Local Student Earns Gates Scholarship

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COLUMBIA - On Tuesday Rock Bridge senior, Niyonzima Etienne became one of 1,000 graduating seniors in the country to receive the Gates Millenium Scholarship.

Etienne was shocked when he found out he was a finalist. "When I opened the letter the first word I saw was "congratulations" and I was extremely happy to just see that word," said Etienne.

Etienne came to the United States four years ago as a refugee from Burundi. He was unable to speak any English but with a lot of hard work and dedication he quickly became a fluent writer and reader, exceeding all of his teacher's expectations. Peggy White, Etienne's E-L-L teacher said, "He is so driven and motivated to learn English and become educated.  He used to come into my classroom during lunch to read the dictionary."

He then used his new-found knowledge to give back to the community. He became a translator for other refugees at his church and began teaching other refugees English in his family's living room.

The Gates Millenium Scholars Program, or GMS, was established in 1999 by a $1 billion donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The GMS provides monetary support for the duration of each recipient's college education. Recipients will also receive leadership development programs with personal, academic and professional growth opportunities.

Each year more than 25,000 students apply and only 1,000 are chosen to receive the award. Mathew Miltenberg, Etienne's guidance counselor said, "To have one of that thousand here at Rock Bridge is a huge deal and we're really excited about it and excited for him."

Etienne will attend Missouri State University in the fall where he plans to major in construction management.  Etienne just wants to be able to build houses for other refugees like him.