West Virginia University has endorsed four students to compete at the national level for the prestigious Rhodes, British Marshall and Mitchell scholarships, three of the nation’s most prestigious awards sought by thousands of students annually.

The four students are:

• Kathryn Baker, Morgantown, a biology major with minors in psychology and French who will graduate in May, nominated for the Rhodes and Mitchell scholarships.

• Holly Purpura, Wheeling, is a geography and political science double major with minors in English and philosophy who will graduate in December, nominated for the Rhodes and British Marshall scholarships.

• Tiffany Madison Shirkey, Barboursville, a biology major with a minor in history who will graduate in May, nominated for the Rhodes.

• Michael Alex Urban, Sissonville, a history and geography double major with a minor in Africana studies, who will graduate in May, nominated for the Rhodes.

“West Virginia University has a great tradition of competing for nationally prestigious scholarships and fellowships. Kathryn, Holly, Madison, and Alex are the latest Mountaineers to make this challenging climb, and we are very proud of them and their accomplishments,” President Gordon Gee said. “They are excellent ambassadors for this University and our strong commitment to excellence in academics, leadership, and service.”

Rhodes Scholarships fund tuition, travel and living expenses for up to three years of undergraduate or graduate study in any field at the University of Oxford. British Marshall Scholarships provide tuition and personal stipends to students to pursue a graduate degree in any field at any British college or university for two years. Mitchell Scholarships award full tuition, travel, and personal stipends for one year to students wishing to pursue graduate study in any field in Ireland or Northern Ireland.

In order to be competitive for these scholarships, students must have outstanding academic backgrounds as well as excellent portfolios as leaders and a strong and demonstrated commitment to service. In order to be endorsed by the University, students spend months working with the scholarships’ faculty advisors and WVU’s ASPIRE Office, and are then interviewed by campus committees. Students who are interested in pursuing these awards in the future should contact the ASPIRE Office at aspire@mail.wvu.edu.

Baker, who is an Eberly Scholar, has founded three student organizations while at WVU: the Neuroscience Club, the Brain Outreach Committee and the Irish Dance Team. She was a finalist last year for the prestigious Truman Scholarship, and has volunteered for seven years in various departments at WVU Hospitals, and traveled abroad to Ghana in 2013 to assist healthcare providers at a medical clinic.

Purpura, also an Eberly Scholar, was awarded the Gilman Scholarship to intern in London with The Hunger Project, a nonprofit that works in international development. She has traveled abroad with the Geography Department to Nicaragua, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. She interned with the National Geographic Network of Alliances for Geographic Education in Washington, DC, served as a research assistant under Dr. Shine Tu at the WVU College of Law, and tutors at the WVU Writing Center. She represented WVU at the National Model United Nations Conference in New York in 2012, where she received the Position Paper Award.

Shirkey, also an Eberly Scholar, has volunteered more than 200 hours at the Pediatric Department at Ruby Memorial Hospital. She is a co-founder of the MedLife chapter at WVU, through which she organized and participated in a medical mission trip to Lima, Peru in 2013. She also participated in a medical mission trip to the Hopi Indian Reservation in 2012. Shirkey conducts research with the WVU Orthopaedic Department on stem cell cartilage regeneration and has also trained in basic laboratory techniques at WVU’s Cancer Center. Ms. Shirkey is an active participant in the Alpha Phi sorority, through which she has raised more than $25,000 to benefit women’s cardiac care.

Urban is an Eberly Scholar and has served as treasurer and president of the history honorary Phi Alpha Theta. He was recognized as an outstanding senior by the History Department in 2013. He has published articles in The Charleston Gazette and volunteered at a number of service organizations around the state, including the Sissonville Community Food Pantry and Clothing Corner and the Shack community center. Urban has researched the intersection of murder, jurisprudence and colonialism in Africa.



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