Awards event included premiere of ‘Follow Your Heart’ film on scholarship recipients
The Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation has named Elvir Berbic, founder of its Refugee and Immigrant Scholarship, and P. Jason Peters, Roanoke County Board of Supervisors Vice Chair, recipients of the College’s 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award.
The Distinguished Alumni Award was established in 2006 by the Virginia Western Alumni Association and recognizes Virginia Western Community College alumni and former students who have attained extraordinary distinction in their professional field or life. The award is intended to showcase the diversity of Virginia Western graduates and their range of influence on our region.
“Both of these gentlemen are about giving back to the community,” said Virginia Western President Dr. Robert H. Sandel. “Through their commitment and service, they provide a wonderful example of the impact that our students can make many years after attending the College.”
In addition to supporting the Refugee and Immigrant Scholarship, Berbic (’06) is a member of the Educational Foundation’s Scholarship and Grants Committee and leads a partnership between the College and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine that provides for a postgrad career forum between medical school students and Virginia Western STEM students. He also championed Roanoke’s first futsal court as part of his efforts to give back and to improve the lives of immigrants in the community.
Berbic’s path to Roanoke passed through a refugee camp in Croatia, where his family resided after they fled the civil war in Bosnia. At that camp, Berbic first began to learn English, and his family moved to Roanoke in 1995 when he was 14.
“You go through your teenager things that you go through and at the same time you are in a strange place,” said Berbic in a recent Roanoke Times interview. “You had to grow up a little quicker than everybody around you. You try to focus on schoolwork, being a kid, but at the same time you have to assist your parents with how to write a check, for example, how to pay bills, translate getting car insurance. You kind of live between two places.”
Through sports, Berbic found ways to belong. He played on the William Fleming High School soccer team and joined the football team as a placekicker. Twenty years later, the Virginia Western and Radford University master’s degree graduate is employed as the VTC School of Medicine’s student affairs manager.
“It’s been (and it continues to be) an incredible privilege to work with everyone at Virginia Western to make education affordable and accessible,” Berbic said. “My goal is to simply do what this community and its people have done for me: They made me feel like I belong.”
A native of Roanoke, Peters began his service to the citizens of Roanoke County by volunteering as an emergency medical technician with the Vinton First Aid crew when he was 16 years old. He has served in that capacity for 29 years and is the current president. In 2010, Peters was appointed to the Roanoke County Planning Commission, serving for three years before being elected to his first term on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors in 2014. Peters currently serves as Vice Chair of the Board.
While serving as Board Chairman in 2016, Peters was diagnosed with thyroid cancer which ultimately required surgery. While the surgery improved his condition, his cancer is still present. Despite this challenge, Peters has continued to serve Roanoke County in his various roles on the Board.
“I admire Mr. Peters’ resolve to remain committed to the citizens while facing hardships,” wrote County Administrator Richard Caywood in his nominating letter. “I believe Mr. Peters exemplifies the meaning of a loyal and dedicated public servant.”
Berbic and Peters were honored April 28, 2022, at the Foundation’s annual Awards Ceremony and Reception in Whitman Theater. More than 140 student scholarship recipients were recognized at the event, which included the premiere of a short film, “Follow Your Heart.” Directed by Angel David Verde, the film profiles three Virginia Western scholarship recipients – a future nurse, educator and IT professional – and explores what motivates them to pursue a college degree. It is viewable on Virginia Western’s YouTube channel at Follow Your Heart – YouTube.
Prior Virginia Western Community College Distinguished Alumni honorees:
- 2021 – Mary Catherine “Kate” Lawrence
- 2020 – Tony Pearman (’10)
- 2019 – Deborah L. Petrine (’76)
- 2018 – Elizabeth Testerman (’06)
- 2017 – Dr. Carol Swain (’78)
- 2016 – Dr. Mary Loritsch (’74) and Chief Michael Crawley
- 2015 – Debbie Yancey (’97)
- 2014 – Chief Craig S. Harris (’00) and J. David Wine (’73)
- 2013 – Cheryl Cunningham (’86)
- 2012 – Anne Hogan (’76)
- 2011 – Carolyn Webster (’81)
- 2010 – Russell H. Ellis (’80)
- 2009 – Shirl D. Lamanca (’75) and Dennis R. Cronk (’72)
- 2008 – Donna L. Mitchell (’81)
- 2007 – Dr. Kent A. Murphy and Charlotte C. Tyson (’84)
- 2006 – John B. Williamson III (’75)