The six members of the fourth Scholarship Plus class have all graduated from college on schedule. Here are their updates:
Shaunpaul Jones, Amherst College: Shaunpaul majored in NeuroScience and won the John Simpson Fellowship for Medicine. He will be attending the University of Rochester School of Medicine. During college, Shaunpaul was captain of the Mixed Martial Arts Club, and enjoyed singing in choral groups and being a volunteer emergency medical technician. "I can't always say it was fun or easy," he says, "but my college years were the most formative and important years of my life. College has not only given me the chance to appreciate my qualities, but it has also given me the tools to improve myself and grow."
Philomina Kane, Princeton University: Graduated with honors, majoring in Ecological and Evolutionary Biology, minoring in Global Health and African Studies. Last summer Philo went back to her native Ghana to collect research for her thesis on the behavior of the particular mosquitoes responsible for Zika, dengue and yellow fever. At school, Philo played serious rugby, and performed in DoroBucci, Princeton's African dance group, She also started a YouTube channel, NaturallyPhilo, with 30,000 subscribers and over 1.5 million page views. Philomina's next stop is in Philadelphia for a two-year fellowship in entrepreneurship with Venture For America. She then plans to head back to school to receive her master's in Epidemiology. "I love global health," she says. "I love helping people,and I love the study of diseases. I also love being a businesswoman!"
Aixin Li, Smith College: Aixin majored in Economics with a minor in Landscape Studies. Her experiences included studying Urban Design in Denmark, as well as an internship in Cleveland one hot summer. She and a friend made it to the semi-finals of of the annual Draper Competion for Collegiate Women Entrpreneurs, with a business paln for a map application. She is searching for a job in the urban planning field while studying for the Graduate Record Exam and planning for graduate school. In her words: "I am grateful for what I got to experience in college and am more grateful for the people, including my family, friends, professors, alums, and the Scholarship Plus community, who have pushed me to be a better person and supported my aspirations and goals."
Jaime Nino de Guzman, Columbia University Fu Foundation School of Engineering: Jamie has just been accepted into the Graduate Mechanical Engineering Program at Fu/Columbia for next fall. Jaime's other interests range from tennis (the coach asked him to join the team, but he declined -- since he was taking nine courses at the time), karate and tae kwon do, to teaching and tutoring at Kumon, to gaming -- he has become an internationally respected champion in an online video game, Super Smash Bros. In that game he ranks as the No. 1 player in Queens, participating under the name of "Whiskers." He has taught himself many coding languages and says he is chiefly self-motivated.
Jeffrey Ng, N.Y.U. Tandon School of Engineering: Jeff brought his love for flying and his ability to fix jet engines -- honed at Aviation High School in Queens -- to N.Y.U., where he just graduated with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. His extracurricular pursuits included playing guitar for the N.Y.U. Gospel Choir, as well as a project that brought together his engineering and musical interests: designing and 3D printing a full-scale electric guitar. He also helped start N.Y.U.'s first off-terrain vehicle racing team, which recently competed with over 100 other universities, and built a functional underwater electric generator for use in remote locations. In August, Jeff will start at JP Morgan Chase as an analyst in Product Development, a group that works with projects closest to engineering. And in a few years he plans to go back for his master's in Mechanical Engineering.
Emony Robertson, Cornell University: Emony majored in Developmental Sociology and minored in Communication and Inequalty Studies -- making Dean's List all four years. She earned the Director's Award, given to a senior with demonstrated dedication to academics, community and the opportunity program. Emony is back home in New York City as a litigation paralegal for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, where she interned in past summers. And she will be preparing to apply to law school.
It was a few days before he began classes at Colby College that Vasiki Konneh, born and reared in Woodside, Queens, joined other members of his class for a three-day wilderness trip in the Maine woods. The natural beauty surrounding him struck Vasiki, and so did the pleasure of his first campfire. But it was the heavens at night, without urban light pollution, that really amazed him, including the sight of his first shooting star. He remembers, "it felt like the sky was choking on stars."
