UMES Gates Scholar

  • Wednesday, November 22, 2006

    PRINCESS ANNE, MD - If you look at her just by the numbers, Akira Ali is extraordinary. Of the millions of Americans who apply to colleges and universities, only 1,000 each year become Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS). In fact, of the 42 students from Abraham Clark High School, in Roselle, NJ, who applied to the program, Ali was the only one selected. She is one of 1,000 in her class nationwide and the only GMS at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

    The Gates Millennium Scholars Program was established at the United Negro College Fund by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to provide full scholarships for outstanding low income African Americans and students from other ethnic minorities. The Gates Millennium Scholars can attend any accredited college or university in the nation, and Ali chose UMES. Twice.

    For Ali and her family, HBCUs are an academic tradition. When it came time to apply to a university, she found that UMES offered the Physician Assistant program she wanted. When she visited campus, she felt she'd come home.

    "I fell in love with the campus," she beamed. Particularly impressive to her was the friendliness and helpfulness of the campus community. "I fell in love with the people, too. It felt like a family bond."

    At the very last minute, however, Ali changed her mind and enrolled at Fort Valley State University in Georgia. After one year, she was back at UMES. She was back home.

    Once you meet her, you realize that the GMS judges didn't make Ali extraordinary by awarding the scholarship; they simply recognized her as an outstanding young woman when they saw her application. They set the bar quite high for their applicants: at least a 3.3 grade point average and demonstrated leadership abilities, through community service or other extracurricular activities. Ali cleared that bar and continues to excel.

    Darlene Jackson-Bowen chairs the UMES Physician Assistant program and is Ali's advisor. She describes Ali as a student who keeps her grades up, but makes time for others. Jackson-Bowen is quick to point out that Ali has two part-time jobs (one on campus and one in Salisbury), yet is a campus leader in a number of arenas, from student government to community health education outreach.

    "I've found her to be a very mature young lady," Jackson-Bowen says. "She has proven herself to be reliable, trustworthy, helpful and committed to success - her own and that of the person she is helping." Ali is a volunteer mentor for Campus Pals and Project Achieve and serves both on the SGA board and in the Treadwell Physician Assistant Society.

    Ali seems to take all of it - her busy schedule, her dedication to helping others and her ability to lead - in stride. She is keeping her grades up to GMS standards and is proud to call herself a Gates Millennium Scholar. For her, it is a privilege more than a responsibility. "I will go above and beyond to help others," she says with confidence.

    With a schedule that would exhaust most people and self-assurance that makes her a natural leader, it seems more than possible that Akira Ali could even be the next Bill Gates.

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    Maureen McNeill, UMES Office of Public Relations, 410-651-7580, memcneill@umes.edux