff said in explaining why he chose to attend WVU . �€?Also, I’ve lived in Morgantown since I was 5 years old. It’s my home.�€?

Benchoff looks forward to participating in intramural sports and student government, volunteering with community service groups, and attending football and basketball games.

During his time at University High School, the National Merit finalist has amassed a long list of honors and awards, including being named to The Dominion Post Honor Student Program, National Honor Roll, National Society of High School Scholars and the Mu Alpha Theta math honors society.

In addition, Benchoff was selected to participate in American Legion Mountaineer Boys State, and he was 25 th in the national Junior Engineering Technical Society Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics and Science Competition.

He is vice president of the National Honor Society, secretary of the Science Club and vice president of his church youth group.

When he isn’t focusing on academics and extracurricular activities, he devotes a few hours each month to the Greater Morgantown Youth Commission, an appointed group of local teen-agers who work on community planning to make the city a better place for youth. The commission is currently lobbying for the construction of a new youth center.

He also helps feed the homeless and prepare care packages for needy families with his church youth group and serves on a parish relations committee. He also volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army.

Benchoff likes to play the drums and has followed the career of Tony Royster Jr., a 21-year-old drummer who at age 9 was considered one of the best session drummers in the world. Benchoff’s other hobbies include drawing, painting and playing sports with friends.

Winning a Foundation Scholarship is a point of personal pride for Benchoff, who describes himself as outgoing, creative and intelligent. Proficient in Spanish, he plans to use his academic enhancement stipend to travel to Spain or a South American country where Spanish is the official language.

Benchoff is the second University High School student to be awarded the Foundation Scholarship.

His parents are J. Bryan Benchoff, associate vice president for development at the WVU Foundation, and Karen Benchoff.

Lydia McDowell of Davis would like to explore aerospace engineering.

McDowell �€who describes herself as ambitious, curious and hardworking �€is looking forward to being able to do just that at WVU .

�€?I like the fact that it’s a major university that offers a lot of opportunities for research,�€? she said. �€?It also allows you the freedom to explore and get some individual attention in smaller classes. It has everything I want.�€?

McDowell plans to avail herself of these opportunities and especially looks forward to attending WVU ’s Festival of Ideas lecture series and participating in study abroad programs. She also plans to attend football and basketball games.

First in her class, she has completed a college-level math course and is currently taking an Advanced Placement course in preparation for WVU .

The senior at Tucker County High School is president of the Environmental Science and Foreign Language clubs as well as the Health Sciences and Technology Academy, or HSTA .

As part of HSTA , McDowell conducted research to evaluate barriers of exercising. She was invited to present her findings to the Tucker County Board of Education and the State Health Education Council of West Virginia.

A health and fitness buff, she runs track and cross-country. She is also active in student council and the Varsity Club, and she was previously involved in Family, Career and Community Leaders of America.

Outside of her family, the person who has influenced McDowell the most is her math teacher Tom Klus.

�€?He has always told us about different careers,�€? she said. �€?When doing different activities, he points out your strengths and what you can do with them.�€?

Community service has played an important part in her life as well. McDowell commits several hours each month to cleaning up litter along a roadway near her school through Adopt-A-Highway, assisting at blood drives organized by the American Red Cross and aiding teachers at a local elementary school.

In recognition of her achievements, McDowell was asked to attend the Governor’s Honors Academy. She earned spots in Who’s Who Among American High

School Students, the National Society of High School Scholars and the Principal’s Honor Roll.

Her hobbies include painting, visiting art galleries and reading �€especially the works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein.

Having taken three years of Spanish in high school, McDowell plans to use the academic enhancement stipend to study in Latin America.

McDowell is the first Tucker County High School student to receive the Foundation Scholarship.

Her parents are Matthew and Edie McDowell.

Isaiah Richie , of Middlebourne, wants to study accounting at WVU , with the goal of becoming a certified public accountant or auditor.

His long-term plans include obtaining a master’s degree in business administration and becoming a CEO of a company.

�€?I’ve heard a lot of good things about the business school, and that’s what I’m going into,�€? Richie said of his decision to attend WVU .

Richie �€who describes himself as dedicated, romantic and virtuous �€looks forward to learning and participating in student government and the performing arts at WVU .

He is in the top 15 percent of his senior class at Tyler Consolidated High School and is in the process of completing three Advanced Placement courses.

As the result of his academic excellence, Richie has landed on the school honor roll four years in a row and was named both a TCHS and Elks student of the month. He is a three-time Chivalry Award winner and placed first in impromptu speaking at a Future Business Leaders of America conference.

In addition to being a member of the National Honor Society and a former student council treasurer, Richie is president of FBLA , co-captain of the wrestling team and a martial arts instructor.

This multi-talented student also sings and plays the fiddle and keyboards in two rock bands, has a lead role in the school drama, performs in community theater productions and serves as an elder at his Presbyterian church.

Last summer, he helped underprivileged students with reading and other activities as an Energy Express volunteer and worked with a youth pastor and his peers to start a community youth center called Fusion that provides Internet access, music lessons and special activities for students.

He admires businessmen like J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford and Bill Gates.

As for what he plans to do with a Foundation Scholar academic enhancement stipend, he is considering Japan to study its business climate or Germany.

Richie is the fifth Tyler Consolidated High School student to be awarded the Foundation Scholarship.

His parents are Larry and Elizabeth Richie.

Colin Wood of Charleston would like to pursue a major in jazz studies and has aspirations of becoming a professional musician.

After undergraduate school, he hopes to continue studying music in graduate school.

The George Washington High School student has always enjoyed music, but it wasn’t until the ninth grade that he really got into it.

�€?I played the alto saxophone, which is the standard saxophone everybody plays,�€? Wood said, �€?and the band director said he needed tenors, which are a bit larger and less common. I was one of only two tenors in the concert band and I got principal chair my first year. I spent all my off periods in the band room practicing.�€?

Other bands would follow. Wood got into the all-county band, honors bands and the jazz ensemble. He and his friends even have a small band for hire called the Freeloaders.

At GW, the young musician was also bit by the acting bug. In three of the shows he performed, he also directed.

In addition to music and theater, the AP Rising Scholar and National Merit finalist has excelled in the classroom. He is set to graduate in the top 10 percent of his class and was selected for the Governor’s Honors Academy and Boys State.

Wood �€who describes himself as musical, outspoken and motivated �€is a member of the Young Democrats and Quiz Bowl team.

When he isn’t playing music, he is usually listening to it �€mainly jazz, classical and some ska and rock. Joshua Redmond is one of his favorite musicians.

He also looks up to another fellow saxophone player �€Bill Clinton.

�€?He was a great president and often underrated because of the scandal,�€? he said.

Wood hopes to participate in the jazz bands and wind ensemble and possibly student government at WVU .

He is considering using his academic enhancement stipend for a trip to France to study at the Paris Conservatorie.

Wood is the fourth George Washington High School to receive the Foundation Scholarship.

His parents are Robert and Lynn Wood.