Eric SparksBig Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC) and the Big Sandy College Educational Foundation, Inc. (BSCEF) held its 14th annual Scholarship Reception Thursday, October 23, on the Mayo campus of BSCTC.

More than 200 students have been awarded nearly $350,000 in scholarships this academic year. Dr. George D. Edwards, president/CEO of BSCTC, was the keynote speaker and spoke of his personal journey to higher education.

The youngest of seven children growing up in southwest Virginia, Dr. Edwards never thought college was a possibility. His father dropped out of school in the sixth grade to work on his parents farm.

I was diagnosed with Crohns disease at the age of 15, said Dr. Edwards. My mom looked at me one day and said, You may want to go to college because you will not be able to work like your brothers and sisters.

He attended Berea College with the help of the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and became the first in his family to earn a college degree.

I firmly believe that most individuals do not experience success without the assistance, encouragement and mentoring from others. Our families, our friends and our faculty members and staff members do in fact represent the wind beneath our wings. said Dr. Edwards. I encourage each of you to make the most of your education and put it to good use not only for yourself, but also for your family and your community.

Dr. Edwards, who will retire next year after 14 years of service to the college, spoke about a phrase that has been common during his administration: If you ever see a turtle on a fence post, you will know it did not get there by itself.

I have been fortunate to have excellent mentors and wise friends all along the way who have helped redirect me when my priorities have wavered, he said. My mother, my counselor, my faculty members, my co-workers, my supervisors and my friends have been the individuals to put this turtle on the appropriate fencepost.

Dr. Edwards thanked the colleges supporters for their generosity in providing scholarships to deserving students.

Many of our students would not be able to attend college and complete a degree without your generosity, said Dr. Edwards.

One of those students, Timothy Collins, of Salyersville, returned to school after working 24 years for Joy Global. He was not eligible for financial aid and is using a portion of his retirement and scholarships to pay for school.

Without the support of my family, I would be nothing, but I also found the folks at Big Sandy are like my family they want to see me succeed, he said. Collins is the recipient of the Verne P. Horne Scholarship. Many students, like me, would not be here if it hadnt been for the generosity of donors.

Braydon Sode, of Harold, a recipient of the Presidential Scholarship, was diagnosed with Dyslexia as a child. The transition to college has been one of ease, thanks in part to the disability support services at BSCTC.

The faculty and staff have been very accommodating, said Sode. The supplies and services provided to me have contributed to a great environment for me to learn and strive.

Comprehending mathematics have always presented a barrier for Sode. That was until he met Dr. Reza Akhlaghi, a professor of mathematics at BSCTC.

Dr. Akhlaghi gave me positive motivation and fun learning tactics to help me understand the subject matter, said Sode. Hes helped me to understand a difficult subject that I have learned to love.

Eric Sparks, of Beauty, Ky., is a recipient of the Big Sandy Singers Scholarship. He has been a member of the Big Sandy Singers and Band for two years.

If it wasnt for my family and my support system I wouldnt be here today, said Sparks, who is visually impaired. To those with a disability: Dont let it stop you. Dream big and never let anyone tell you you cant accomplish something.

Sparks plans on continuing his education and one day help students with disabilities better understand computers.

Julie Paxton, chair of the Big Sandy College Educational Foundation, Inc., said the reception demonstrates the future of the region is in capable hands.

The stories that the students share let you know that these scholarships are sound investments towards a better future, she said.

Paxton also announced that the BSCEF Board of Directors unanimously approved the naming of the Scholarship Reception in Dr. Edwards honor.