Skip to Content Skip to Navigation
Marshall University Foundation Logo

The Marshall University Foundation has announced that transport and logistics giant FedEx has gifted a jet engine from its fleet of aircraft to the Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT) program at Marshall University.

The engine, a General Electric CF6 motor from a retired McDonnel Douglas DC-10 aircraft, will be used in the daily classroom instruction of AMT students as they work toward their powerplant certification.

“Donations like the CF6 allow our students to have hands-on experience working on large transport category aircraft systems,” said Jim Smith, director of the AMT program at Marshall. “The CF6 is one of the most common large transport category engines in the world and will be what most of our students will work on when they enter the industry. Having a partner like FedEx provides our program with materials that we may not be able to acquire otherwise and helps provide our students with options in the industry which will enrich the overall student experience.”

FedEx provides customers and businesses worldwide with a broad portfolio of transportation, e-commerce and business services. FedEx is world-renowned for its air delivery service, with a fleet of nearly 700 aircraft traveling to more than 220 countries and territories and a daily package volume of more than 6.3 million.

“FedEx is committed to supporting programs and aviation schools such as the fine one at Marshall University that enables students to explore the endless possibilities of careers in aircraft maintenance,” said Scott Ogden, vice president of aircraft maintenance at FedEx. “We need a new generation of technicians to keep the world flying, keep communities connected and keep the dream alive – that they, too, can soar with a career in aviation. FedEx donating retired aircraft, engines, and tools helps students have a more realistic approach to aircraft maintenance in their training.”

The Aviation Maintenance Technology program at Marshall, which launched in 2022 as a joint degree program with Mountwest Community and Technical College, provides training in aircraft maintenance technology where students learn to inspect, maintain and repair aircraft systems. The program, housed at Huntington’s Tri-State Airport, currently has 22 students, and is expected to grow to 30 for the fall semester.

The AMT program offers a two-year Associate of Applied Science degree through an 18-month, year-round program. Graduates receive an associate degree and are eligible to take the Airframe and Powerplant certification exams from the Federal Aviation Administration. The program is the first of its kind in the region.

Thanks to partners like FedEx, the program will only continue to grow to provide a strong workforce both regionally and around the world.

“Because FedEx has such a large presence with their daily aircraft operations, we knew it was vital to partner together to provide a talented workforce for the industry,” Smith said. “When we were developing this program, FedEx asked what they could do to help our program and they generously offered this engine. We are grateful to FedEx for helping make an impact on our students.”

The AMT program is part of Marshall’s larger Division of Aviation, which also includes a commercial pilot program through Marshall’s Bill Noe Flight School. For further information, contact Jim Smith, director of the AMT program, by e-mail at or by phone at 304-696-4832.

Marshall University and the Marshall University Foundation are extremely pleased to announce a transformative gift of $2 million from alumnus and current Board of Governors member Jim Smith and his wife, Pam Kushmerick, to support the new Marshall For All program at the university.

This generous donation is a testament to their commitment to empowering students and fostering innovation at Marshall. The gift will be allocated to support Marshall For All, a revolutionary program designed to help students earn their degree from Marshall debt-free.

“President Smith has an inspiring vision for Marshall University,” Jim Smith said. “Marshall For All is an important part of his plan and it addresses one of the biggest issues in higher education today. Pam and I feel blessed to be in a position to support this effort. We are both first-generation college graduates, so we understand the challenges – but more importantly the rewards – of that journey.”

The Marshall For All program allows Marshall students to combine scholarships, grants, work opportunities and family contributions to earn their bachelor’s degree without needing student loans. To qualify, students will need to complete a FAFSA annually and commit to actions such as graduating on time, pursuing work opportunities and participating in financial literacy programs.

The program, announced by Marshall University President Brad D. Smith in 2022, launched in the fall with new first-year West Virginians and metro area students. The university will scale up the program over the next decade.

President Smith expressed profound gratitude for the gift which will help launch the program, saying, “This remarkable gift exemplifies the boundless possibilities that arise when individuals passionately advocate for education. This gift will open doors to opportunity, elevate potential and extend the reach of our university’s impact in making Marshall the right choice for everyone. We are immensely grateful to Jim and Pam for their extraordinary generosity and dedication to Marshall and its students.”

Jim Smith is the former president and CEO of information and media giant Thomson Reuters. He is a 1981 graduate of Marshall, which he attended on a football scholarship. Smith has been inducted into Marshall’s College of Business Hall of Fame and was awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters by the university.

Smith spent more than three decades with the Thomson organization, starting in a newsroom and ending as president and CEO from 2012-20. Today he chairs the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a London-based charity focused on media freedom, the rule of law and access to justice.

