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SOJ alumna honors mother's memory with scholarship

Inspired by the lessons of her mother, Paula Otto, a 1983 West Virginia University P.I. Reed School of Journalism alumna, has created a new scholarship in her mother’s name.

Paula Otto and her mother, Irene Vargo OttoOtto and her mother, Irene Vargo Otto, worked together to create a scholarship fund to benefit School of Journalism students. Vargo Otto passed away last month, and Paula Otto has formally established the “Vargo-Otto Student Scholarship” in her mother’s honor.

Otto says this scholarship is special because they started it together, and her mother was pleased to contribute to the fund before she passed away last month.

“Education was very important to my mother. She and my father always had the expectation that all four of their children would go to college,” said Otto. “We all were expected to have good grades and to apply for scholarships.”

Irene Vargo OttoOtto currently is the executive director of the Virginia Lottery, a position she assumed in 2008. She began her career, however, as a reporter/anchor at WDTV in Bridgeport/Clarksburg and then moved on to WTVR-TV in Richmond, Virginia, where she stayed until June 1988. Her coverage of the Virginia Lottery debate is what sparked her interest in working for a start-up government agency.

Otto served as a member of the original team who worked to start the new state agency after the Lottery was approved in Virginia. As the Lottery’s first Director of Public Affairs, she was a prominent player, helping to shape and protect the Lottery’s public image.

In 1997, Otto left the Lottery to accept a faculty position at Virginia Commonwealth University, eventually rising to the position of Associate Director of the School of Mass Communications. Eleven years later, she was tapped to return to and lead the Lottery as executive director.

Otto says her mother always told her there shouldn’t be any limitations when it comes to choosing a career.

“I remember as a child talking about careers and career choices, and my mother always told us ‘you can be whatever you want to be,’” said Otto. “My siblings and I all took various career paths, and a lot of that was due to our parents encouraging us to do what we were passionate about.”

Her mother, Irene Vargo Otto, was born in Ida May. After graduating as valedictorian of her class from Farmington High School in West Virginia, she moved to Baltimore, Maryland, to work as a claims examiner for the Social Security Administration.

Vargo Otto continued her education, taking courses at Loyola University and George Mason University and was active in many organizations. She had several careers, including Arlington County election official with tenure as the chief election officer for her precinct and a tour guide for Guide Service of Washington, D.C., giving tours in both English and her native Hungarian. She also had a long and successful career as a real estate agent.

Earlier this month, the Richmond, Virginia, Chapter of Public Relations Society of America honored Paula Otto with the Thomas Jefferson Award for Excellence in Public Relations, recognizing the extraordinary achievement of a seasoned public relations practitioner working in the Greater Richmond metropolitan region. As the award recipient, Otto also received a $1,000 gift, which she has pledged to the new scholarship fund.

Those interested in establishing a student scholarship at the WVU P.I. Reed School of Journalism may contact Director of Development Luella Gunter at luella.gunter@mail.wvu.edu or visit the School’s website.

The gift was made in conjunction with “A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University.” The $750-million comprehensive campaign being conducted by the WVU Foundation on behalf of the University runs through December 2015. For more information on “A State of Minds” visit http://www.astateofminds.com/.