ATH: Atwater, Branch Recipients of 2023-24 Wilks Diversity and Inclusion Postgraduate Scholarships

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ATH: Atwater, Branch Recipients of 2023-24 Wilks Diversity and Inclusion Postgraduate Scholarships


August 22, 2023


Media contact: Katherine Jamtgaard – ja*********@ap******.edu 



BOONE, N.C. — Recent App State graduates and alums of the Mountaineers’ track & field program, Mariah Atwater and Jada Branch, have been selected as the 2023-24 recipients of the Steve and Marcia Wilks Diversity and Inclusion Postgraduate Scholarships.

Atwater is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration and Branch is in a graduate program for public health nutrition at App State this academic year.

The scholarship, which was established in 2021 by former App State football standout and longtime college and NFL coach Steve Wilks and his wife, is awarded annually to a qualified former Mountaineer student-athlete from an underrepresented population who is pursuing a graduate degree at Appalachian State University. The scholarship includes a year-long athletics department fellowship that focuses on developing transferable skills, networking, mentoring and professional development.
“Marci and I are honored to offer support to the dedicated and deserving student-athletes of Appalachian State,” Steve Wilks said. “We are committed to making a positive impact on their educational endeavors.”
In addition to assisting with the Mountaineers’ student-athlete development program, Atwater and Branch will have the opportunity to complete rotations serving in a variety of areas within App State Athletics.
“Mariah and Jada are great representatives of App State and very deserving of this opportunity,” said Director of Athletics Doug Gillin. “They have given their all for App State in their academic, athletic and social pursuits and will continue to be great ambassadors for the Mountaineers in their roles assisting current App State student-athletes. We are grateful to Steve and Marcia Wilks for their generosity and for remaining connected to our student-athletes in this impactful way.”
Atwater capped her track and field career this past spring with a silver medal in the Sun Belt outdoor 400 meters after breaking the school record in the indoor 400 meters. She helped the Mountaineers’ 4×400-meter relay quartet break the school record three total times (once indoors and twice outdoors) in 2023.

“I’m incredibly excited about the opportunity to work in the athletics department,” Atwater said. “It gives me the chance to blend my passion for sports with my career ambitions of working in college or professional sports. I’m eagerly looking forward to learning and the progression this experience will allow.”

This spring, Branch became the first Mountaineer to represent App State at the NCAA Championships since 2005, earning All-America honorable mention honors with a 20th-place finish in the women’s triple jump. She was the 2023 Sun Belt indoor triple jump champion and ran alongside Atwater as a member of the school record-breaking 4×400-meter relay squad indoors and outdoors.

“What a blessing it is to have an opportunity like this to shadow and gain firsthand experience in the career field of my desire,” Branch said. “I am super excited to learn the ins and outs, and to discover where I can truly make a difference and apply my attributes to the field. When opportunities like this arise, you have to jump at them because you never know when another like it will come around again. Take advantage of the place you are in; you will leave with more than you came with.”

Previous recipients of the Wilks Scholarship were men’s basketball’s James Lewis (now a procurement analyst with LPL Financial in Charlotte) and football’s Ryan Huff (now a student-athlete development coordinator at West Virginia University).


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