Beyond its commitment to educating the next generation of veterinary professionals, the college is ever mindful of student debt—and the outsized need for scholarship funding to alleviate financial burden. The cost of a first-rate education is substantial, and the veterinary college is grateful for a variety of student scholarships funded by generous benefactors, including foundations, that provide transformative support.

Beginning this academic year, the Mary Sue Collins Foundation has provided approximately $30,000 for merit-based scholarships that are awarded to DVM students who have demonstrated interest in small animal medicine. The inaugural recipient of the Mary Sue Collins Scholarship is Stephanie Lees, a member of the DVM Class of 2023.

A native of Richmond, Virginia, Lees graduated from Virginia Tech in 2019 with a B.S. in biochemistry. At the veterinary college, she serves as a Student Ambassador and as the president-elect of the Companion Animal Club; she is also a member of the student chapter of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society and the student chapter of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. “Student loan debt is something we all struggle with,” Lees said, “and I think the biggest way the scholarship has helped is by allowing me to decrease my loans. Decreasing them by any amount helps, especially for an entire year. The scholarship also allows me to focus more on studying. Even though I still work at a vet clinic in the area, I am able to work fewer hours and spend more time studying or take more time for myself.”

As a kid, Lees always loved animals, but she said that her interest in veterinary medicine sharply came into focus when she “started to lose animals” as she grew older. “A few of them got really, really sick and stayed many days at the emergency hospital," she remembered. "I kept asking the vets questions about why it had happened and how it could have been prevented. I became fascinated with how animals’ bodies worked and when things went wrong. I also watched so many owners with the same defeated look that I had when my pets were hospitalized, and I knew I had to help other people understand what was going on and get them through the worst time in a pet owner’s life.” 

The Mary Sue Collins Foundation

Southwest Virginia native Mary Sue Collins, who died in December 2016, established her foundation “to ensure her continued support for animals, children, education, community, and the betterment of life for all.” Each charitable gift from the Mary Sue Collins Foundation carries with it “her gentle touch of welcome and her kind words of encouragement.”

Born in 1932 to physician William F. and Janelle Wilson Collins in Roanoke, Virginia, Collins was a graduate of Roanoke’s Catholic High School and then attended Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia. Talented in music, dance, writing, art, and photography, she settled in her hometown as a kindergarten teacher, first at Mrs. Shackleford’s Kindergarten, then Dean’s Kindergarten, and later opened a kindergarten of her own.

Throughout her life, Collins supported those in need, with a special focus on children and animals, and she campaigned for the importance of art, history, genealogy, and community involvement. Among her many philanthropic gestures, she provided funding to establish a habitat for Mill Mountain Zoo’s famous tiger, Ruby, in Roanoke.