He was appointed to the Marshall University Board of Governors by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice in 2022.

To learn more about the Marshall For All program, visit To learn more about philanthropic support of Marshall University, please visit or follow us on social media @ForMarshallU.

Almost every spring for the last three decades, hundreds of scholarship recipients, donors and their respective guests, as well as university faculty and staff, have gathered for the annual Scholarship Honor Brunch. The weather, often unpredictable, has allowed guests to don their springtime Sunday best one year and required their winter coats the next; but the lightning that strikes when a donor and individual beneficiary meet is always guaranteed.

Started in 1993, the scholarship reception, or “Tea” as it was referred to for several years, was started by the development arm of Marshall University to bring together the beneficiaries of privately funded scholarships with the philanthropists who made their awards possible.

Dr. Carolyn Hunter, the vice president for development when she retired in 2003, recalled fondly the desire the donors had to meet the students.

“At the time, we were surprised at the extent donors would want to be involved with their scholarship recipients,” Hunter said, “but folks loved interacting with their students.”

Jean Augustine, an administrative assistant in the Office of Development for 12 years in the mid-90s to late 2000s, grew the event from more than 100 people in attendance to crowds of 300-plus by the time of her retirement in 2007. Participants today still remember the receptions that Augustine coordinated and how she often allowed folks in the audience to “pass the mic” around.

“People enjoyed sharing their history with the group in attendance,” said Augustine, who encouraged Marshall students to attend scholarship receptions as well as write thank you letters to those from whom they were supported. “It does matter when people say thank you.”

Hunter remembers paying $43 dollars a semester for tuition when she attended Marshall for her undergraduate degree in the mid-1960s, and understands that as the years have passed, scholarships have become increasingly more vital to students and the accessibility of higher education.

Dr. Ron Area, CEO and senior vice president for development of the Marshall University Foundation since 2007, delivered a special welcome to more than 400 students and donors who attended this year’s event in the Don Morris Room of the Memorial Student Center.

“The Scholarship Honor Brunch brings together scholarship beneficiaries and award benefactors and highlights our mission to maximize continuous financial support for Marshall University and its students,” Area said. “We are absolutely committed to increasing the accessibility of education for our students and are thankful for the benevolence of our donors who truly support their Marshall family through their donations as well as their presence at this event.”

Marshall President Brad D. Smith and his wife Alys established their family scholarship in 2014 prior to serving as the president and first lady of Marshall University. President Smith, who served as the featured speaker for this year’s event, spoke about the role scholarships play in Marshall’s past, present and future success.

“Education is the great equalizer, but we know that the cost of an education is becoming more burdensome on our students,” Smith said. “Together, we have already built a strong foundation at Marshall, and I cannot wait to see what we can do to ensure Marshall for all, Marshall forever.”

To Nikki Riniti, a rising senior and theatre major who grew up in Wayne, West Virginia, scholarships are not only economically important, but they are also motivational.

“My scholarships are important to me for numerous reasons,” Riniti said. “They bring such a financial relief for me, especially as a first-generation college student. They act as a reminder of what I am working toward and show that my dedication is acknowledged. Through scholarships, I know that I am not only recognized but also appreciated.”

As a recipient of the W. B. “Bart” and Doris Andrews Fine Arts Scholarship, Riniti enjoyed being able to spend one-on-one time with the donor of her scholarship, Mrs. Doris Andrews, who often attends art exhibitions, concerts, and for Riniti, theatre performances, to support her scholarship recipients.

“She never fails to congratulate me on my work,” Riniti said. “She sends me sweet letters including newspaper clippings about my shows I am in. With our busy schedules, it is rare that I can see her in person, so the brunch is a wonderful opportunity for us to chat. We even got our first picture together!”

Riniti not only attended the 2023 Scholarship Honor Brunch as a recipient, she also performed in an interdisciplinary effort with the College of Arts and Media’s School of Theatre and Dance, along with the School of Music, put on as part of the program’s student entertainment; a sneak peek of a then, upcoming production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

“The brunch also provided the theatre an opportunity to perform, which gives other people a look at what we do,” Riniti said. “We had so many people who had never seen a performance by us that were astounded by our work. That was the greatest gift of the brunch.”

With over 800 donor households and more than 1,600 individual students invited each year, Riniti recognized that the Scholarship Honor Brunch is a unique event with the diversity in the honors represented, the intermingling of different backgrounds and majors and the opportunity for students and donors alike to learn from one another.

“At the table with my donor were all types of different people and I got to hear about their programs,” Riniti said. “Amazing people got to share their talents with each other.”

As a coordinator for the event since 2013, Krystle Davis, senior director of donor relations with the Foundation, believes it’s the relationships that are formed between the donors and students that make this event unlike any other event on campus, and a highlight for participants who annually look forward to attending.