Now midway through his first year, Vasiki continues to enjoy the discovery and adaptation to a new world. Despite some bumps along the way, he is thriving at Colby.
Outgoing and gregarious, Vasiki found that in his first college weeks he missed his large group of friends from high school, and worried that he was sometimes eating alone. This concern faded when two upperclassmen told him that this was natural, that the makeup of groups of freshmen eating together had to do mostly with class schedules, and that as the semester went on new friendships would fall into place. That proved to be the case, and as Vasiki's social life got better, so did his academic performance.
The two courses that challenged him most were physics and french. His struggles with physics recalled a similar situation he faced in engineering class his junior year at Queens Vocational Technical High School. As with the earlier difficulties, he overcame the current ones.
French was a new challenge – although he is fluent in Mandingo, the West African language his parents spoke in Guinea – since he had never taken a foreign language class. Many of his french classmates at Colby, he came to realize, had already studied the language in high school. But, Vasiki said, an "amazing" teacher helped get him on track because she saw how hard he worked, especially when he repeatedly sought help during the professor's office hours.
Vasiki found one aspect of student life at Colby that he expected, and one that he did not. While there are, he said, "hardly any people of color" on campus, this is a challenge to which the school is rising, and his class is the most diverse yet. The surprise was how international the student body is, with students in his Class of 2020 from 67 countries.
On his January break from Colby, Vasiki was invited to return to WNYC, where he interned through Scholarship Plus last summer. He once again work for Jami Floyd, both on her segments as the New York host of "All Things Considered" on weekday afternoons and on a special Martin Luther King Jr. Day program at the Apollo Theater. Vasiki participated in "huddles" where broadcasters and producers plan coverage on the fly. He also learned how to use sophisticated new technologies such as NewsBoss, a radio newsroom automation program, and DigaSystems, which stores and archives audio from reporters during interviews.
February 1st marked Vasiki's return to the Colby campus. He continues to be struck by the beauty of his new state, "Maine in general is gorgeous," he said. "Even the winter is really beautiful."
Lab work and a big research paper about mosquitos are a major focus of Philomina Kane's senior year at Princeton. She gathered thousands of mosquito eggs for the study while on a trip to Ghana last summer.
This is all part of her major, ecological biology, which she defines as "the interaction of animals, including humans, with the environment," Philomina specializes in vector-borne diseases, infections spread by animals or insects. This category includes dengue fever, Lyme disease and the newly threatening Zika virus.
She has a clear goal: after getting a master's degree in public health, she intends to become a "business-savvy epidemiologist/entrepreneur," a "public servant with public outreach."
Philomina has already exercised some entrepreneurial muscle. Her YouTube channel, Naturally Philo!, was created in 2014 and and has 40,000 subscribers and 2.5 million page views. The show focuses on natural hair for women of color. She had taken her own hair from curly to straight in earlier years. At college she decided to cut it off and "let my hair grow without chemicals."
The channel started as an irreverent mix of tips on techniques, styles and products. She explains: "As time went on, I saw a new vision for this channel and that is a community. It's time to not just share but inspire."
The channel's popularity means that she is sometimes recognized by strangers. The first time, Philomina said, was when a cashier at Sephora, the cosmetics chain, "came up and asked, 'Naturally Philo?'-- l was ecstatic." Philomina welcomes such reactions because they "show my channel is going somewhere."
Reflecting on what has helped her come so far, Philomina mentions "the people at Scholarship Plus, who are always texting me, who have my back."
She has deep appreciation for her Ghanaian culture and gratitude to her parents for their love and support and for instilling their values. "My culture has made me who I am."
As a young girl she lived for several years with her grandmother in Ghana, and still speaks Twi, the national language – which helped her in Accra last summer doing research and meeting family.
She is the first of her mother's children to go to college, and says she feels good that her siblings, 16 and 19 have someone to look up to.