A free ride for a few

D.C. high school student Thao Anh Tran didn’t know a word of English when she emigrated from Vietnam at seven years old.

Learning to communicate with her peers was her daily focus, not high-minded dreams of attending college. Early on, “GW” weren’t even letters in her alphabet, let alone a university within her reach.

So when University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg showed up at her school Friday morning with a $200,000 scholarship to attend the Elliott School of International Affairs, she was flabbergasted.

“Shocked, surprised, happy,” Tran said of her initial reactions. “I had no idea.”

Tran is one of nine seniors in D.C. public high schools who won this year’s Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarships. Each scholarship, worth more than $45,000 per year, covers tuition, room and board, books and other fees.

On Friday, University officials traveled in the “prize patrol van” to the recipients’ five high schools, surprising them with the news in large assemblies. Mascot Little George and Chris Harvell, a former SJT Scholar currently attending Columbia University business school, were also on hand.

Tran’s Benjamin Banneker High School, across the street from Howard University, had two other award recipients, Francesca Fisher and Christopher Stallworth. Trachtenberg congratulated all three students on receiving his award.

“This is no small issue: $600,000,” he said of the three scholarships’ total value. “We’re delighted to do it … It takes from you and your parents the burden of academic costs.”

Trachtenberg said he viewed the scholarships as a way of giving back to the community, while simultaneously recruiting bright students.

“Our goal of the program is to build a leadership group of people born and bred in D.C. to come to D.C.’s best university,” Trachtenberg said. “We need your talent, your brains and your good looks.”

The program, which has awarded upwards of $1.5 million in recent years, began in 1989 as the 21st Century Scholarship, said Thaddisa Fulwood, assistant director of undergraduate admissions.

A two-person selection committee, made up of herself and an associate admissions director, annually sift through dozens of recommendations by local guidance counselors. They choose the scholarship recipients based on class rank, GPA, SAT scores, leadership activities and community service, Fulwood said.

Stallworth, one of the three SJT Scholars at Banneker High School, is not sure whether he will matriculate at GW next year. He said he will have “a lot of hard decisions to come.”

His father, Douglas Stallworth, said his son “has a lot of options all around the country.” Out of the 11 schools he applied to, he was accepted to 10, including Stanford, Dartmouth and New York University.

Kim Edelin, mother of SJT Scholar Tiffany Edelin, said her daughter will attend GW in the fall.

“She’s definitely going,” Kim Edelin said, adding that her daughter has already taken Korean courses at the University through a dual enrollment program offered by the School Without Walls.

Another recipient from that school, Carmen Montopoli, is unsure of her decision about next year.

Isaiah Pickens, a graduate of the School Without Walls and current SJT Scholar, said GW was not his top choice; he would have preferred to leave his home city of D.C. for Philadelphia. But he opted not to attend the University of Pennsylvania when GW offered him the scholarship.

A senior majoring in psychology, Pickens has been very active at GW, most notably for his SA presidential bid last year. He is president of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and SA vice president of undergraduate student policy.

The 2005 SJT Scholarships were also awarded to students in Bell Multicultural School, Eastern Senior High School and Theodore Roosevelt High School. Little George distributed the scholarships to Saba Fassil, Charles Conway, Marta Genovez and Mindi Schools in those schools Friday afternoon.

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