“Each table is thoughtfully curated with students and their specific donors, whenever possible,” Davis said. “With a list of thousands as possible attendees, it is truly a blessing when multiple donors and their specific students are both able to attend and be seated with one another. Our students are so very thankful for the impact scholarships have on the trajectory of their career as a student and beyond, and they truly enjoy being able to share a meal with the person who is directly involved in making their dream of an education, come true.”

At once a yearly letter, the Foundation sends bi-annual reports to the contacts of the scholarships that shares not only the financial status of the fund but the name, hometown, major, college and class year of the recipients. While the donors appreciate receiving those updates, Augustine believes there’s no substitute for the meetings over brunch.

“Nothing can take the place of face-to-face interactions between the student recipient and scholarship supporter,” Augustine said.

Dr. Hunter appreciated how the event has carried on and grown since its inception and echoed that, while the program and attendees of the event may vary from year to year, the importance of community fostered through this event has remained constant.

“Students and donors coming together to tell their stories is wonderful,” Hunter said.

To learn how to establish a scholarship to help students at Marshall, contact Krystle Davis at the Marshall University Foundation by phone at 304-696-6781 or by email at

Before the game-winning championships, before the distinguished academic programs, before Old Main, and even before Marshall University itself – there was the Beech Tree.

A campus landmark with roots stretching as far back as the 1500s, the Beech Tree welcomed the first students and teachers in 1837 when then-Marshall Academy opened its doors. In the years that followed, the tree stood alongside Old Main, the oldest structure on the university’s grounds. Though Marshall’s landscape was ever-changing during the late 1800s through the early 1900s, the tree was constant.

On April 27, 1987, tragedy struck when the Beech Tree was toppled during a storm, according to a story in The Parthenon, the school newspaper. The Marshall community gathered to mourn the historic sight. Before the tree’s demise, students and staff would etch their initials in its wood to commemorate their time at Marshall. The tree was a solace to students who would often eat lunch under its branches. It saw numerous engagements, weddings and other important milestones. It was as much a part of Marshall’s heritage as any living human being.

But all was not lost, as the previous year local artist Byron Johnson had used a limb from the Beech Tree to create the Grand Mace. According to Marshall’s website, the Grand Mace is carried by the Chief Marshal of the faculty at all formal university occasions. Johnson, a graduate of Marshall, is a wood carver and sculptor, as well as an art teacher in Wayne County.

The Grande Mace, a symbol of authority and leadership, consists of a gold-plated bronze casting that features the Seal of Marshall University on one side and the Great Seal of the State of West Virginia on the other. Below the casting features a four-sided wood carving that signifies distinct symbols of the university, including the towers of Old Main, the Memorial Fountain, the Seal of Marshall College and a bison, Marshall’s official mascot.

Marshall’s faculty members who have had the privilege of carrying the Grand Mace and serving as Chief Marshal consider the responsibility an honor.

“I don’t know that many people who have had the honor of carrying the Mace enjoyed it as much as I did,” said Dan Hollis, a professor with the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications in the College of Arts and Media. “It was just so cool to be a part of that tradition.”

Hollis was Chief Marshal during the winter commencement ceremony in 2014 and for a two-year cycle from 2017-2018.

“Wherever I placed it, it was always my goal, whether it be at commencement or convocation, to have it point toward campus and to have the face of John Marshall look upon his students,” Hollis said.

In the two years following the Beech Tree’s passing, a Beech Tree committee was formed to decide what to do with the remains. As luck would have it, a few years before the tree was lost, James D. Rogers, then an assistant professor of geography, had picked up a few nuts that had fallen from the tree. In a 1989 edition of The Parthenon, Rogers said he planted these nuts at his home in Milton, West Virginia, and thus a seedling was born.

On April 22, 1989, as part of Marshall’s alumni weekend, a planting ceremony occurred and the seedling was planted next to the stump of its predecessor, known now as the Old Beech, and the new tree was known from then on, jokingly and affectionately, as the “Son of the Beech.”

A few feet away from the “Son of the Beech” sits a plaque, originally dedicated in 1957 by Omicron Delta Kappa that encapsulates the trees’ importance to the university. The inscription reads “I am part and parcel of the growth and history of Marshall College. Under my branches I have gathered great personages, educators, philosophers, doctors, lawyers, musicians and artists. I am the symbol of all noble attributes and ideals of man, industry and honesty, courage and strength, knowledge and fruitfulness, goodness and inspiration and wisdom, simplicity and peace, modesty and loyalty, beauty and grace. I am the spirit and symbol of Marshall College. I am The Marshall Beech Tree.”

To whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48).

It is an adage as old as time, and one that has guided countless individuals throughout history to carefully assess their worldly deeds and accrued possessions, giving back to others whenever possible. It is a statement as complex as it is simplistic, one that reminds those who have been blessed in life to in turn do the same for others.

For John Rahal, he counts himself as one of the lucky ones.

A Huntington native and Marshall business graduate, Rahal aspired to one day take over his grandfather’s accounting practice and make a life for himself in the Appalachian region. What he didn’t expect was that his life journey would lead him to the boardroom of a Fortune 300 company as a corporate executive.

“My career journey has far exceeded anything that I ever thought possible while I sat at my Marshall graduation in the Civic Center,” Rahal said. “I never dreamt I would have gotten here.”

Rahal is a principal with the financial-services firm Edward Jones, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Marshall in 1991, and later earned his MBA from the Kellog School of Management at Northwestern University.

Rahal joined Edward Jones as a financial advisor in 1997. In 2000 he became a limited partner with the company and was named a general principal in 2007. He’s held many roles at Edward Jones, serving on the firm’s management committee from 2012 through 2017.

Today, Rahal is responsible for Edward Jones’ transformation. In that capacity, he is responsible for anticipating and identifying roles, capabilities and strategies to enable the firm to transform towards its vision of improving the lives of clients, their families and their communities. Edward Jones is one of the largest financial services firms in North America with nearly 19,000 financial advisors.

Throughout his burgeoning career, Rahal has remained grounded in his West Virginia roots, and counts his education at Marshall as a key cog in the wheel of his professional success.

“I become more appreciative every day of the grounding and hard work instilled in me by my Huntington upbringing and Marshall University,” Rahal said. “I was in Boston recently co-leading leadership courses for Edward Jones at Harvard University. In the financial services industry, we consult and prepare people for an intangible. That intangible is a vision of what retirement might look like,. what putting a child through college looks like, or what a legacy left to the next generation might look like.

“Our roles, as financial advisors, is to create the pathway to fulfill someone’s purpose in life. I am sure there are a lot of people with a lot of purposes in West Virginia that far exceed what they might know of. That is unleashing human potential, unleashing dreams. There is just something about West Virginia that I love. I think if you are born and raised there, you get it. I want to see the people of West Virginia prosper and realize that potential, which is why I give back.”

Holding tight to that same adage about personal responsibility, Rahal has made a commitment to his alma mater and to future students that will one day call Marshall home. He established the Rahal Family Education Fund in 2016 to support the College of Business and its most pressing needs. In 2021, he donated $1 million to support the Rahal Center for Strategic Engagement within Marshall University’s Lewis College of Business.

Rahal also remains an active member of the Marshall community, contributing to the growth and success of the Lewis College of Business as an advisor, as well as supporting the Thundering Herd athletic programs and other initiatives at the university. He has also supported the new business facility being built adjacent to campus and looks forward to seeing the great things that will come from the new building.

“I look forward to seeing what great ideas, concepts, theories, businesses and entrepreneurship comes from those four walls,” Rahal said. “I love that we have brick and mortar, but what I can’t wait to see is what is produced within its walls.”

More recently, Rahal included Marshall in his estate plans with the hope that future contributions to the university will help impact the region in profound ways.

“Marshall University is an opportunity factory,” Rahal said. “I have always been intrigued by the NCAA’s advertising campaign about how many student-athletes there are in America and how few will turn pro. Almost all of them, however, will earn a degree and have an opportunity to do something amazing with their lives. I want those that go to Marshall to think in terms of what is possible.”

When speaking about the limitless potential of a Marshall education, Rahal is quick to point to another West Virginia product who has done great things in the world – current Marshall University President Brad D. Smith. Smith, from Ceredo-Kenova, spent 11 years as CEO of Intuit, transforming the company’s business model and earning high marks as one of the top CEOs in the United States.

He, too, has made his impact on Marshall through philanthropy, and Rahal noted that his vision for the university and leadership-by-example has been an inspiration to him and many others.

“It is hard not to be inspired by Brad’s commitment to our university. And for those of us who can, we need to help him by stepping up and meeting that commitment,” Rahal said. “A kid from CK that goes on to be the CEO of Intuit and a kid from Huntington being on the executive leadership team of a financial services firm, there are not too many stories like that.”

Smith recently announced the Marshall For All, Marshall Forever program at the university, placing students on a path toward a reduced or debt-free education through a unique combination of scholarships, grants and work opportunities. The program will begin this fall with a pilot program of 100 students, and Rahal said that innovative ideas like this are exactly why he continues to be engaged with the university.

