As an undergraduate Morgan Sykes worked with prospective Hokies, was at the table when major university decisions were made, and spearheaded an effort to bring young students to Virginia Tech for a taste of college life.
And that was all before she even collected her college degree.
The recent graduate, who studied history in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, was a Virginia Tech ambassador, an undergraduate Board of Visitors representative, and a participant in the creation of Virginia Tech’s chapter of the College Mentors organization.
But all that engagement wouldn’t have been possible without generous donors to Virginia Tech. Thanks to multiple scholarships, seven administered through Virginia Tech, Sykes was able to be extraordinarily active in the campus community because she could forgo a part-time job.
A native of Winchester, Virginia, Sykes appreciates that scholarship donors “give people a lot of opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have,” adding that in her college experience “the best thing I did was be involved. I’ve been really thankful for that.”
Sykes’ involvement extended to the university’s Board of Visitors during the 2015-16 year, in which she worked as an advocate for undergraduate students and learned more about how the university operates.
“Working closely with Virginia Tech administration has shown me how much they do value student opinion and always try to put the students’ needs first,” she said.
Her first meeting as undergraduate Board of Visitors representative was held in the National Capital Region.
“I had never visited that part of campus and it was intriguing learning about the research conducted there,” Sykes said.
Without her experiences outside the classroom, college would have been incomplete and not nearly as rewarding, she said, recalling how it took her a while to feel engaged at Virginia Tech. That changed when she joined Kappa Delta the second semester of her freshman year.
“I wanted something more out of school,” she explained.
After joining the sorority and meeting many people heavily involved in campus life, Sykes was encouraged to find activities of her own. She applied to Hokie Ambassadors and to work as a Hokie Camp counselor after hearing from friends in Kappa Delta about the two activities. Soon, Sykes went on to expand her schedule of activities, and her network of friends quickly grew as well.
“The more activities I joined, the more I wanted to do,” she said. “Being involved was so rewarding and provided me experiences to practice leadership and communication skills.”
Along with serving on the Board of Visitors and her involvement in College Mentors, Sykes, an aspiring teacher, also co-founded and served as president of the Virginia Tech chapter of the Kappa Delta Pi Honor Society. The group promotes excellence in education and fellowship among those dedicated to teaching.
During the fall 2015 semester, she was a teaching assistant to Professor of History Peter Wallenstein, who was struck by her enthusiasm as a junior in his History of Virginia course. He remembers Sykes being so enthusiastic about answering a question that she nearly jumped out of her seat as she raised her hand
“She knew she wanted in,” he said of that class discussion. “She was very excited.”
That passion for learning and involvement grew.
Wallenstein said he’s watched Sykes seize opportunities, such as presenting her own research at conferences, including the prestigious ACC Meeting of the Minds. Sykes was one of 10 undergraduates from across the university to represent Virginia Tech.
Even with all her extracurricular responsibilities, she managed to excel in her coursework.
“It’s a shame to come here and not take advantage of opportunities,” Wallenstein said of students in general. “But most mere mortals cannot come up with the type of energy she does … Part of it, I think, is that she had a pretty good idea of what she wanted to do coming into college. She’s held to that even though she’s seen a broad menu of possibilities.”
Sykes, who graduated in spring 2016, is pursuing a master’s degree in elementary education at Virginia Tech’s School of Education to prepare for a teaching career that she long planned to have.
“I’ve honestly wanted to do it my whole life,” she said. “I have always just felt like my best self around kids … Teaching is an important career. It shapes children’s lives.”
Written by Annie McCallum