Written by: Olivia McLean
With financial limitations halting many students’ dreams, a group at VSU may help those dreams come true.
The VSU 50 Years of Integration Planning Committee launched the Thomas/Pierce Scholarship in honor of the legacy of Drewnell Thomas and Robert Pierce, the first two black students to attend VSU (then Valdosta State College).
The scholarship, according to Dr. Maggie J. Viverette, director of the Office of Social Equity, will be available to first-generation college students enrolled at VSU who are in good standing and have a minimum GPA of 3.0.
“The number of award recipients will be determined by the amount of funds raised,” Viverette said. “Ideally the planning committee would like to establish an endowed scholarship that would provide ongoing funds for the future awardees.
“The university is in the process of identifying donors now. The Boddie McKnight Law Firm of Atlanta has committed to a corporate sponsorship.”
In addition to the multiple events held in honor of the 50-year anniversary, “the concept for the scholarship was initially discussed by the 50 Years of Integration Planning Committee in January of last year,” Viverette said in an email. “The goal of the committee was to have a lasting impact as an outcome of (the) university’s celebration of the 50-year milestone.”
The significance of the scholarship is its ability to help students who would be the first in their families to go to college but don’t have the financial means to do so.
According to the 50 Years of Integration page on the VSU website, Drewnell Thomas, the first black woman to attend VSU, was the first in her family to attend college; however, at the time, Thomas didn’t know how she would pay for it. After being offered a full scholarship from the Negro Voter League, she decided to attend VSC.
Thomas graduated in 1967 with a degree in sociology and went on to earn a master’s degree in social work from Atlanta University. She ran for Georgia’s District 39 Senate post in 1988, 1990 and 1992 and was heavily endorsed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other organizations.
Without a scholarship, Thomas, who graduated from high school with honors, may not have been able to further her education.
The Web page also states that Robert Pierce, the first black man to attend VSU, was encouraged by his high school band director to go to college. His band director actively sought out scholarships to various historically black colleges and universities.
Like Thomas, Pierce also graduated from VSC in 1967. He moved to Greenwood, Miss., to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Pierce was drafted into the Army and served as an intelligence analyst and interrogator in Vietnam. He later transferred to the U.S. Department of Education and worked within the Office for Civil Rights. Pierce is now retired and lives in Massachusetts with his wife.
“In supporting VSU students from many walks of life, the scholarship will contribute to the culture of appreciation for diversity and inclusion at VSU and will serve to increase the number of individuals in the state with college educations,” Viverette said.
Potential applicants will be asked to complete an application for the scholarship outlining their plans as a first-generation college student pursuing a post-secondary education.