Five Chattanooga area students get Gates Millennium Scholarship to attend college for free

Five Chattanooga area students get Gates Millennium Scholarship to attend college for free

May 5th, 2012 by Perla Trevizo and Kevin Hardy in News

The area Gates Millennium Scholars, from left, are: Matthew Chen of Baylor School, Monica Maldonado of Dalton High School, Sam Sadowitz of Soddy-Daisy High School, Hira Quireshi of Dalton High School and Jose Angels Cruz of McCallie. Staff Photos


Matthew Chen

• School: Baylor

• College: Stanford University

Monica Maldonado

• School: Dalton High School

• College: Berry College

Sam Sadowitz

• School: Soddy-Daisy High School

• College: University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Hira Quireshi

• School: Dalton High School

• College: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or Tufts University

Jose Angels Cruz

• School: McCallie

• College: Furman University


To qualify for the Gates Millennium Scholarship, students must:

• Be an African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander American or Hispanic American students who are U.S. citizens, or legal permanent residents.

• Have a cumulative GPA of 3.3 on an unweighted 4.0 scale or have earned a GED

• Have demonstrated leadership abilities

• Meet federal Pell Grant eligibility criteria


  • $1.6 billion - Funding from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

• 16,000 - Gates Millennial Scholars since the program inception

• $614,600,000 - Scholarship amount given between 2000 and 2010 academic years

• 10 - Tennessee residents selected in 2012

• 88 - Georgia residents selected in 2012

• 78.9 percent - five-year graduation rate for Gates scholars; the six-year rate is more than 90 percent

A world of possibilities awaits five area high school students awarded one of the nation's most prestigious and competitive college scholarships.

Financial barriers to higher education have vanished for those selected as Gates Millennium Scholars, who can now pursue as much undergraduate and graduate education as they want.

For free.

The Gates scholarship covers all costs associated with higher education, including books, computers, travel and housing.

The program is aimed at helping move low-income minority students to higher education and eventually into careers where minorities are underrepresented, such as education, engineering and the sciences. It's funded by a $1.6 billion grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Students are selected based on their academic performance, leadership abilities and community service.

Nationwide, more than 20,000 students applied for the scholarship; only 1,000 are selected each year.

And for those selected, the win represents more than just a tuition windfall.

"It really makes dreams come true. It makes the reality of going to college possible for these students," said Brian Beckley, associate director of college guidance at McCallie School, which produced a Gates scholar this year.

To achieve that dream, it sometimes takes generations of sacrifice.

"These families have held aspirations and dreams for these students for years, in some cases for generations. This allows them to take that next step," said Larry Griffith, vice president of the United Negro College Fund, which administers the Gates scholarship program.

UNCF is one of four partners that delivers support to students throughout their studies, providing tutoring and mentoring.

"This is a program, not just a scholarship," Griffith said.

Matthew Chen

Matthew Chen

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.


While endless doors are open, there's still a lot of uncertainty in Matthew Chen's future.

He'll be attending Stanford University in California this fall to complete a five-year bachelor's and master's program in a math or science field. Beyond that, he doesn't know what kind of job he'll pursue or whether more education is in order.

"I just want to have as many opportunities as possible," he said.

With his Gates award, he won't have to work through school. He can put more focus on his studies and enjoy the experience a little more. And he won't have to take out any loans to cover the high cost of graduate school.

Because it's such a good deal, Matthew is adamant about encouraging other high school students to apply for the award.

He received financial aid at Chattanooga's Baylor School, where he is a boarding student. But his Gates scholarship will cover all costs associated with his future education, including travel, meals, books and living expenses.

"Baylor is actually going to be more expensive for me than Stanford. It's kind of funny how that worked out," he said.

With smaller classes and a reputation in academics and athletics, he sees a lot of similarities between Baylor and Stanford.

He's stayed busy at Baylor, working on the yearbook, newspaper and literary magazine, among other activities. He's also a standout on the swim team, having been part of a state championship team last year. His relay team also placed second at a national competition.

Swimming is actually how he found Baylor. A teammate on the Jamaican national swim team had attended Baylor and suggested the prep school to Matthew.

Matthew is from Jamaica, where his mother is a public hospital surgeon. He has dual citizenship, as his father lives in Florida.

He hasn't decided if he wants to live in Jamaica or the United States. He just wants to find a place where he can make a difference, like his mother. That might be in Jamaica, where people tend to be poorer. Or it could be in the United States, where his work could have a greater reach.

"I want to be in a place where I can help the most people," he said.

Monica Maldonado

Monica Maldonado

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.


From a very young age, Monica Maldonado learned that the only way she was going to get ahead in life was through education.

Monica was born in California but lived in Mexico when she was in second grade - an experience that changed her life, the 18-year-old said.

Her mom had a hard time finding a school that had room for her and wanted to take her in. She realized that school is not as accessible in Mexico as it is in her native country.

"It made me see how fortunate I am to be in the United States, and it made me value education a lot more," she said.

Education is a big part of her life. She takes advance placement classes in subjects ranging from world history to calculus and is involved in school and in her community - all while working up to 20 hours a week at Little Caesar's.

"I remember seeing my mom crying at the table because she didn't know how we were going to make it through the month's bills," she said. That's when she got her part-time job.

Although it was a tough balancing act to master, she didn't quit. The first in her family to go to college, she will graduate high school with almost a 4.0 grade-point average.

