West Coast to East Coast: How a Scholarship Brought a California Student to W&M

W&M Scholar Ellery Lea ’18 says scholarships donors have shaped her future for the better because they provided her with the means to attend the university and pursue her passions without burden.

Lea, who grew up in Pleasanton, Calif., was raised by hardworking parents who owned a popular local coffee shop. While her parents provided a good life for her and her three siblings, she didn’t want to burden them with the cost of an out-of-state university. Once she received scholarships aid from William & Mary, she knew going to the university was the right choice.

Lea, a French major, has received several scholarships since her freshman year, including one that allowed her to study abroad in France. According to a blog post from her trip: “Since I was a child, I’ve always been interested in the role of food in contributing to a culture’s shared identity and sense of community. My interest in cuisine stems primarily from my family background because my parents have worked in the food service industry my entire life…seeing their hard work at their shop instilled in me a respect for small business owners and their ability to establish relationships with customers through personalized service and simple food and drink.”

Ellery says she wants to teach English as a second language upon graduating.

How did you choose William & Mary?

I applied to William & Mary because of its reputation as a top-notch research university and the small class sizes. When I visited campus and talked to people they made me feel really comfortable with William & Mary. For me, it came down to William & Mary and the University of Virginia. Both had pretty good financial aid packages, but William & Mary provided more support and that was the deciding factor for me.

Why did you choose W&M instead of selecting a university on the West Coast?

I applied to universities mostly on the East Coast because I wanted a change of scenery. I also wanted to challenge myself by trying something new. Because of the distance from home, I knew that the school I chose would have to have a support network and a welcoming environment. I wanted to be sure that if I needed something, became homesick or was having trouble academically, that the university I attended would be able to provide those things. I’ve found that at William & Mary.

How have scholarships impacted your ability to attend William & Mary?

Without scholarships, I don’t think my family would have been able to afford to send me to William & Mary. My life would have definitely taken a different path without scholarships. Without financial aid, I would have had to stay on the West Coast. Attending William & Mary has shaped me for the better by allowing me to have research opportunities and access to amazing professors.

What is your message to donors?

If I could stand face-to-face with my donors, I would tell them that they may not realize it, but when they donate they are changing people’s lives. Without scholarships I would probably be a different person because I would not be at William & Mary. I want to be like them when I become established in my career, by supporting the next generation of students through giving.