The Gates way to a college education

Gates Millennium Scholars choose to pursue their degrees at UTA

by Sherry Wodraska Neaves

At a spending rate of $1,000 per day, it would take three years to spend $1 million. To spend $1 billion would take 3,000 years.
Bill and Melinda Gates are spending one of their billions to fund 20,000 college scholarships, and they'll do it all in the next 20 years.

They launched the Gates Millennium Scholars program in 2000. During the first year, 4,000 "high-achieving, low-income minority students," including three at UTA, were awarded the coveted prize.

Chineme Esimai, DaLesia Brown and Gloria Rubio rank among those students identified by the Gates foundation as having high academic and leadership promise, but they needed assistance in fulfilling their educational ambitions.

Honors College Associate Dean Martha Mann helped locate the UTA students to apply for the award.

"I kept having students tell me that they couldn't keep up with school because they had to work to support themselves," Dr. Mann said. "When I saw the announcement of this scholarship, I started going through our student database, sorting by class standing and GPA. I identified students and invited them to apply and also to attend a scholarship clinic that we offer."

The Gates Millennium Scholars program targets the disciplines of mathematics, science, engineering, education and library science, seeking to increase the numbers of African-American, Hispanic, native American/Alaskan native and Asian Pacific American students pursuing degrees in those areas. And it's not just for undergraduates. Once the scholarship is awarded, students can renew it annually, through graduate school.

"Sometimes you really have to encourage students just to apply for the scholarships," Dr. Mann said. "Many of them are very accomplished, but they're also very modest.

"Many students, particularly minorities, don't go to grad school," she added. "And often, finances figure into that decision. This scholarship, and others, can make advanced studies possible."

Leading the way

Gloria RubioGloria Rubio is seriously considering a master's degree after she graduates in May with her bachelor's in bilingual education. "The money is there," she said, "and I want to go on." This semester she's working to complete her teaching residency at Garcia Elementary School in Grand Prairie.

Born in Juarez, Mexico, Rubio grew up in El Paso. After graduating second in her high school class, she was the first member of her family to attend college. She started out at New Mexico State University, partly because it was close to home, then transferred to UTA as a sophomore.

"Coming to UTA is the best thing that's happened to me," she said. "There are many more scholarships available here, especially for bilingual students."

Rubio saw a need and became a motivating force in establishing the University's Bilingual Education Student Organization. She also made a difference in her calculus class, taught by mathematics Associate Professor Larry Heath, who later wrote a recommendation for her Gates application.

"I've always found Gloria to be efficient and a pleasure to be around," he said. "She was always happy and friendly and liked to kid with me before class. I've incorporated some of the suggestions she made about the course into my class, and I think the course is better as a result."

Starting young

Chineme EsimaiChineme Esimai came to UTA as a 16-year-old freshman. In December, she received her bachelor's degree in accounting, graduating cum laude.

Originally from Nigeria, Esimai and her family moved to the United States just six years ago. Her mother, Grace Esimai, is a senior lecturer in the UTA College of Business Administration, and her father is an engineering researcher at SMU.

"My mom always told me good stories about UTA," she said. "It's the perfect size. The tuition rate is good. It's close to great culture and employment opportunities. So, here I am.

"With parents in education, you definitely aspire higher. They set such high standards."

And Esimai met those standards, maintaining a 3.7 to 3.8 GPA even while working full time. But the Gates scholarship has improved even that impressive record.

"I've applied for a lot of scholarships," she said. "Most give $1,000 or $2,000, and that helps, but the Gates pays according to your need and it covers everything that's not paid by other financial aid.

"In the past year I've received enough to pay for everything. I don't owe a thing. And with the scholarship, I don't have to work 40 hours a week. Now I'm making a 4.0."

Those grades will certainly polish her graduate school application. Esimai plans a quick return to UTA for her master's degree in accounting.

Outside of class, Esimai has served as a UTA Ambassador, a Student Congress representative, an officer in the College of Business Constituency Council and a mentor to high school students in Upward Bound. One of those students eventually became another Gates Millennium Scholar: DaLesia Brown.

World traveler

DaLesia BrownBrown graduated from high school in Fort Sill, Okla., but with a dad in the military she has lived in several states and spent more than six years in Germany. Her first glimpse of UTA came as a high school senior participating in the summer Upward Bound program.

Lonita Fantroy, an Upward Bound learning specialist, immediately identified Brown as a "dedicated student, intelligent, cooperative, assertive and friendly—her leadership abilities were readily observed in her interaction with students and faculty."

After that first good look, Brown liked the University so much she decided to come back.

"UTA is big, but the professors are very approachable," she said. "You get lots of one-on-one attention. I feel like I can excel here."

A pre-business sophomore, Brown plans on a career in corporate law and hopes that her Gates funds will follow her to law school.

"A lot of young people don't know about all the scholarships that are available," she said. "So many don't try because they're not aware of the possibilities and options. My parents always told me that I could do anything I want to."

Through their own efforts, and with timely assistance from the Gates Millennium Scholarship program, Rubio, Esimai and Brown will continue to pursue their goals.

After all, as Esimai said, "When I saw the Gates name on the scholarship, I thought he might have a million or two to share."



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