AUBURN GRESHAM — When Urban Prep Englewood senior Rudolph Long, 17, found out he had won a merit-based full ride to college, he said he sat in shock on the kitchen floor for over an hour.
“I just sat on the floor and read [the packet] for two hours,” said the Auburn Gresham resident, who was recently awarded the Gates Millennium Scholarship. “I read it over and over again. I couldn’t believe it.”
More students from Chicago Public Schools won Gates Millennium Scholarships than any school district in the nation this year — and students from Lindblom Math & Science and Urban Prep academies led the way, district officials announced earlier this month.
A total of seven student winners attend Urban Prep Academy, which has campuses in Englewood, Bronzeville and on the Near West Side.
The Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) Program offers needs-based scholarships each year, with a grant that can be used to pursue a degree in any undergraduate major at any accredited college or university. Roughly 50,000 students of color apply for the scholarships every year, officials said.
The monetary value of a Gates Scholarship is estimated to be worth more than $250,000, depending on where a student decides to enroll in college. The scholarship pays the balance between what the family can afford and the total cost of tuition.
Rudolph said the good news still hasn’t sunken in for him.
“It still feels like a dream,” he said.
Rudolph, who attends the school’s Englewood campus will be attending Hampton University in the fall. His plan is to complete the five-year MBA plan. College hasn’t even begun and he said he’s already eager to gain some internship experience.
As the first in his family to go to college, he said he feels extremely accomplished. He’s the youngest of four, yet will be the first to go to college.
One takeaway from this experience for the college-bound student has been the importance of networking and relationship-building, he said. He refers to his classmates as his brothers and prides himself on their unwavering solidarity.
Knowing how to work as a team will follow him into his life after high school, he said.
For Rudolph, going to Hampton is about more than his own success: it's also about destroying the stereotype that society has placed on black men, he said.
“I’m helping change the narrative that some see for black people and it feels really good,” he said. “At first I didn’t like the spotlight, in terms of everybody saying congrats, but I kind of like being the light or hope for some people.”
Urban Prep’s Near West Side Campus winner, 18-year-old Joseph Wilkerson, said he was home alone when he received the award letter in the mail. A feeling of relief washed over him, he said, because he knew that his family could stop stressing about how he would afford college.
The financial aid he was offered from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wasn’t nearly enough, he said. The Gates Scholarship was a “savior,” he said “because if I didn’t get it, I would be several thousands in debt, probably about $30,000.”
The incoming freshmen plans to study computer science or computer engineering. His dream is to land an internship with Google, then later a job as a software engineer. He wants to learn several languages and create both apps and websites.
The winner from the Bronzeville campus, Juwaun Muhammad, said he’s excited to embark on a new journey at Georgetown University in the fall.
He found the packet shoved into mailbox as he was coming home after shopping for his suit for prom.
“I was pretty excited and emotional at the same time,” said the 18-year-old Bronzeville resident.
He hasn’t chosen a major just yet, but he said he’s leaning towards economics. One thing he's certain of is what he wants to do after college.
“I want to build an amateur athletic program ... to give kids the opportunity to travel the country and play basketball,” Muhammad said.
He currently plays point-guard on his school’s basketball team.
He’ll be the second in his family to go to college; his aunt was the first. He said he’s excited about meeting new people and taking on new challenges. Urban Prep prepared him well, he said.
“Urban Prep was the best decision I ever made in my life, the best decision my parents made. If I didn’t come here, these opportunities probably wouldn’t be afforded to me.”
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