“If you look at some of the most successful people in the world, I bet you will see that many left unincumbered by student debt,” Rahal said. “With that burden lifted, it allows for them to take risks and allows for them to have a growth mindset of what is possible. Student debt, on any level, limits the growth mindset and forward thinking that needs to happen to move ahead.

“Lifting student debt sounds grandiose, but it really is not. By others knowing that I, or whomever else, made the opportunity present itself for a free education through giving, hopefully they will pay it forward as well. When I hear Brad talk about Marshall For All, Marshall Forever, I think what he is saying is that the opportunity for greatness should be available to everyone and no one should be limited with a debt load that prevents them from realizing their full potential. At Marshall, we know what we do well, and we know what we don’t do, and we need to leverage that to position Marshall as a global leader.”

From a bright-eyed accountant fresh out of college, to his current role as a leading voice in the global financial services industry, Rahal lauds what Marshall has meant to his life and is eager to pay that forward to impact future generations.

“I never saw myself in a role like this, and I certainly didn’t see myself as a corporate executive,” Rahal said. “Obviously my mother and father and my grandparents had a lot to do with the molding of who I am as a businessperson, but it was Marshall that gave me the skills. I can tell you that I wouldn’t trade my time there for the world. That is why I give back to Marshall.”

Leela V. Raju, M.D., followed in the footsteps of her parents, Dr. Vadrevu K. and Rani Raju, when she, too, chose a career ophthalmology. Now, she is establishing a new scholarship at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine in honor of her parents dedicated to supporting future ophthalmologists.

The Dr. V.K. and Rani Raju Scholarship provides a one-time financial award for a fourth-year medical student who matches in ophthalmology.

“After being introduced to ophthalmology and admiring my father’s dedication to the care of his patients, I knew ophthalmology was the career for me,” said Dr. Leela Raju. “I am very happy I can give back to the school that helped me realize my dream of being a doctor, honor my parents and support future ophthalmologists at Marshall University.”

Dr. V.K. Raju was born in Andhra Pradesh, India, and graduated from Andhra University before completing his residency and fellowship in the United Kingdom. He is an ophthalmologist at Regional Eye Associates in West Virginia and Maryland and serves as a clinical professor of ophthalmology at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia, and an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Raju is president and founder of the Eye Foundation of America. Founded in 1977, the Foundation works in eye camps and masonry hospitals in more than 30 developing countries in an effort to eliminate avoidable blindness.

Rani Raju, also from Andhra Pradesh, India, has degrees in biology and English literature. She worked as an ophthalmic assistant for several years, and then as an office manager at the Monongalia Eye Clinic in Morgantown.

Dr. Leela Raju, earned her medical degree in 2003 from the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and completed her ophthalmology residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center followed by a cornea and external disease fellowship at Baylor School of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Dr. Raju serves as a clinical associate professor of ophthalmology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and medical director of ophthalmology at NYU Langone Eye Center in Cobble Hill and Staten Island. She also serves as secretary and education coordinator of the Eye Foundation of America.

For more information or to make a gift to the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, please contact Linda Holmes, director of development and alumni affairs, by phone at 304-691-1711 or by e-mail at For news and information about the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, follow us on Twitter @MUSOMWV, like us on Facebook, or visit

The Marshall University Foundation announced it received a $25,000 grant from Truist West Virginia Foundation to support need-based scholarships at Marshall University.

“We are appreciative of the long-standing support and generosity of the Truist West Virginia Foundation,” said Dr. Ron Area, chief executive officer of the Marshall Foundation. “Because of Truist, Marshall students will be able to better navigate their college careers without serious financial stress.”

The grant will support scholarship recipients who are full- or part-time students, residents of West Virginia and have need, as determined by the Office of Student Financial Assistance. Scholarship aid has increased by 44 percent over the last several years due to the Marshall Rises comprehensive campaign with 500 more students receiving aid annually.

“We are pleased to support Marshall University Foundation’s admirable commitment to helping students attend Marshall University” said Jacqueline Keene, executive director for the Truist West Virginia Foundation. “The grant from the Truist West Virginia Foundation will help make a difference in the lives of many, which aligns with Truist’s purpose to inspire and build better lives and communities.”

The Marshall Foundation maximizes continuous financial support for Marshall University and its students by soliciting, receiving, investing and administering private gift support. The Marshall Foundation is committed to providing professional service to Marshall University, its students and donors.

Truist and Truist West Virginia Foundation’s relationship with Marshall pre-dates the merger of One Valley Bank and BB&T in 2001. Truist provided a 10-year commitment toward the establishment of what is now called the Truist Center for Leadership at the Lewis College of Business and Brad D. Smith Schools of Business. Truist was a sponsor of the 2022 and 2023 Business Leadership Symposiums at the Truist Center for Leadership at the College of Business.

