Members of Leah Berhanu’s family were looking for a way to honor her legacy of lending a helping hand to those who needed it. They chose to create the Leah Berhanu Financial Rescue Scholarship at West Virginia University, her alma mater.
“She appreciated people who tried to pave the way and be good role models and she wanted to be that for others, too,” said her parents Samuel Berhanu and Seble Hailu. “Whether it was sharing her short life experiences with close friends or giving someone time and a friendly ear, Leah made it a point that she did something worthwhile for someone in need every day.”
The victim of a tragic pedestrian-vehicle accident, Leah succumbed to her injuries and passed away on February 1. The endowment will provide scholarships for undergraduate students in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources’ Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering who demonstrate severe financial need that would likely cause them to discontinue their education at WVU. First preference will be given to female students.
“Leah was strong, independent, focused and was destined for greatness,” her family said. “She always liked challenges and she came from a long line of strong women, starting with her great grandmothers. Engineering was not the easiest major to pick especially since Leah knew that women are severely underrepresented in the field, both in academia and as working professionals. Currently, only 14 percent of engineers are women, according to the Congressional Joint Economic Committee and we would like to put some effort into changing that.”
The $25,000 endowment includes a gift of $5,000 from The Thrasher Group, a multi-disciplinary engineering-architecture firm headquartered in Bridgeport.
“The Thrasher Group gave Leah the opportunity to work as an intern and Leah was looking forward to a full-time appointment with the firm as she was finishing up her course work before she was taken from us,” her family continued. “The firm’s founder, Woody Thrasher, graduated from the Statler College. Mr. Thrasher noticed Leah’s strong interest in engineering, her drive and the way she presented herself in front of a large crowd and offered her the opportunity to work as intern. After her summer internship, the firm offered Leah a position to work for the company as an engineer after graduation. Leah loved Thrasher and the folks at Thrasher loved Leah.”
“By all accounts, Leah had a very bright future ahead of her as an engineer and she left us far too soon,” said Gene Cilento, Glen H. Hiner Dean of the Statler College. “She had a wonderful personality and a very congenial attitude toward everyone. She was actively engaged in professional societies and in wanting to make a difference. We are very grateful to her family for honoring future engineers with this special gift, which will ensure that Leah’s spirit lives on for years to come.”
A native of Morgantown, Leah was involved in Adventure WV, serving as an orientation leader and a high ropes course facilitator. She was inducted into Alpha Mu chapter of the Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity, where she served as the historian and service chair, and was an active member of WVU’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers.
“Leah loved the outdoors and cherished being a mountaineer and a West Virginian,” her family said. “WVU and its community meant a great deal to Leah and she meant a lot to the community, as was demonstrated at many events following her passing. We are left with a big hole that we don’t have a planned action or even the foresight to fill. Establishing the endowment provides some chance toward achieving that.”
Individuals interested in contributing to the endowment can contact Heather Cross, assistant director of development in the Statler College, at 304.293.4156 or via email at HECross@mail.wvu.edu.
The grant was made in conjunction with the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit corporation that generates and provides support for West Virginia University.