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Student Finds Her Fit In Academic Cinderella Story

May 6, 2002-- Leah Kiley, a bright but reticent young woman from Leesburg, packed her bags and headed off to The University of Virginia’s College at Wise.  She was apprehensive about attending the small school seven hours from her home, but her father insisted she give it a try.  

Reasonably certain she wanted to become a veterinarian, Kiley immersed herself in the College’s rigorous science program.  But by the end of her first semester, her grades were dismal and her determination faltered.  "I wasn’t doing well in my science classes. I didn’t have a direction," Kiley said.  

Impressed by her abilities in a freshman composition class, Kiley’s English professor, Marla Weitzman, encouraged her to consider switching her major to English literature.  The rest of Kiley’s story reads like a fairy tale with lots of awards and accolades thrown in for good measure.

"I think what makes Leah such a special student is that not only is she

bright — insightful about literature, articulate about her ideas, responsive

to constructive criticism about her writing — but she is so easy to talk to," Weitzman said.  "She is the kind of student you are glad to see at your office door."

Last year, Kiley was awarded the Francis Currie Peake Scholarship for excellence in literary studies.  At the 2002 Awards Convocation in May, Kiley will receive the department of language and literature’s top honor — the William Elbert Fraley Award in English.  

Beyond her successes as a scholar, Kiley has emerged as a confident student leader.  As a junior, she was selected by the U.Va.-Wise board as its first student representative.  During her one-year term on the board, Kiley impressed its members with her mature manner and thoughtful comments.  

"That’s when I hit full stride and really grew as a student and a person," Kiley said. "It was one of the greatest things I could have done here."

Additionally, she has served on the College’s Honor Court and the Senior Class Council and works as a resident adviser and a tutor.  An internship in the Division of Student Affairs cemented Kiley’s interest in higher education administration.

"It was during my service on the board that I really decided I wanted to focus my career on higher education," Kiley said.  "I want to help students and continue to be their voice."

Her English professors have encouraged her to pursue a Ph.D. in literature. Instead, Kiley plans to work toward a career in higher education administration and will attend Appalachian State University in the fall.  

Although she’s changing her focus, Kiley will never stray too far from her first love. She’ll return to the College in the fall to present a paper on Chaucer during the Medieval Renaissance Conference.  And she plans to continue work on an oral history project about the College’s first chancellor, Joseph C. Smiddy.

"I had no idea I was capable of the level of scholarship I have attained or the level of service I have attained," Kiley said.  "I’m going to graduate school, and I never even thought I’d do well in college."

Contact: Jane Meade-Dean, (540) 328-0130

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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