All in

Tia Wilson (12) earns prestigious scholarship


Hannah Mellor

Tia Wilson, QuestBridge scholar, shows off her favorite book and her University of Notre Dame sweatshirt as she comes closer and closer to college. This time next year she’ll be a member of the Fighting Irish.

Tia Wilson is a presence in any room. She may be quiet but her accomplishments are very loud.

Tia Wilson (12) quietly puts in the time and effort to make big things happen. She seeks out opportunity and take risks. Ms. Becky Stevenson, her Honors Language Arts 9 teacher suggested Wilson check a program called College Bound Wilson’s junior year. Wilson didn’t didn’t let her atypical status stop her.

College Bound guides low-income students in the St. Louis area, involving them from early in high school all the way through their college years. The organization recommends applying freshman year.

Applying for College Bound in the beginning of her junior year, the odds were not in her favor. Spots were limited. To get in, Wilson had to submit an essay about why college was important and go through a round of interviews by College Bound staff members.

And that was just the beginning of the writing and interviews. The Questbridge process required many more. Wilson discovered QuestBridge through College Bound.

“My College Bound leaders and coaches mentioned it to me,” Wilson said. “They really helped me whether it was with my essays or other work. They provided a bunch of information and answered any questions I had.”

Wilson’s hard work has paid off in a big way: a $268,172 award for the college-bound 18-year-old. Wilson landed the highly-competitive QuestBridge scholarship making her the first recipient in EHS’ history.  Less than five percent who apply receive the scholarship, according to Jeff Buckman, career and college counselor.

The QuestBridge scholarship program is a nonprofit that gives the nation’s most motivated, high-achieving, low-income teenagers opportunities to go to top universities. The organization partners with 38 selective colleges across the country.

“I was beyond shocked,” Wilson said. “It was a one in a million chance that I would actually get it. I was surprised, but very happy and relieved.”

Now that she has won the scholarship, Wilson will head to University of Notre Dame to study finance, knowing that the yearly costs of the $67,043 education are covered, including health insurance.

The application process is extensive. To apply for the scholarship, Wilson needed two teacher recommendation letters, a school profile, secondary school report, high school transcript, standardized test scores and two 800-word essays about her past life and equality.  

After all the interviews and essays, if the student advances to finalist status, the applicant ranks the colleges they want. Then the colleges evaluate the finalist and match them up with the students they want, according to Buckman.

Wilson played the long game, which was by no means easy, and the odds were against her.

In her QuestBridge essay about her childhood, she describes her childhood:

“My story begins in the run down St. Louis City projects riddled with bullet holes and overwhelmed by lost hope. I remember running through urine scented alleys filled with crackheads. I can still feel the hunger pains from the times my only dinner was sleep. My single mother struggled to make ends meet, wanting to get us out of the ghetto which, with a low-income job, rent , and 3 mouths to feed, seemed impossible. My brother and I were one of the few fortunate kids to go to school in the county, roughly an hour and a half away, through the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation. We were afforded a daily reprieve, albeit brief,  from the pain and struggling that came with having nothing. However, the pain didn’t end when I went to a predominately white school. It just morphed from the pain of hunger to the pain of loneliness. I did not understand why all the kids with my skin color sat a table apart from the kids with the white skin. I never understood the confusion on teachers faces when they handed me my test scores back, but I always noticed it. When I entered middle school, the blurred lines began to come into focus. For the first time, I was the only black child in all of my classes. Being a minority is hard enough, but being a minority alone is even worse.”

Rosalinde Brown, Wilson’s mother, knows Wilson’s dedication is a difference maker.

“Tia takes her education very seriously, and she is passionate about her studies,” Brown said. “My words of wisdom for her is to find and follow your passion, and you will be successful.”  

No matter the challenges, Wilson does her best to succeed. In AP economics, Wilson is not just the only black student; she is the only girl among a class of 14 boys.

“She is very bright,” Lucas Kunkel (12) said. “Being the only girl in the class doesn’t really get to her head. She fits in well with the rest of us and loves participating.”

Wilson never stopped pushing herself. From filling out applications at home to spending every minute in study hall writing essays.

“The essays were definitely the hardest part,” Wilson said. “It was extremely long, and you had to talk about your life. It was hard to reflect on the life I’ve had.”

During any free time she had, Wilson put all her effort into the essays.

“I have a study hall class every day, so when I was applying for it, I was constantly working on my essays for my applications during study hall,” Wilson said. “Outside of school, it was the same thing.”

Ms. Stevenson continued to support Wilson long after Wilson left the Honors LA 9 class.

“I have given her a little bit of feedback and try to be there for moral support and encouragement,” Stevenson said. “But she has done all the work. She is very self-motivated. She didn’t need me to rely on or tell her to do things.”

Wilson’s work ethic and determination are evident in every class.

“She is genuinely interested in the material and is always prepared for class or any sort of assessment and test,” Justin Morris, social studies, said.

Wilson’s hard work and self discipline motivates Ms. Stevenson to do the same.  

“When I think about her graduating, it’s bittersweet, but I’m really happy for her. I know we will keep in touch, ” Ms. Stevenson said. “She teaches me something every day and has lived a life of service. She sets a great example on working hard, and she is always helping people.”

As Wilson prepares to leave high school, her work ethic and energetic spirit will carry her into the next investment of her life.

“I’m looking forward to graduating and getting high school over with,” Wilson said. “I can’t wait to get my degree and start off with my life.”  

That next investment will certainly be a challenge but one Wilson is ready for.

“Notre Dame is going to challenge her, but it is going to open up opportunities for her that she didn’t even know existed,” Ms. Stevenson said. “She can grow into her own person and who she is meant to be. This is going to fulfill all of her potential.”

Wilson thanks her mother and her teachers for the unconditional support that got her to where she is now.