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First-Generation Faculty: Earl Scime

A number of students beginning their academic career at WVU are embarking on a journey that no one in their families have before, becoming the first generation of their families to earn four-year degrees. 

That experience comes with unique challenges for students as they make their way through an unfamiliar culture with its own language and expectations. How do I talk to my professor? Can someone help me understand the syllabus? If I need tutoring, is it free?

Take heart, though. We’re here to help. What’s more, a number of faculty in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences had the same experience. They too were once first-generation college students excited about the future, but anxious about asking for help and speaking up in class.  

Meet Earl ScimeOleg D. Jefimenko Professor of Physics and Astronomy and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.


Earl Scime

As a child, Scime dreamed of becoming an astronaut. But the combination of being very tall and a childhood injury made him ineligible for the military pilot career required to become one. Instead, he turned to physics.

His biggest obstacle? All of the steps that go along with applying to college.

“I had to create a fake ID to take the SAT because a photo ID was required, and my family was too poor to afford for me to get a driver's license. I even didn't have the original paperwork needed to get a legal ID because my adoption papers had been lost,” Scime said. “I worked nights and weekends to raise the money for the tests and to pay for transportation to get to college. Friends gave me rides to college interviews and to take the tests.”  

Scime’s junior high science teacher encouraged him every step of the way. She helped him realize that, although he had no obvious way to pay for college, he still had a realistic chance at a scholarship. A National Merit Scholarship, state scholarship and the Pell Grant covered his college costs for all four years.  

“Even while working hard, I had fun in college – but I never went to a single party. Not a single one. I treated college as a means to achieve my career goals and as a privilege,” Scime said. “Someone donated money or money came from taxpayers to put me through college. So I felt I owed it to all those people to do well in college and not blow it.”

The work ethic that motivated him to reach his goals of becoming a physicist inspires students today.  

“I hope that I give students enough encouragement and a sense that they belong,” Scime said. “I hire them to work in my lab when I have the grant funds to do so. I also coach elementary, middle, and high school students in STEM programs, and 98 percent have gone on to college.”

Earl Scime

Dr. Scime's advice for students 

“Not everyone gets to go to college. Work really, really hard, every day. Assume that you can and should have a 4.0 GPA every term, every year. Learn everything you can because when college is over, no one is going to try to teach you things – you'll have to learn on your own.”

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