VBK Scholarship

In 2019, Valley Business Keynote (VBK) expanded our partnership with the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts with the establishment of the Valley Business Keynote Entrepreneurial Scholarship. Each Fall, we proudly award this scholarship to deserving students in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. The scholarship is designed to support projects that embody both entrepreneurship and community civic engagement.
Here, we celebrate the recipients of the Valley Business Keynote Entrepreneurial Scholarship, acknowledging their remarkable commitment to innovation and community impact.

VBK Entrepreneurial Scholarship Winners

2023 Winner - Not A Saint Band
Crossroads - First Full-Length Album Recording

Not A Saint Band is comprised of lead singer Georgia (Gillian) Saunders (Senior Voice, Music Industry and SMAD, Journalism major), co-lead singer and keyboardist Thomas Oxbrough (Junior Voice, Music Education major), lead guitarist Nick Green (Junior Guitar, Music Industry major), saxophonist and backup vocalist Abby Wilson (Sophomore Voice, Music Education major) and drummer Obrine Tamon (Senior Geology major). The band focuses on the original music written by Georgia Saunders and Thomas Oxbrough and is written in a “funky indie pop” style.

They plan to record their full-length album at Sill and Glade Cabin in Mt. Solon, VA. They chose Sill and Glade Cabin because of their expertise in live recording, and they feel it is the perfect place to record their specific sound. Their first album, “Crossroads,” will be recorded over seven different days in the recording studio. The songs are original and tell the stories of Gillian and Thomas’s lives, specifically their identities and relationships. The songs chosen will be those that produce the most cohesive sound for the group, as they wish to show off their multi-genre repertoire and give each instrumentalist a place to shine on the album.

They have just begun their entrepreneurial journey. They have started to book gigs, set up a business plan, and begun to receive income from local performances and merchandise sales. They have taken their experience as Music Education and Music Industry majors at JMU in the School of Music to develop the band, and to market it.

While they have been saving up to get into the Sill and Glade Cabin Recording Studio, this scholarship will provide the funding they require to record their first album, which
will make a huge difference for their business – the band, “Not a Saint.”

2022 Winner - Diana Witt

Pseudo Psychic Medium

In Spring 2020, Diana started working on Pseudo Psychic Medium, a play that contrasts the hilarity of a bold lie with the raw truths of friendship and sisterhood. The play follows main protagonist, Bea Zelinsky. With a rapidly depleting bank account, Bea is desperate. After joking around with her roommate Ray about their neighbor Luna, Bea stumbles across a way to make a quick buck—by pretending to be a psychic medium. This dramedy of errors explores unlikely friendship, grief, and growing up.

The play itself was taken into the rehearsal process as a draft. Over a two-and-a-half-week process, however, quickly evolved as input from actors, directors, and creative members were led by Diana throughout workshops to inform script changes. During the performances, Diana will be getting audience feedback through a Google form to further the evolving ideals that Pseudo Psychic Medium holds.

The experience of writing Pseudo Psychic Medium has greatly prepared Diana for a career as a professional writer and is planning on looking to submit her work to festivals to pursue further development before she begins the submission to publishing companies.

2021 Winner - Melissa Santjer

Rising from the Ashes

Rising from the Ashes is a project that she have started in an effort to preserve our ash wood population. By partnering with our local parks to locate and remove the trees damaged by the Emerald Ash Borer, she aims to not only prevent the spread of the infestation but also salvage the lumber. The harvested wood will be turned into a product line of bowls, benches, etc. then sold at our local shops and markets. A portion of the proceeds will go towards the effort of replanting and protecting the ash wood tree population.

Her business was inspired from a project that she did using ash wood. The wood used was taken from a local ash tree that was one of thousands effected by an invasive species of beetle, the Emerald Ash Borer. Ash is a great species of lumber to work with, it’s light brown and creamy white colorations are strikingly beautiful. With a hardness rating of 1820, ash wood is as strong as it is stunning. To offer a perspective, Oak, a very popular choice for woodworking has a rating of 1290. Unique to hardwood, especially ones as hard as ash, is its flexibility. This puts ash right at the top with some of the best lumber options available. National parks in Virginia’s section of the National Capital Region were greatly affected, losing 27 percent of their ash trees, about 30,000 in total (Sarah Vogelsong). Her goal is to partner with these parks to collect the effected trees and use the wood to create a line of products such as bowls, benches, etc. For each sale, she will donate a portion of the proceeds to the parks in an effort to help combat their losses.

Partnering with the National Parks in the area will help to slow the devastation of the ash tree population. Infested trees rarely recover and to avoid the EMB spreading to other healthy trees, they need to be taken down as soon as the infestation is noticed. It usually takes around 2-5 years for a damaged tree to be discovered and then, shortly after, the tree usually dies from the damage that has been caused. The dead ash trees degrade rapidly, causing potential hazards for visitors to the parks. George Washington National Forest, a favorite park for many Harrisonburg locals, saw a 40 percent drop in its ash population. EAB has also been found within the Northern parts of Shenandoah’s national park, where ash trees make up about 5% of the forest cover (Shenandoah National Park). The infestation is expected to expand southward over the next few years resulting in heavy ash mortality (Shenandoah National Park). Within three to five years of infestation, about 99% of the affected trees die (Shenandoah National Park).

2020 Winners - David Swanson and Manoa Bell

David Swanson: MyViola Project

The MyViola Project is a device and system to make string instruments more accessible for the disabled. The MyViola is a computer chip that installs onto a string instrument and digitizes the string to a computer that will then synthesize the sound of an instrument without playing it the traditional way. Over the course of the year, David Swanson discovered how to synthesize each of the open strings upon touching the string instead of bowing the string. Designs and ideas have been worked on to make the device more suitable for an average instrument, but due to COVID-19, time/networking has been challenging to build upon these ideas due to lack of technology (i.e. 3D printers) over the summer.

During 2020, the MyViola has been introduced as a teaching tool to many different audiences and many have been inspired by the idea. David traveled to Poznań, Poland to attend the International Viola Congress and shared the ideas behind his research. The response was very positive. In Eastern Europe, accessibility is not valued as much for the disabled. There are few buildings with special parking spaces, ramps, or many types of accessible public space. Having traveled this far, Swanson discovered that the MyViola has the possibility to inspire others to open their heart and minds to people with disabilities especially in the area of music making.

Later, Swanson presented his research to The James Madison University Diversity Summit of 2020. The same research was presented and networking within the university began. Swanson hopes to continue his research, which COVID-19 has made difficult. This will include receiving approval for testing the technology and finding engineers to help him develop this technology further.

Manoa Bell : Community-Based Innovative Music Learning

We aim to explore and document ways in which students learn to create musical compositions in innovative classrooms across the Mid-Atlantic, in order to identify regional opportunities for expanding existing approaches to creation-driven music learning and making. With this project, we will explore how innovative music programs reach students from communities that are underserved in public schools, how teachers encourage and empower students’ creative musical expression, and how music learning centers provide opportunities for underprivileged communities. Our research will be documented through a video and a written report, culminating in both a short film and presentation that will be shared with music educators nationally. This project will form the foundation of a creation-driven non-profit music learning center in Harrisonburg to provide artistic tools, programming, and creative outlets for this region’s next generation of music learners.

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