Dr. Jo Longenecker graduated from Eastern Mennonite College in 1981 with a bachelor's degree in biology. She would later graduate from the Medical College of Virginia, and now works as a family practice physician in Clarksburg, West Virginia. "I'm really glad I'm here," she said. "I feel like I've landed where I belong."

Why they LovEMU: Dr. Jo Longenecker ’81 says university provided a safe place to find herself

Editor’s Note: This profile is the sixth and final profile about students and alumni leading up to LovEMU Giving Day today. For more information about the day and to donate, visit love.emu.edu.  

Dr. Jo Longenecker ’81, a family practice physician in Clarksburg, West Virginia, says she took the scenic route on her journey into medicine. When she enrolled at then-Eastern Mennonite College in 1977, the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, native set her sights on a biology degree. She wasn’t sure what she would use it for, but she knew one thing for certain.

“I knew I did not want to be a doctor,” she said. “I was clear about that.”

As a sophomore, Longenecker spent a formative year with the Washington Study Service Year (WSSY), now the Washington Community Scholars’ Center. She was placed in a free medical clinic in Northwest Washington, D.C., where she helped staff members and interacted with patients. She enjoyed her experiences so much that she returned to the clinic during the summer between her junior and senior years as a member of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps. By the end of her time there, the staff at the clinic kept suggesting she attend medical school and become a doctor. They persisted in their suggestions, she said, and her resistance to the idea began to fade.

“I guess they planted a seed,” Longenecker said, “except I was already signed up for all these great electives I was going to take my senior year.”

She graduated in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in peace and justice studies. She was missing a couple prerequisite classes for the Medical College Admission Test, so she stayed in Harrisonburg, Virginia, working part-time while she took physics and organic chemistry classes at EMC. Eventually, she took the MCAT, was accepted to the Medical College of Virginia and graduated from the Richmond school in 1987. She then completed a family medicine residency in Clarksburg, about 40 miles south of Morgantown, where she’s remained to this day.

“I’ve been taking care of some of these patients for more than 30 years, and I’ll have maybe four generations in a family that I see,” she said. “So, you sort of become an honorary family member.”

Longenecker credits her liberal arts classes at EMC and its unique peace and justice perspective with preparing her for direct patient care. She said the smaller class sizes offered her a one-on-one relationship with faculty and provided a place to customize her journey.

“In many ways, I felt EMC was a safe place for that whole process of finding and growing into yourself,” she said.

Longenecker’s father graduated from EMC in the 1950s and taught at Lancaster Mennonite High School. As a result of him teaching there, she was able to attend EMC with significantly-reduced tuition costs. A similar discount continues to this day, covering up to 25 percent of tuition costs for dependents of employees at schools that are part of the Mennonite Schools Council. Donors who contribute to EMU’s University Fund make it possible for programs like this one to continue being offered.

Longenecker said she regularly gives back to EMU through The University Fund and to the Nathan Longenecker Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund, an endowment established for her late nephew. Nate, a Yoder-Webb scholar who was majoring in mathematics and computer science at the time of his diagnosis with brain cancer, died in October 2021. He would have graduated this year. 

The need-based scholarship is awarded annually to a student who otherwise would not be able to experience the transformative education offered at EMU without financial support. To contribute to the scholarship fund, and unlock LovEMU Giving Day challenge match funds, visit this page and click on the “Give Now” button. Choose “Other” under the “Designation” drop-down menu and enter “Nathan Longenecker Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund” into the box below.

Join generous donors like Longenecker who give back to EMU to help students pursue a quality college education without financial barriers. Be a part of our 8th annual LovEMU Giving Day and contribute to the scholarships that empower future EMU students. Let’s build EMU “Stronger Together.

Read the previous profiles in our Why they LovEMU series:

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