Each year, EMU names a select group of incoming students who receive full tuition to the college. All three of this year's Yoder Scholarship recipients not only excel in the classroom, but they also plan to don a Royals uniform and participate in a sport at EMU.
Eastern Mennonite University engages in a rigorous process to select recipients for the prestigious Yoder Scholarships. Established in 1993 and named for alumni Carole and Paul R. Yoder Jr., the scholarships cover full tuition and include admission into EMU’s Honors Program.
Three students received the honor this year: Ariel Barbosa of Towson, Maryland; Kayla Leaman of Harrisonburg, Virginia; and Ben Stutzman of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They were chosen from a field of 47 applicants who had an average SAT score of 1339, average ACT score of 30 and average high school grade-point average of 4.16.
The scholars interview during Honors Weekend in February. Honors Program faculty conduct the interviews, evaluating academic performance, extracurricular activities, community involvement, creativity, leadership potential and other factors. Each applicant must prepare a portfolio and resumé, write two short essays and submit two references.
Last year, two young women were chosen for Yoder Scholarships and both also play a sport at Eastern Mennonite. Nicole Litwiller (Sarasota, Fla./Sarasota Christian) is a defender on the women's soccer team, while Maria Yoder (Manheim, Pa./Hempfield) is on both the women's volleyball and track & field teams.
The graduation rate for EMU honor students has been at 100 percent in recent years, with many completing more than one major. The students receive unique academic and co-curricular opportunities along with intensive mentoring from faculty.
When Ariel Barbosa came to Harrisonburg for her first visit to EMU, she fell in love.
“It was just incredible,” Barbosa says. “I got this feeling I hadn’t gotten at any other college. I just kept finding more things I liked about it: the people, the atmosphere, everything—especially how genuine people were. I’m grateful to have found it, and I’m so excited to start there.”
Barbosa, an avid soccer player, learned about EMU when coach Ted Erickson contacted her last spring. She plans to play for the Royals alongside her academic studies, with an anticipated major in visual and communication arts. She loves photography and is intrigued by a career in international “missionary journalism,” but “I’m open to any path where God calls me,” she says.
Her interest in working abroad matches her international background. Her father is from Brazil, and Barbosa went to South America this past year to visit that side of the family. She has also traveled to Nicaragua with a group called More Than Fùtbol, which brings organized soccer to youth in impoverished regions of Central America.
Barbosa led two programs at her school: starting a chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which has grown rapidly, and working with other students to create a group called Best Buddies, which builds relationships between students who have mental disabilities and those who don’t. Best Buddies recently painted a mural at the school as a fundraiser, and more than 300 students participated.
“I’m very curious, and I like to understand the root causes of things,” Barbosa says, of her motivation to learn.
Ben Stutzman almost didn’t come to EMU. He wants to study architecture, a major that EMU doesn’t currently offer. But then he found out about EMU’s new engineering program, with new facilities in the renovated Suter Science Center, and he saw possibilities.
“I started to rethink my plans and realized that I could go to EMU for engineering and then pursue architecture after my undergrad,” Stutzman says. “I’m really happy that this can work out, and I’m excited to go to a great school and be close to my family this fall.”
Stutzman, a senior at Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite High School, says he has many relatives in the Harrisonburg area, including a sister and two cousins currently at EMU.
In addition to engineering studies, Stutzman hopes to also minor or at least take some courses in environmental sustainability with an eye toward designing environmentally friendly buildings. He plans to run cross country and track and work on the school newspaper, activities he’s participated in at LMS.
“I’m also in my school’s Campus Chorale, but I’m not sure yet if I’ll have enough time to be part of a choral group at EMU,” Stutzman adds. “We’ll see.”
He says he also enjoys “reading, cooking, making videos, geocaching, hiking and getting a good night’s sleep.”
“I’m really grateful to receive the Yoder Scholarship,” Stutzman says, “and I can’t wait to come to EMU next year!”
Kayla Leaman is already deeply rooted at EMU. Both her parents—Jim Leaman, who chairs the Business and Economics Department and leads the MBA program, and Lori Leaman, a professor in the Education Department—work at the university, and her brother, Jordan Leaman (Harrisonburg, Va./Harrisonburg), is a current student, studying abroad in the Middle East this spring.
“I had already decided before the scholarship award to go to EMU,” Kayla Leaman says. “Since I grew up here, I have been able to see the community, and I really like how many different people of all different beliefs come together and have great discussions. You get to know all the people really well.”
Leaman moved to Harrisonburg when she was 7 years old, following five years in Nairobi, Kenya, where her parents did teaching, mission and non-governmental organization work, and two years in Pittsburgh. She fell in love with the mountains of the Shenandoah Valley and is in no hurry to leave, but she says she might eventually do mission work in Africa. “I feel a calling to go back there,” she says.
She enjoys robotics and plans to major in math education, because “I like the beauty of math,” she says, and wants to pass on that excitement to others. Her favorite course in high school so far: calculus.
Outside the classroom, Leaman also enjoys distance running, although she has been slowed by injuries during her high school career. She plans to run cross country at EMU, and possibly track, as well. Her brother, also a cross country runner, cemented her decision to stay close to home for college.
“I’ve seen through his experience what EMU is like,” Leaman says, “and it makes me excited to see what EMU is like, too.”
-- by Walt Wiltschek, EMU Staff Writer