William and Sofia Starnes endow UVa-Wise scholarship

William H. (Bill) Starnes, Jr. and Sofia M. Starnes of Williamsburg, Virginia, have established an endowed scholarship at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise to benefit an entering freshman each year who has graduated from Thomas Walker High School.

Bill Starnes is a 1950 graduate of Thomas Walker, the smallest high school in Lee County. Also a graduate of Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, he is recognized as one of fewer than 1,000 people in the world who have had the greatest impact on the history of plastics.  Much of his work has involved research on synthetic polymers, especially the poly(vinyl chloride), or PVC, that is used in vinyl products.

The Gottwald Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at the College of William and Mary retired from there in 2006, but he and his wife, poet Sofia Starnes, have kept very busy with their many professional activities and charitable endeavors. 

He is the only scientist among the charter inductees of the Southwest Virginia Walk of Fame at the Southwest Virginia Museum in Big Stone Gap.

Sofia Starnes is poetry editor of “The Anglican Theological Review” and critique editor of “Creative Writing Critiques.” She holds a master’s degree in English Philology from the University of Madrid and is the author of several books, including “A Commerce of Moments,” “Corpus Homini: A Poem for Single Flesh” and “Fully Into Ashes.” The recipient of several national poetry awards, most recently the Whitebird Series Poetry Prize, she also has received a Poetry Fellowship from the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the Superior Achievement Award in Poetry of the Virginia Writer's Club.

Southwest Virginia means a lot to the couple, and the scholarship that bears their name seemed a logical way to make an impact on the region and on UVa-Wise.

“I am not an alumnus of the school, but I am from Southwest Virginia,” said Bill. “I really think it is very desirable for people who are from this region to support higher education there.”

Dr. Starnes also said that if people from the region do not take steps to support higher education by providing scholarships, for example, it seems unreasonable to expect others from outside the area to offer their support.

“Sofia and I feel our scholarship will benefit the region as well as a school that really has the resources to make enormous strides in coming years to help Southwest Virginia and the students who call it home,” Starnes added.

There are many quality schools that serve the region, but Starnes believes that UVa-Wise has the best potential to serve it because the college is part of the University of Virginia system.

“I am particularly pleased with how things are going at UVa-Wise,” he said. “We are impressed by what is happening at the college.”

The recipient of the scholarship will be selected by the faculty of Thomas Walker High School on the basis of criteria that Dr. and Mrs. Starnes will provide. Second preference goes to a graduate of Lee High School, based on the same criteria. The scholarship will be awarded each year and is nonrenewable to prior recipients.