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$100K gift boosts scholarships to support School of Medicine histotechnology students

$100K gift boosts scholarships to support School of Medicine histotechnology students

A growing number of scholarships are available to students in the West Virginia University School of Medicine’s in-demand histotechnology program, which prepares graduates to work in a challenging scientific field that offers ample well-paid job opportunities.

Richard Swanson and his wife, Dr. Kathryn Skitarelic, recently made an additional $100,000 gift to a scholarship fund established in memory of his mother to support histotechnology students at WVU. Beginning with the 2021-’22 academic year, the Mildred C. Swanson Scholarship in Histotechnology will provide up to three scholarships for the program’s 10 students, including five juniors and five seniors.

Kelsey Baltimore (née Holben) was the inaugural scholarship recipient in 2018. She now works as a histotechnologist at WVU Medicine’s J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.

“The scholarship made me feel honored and showed me that my hard work paid off and that someone recognized it,” Baltimore said. “It really shows that the students are cared about and that there is someone out there who understands and appreciates the work that we are doing.”

Histotechnology involves processing tissue for examination following a medical procedure, such as gallbladder or tonsil removal.

“Any tissue removed from a patient is received in the histology lab, where histotechnologists perform routine and complex techniques that allow for an accurate diagnosis by a pathologist, which is why histotechnology is so important,” Program Director Kimberly Feaster said.

Students with an interest in science, medicine and laboratory work are often drawn to WVU’s histotechnology program, one of just nine available in the United States. Two years of science-focused prerequisites are required for acceptance into the competitive program as a junior. The professional curriculum boasts small class sizes and lots of hands-on laboratory instruction during a student’s junior and senior years.

"I was really concerned with being prepared for a career after I graduated college,” Baltimore said. “The program gave me a lot of one-on-one experience. We got a lot of hands-on and clinical experience, so we were pretty much doing what we would do in our career in school. So, I felt very prepared and confident.”

Graduates earn a bachelor’s degree in biomedical laboratory diagnostics, which offers a broad range of job opportunities thanks to a short supply of trained histotechnologists nationwide. Many alumni work at hospitals, but jobs are available at government laboratories, private research facilities, zoos, veterinary schools and more. Opportunities also exist in sales and technology.

“I have had 100% placement for those that want to go into the field,” Feaster said. “I am contacted almost weekly with job opportunities all across the nation looking for histotechnologists.”

The average pay for histoechnology graduates is $25 an hour, or about $50,000 a year.

The Swansons, who met as undergraduates at WVU, understand the importance of the field and the value of a quality education in histotechnology. Richard’s mother, Mildred Swanson,

worked as a histologist at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital for 18 years until her retirement in 1976. Kathryn is a pathologist who has spent her career relying on skilled histotechnologists.

The Swansons encourage others to provide scholarship support to this program, as the field is essential to the workforce of healthcare delivery.

“Mother was so proud of the work done by histotechnologists and appreciated how important this work is to good medical care,” Dick Swanson said.

The Swansons’ donation was made through the WVU Foundation, a nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University.

To make a gift to the WVU School of Medicine, contact Director of Development Patricia Lonsbary at 304-293-1448 or plonsbary@wvuf.org.