PETERSBURG, Va. -- What comes next after graduating high school?
For thousands, financial burdens make a higher education seem out of reach.
But a state program is helping dozens of students who dream of access to a quality four-year university.
"Well, VSU was close to home. And I like home,” said incoming Virginia State University freshman, Keyaira Mills.
It was a simple decision to attend VSU, but it wasn't so simple getting here.
"My mom has a disability. My Godmother took partial custody. I've been with her my whole life," she said.
"I'm just so proud of her, on how focused she has been in school. She has been A-B honor roll," said Kelly Ashby, Keyaira’s Godmother.
She said that focus started early.
"When [Keyaira] was in the fifth grade, she came to VSU on a field trip with the Boys & Girls Club, and that's how she fell in love with electronics," explained Ashby.
While her Godmother taught the benefits of a good work effort, it was a robot at Hopewell High School that convinced Mills to pursue a higher education.
"My freshman year I did coding and robotics," Mills said. “And we had to put the coding in to try to make the robot move. That was cool. That's why I wanted to go to the field."
The problem was how to afford it. While her Godmother could provide a lot of love, there wasn't a lot of money for college.
"We all need those advocates in our lives in different parts. So Keyaira's been phenomenal to have that support at home," said VSU Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Rodney Hall
Hall and his team recognized Mills's commitment.
She's one of 150 accepted to VSU next year at no cost for tuition as part of the new Virginia College Affordability Network.
In order to qualify for the program, students have to be Pell Grant eligible, meet university requirements and live within 25 miles of campus.
"When she walks across that stage in four years, she's going to be a success story for people who may look up to her,” said Hall. "That's the thing you think about when you work in higher education. It's the student and their story."
And what a sweet story it is.
A lot of focus... and a lot of love... that's Building Better Minds.
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