Gates Scholarship Provides Aid for More Students
SAN FRANCISCO — David McBride was in algebra class when he showed a friend the newspaper story about the billion-dollar college scholarship program for minorities being financed by software tycoon Bill Gates.“It really put hope in his face,” says the 16-year-old senior at Lowell High School here. “He’s part of a low-income family also.”McBride, who wants to be a pharmacist, is Black and the fifth of six ambitious siblings. He could well become a candidate for the gifts announced late last month by Microsoft Corp. Chairman Gates and his wife, Melinda.“It’s sent a lot of hope into a lot of people who didn’t have it before,” says McBride, whose mother is a teacher and father drives a bus. “It’s put a lot of hope into me because one of the colleges I would like to go to is the University of the Pacific. The education is wonderful, but it’s very expensive.”Starting next fall, Gates Millennium scholarships will pay full tuition, room, board and expenses for 1,000 new students each year for college, as well as for graduate studies in education, engineering, math and science (see Black Issues, Sept. 30).Gates, who dropped out of Harvard University to found Microsoft, has a net worth of more than $90 billion. His wife is a graduate and trustee of Duke University.“The greatest thing you can do is provide somebody with a wonderful education,” Gates said last month in making the announcement. “I was an incredible beneficiary of seeing wide-open horizons, so education is something that Melinda and I believe in very deeply.”President Clinton has applauded the program, saying that “these landmark scholarships will help address important needs — the need to encourage young people to become teachers. The need to ensure that our children are well prepared in math and science. And the need to open the doors of higher learning to all students.”The 20-year program is aimed at high achievers lacking money for college. Eligible students must have a 3.3 grade-point average, be nominated by a teacher or principal and commit to performing community service. Scholarship winners would have to maintain a 3.0 average.The United Negro College Fund, based in Fairfax, Va., will administer the scholarship program, along with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the American Indian College Fund.“Not only will we change individual lives, we will change the educational landscape,” says William Gray III, president of the United Negro College Fund. University of Illinois President Dr. James Stukel says the scholarships will allow educators “to tap a base of talent we haven’t been able to tap for financial reasons.”Many students support families and juggle jobs along with their coursework, Stukel says. But it’s tough for anyone short of means. “Even the most generous scholarship programs don’t cover all the expenses,” he adds.Etta McMahan has seen the difference scholarships can make.As principal of David Starr Jordan High School in Los Angeles, set amid public housing, she tries to point many of the school’s 2,100 students toward college. Last year, about 200 of its 234 graduates went on to higher education — the result, McMahan says, of more than $2 million in scholarships, grants and donations she helped secure.“That’s the only way these students could go,” she says.LaTasha Gardner, a 17-year-old senior at Jordan, aspires to be a nurse. Raised by her mother, a store clerk, she needs outside help. “It’s really hard,” Gardner says. “You have to go through being denied: ‘You’re not capable’ and things like that.”She’s been told she is not deserving enough: “I really don’t like that feeling. It’s very hurtful.”Bunmi Samuel, 22, knows what Gardner is up against. A senior at Temple University, he’s pursuing a double major in psychology and African American studies while starting a master’s in education. He’s also aiming for a business law degree — all toward his eventual goal of becoming a university president.“I’m pretty much paying for myself and working, and I guess it’s just a blessing,” he says. Samuel’s tuition is free for now because he puts in long hours as president of both Temple’s student government and its student body.To afford everything else while enrolled at the inner-city Philadelphia campus, he relies on savings from summer teaching work. He also saved by living at home in New York City’s Harlem while attending a community college.When he transferred to Temple last year, he was on the dean’s list. With a current 3.0 GPA, he’s “looking forward to the four-point.”Samuel had the advantage of parents who pushed education. His mother, who died when he was 16, was a teacher. His father manages a nonprofit theater company. They sent him to the elite, private Dalton School in New York on a partial scholarship. While the Gates money is fine, Samuel says, many poor, bright minority youth need help much earlier.“A lot of the time, when you don’t have support systems, it’s hard to get the high grades,” Samuel says. “More necessary than financial dollars, the school has to make the resources available to them, before they get to college.”
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