How receiving the Yeager Scholarship impacted my life
By Dr. Ryan Cicenas
Receiving the Yeager Scholarship was incredible. Of course, having college paid for was a blessing for me (and my parents). However, the opportunity to be part of something bigger was the reason I chose Marshall. Most schools give out scholarships based upon academic achievements. You go to school and earn good grades and they leave you alone. With the Yeager Scholarship, I was joining a program (and a tough one at that). My initial Yeager class started with ten students but only seven graduated together. Each semester for the first two years we had our “Yeager Seminar”. It was a five hour class that replaced the college basic requirements but was much more intense. Each class consisted of three or four professors. Considering the ratio of one professor to 3 students, we were intimidated. The classes helped us to think critically. Extensive writing and speaking assignments never seemed to end. The goal was to produce well rounded students able to tackle any career. Between our sophomore and junior years my class studied together at Oxford University in England. Before that trip, I thought little of the plays of William Shakespeare. Now I can say that I not only appreciate them but enjoy them immensely. The Yeager Scholarship also provided a semester abroad. The following summer I studied at Universitas Nebresenses in Madrid, Spain. I was able to study the language and culture while living with a family in the city. My art class was conducted while walking through the world famous Prado Museum.
The program looked for and encouraged extracurricular activities. As a walk-on, I played football for the Thundering Herd for two years. I was also involved with my fraternity (Alpha Tau Omega) and my church (The Newman Center). The culmination of the scholarship was completing and presenting our senior projects before we were allowed to graduate as Yeager Scholars. My project was titled: The Evolution of Continuity from Aristotle through Calculus. Last came he medallion ceremony where we were given medallions made of the same material as the Bell X1 plane that Chuck Yeager flew to break the sound barrier in 1947.
Graduating as a Yeager Scholar gave me the confidence to tackle any problem and helped me find my career. After finishing my Med-Peds residency at Marshall, I started working as a physician in Bluefield Virginia in a job recommended to me by Joseph Hunnicutt, one of the original forces behind the creation of the Yeager Program. I then met my wife, Susan Stinnett (now Cicenas) at a Yeager Symposium dinner in 2006. She was in the Yeager class of 2000. When leaving my previous job, I interviewed at Valley Health with the administration. Matthew Weimer was present that day and also just happened to be a Yeager scholar at Marshall. So in essence, I can thank the Yeager Program for helping me with my jobs and my family.
I met General Yeager for the first time at the Yeager Symposium dinner in October of 1991 and a few times thereafter. He had a larger than life personality. People naturally flocked to him. He was personable and so down to earth. And stories – he had so many of them and would always share. He was always so proud of the program and the students and never hesitated to express that feeling.
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