The Truist West Virginia Foundation is committed to Truist Financial Corporation’s (NYSE: TFC) purpose to inspire and build better lives and communities. Since 2000, the foundation and its predecessors have been making strategic investments in nonprofit organizations to help ensure the communities it serves have more opportunities for a better quality of life. The Truist West Virginia Foundation’s grants and activities focus on economic development, education, arts, health care, social services and financial literacy. Learn more by contacting Jacqueline Keene at

In the fall of 2022, the Marshall University Foundation announced the hiring of Matt James as the new executive director of alumni relations at Marshall University.

A bright young mind from Bluefield, West Virginia, with more than a decade of experience on the student side of the university, James hit the ground running with a plethora of fresh ideas and a vision for how to better connect Marshall’s alumni population to the university. Through that vision, James hopes that alumni around the globe will experience a renewed passion for their alma mater and, in turn, get involved in ways that they never have in the past.

So where does that vision begin? Right in their own backyards through an extensive alumni chapter network.

“My first mission in this position is to rebuild our alumni chapters around the world,” James said. “It is no surprise that the pandemic was detrimental to many programs, but especially difficult for our alumni chapters. After assuming this position in October, our alumni and Foundation team wasted little time facilitating the growth and cultivation of multiple alumni and affinity chapters.

“We are also working closely to support President Smith’s vision and priorities, specifically to grow enrollment, build scholarships and provide mentorship and employment opportunities for our students and alumni. I also feel compelled to identify fresh and innovative ways to engage our young alumni population. We are in the process of strategically planning new initiatives and programs to grow our young alumni network and celebrate their accomplishments.”

Alumni chapters are a vital cog in the wheel of success at Marshall. Each alumni chapter provides its members with the means to stay connected to Marshall, while offering unique events and opportunities to give back to the university. These chapters can be regionally based, or affinity based centered around specific programs, areas of study or shared interests.

To facilitate success across these groups, all alumni chapters share in four key principles for advancing the goals and objectives of Marshall. Those goals are achieved through student recruitment and enrollment, professional mentoring and networking, fundraising and scholarships and overall university support and fellowship opportunities. In summary, alumni chapters provide a place for passionate supporters of Marshall to gather and make a difference for their alma mater.

“Alumni chapters are a great way to gather together and cheer on the Herd in a welcoming environment of individuals that shared together in the Marshall experience,” James said. “But our hope is that these groups go far beyond simply watching games together. We want our alumni to get involved and to give back, either through service by helping recruit and mentor students and young alums, or financially through supporting important initiatives on campus such as scholarships. Either way, I think alumni chapters are the key to future success at Marshall.”

Over the years, alumni chapters have provided outlets for game watching parties, family gatherings and academic interests, while at the same time helping recruit students from their region to Marshall through high school outreach and fundraising. Marshall’s alumni chapters have raised millions of dollars for scholarships and have provided the funding needed for thousands of students to obtain degrees.

Leaning on past successes, combined with his own vision for the program, James hopes to see the alumni chapter network thrive like never before over the coming years. Already, James has seen an outpouring of support from individuals looking to start new chapters in their area, and through others looking to rekindle previously thriving groups.

“Over the next decade, I can see a path toward a thriving global alumni network of dozens of chapters that are collectively contributing to increased scholarships, mentoring and job opportunities for our students,” James said. “I am also striving to create new programs to bridge the gap between our student body and our broader alumni base through mentoring programs like our student-alumni ambassadors. I can see a future with annual events on the eve of every commencement to connect graduates with regional alumni chapters based on where our students plan to move after graduation. Lastly, I see alumni relations playing an even larger role in recruitment endeavors and academic initiatives in future years.

“In large part, our alumni are currently an untapped resource that we plan to leverage with more intentional practices moving forward.”

Having spent the majority of his life serving his alma mater, James is excited about the new direction of alumni relations, and looks forward to connecting with people who have supported the university for years, as well as with individuals that have fallen out of touch with Marshall.

“I fell in love with MU and never left, having spent exactly half of my life here over the past 19 years as a student and staff member,” James said. “The impact Marshall University has made on my life is immeasurable. I’ll never be able to pay back everything this school has given to me over the last two decades. Marshall is a special place, but it’s the people who make it so special.”

For more information about alumni chapters, contact the Office of Alumni Relations at (304) 696-2523 or

If you ask high school football coach Larry Choates to define the word “winner,” his answer would have little to do with athletic achievement. It would not be defined by wins and losses, nor would it show up in statistics or in shiny trophies on a shelf.

