Three local high school seniors have one less thing to worry about in the coming years — well, one less really big thing to worry about.
The seniors recently were awarded full scholarships to prestigious universities through QuestBridge's 2017 National College Match Scholarship.
Recipients Bethsahida Harrigan and Kathleen Cimino are seniors at Central High and Dessa O'Neal is an Ooltewah High 12th grader.
QuestBridge's highly selective process begins in a student's junior year, when a teacher or school administrator nominates students who qualify financially and academically to the program.
The program pairs high-achieving, low-income students with scholarships to some of the nation's top colleges including schools like Amherst, Brown, Columbia, Duke, Stanford and Yale, according to a news release from QuestBridge.
O'Neal was granted early admission to the University of Chicago with a guarantee that all her expenses — tuition, room, board and expenses such as travel — will be covered.
Harrigan was accepted into Vanderbilt University, where she plans to study psychology on a pre-medicine track, and Cimino was accepted into Wesleyan University to study English and French.
Cimino dreams of one day being an international journalist.
For Danielle Hooper, a teacher in the gifted program at three Hamilton County high schools, Harrigan and Cimino were her first students to be selected for the program.
"This is life changing," Hooper said. "These are opportunities for these girls that they normally wouldn't have."
Cimino has been a part of Hooper's gifted class for years, but the two grew especially close after the death of Cimino's mother last Christmas. After finding out she was accepted, Hooper took Cimino to buy a college sweatshirt.
"She needed this," Hooper said.
Hamilton County's recipients were three of 918 students selected out of more than 15,000 applicants for this year's scholarships.
"Thanks to the continuing support of our generous college partners, we have been able to encourage our applicants to dream big," said Ana McCullough, CEO of QuestBridge, in a statement. "By eliminating the worry of the cost of education, high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds can reach confidently for their best college fit — the school of their dreams."
Many of Hooper's students at Central High, Howard and East Ridge often end up at a state school, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga or Chattanooga State Community College after they complete high school.
Hooper also believes the support system that the QuestBridge Scholars Network provides will be vital to the girls' success as they move away from home.
"What I like about the QuestBridge program is they have such a support system," she said. "I think it's going to be huge for them."
Last year, twins from Soddy-Daisy High School were recipients of scholarships through the QuestBridge program. Brittany O'Dell headed to Atlanta this fall to study business and film at Emory University and her sister, Destiny O'Dell, is a Lupton Scholar at Wellesley in Massachusetts majoring in environmental studies.
Contact Meghan Mangrum at email@example.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.