LaTisha Tolbert didn’t know how she was going to pay for her daughter’s education. Her daughter, Zakeria Nelson, is a student at International Academy of Flint and intended to enroll at Kettering University to study Computer Engineering. After receiving financial aid, Tolbert was still considering getting a second job to help put Nelson through school.
Amidst all these challenges and considerations, Nelson received news that altered the course of her academic career and their family trajectory - she was awarded a Gates Millennium Scholarship (GMS) from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“That Wednesday when we got the news, I don’t even have the words for it,” Tolbert said. “I’m excited. I’m happy for her. I’m happy that I don’t have to have that burden to see how she’s going to get through her school years.”
The GMS covers all educational expenses for a student to pursue an undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degree. But it’s also more than a full-ride scholarship, it’s an entry to a lifelong academic fraternity that provides academic empowerment services to encourage academic excellence; mentoring services for academic and personal development; and an online resource center that provides internship, fellowship and scholarship information.
“When I finally got the letter, I was like ‘oh my God.’ I was shocked and stunned,” Nelson said. “This is a blessing because I really need this.”
Nelson is following in her older cousin’s footsteps by pursuing an engineering degree. She was first introduced to the field at Ketteringafter attending a “Women in Engineering” camp on campus when she was in the eighth grade. The potential of the co-op experience solidified Nelson’s desire to attend Kettering.
“I’m excited for the co-op. I want work experience,” Nelson said. “That’s the main reason I’m coining to Kettering. That’s the most attractive part about Kettering for me.”
In order to be eligible for the GMS, Nelson had to maintain at least a 3.3 grade-point-average, exhibit leadership skills and complete a lengthy application process that included eight essays. Nelson wrote extensively about academics while stressing the importance of community service.
“Community service puts you in the real world. It humbles you, you see people who are less fortunate than you,” Nelson said. “I learned how blessed I am and it humbled me.”
After graduating from Kettering, Nelson hopes to one day run her own Computer Engineering company or firm. The scholarship has already expanded Nelson’s goals and opportunities as she one day hopes to work closely with under-funded and disenfranchised schools by providing them with affordable modern technology.
“For me, I want her to go as far as she can. Whatever her dreams and goals are, I’m behind her 100 percent,” Tolbert said. “Whatever she wishes for, she can reach for, grab it and get it.”