Many American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Pacific Islander students have benefited from an ambitious program to fund 20,000 college educations among minorities. The Gates Millennium Scholars Program, funded for $1.6 billion by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has been selecting 1,000 students of color for financial assistance each year since the turn of the century. That is the largest-ever grant for scholarship money.
The program has provided more than $934 million in scholarship money between 2000 and 2014, with an average grant of $12,785. The program claims a 96 percent first-year retention rate for its scholars.
While the Gates Millennium Scholars Program does not list students by minority affiliation, a look at its 2016-2017 scholarship list shows many Indian students.
In New Mexico, for instance, where 32 scholarships were awarded, some of the names include eight graduates of Santa Fe Indian School, Victor Corpuz of Laguna Acoma High School, Jennifer Ettcity and Deshna Joe of Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington, Quinn Martine of Native American Community Academy, Albuquerque, Divine Kickingbird of Farmington High, Taylor Nakai of Shiprock High School, Kobe Natachu of Zuni High School, and Albert Valdez of Mescalero Apache School.
South Dakota’s list of 23 awardees includes many Native students from Indian schools. They include five students from Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, plus another five from Little Wound School in Kyle, Dayton Obago of Lower Brule School, Julissa Fillmore, Ryia LeBeau and Dylan Lemmon of Cheyenne River-Eagle Butte School, Trevor Thompson of Crow Creek Reservation High School in Stephan, and John Valdez of Todd County High School, Mission.
The Gates Millennium Scholars Program also touts successful Native students, like Nathalie Tomasik, an American Indian Studies major at Northeastern State University (2013 cohort), and Brooke Curleyhair, from the 2014 cohort, an Exercise and Wellness student at Arizona State University who attended Monument Valley High School in Kayenta, Arizona.
A successful Indian graduate of the program is Frank Waln, a Sicangu Lakota hip hop performer and artist from the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota. Waln has received three Native American Music Awards (Nammys) for his work. He also received a 2014 40 Under 40 designation from the National Center for American Indian Economic Center and in 2014 also received the Chicago Mayor’s Award for Civic Engagement.
Waln earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Audio Arts and Acoustics from Columbia College of Chicago.
While it funds undergraduate degrees, program graduates can also request money for graduate studies. Its objective is to allow students “to complete an undergraduate college education in any discipline area of interest. Continuing Gates Millennium Scholars may request funding for a graduate degree program in one of the following discipline areas: computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health or science.”
The Gates Millennium Scholars Program is administered by the United Negro College Fund, which is partnering with the American Indian Graduate Center of Albuquerque, New Mexico and the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund.
The 2016-2017 class of 1,000 is the last to be admitted, as the program will have hit its 20,000 goal when these students graduate in 2020.