The day Kentridge High School student Briana Wong, 17, received her acceptance letter from the Columbia University was bittersweet.
Officially enrolled at Kentridge, Wong has spent her senior year of high school in a Running Start program, taking college classes at Bellevue Community College in preparation for Ivy League admission. But then she saw the price tag.
“I got into Columbia on early admission, and I was really excited, and then I got the financial-aid package and was like wow, how am I gonna pay for that?” Wong said.
The cost of a year at Columbia is around $52,000, she said, and there was no way she or her parents could pay even half of such a hefty bill. Luckily, Wong has made a habit of giving back to the community, and her commitment to service will help send her to New York City and the start of a Columbia education next fall.
Wong recently was named a Ron Brown Scholar, becoming the only Washington State resident and one of only 20 black youths in the nation to receive the honor this year. Chosen from more than 5,600 high-school students, Wong will receive $40,000 to put toward tuition over the next four years.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I felt super relieved and excited, because I knew that I could go to college without causing a financial crisis for my family.”
The scholarship was founded in 1996 and named after the first black U.S. secretary of commerce. In addition to financial need, Ron Brown Scholars are selected based on academic excellence, leadership potential and social commitment. Wong had to demonstrate those qualities through a grueling essay and interview process.
“The process was pretty difficult,” she said. “The odds weren’t so good that I would get the scholarship. I didn’t know that before I applied, and I might not have if I would have known.”
Her essays and a phone interview earned her a place as a finalist, and the program paid for her to fly to Washington, D.C. in March for her final interviews. Her strong resume must have impressed the scholarship committee.
Originally from California, she grew up playing soccer, and one of her coaches helped inspire what has now become a part of Wong’s service-oriented attitude. The coach used to be a trainer for the women’s national team in Ghana, Africa, and he showed Wong’s team videos of the poor conditions at a girls’ academy in the country. The academy’s soccer team had to play without expensive cleats and safety equipment.
“In all the videos, the girls’ legs were bleeding, and they always looked like they were in pain,” Wong said. “I just wanted to do something to help.”
When her family moved to Montreal, Quebec in Canada in 2004, Wong took the images with her and recruited players from her soccer team there to donate equipment. She packed it all — cleats, deflated balls, shin guards, jerseys, shorts — into a large suitcase and addressed it to Hasaacas Academy in Takoradi, Ghana.
Now, Wong coaches her own soccer team of young girls, and she hopes to pass the message of global service along by organizing another donation effort among her players and their families. Her experience and her time living near the internationally diverse city of Montreal inspired her to making a career of fighting for oppressed people around the world.
“I’ve always had this call in my life to make a difference in the world, and I’ve really become interested in the global community,” she said. “My dream job is to work for the International Justice Mission as a lawyer.”
With the help of the Ron Brown scholarship as well as a Gates Millennium scholarship, she’s one step closer to that dream job now that she can afford her education. And she said she won’t be daunted by the big move from Kent to New York City.
“I’m excited for it,” she said. “I’ve never lived away from home before, but I think it’ll be fun to live in the city. It’s such an international place with such a fast pace of life.”
For for more information about the Ron Brown Scholar Program, visit www.ronbrown.org.
Contact Daniel Mooney at 253-437-6012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.