A winner, according to Choates, is someone who makes a difference in the lives of others. It is an adage he hopes to instill in his young players every time they step foot on the field of play.

“I was lucky. I had both of my parents in the house growing up, but I still needed more,” Choates recalled. “I needed guidance and friendship, and I got that from my football coaches. They provided all the extra things that I needed after school. They kept me out of trouble and gave me some purpose. I want to provide that for the people and players at this school.”

From the guidance of his own coaches, to having the opportunity to inspire young men himself, Choates was selected earlier this year by the Washington Commanders to represent John R. Lewis High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, as its nominee for the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award. The Commanders selected Choates after having previously recognized him as their coach of the month.

Despite serving at the high school as head coach for only two seasons, Choates’ immediate impact on the program and the players made him an easy selection.

“We are an emerging program, but we are growing,” Choates said. “During the COVID season, before I became head coach of the program, we only had 40 kids. We’ve been working to get more and more kids to come out and play football. I have a lot of kids that their parents didn’t grow up playing football and they had never played before. A lot of kids work right after school, or are taking care of their younger siblings, so we are trying to build our program up the right way while looking after these young men.”

Choates grew up playing football in a small town in northern Virginia, reveling in the grace and beauty of player movement combined with the raw violence of grown men smashing into one another. But there was another element to the game that immediately struck a chord with a young Choates – the chess-like strategy of coaching.

While playing the tight end position in high school, Choates became quick friends with the team’s quarterback, a young man who also happened to be the son of the head football coach at the time. And that relationship quickly blossomed into a sea of opportunity.

“I knew I loved football a lot, not just playing the game, but the other things that went along with it like the organizational pieces,” Choates said. “The son of our head coach was our quarterback and he and I were really tight, so in the offseason I got to see behind the scenes some of the things his dad did. We had a couple of camps at our school that I got to be a part of and when I was a kid, I was always an organizer. I recognized early that was a skillset that I had.”

While Choates found plenty of success on the gridiron in those early years, it was actually another team, competing nearly 400 miles away, that would change his life forever. Choates grew up watching Marshall University in the early 1990s on television and dreamed of one day cheering on the Herd as a fan.

“When I was a freshman in high school, there was a channel up here that used to play every Marshall football game, so I became a Marshall fan,” Choates said with a laugh. “I still remember the ’92 season. I watched Troy Brown, and the football stadium was brand new, it was all just really exciting. It was easy to fall in love with a team that is winning all the time. I watched the games, and I decided I wanted to be a part of a winning school so I came to Marshall.”

Encouraged by one his teachers, who was also a Marshall alumnus, and a few of his friends who followed him to Huntington, Choates enrolled at Marshall and immediately found the atmosphere exactly what he was looking for in a school.

“Marshall was a great decision. I got to see a lot of good football and met a lot of lifelong friends,” Choates said. “The people were so nice, I felt like a part of the family as soon as I got to campus. It was not too big, not too small, and far enough away where my parents weren’t knocking on the door at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning. I even had a couple of friends from my senior class come with me to Marshall. It was a fresh new start for me.”

Choates would eventually earn a communications degree from Marshall in 2005, spending his spare time working at area radio-giant Kindred Communications, as well as part-time at The Union Pub and Grill and on campus at the award-winning WMUL-FM radio station. He also took in a few games while on campus, cheering on the Herd just as a new head coach was taking over the reins of the program – Marshall legend Bob Pruett.

“I watched (Pruett) a lot. I learned about halftime adjustments and just seeing him around town and how he carried himself, it was great to see the role of a head coach at a major university,” Choates said. “He always talked about, ‘we have the best coaches, the best facilities, we need to have the best team.’ They believed that all the way and won a lot of championships. Watching that rubbed off on me and, as we build the right way and take our time with these kids, hopefully we will have a championship program here at John R. Lewis High School.”

After graduation, Choates returned to Virginia and began working as a teacher at Edison High School, the same high school he grew up attending. It was there that he got his first taste of coaching young men on and off the field.

“When I started there, I became friendly with the head coach and one of the coaches from when I was in high school,” Choates said. “That is when I got interested in coaching and began helping with one of the positions. I was immediately hooked.”

After bouncing around to a couple of different high schools over the next few years, Choates landed at John R. Lewis High School in 2017. While serving as a social studies teacher, Choates finished up his graduate degree from George Mason University and continued down his coaching path as quarterbacks coach. He eventually took over the program with his first full-time coaching position in 2021.

While there is nothing glamorous about the football program at John R. Lewis High School, and the record of the team since he has taken over – zero wins in 2021, a single victory in 2022 – is nothing to write home about, it was the work that Choates is doing off the field that immediately caught the eye of the Commanders organization.