Her father didn't finish elementary school, and her mother only got to high school before both dropped out and got jobs to help their families in Mexico.

Here, her parents work in the carpet industry and her mother has a second job at a restaurant.

But what has pushed Monica even more to excel in school is her 16-year-old brother.

He fell victim to drugs, which has taken a toll on her family, she said.

"I want to work to help other students, coming from similar backgrounds, avoid the path my brother has chosen and instead take the path to success through college," she said.

Monica wants to help expand college access in her community as a guidance counselor at Dalton High School or even with her own nonprofit.

Samueal Sadowitz

Samueal Sadowitz

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.


Not even out of high school yet, Sam Sadowitz already is taking aim at a doctorate degree. And with his Gates scholarship, he won't have to pay a nickel for his upcoming decade or so of higher education.

He's come a long way for a kid who was held back in kindergarten and plagued by low expectations along the way. His physical disabilities include Asperger's syndrome, language impairment and auditory processing issues.

But he's been determined to live as normal a life as possible. With a little help, or maybe some modification, there's not much that's out of Sam's reach. He's active in JROTC, is a double varsity football letterman and is an enthusiastic fan of science, math, history and problem solving.

He's perhaps most passionate about outdoor pursuits. He loves gardening, hunting and most of all, fishing. All family vacations must include a stop at a stream or lake for Sam to get his fishing fix.

After he read a passage in the Tennessee Gateway exam about a student who grew and donated produce, Sam decided he could do something similar.

"I thought, 'I have a garden. I can do that,'" he said. "And I did that."

In his 16-by-32-foot garden, he grew tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes and herbs. He gave the best crops away to the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga's Meals on Wheels program, the same program that helped feed his family through their tough times.

At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Sam will live on campus but still be close to his family. He plans to study engineering and eventually receive master's and doctorate degrees, though he doesn't know where he'll go for graduate school.

Sam hopes to eventually work for a military contractor in a field such as ballistics or aeronautics to remain close to the military, which he's been infatuated with since childhood.

At UTC, Sam will participate in the university's MoSAIC program, which provides support for students with Autism Spectrum disorders. Modifications as simple as a little extra time on exams help Sam to do the same rigorous work as other students.

"For me it just levels the playing field to fully demonstrate what I can do," he said.

Hira Quireshi

Hira Quireshi

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.


When you ask Hira Quireshi what she wants to be, the first thing she says is that she wants to make a difference in the world.

She remembers seeing a little girl wearing ripped up clothes covered in mud in the slums of Pakistan.

Even though she was only 5 or 6 years old herself, Hira knew that she wanted to do something to improve her situation and that of people like her around the world.

Success in school hasn't come easy for Hira. Her family moved her and her siblings across the globe 11 years ago from Pakistan to Northwest Georgia to seek a better life. She used their struggles as her motivation.

At first it was hard for her to grasp the English language. She dreaded having to read out loud in class.

But she never gave up. By the time she left middle school, she was one of the best in her class.

Now she's even taking advance placement classes in English and is about to walk across the stage on May 25 with a 4.78 grade-point average at Dalton High School.

She's involved in her school and in her community, volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters, United Way, Hamilton Medical Center and anything else that comes up.

She learned from a recovered trauma patient that as long as you don't give up, life's unexpected turns can be beneficial. A blind patient, she said, taught here that seeing is beyond vision.

Hira still doesn't know where she wants to go to school, either the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or Tufts University, but her long-term goal is to work in public health so she can improve her own community and the lives of people in developing countries.

One of her main goals was to become a Gates Scholar, just like her older brother.

"Nothing is going to stop me now," Hira said.

Jose Angel Cruz

Jose Angel Cruz

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.


Jose Angel Cruz has seen his fair share of change.

Until he was 6 years old, he and his family lived in Michoacán, Mexico. They immigrated to Florida in search of work and opportunity. It was lonely at first - at least until Jose learned English. After two years, the family moved to Northwest Georgia.

In middle school, his counselor gave him one look and determined Jose was trouble. But after getting to know him, that same counselor lobbied administrators at McCallie to consider him for financial aid. His eventual acceptance at the prep school meant he would have access to more resources and opportunities than ever.

"There's no way my education would have been the same anywhere else," Jose said.

But that, too, was a transition. Jose had never known homework like the rigorous work at McCallie. It was tough to keep up the first two years. But he's excelled there, both in school and in art club and soccer.

When a former coach tackled him on the soccer field to announce he'd won the Gates scholarship, Jose knew he was in store for another great change.

His parents work hard at the carpet mills in Dalton. While their night shifts overlap, Jose stays at home to take care of his baby brother. His parents now know that Jose's life is changed forever, that their sacrifices were worth it.

"Their aim was to get me a good education, get me to college if possible, so I wouldn't have to work like them," he said. "They're just full of gratitude. This doesn't happen every day."

Jose is humble and feels lucky to have attended McCallie. He feels blessed to have won the Gates scholarship, which allows him to attend Furman University in Greenville, S.C. He plans to study physics. From there, he hopes to enter a mechanical engineering master's program.

He drives himself every day from his home in Dalton to McCallie. On top of school activities and study, he works at Kroger part-time bagging groceries or working in the deli. He plans to find a full-time job over the summer - anything to help out the family.

"It's hard enough as it is. I don't need to ask for anything," he said.

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