To listen in on the hopes and aspirations of the Midlands’ three Gates Millennium Scholars is to hear the rustle of dreams in the making.
Jaleel Jefferson wants to be a neuroscientist specializing in the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Qi Jinhopes to study economics and social science as he ponders becoming a business analyst and entrepreneur.
Samanuel Martin plans to pursue biomechanical engineering in hopes of developing high-tech prosthetics and treating patients.
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With their selection in the 2014 class of Gates scholars, the three have proven they can compete with the best and brightest minority students around the country. With the scholarship, established in 1999 with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they are assured of the financial assistance they need to complete undergraduate and graduate degrees.
“It was a burden relieved,” said Jefferson, 18, who will graduate Wednesday from Dreher High School in Richland 1 and attend USC Honors College in the fall. “I knew I could go to graduate school and medical school.” He said his family erupted in joy and tears when the acceptance packet arrived in April.
The students are among 1,000 Gates Scholars named this year, each of whom can claim impressive academic records as well as community and service accolades. Each of the three students will graduate near the top of their classes.
About 52,000 students competed for the Gates scholarship this year. Six South Carolinians were selected in the 2014 class, including the three students from Columbia, James Carter from Chesterfield, Alicia Davenport from Little River, and Arionna Russell from Beaufort.
A grandmother’s inspiration
Jefferson planned in middle school to become a veterinarian. But his focus shifted as he watched his grandmother, Colletta Jefferson, begin exhibiting signs of dementia.
“That became my drive,” said Jefferson, who, along with his mother, Anitra Jefferson, helps care for his grandmother in the family’s home. “That has been my biggest influence in medicine.”
At 80, his grandmother has forgotten many things, but she always remembers her grandson. “I am one of those people I don’t think she will forget,” he said.
Jefferson already has spent summers in Pennsylvania and Maryland engaged in scientific internships for aspiring students, learning, among other things, how cancer cells replicate in the presence of bacteria on hip implants. Eventually, he hopes to earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience research and a medical degree and work on a cure for Alzheimer’s.
Jefferson volunteers at the C.M. Tucker Nursing Care Center with his youth choir from St. John’s Baptist Church. At Dreher, he is a member of the robotics team, varsity math team and the National Honor Society.
Already a leader and a teacher
Jin, who was born in China, had initially pondered a medical career as well, but decided he would pursue economics at the University of Chicago. He hasn’t decided whether he will go to graduate school but hopes to end up in Silicon Valley to take advantage of the high-tech enterprises there.
“For business, I want to go the entrepreneurial route so I would look to a place like California,” he said.
Jin, 17, will graduate from Richland Northeast High School in Richland 2 on June 6. His mother, Zhao Xiaobo, who is a nurse, and younger brother, Kerry, will be there along with his father, Qingwen Jin, who will travel from China, where he is working now.
While at Richland Northeast, Jin carried a heavy academic load in both the Horizon magnet and the International Baccalaureate programs. But he also was responsible for caring for his 8-year-old brother after school each day while his mother worked. He didn’t park his brother in front of the television set, however. Instead, he taught Kerry to write and speak Chinese so all four members of the family could be fluent in two languages.
Jin, who volunteers weekly at the Richland Library and reads voraciously, said he is looking forward to becoming part of the Gates scholar circle.
“I view it as more trying to foster a community,” he said. “It is more about making connections with other high-achieving minorities.”
That’s a goal of the foundation, which hopes to reap the rewards of more minority professionals in areas such as engineering, medicine and computer science throughout the United States.
Carving his own path
Martin, who will graduate from W.J. Keenan High School in Richland 1 on Wednesday, has already gotten a taste of biomedical engineering in his high school’s elite Project REAL engineering program. That experience, which meant attending class after regular school hours, has inspired him to consider what it might be like to develop advanced prosthetics for returning veterans and others who suffer debilitating injuries.
“I always knew he wanted to do something in the medical field,” his mother, Stacey Martin, said. “I just tell him the sky’s the limit because I support him 100 percent in whatever he does.”
Samanuel Martin plans to attend North Carolina State University to study biomedical engineering this fall. Like Jefferson, he wants to earn a medical degree and would particularly like to help those who cannot afford medical care.
“I’m the type of person, even if you think it’s impossible, I push myself,” the 18-year-old said. He has a 24-year-old brother and a 22-year-old sister, but noted, “in a way, I carved my own path.”
The eight essays required by the Gates extensive application were a challenge for Martin, who said writing comes harder than science and math. “I can sit down all day and read science articles,” he laughed.
While at Keenan, Martin spent four years in the ROTC program. He also attended Palmetto Boys State and was the recipient of the West Point Leadership Award.
All three received financial scholarships and aid to their undergraduate institutions. The Gates scholarship will supplement any expenses left over and then clear the path to graduate programs and overseas travel.
The United Negro College Fund administers the Gates Millennium Scholars program. and has partnered with the American Indian Graduate Center Scholars, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, and the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund to assist in implementing the program.