Going off to college can be a stressful time, and students are often faced with questions about funding their own education. Choosing between schools can often be a matter of the bottom line. But two Alexandria students are in the rare position about making decisions about the future without being concerned about the cost.
Because Bill Gates will pick up the tab.
Last month, Raymond Ejiofor and Sergio Romero were named as Gates Millennium Scholars. They will become part of the sixth class of scholars to receive the unusual scholarships, which were awarded to 1,000 highly motivated, low-income minority students from 46 states and the District of Columbia. They will be able to attend college without the burden of tuition.
The scholarships are awarded to undergraduate minority students who demonstrate academic excellence and strong leadership skills. Scholarships assist students in meeting the cost of attendance at the school of their choice. Recipients of the scholarships who choose to pursue graduate studies in the areas of education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health and science are eligible to receive continued funding.
“The Gates Millennium Scholars program is a critical step toward bringing true equity to the American educational system,” said Jim Shelton, director of education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in a written statement last month. “As we continue the hard work of creating high quality high schools from which all students graduate ready for college and work, we must also aim to remove the financial barriers that prevent so many low income students from pursuing higher education.”
RAYMOND EJIOFOR is a native of Alexandria. He plans to use the Gates scholarship to study biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He chose the school because of its reputation in the field of science but also its strong arts program.
“I’ve been dancing my whole life,” he said. “But I’ve been training since I was in the fifth grade.”
Ejiofor said that Carnegie Mellon offered the perfect combination for his interests. Its size, location and reputation seemed like the perfect fit for his eclectic tastes and interests. Furthermore, its academic standing was attractive to his scientific sensibilities.
“I want to study biomedical engineering because it seems like a great way to combine by love for science with my love for engineering,” he said. “I could end up doing stem-cell research, but I would describe myself as ‘borderline’ on the controversy. I don’t think that we have the right to play God.”
Ejiofor is involved in many community groups: the Youth Policy Commission, the Gang Prevention Task Force, the Alexandria Youth Council and the Choreography Collaboration Project. This summer, he plans to look for a job and compete in the NAACP-SO competition — where he will perform a jazz lyrical piece. He said that he is looking forward to moving to Pittsburgh, but he will miss his hometown.
“Leaving Alexandria will be bittersweet,” he said. “It’s all I’ve ever known.”
SERGIO ROMERO is also a native Alexandrian. He plans to use the Gates scholarship to study international relations and law at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He says that his interest in foreign policy was sparked by reading “The World is Flat,” Thomas Friedman’s book about globalization.
Romero has been learning the practical application for his interests in Washington and Richmond. He completed an eight-month internship at the State Department, where he proofread cases for the Office of Civil Rights. Last summer, he took part in a three-week program to study Japanese Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“I fell in love with Japan,” he said. “I really want to do business in that area.”
In his time at T.C. Williams, Romero says that he felt Hispanic students were not pushed hard enough — a situation he tried to change. When he walked into a Key Club meeting and discovered he was the only non-white student in the room. In his Advanced Placement classes, he was often the only Hispanic student in the class. So he decided to take action.
“Our generation will be charged with changing things, and so that’s what I was trying to do while I was at T.C. Williams,” he said. “So I started my own clubs.”
Romero put together a seminar called “Cashflow 101,” which taught investment and saving strategies to T.C. Williams students. He led the Youth Connection Forum at Episcopal High School, which examine social issues like discrimination and stereotypes. Along with his friend Cecilia Lopez, he founded Encountering College Opportunities for Hispanics.
“We thought Hispanics were not being pushed to take AP classes,” he said. “The fact is that Hispanic students often end up in the lower level classes even if they are not very smart. Then they end up staying there because that’s where their friends are.”
He is excited to head off for Madison, but he says that he will miss Alexandria.
“Old Town is awesome,” he said. “I already miss Alexandria. But I’ll get over it.”