Things like reading days at the local elementary schools where players share in their favorite children’s books, and community service and mentoring programs like Rising Lancers where players and coaches work with younger athletes to prepare them for the rigors of high school and athletics.

“I want these kids to be good, outstanding young people who are going to be good fathers, good husbands and just good, community-minded people that help others,” Choates said. “That is what is important to me. Football is just the teaching method. What I am most proud of is that we have 26 kids in the program that had a 3.5 GPA or better and 12 of those kids had a 4.0 (GPA). One even had a 4.6. These kids are doing what they need to do in the classroom for sure.”

Once nominated, each coach worked with their local NFL team to submit a packet detailing their accomplishments, which were later judged by NFL coaches and former players such as Peyton Manning and Tony Dungey. The winning coach received a personal cash prize, as well as a cash prize for their school, along with an invitation to the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl events and recognition at the NFL Honors ceremony.

While he wasn’t selected as the national recipient of the award, just to be nominated by an NFL team was an honor. It meant that what he was doing was being noticed and was having an impact.

“It was an honor just to be nominated and to have your name on a list of coaches that have won multiple state championships and done other great things for these high schools,” Choates said. “But this wasn’t about me. It was about the work that me and the other coaches are doing to even get this accolade. This is a team award because I can’t be the coach of the year if I am not working with others. I can’t be recognized if the kids aren’t buying in to what we are doing. Getting more kids to come out and build the sport of football while making a difference in our community is what it translates to.”

Of course, there were benefits to the players as well. The team had an opportunity during the process to attend a Commanders game and be recognized on the field and will be participating in a camp at the stadium later this year, as well as community service opportunities with the NFL. And being the savvy marketing person that he is, Choates has used this as a recruiting tool to get more kids to come out for the football program.

“Now that people are starting to realize what we are doing with this program, more kids are coming out,” Choates said. “It takes a while for people to buy-in to what you are doing, but we are in year three and the kids are starting to buy-in to going to the weight room more, getting to class and maintaining their grades and just being upstanding citizens in the community. We are doing the grassroots stuff to get people involved in our program and for our kids to give back.”

Of course, the question remains, now that he is back in class following a dream experience working with the NFL, has his life changed at all?

“My students were pretty excited about it, but my wife didn’t know what to think,” Choates joked. “When I told her and we read through everything, we finished dinner and she said, ‘OK, now it is your turn to wash the dishes Mr. Coach of the Year.’”

College students often face financial hardship while earning their degrees. Some take part-time jobs. Some take out loans. For many, it becomes quite cumbersome.

The chance at a scholarship can make all the difference in a student’s life. The Marshall Rises campaign opened new doors for students as it increased scholarship aid by 44 percent. Now more than ever, Marshall students can attend college with less strain to their wallets.

Nico Raffinengo, a sophomore from West Palm, Florida, is a Yeager Scholar. The Society of Yeager Scholars is a prestigious academic and leadership program. Yeager Scholars like Raffinengo are able to attend Marshall with a full scholarship all four years. For Raffinengo, the experience has been life changing, and it all occurred by happenstance.

“I didn’t really know about Marshall, and I found out about it through a colleague at my old high school. She was a Yeager Scholar and she told me about the scholarship opportunity,” Raffinengo said. “I decided that this was going to be the best opportunity that I think I could have.”

Raffinengo, who is studying international business and political science, has delved headfirst into campus life. He is part of Marshall’s pre-law club, becoming president this year. He is also a student senator for Marshall’s Student Government Association, as well as a presidential ambassador, which is a group of representatives of the university’s student body who assist the Office of the President at special events and meetings throughout the year. They also represent Marshall and its president in the community.

With all that Raffinengo has been able to accomplish so far during his time at Marshall, he is already looking ahead to his next steps. He has two goals. One is to be a recipient, and the first Marshall graduate, of the Rhodes Scholarship. The second is to attend law school.

The Rhodes Scholarship is a fully funded, full-time postgraduate award that enables young talent around the world to study at the University of Oxford for two or more years. Many representatives and senators in the United States Congress, as well as presidents and diplomats of other nations, have been Rhodes Scholars.

“It’s just one of the most amazing experiences that somebody can get in their educational career,” Raffinengo said. “The opportunities it provides is bar none. Because all the students are academically amazing and amazing people on top of that, they’re doing great projects in their communities. You have this insanely dedicated group of students who, when they graduate, are going to do wonderful things.”

Raffinengo said he owes his current and future success to the scholarships he’s received at Marshall.

“I think scholarships are something that can even out the playing field,” he said. “A lot of students can’t go to college because of the cost, and when people are able to donate to universities it lowers the cost for students overall, which allows more students to attend university and seek higher education.”