“Invest in the Future of the Corps”

silhouette of two soldiers in a field

Call to Duty Scholarships Support Desire to Serve

“We want to make VMI work for those who really want VMI to work, as well.” That’s what Lt. Col. Shannon Eskam, acting assistant superintendent for enrollment management and financial aid director, has to say about her office’s approach to providing need-based aid for current and potential cadets—and this is especially true for the Call to Duty Scholarships, a new initiative of the VMI Alumni Agencies designed to recruit and retain outstanding young men and women who plan to serve their country through military service after graduation.

The Call to Duty Scholarships, which are now supporting more than 80 members of the Class of 2027, cover room and board fees for cadets who have already been pre-selected through a competitive national selection process to receive a federal ROTC scholarship. Coupled with the ROTC scholarship, the Call to Duty Scholarship provides an unparalleled opportunity for the recipient to attend the Institute at no charge.

The Call to Duty Scholarships “help fill a niche that isn’t currently being funded,” Eskam explained. She noted that more and more often, financial considerations are the deciding factor in a high schooler’s college choice—and before Call to Duty, some potential cadets were choosing to attend other schools that offered scholarships for room and board.

With a new Office of Admissions focus in early 2023 based on recruiting ideal candidates to the Institute, support for room and board scholarships became key. Happily, the VMI Foundation Board of Trustees stepped up to help cover the $1 million per year cost—but to eventually cover all classes currently in barracks, the Foundation will need to raise an additional $4 million per year above and beyond current giving levels.

“We want to attract those best and brightest who have competed for and been awarded an ROTC scholarship,” said Meade B. King ’85, VMI Foundation chief operating officer and Alumni Agencies director of advancement. “We want them here. We want them in our barracks, on our post. We ultimately want them to be VMI alumni.”

Cadets who’ve received the inaugural Call to Duty Scholarships overwhelmingly express one emotion—gratitude—and many say that without Call to Duty, they wouldn’t have been able to choose VMI.

With an unstable housing situation in his senior year of high school, Cadet Ben Fong ’27 wasn’t sure if he’d be able to leave his native California for college, much less come all the way across the continent to VMI.

“That was the biggest worry [in] applying for colleges,” related Fong, who plans to commission into the U.S. Marine Corps. “If I got accepted to these colleges, how would I actually be able to attend? … I was just really hoping that I could figure out the math behind the money.”

When Fong heard that he’d been selected for the Call to Duty Scholarship based on his merits and potential, the relief and gratitude were overwhelming. “I was thinking, man, they really care about their scholarship students,” said Fong. “So, I just thought, wow, I haven’t gotten to the school yet, and they’re already thinking about me.”

Cadet Zachary Denton ’27 was likewise relieved to learn that a Call to Duty Scholarship could clear the way to a VMI education and a military career. Denton, who plans to commission into the U.S. Army, had long wanted to follow the same path as his father, an Army colonel. He’d found VMI through an older friend who was already a cadet there, and while he liked what he saw, he was also contemplating another school.

“The goal of VMI is to give the best and brightest officers to our various service branches. Enabling them to not have to worry about the financial part of it ... is a really great thing.”

Cadet Zachary Denton ’27 Call to Duty Scholarship Recipient

Noting that the Call to Duty Scholarship was “pivotal” in his decision to attend VMI, Denton felt the same relief as Fong that his college ambitions could be realized. “The goal of VMI is to give the best and brightest officers to our various service branches,” he stated. “Enabling them to not have to worry about the financial part of it as they go through this journey, I think, is a really great thing.”

For his part, Denton will never forget the day he learned that he’d received the Call to Duty Scholarship—and his own VMI journey began. A high-demand candidate, there were other colleges offering enhanced military scholarships, but VMI’s program helped him secure his top choice.

“I talked to alumni, and I talked to current [cadets] here, and I was more and more excited about the prospect of going here,” he said. “Seeing the Call to Duty Scholarship, my last little bit of reservation got wiped away. I knew where I wanted to go when I saw I had that scholarship.”

For the Institute’s ROTC programs, the impact of Call to Duty has been immediate and easy to measure. In Naval ROTC, Col. Travis Homiak ’95, commanding officer, reported that typically, he’d see 25 to 30 names appear on his roster each year, and historically, about 16 of those individuals would matriculate at VMI. For the Class of 2027, there were 33 names—and 28 matriculated.

“In today’s environment, everybody is trying to recruit the same man or woman to come to a school like this,” said Homiak. “And [Call to Duty] is something that we must have to compete on an equal footing. … I think Call to Duty is a great place to consider [for supporting VMI] because it invests in the future of the Corps.”

What’s more, Homiak noted, the Call to Duty Scholarships align perfectly with “Forging 21st Century Leaders,” the strategic plan recently put forth by Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent, and endorsed by the VMI Board of Visitors.

“It’s that bid to get individuals, quality individuals … to choose VMI in the first place,” Homiak stated. “It is completely in line with the strategic plan that the superintendent has laid out of continuing VMI as a place of academic rigor and academic excellence. And I think one of the first things you have to do is bring in top-tier candidates. And that’s what the Call to Duty [Scholarship] does.”

For his part, King sees the Call to Duty Scholarships as fundamental to supporting and furthering the citizen-soldier ideal—an ideal that’s stood the test of time since the Institute’s founding almost 185 years ago.

“When you think about the words inscribed in the parapet, you get to the place about peril and vindicating her honor and defending her rights. Well, these Call to Duty cadets bring their ROTC scholarship and are met with our Call to Duty Scholarship. They’re precisely the kind of students who will step into peril to both vindicate and defend our nation. That’s a beautiful thing. That’s VMI. That’s the spirit of it.”

To support the Call to Duty Scholarships, visit Checks, made out to the VMI Foundation with “Call to Duty” on the memo line, can be mailed to the VMI Alumni Agencies, P.O. Box 932, Lexington, VA 24450.

  • Mary Price

    Mary Price Development Writer/Communications Specialist

    The development writer plays a key role in producing advancement communications. This role imagines, creates, and produces a variety of written communication to inspire donors to make gifts benefiting VMI. Utilizing journalistic features and storytelling, the development writer will produce content for areas such as Annual Giving, stewardship, and gift planning.