Mountain Empire Community College. Courtesy of Brad Deel.
Mountain Empire Community College. Courtesy of Brad Deel.

Here’s a roundup of education briefs. Want more education news? There’s no full-time reporter west of Richmond covering education K-college. You can help fix that. Help us fund this position. From now until the end of the year, NewsMatch will double your gift of up to $1,000.

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Mountain Empire to guarantee free tuition to high school graduates

The Mountain Empire Community College Foundation has announced it will guarantee all high school graduates in its service region tuition-free community college beginning with the Class of 2023.  

As part of MECC’s 50th-anniversary recognition, the MECC Advisory and Foundation Boards set a goal in 2022 to raise enough funding to support up to two years of tuition coverage for high school graduates in Lee, Dickenson, Scott, Wise, and the city of Norton.

“The MECC Promise is intended to assist the students who have plans to enroll in community college post-high school, or those that go directly to employment,” said MECC President Dr. Kristen Westover in a statement. “While we need workers, SWVA needs skilled workers. Obtaining a skill set that leads to beyond entry-level employment is critical for our residents.”

In April 2022, the members of the Genan Foundation of Charlottesville visited MECC to tour the campus and learn more about the college’s workforce initiative. MECC staff requested Genan Foundation’s support to raise educational attainment rates in southwest Virginia, which are about 20% below the state average. (Full disclosure: Genan is one of our donors but donors have no say in news decisions; see our policy).

In August 2022, the Genan Foundation announced a $750,000 gift to kick off the MECC Promise program, citing MECC’s commitment to building a skilled, trained workforce in the region. MECC President Kristen Westover and MECC Foundation Executive Director Amy Greear visited each local county’s Board of Supervisors and the Norton City Council to request additional support to secure program funding beyond 2023. That funding is not yet in hand but Greear said the school felt confident enough to proceed.

To qualify, students must maintain a 2.0 GPA, be continuously enrolled for up to two years, or 72 credit hours, up to the completion of the applicant’s first Associate Degree; reside in the service area and provide proof of residency; complete a FAFSA and submit all required documentation annually, and complete MECC Scholarship Application annually. The MECC Promise scholarship will be a last-dollar scholarship for tuition only.

Located in Big Stone Gap, MECC is celebrating its 50th year serving students in Wise, Lee, Scott, and Dickenson Counties and the city of Norton. MECC serves more than 1,300 full-time students and more than 3,000 part-time or non-credit students in a variety of academic and career-technical programs. Learn more about MECC’s Promise Program at

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Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine to host conversation on Black maternal health

Jonathan Webb. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM), along with Black Father Family and the United Way of Roanoke Valley, will host a conversation on the Black maternal health crisis and the role fathers play as advocates. The talk, which is titled “Black Mothers, Black Babies, Black Fathers,” will be held Dec. 12 and is free and open to the public. 

The moderator of the event is Jonathan Webb, chief executive officer of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetrics, and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). He will lead a discussion with Lewis Townsend, a maternal child health advocate, and Alyssa Watkins, a physician of obstetrics and gynecology at Carilion Clinic and a faculty member at VTCSOM. 

The event will be held at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12 in the VTCSOM’s Auditorium M203 at 2 Riverside Circle in Roanoke. Registration is requested.

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Andrew Seibel. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech student named National FFA president

Virginia Tech sophomore Andrew Seibel has been named president of the National FFA Organization at the 95th National FFA Convention and Expo in late October. He is the 13th national FFA officer from Virginia and only the fifth to earn the national president title.

On Nov. 21, he traveled to the White House for the annual turkey pardoning. A week later, Seibel stood on the steps of the Executive Mansion with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and First Lady Suzanne Youngkin for the presentation of the Christmas trees. Next year, he’ll travel both domestically and internationally as a top representative of the FFA, a premier organization that prepares members for leadership and careers in the science, business, and technology of agriculture.

Seibel grew up on a third-generation beef cattle farm in the Roanoke Valley. His father, Andy Seibel, held various jobs in agricultural education with the FFA and Virginia Cooperative Extension before being named the executive secretary of Virginia FFA. His mother, Megan, is the director of Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results, a two-year leadership program for adults in agriculture. Both parents hold multiple degrees from Virginia Tech.

Seibel became active in the FFA in middle school. He participated in multiple competitions, such as soil judging and public speaking. During his junior and senior years at William Byrd High School, he became even more involved as he prepared to run for state office. From 2020-21, Seibel represented more than 30,000 Virginia students enrolled in agricultural education as the state secretary of the Virginia FFA Association. The yearlong commitment required Seibel to take a break from his studies at Virginia Tech, where is majoring in agricultural and applied economics.