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story.lead_photo.caption FILE: Long-time William Woods University supporter Theresa Vonderschmitt has gifted the university with $200,000 to fund a scholarship program.

A new scholarship program at William Woods University will promote diversity and inclusion.

Businesswoman and long-time William Woods benefactor Theresa Vonderschmitt has gifted the university with $200,000 to fund the scholarship program.

Undergraduate students from ethnic groups typically underrepresented in higher education will be able to apply. The first scholarships will be awarded for the fall 2021 semester.

"Very often, minority students hear about what 'can' be done but often never see action or opportunity in their favor. This is a huge step in showing you are not being ignored, and we value you here at William Woods University," basketball coach and diversity and inclusion committee member Charles Belt said in a news release.

The scholarship was announced Monday on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"The mission statement of William Woods University expresses commitment to a diverse and inclusive campus and forming an endowed diversity/inclusion scholarship strongly demonstrates that commitment by easing some of the economic barriers of achieving a college education," WWU President Jahnae Barnett said.

The scholarship is designed to enhance recruitment and retention of diverse students.

The schools' Diversity and Inclusion Committee was restructured in 2020 as the university assesses its progress and commitment to issues of race, diversity and inclusion.

"At the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year, our Diversity and Inclusion Committee set several tangible goals, including increasing scholarship opportunities for underrepresented students," committee chair and social work professor Elizabeth Wilson said.

Committee member and business professor Thomas Trice said the scholarship was an opportunity for concrete action on the university's goals.

"Having the ability to offer diversity/inclusion scholarships significantly assists William Woods University with the opportunity to develop actionable strategies to act on the university's mission statement in a meaningful way," Trice said. "In doing so, it sends a clear signal to marginalized groups and individuals that we are a campus community, at every level of the institution, that has open minds, humble hearts and attentive ears."

Applicants must attend their first semester at William Woods after high school graduation and be enrolled continuously as a full-time student.

Chosen students will receive up to $2,500 per academic year, so long as they maintain full-time status and a minimum 2.5 GPA.

In the past, the donor has given millions to the university, including $1.7 million for the William Woods Center for Equine Medicine in 2020 and a country estate valued at $1 million in 2011. Vonderschmitt joined the William Woods Board of Trustees in 2004.

"We are once again deeply appreciative of Theresa Vonderschmitt's steadfast support of William Woods, her shared vision and generous gift," Barnett said.

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