GRAMERCY — Out of more than 1,800 applicants, Kharis Taylor of Gramercy was among the 28 hardworking students across the nation to receive Sallie Mae’s 2021 Bridging the Dream Scholarship for High School Seniors.
Taylor is now a freshman at Southern University and A&M College, where she’s putting the $10,000 national scholarship to good use as a pre-law student. Her goal is to become a civil rights attorney and return to St. James Parish, where she can serve as a voice for the voiceless.
“I want to come back to my community to help out and be an advocate for social justice through the legal system. I became interested in the field of law when I was in elementary school. I grew up seeing different injustices in the media, and I became very passionate about wanting equality and equity for people who have been historically oppressed,” Taylor said.
She set her sights on Southern University after hearing about the school’s excellent law program and family-oriented atmosphere. Receiving the Bridging the Dream Scholarship has made her dreams attainable.
“The opportunity it presented to me is to go to college and be financially stable enough to focus on my studies and not have to be worried about expenses, where my next meal was coming from, how I was going to pay for toiletries, or my living space,” Taylor said. “It really gave me the freedom to focus on what’s important, which is my school work and extracurricular activities that help me prepare for a career in my field. I’m extremely grateful to Sallie Mae and to God for giving me this opportunity to where I can dive head first into my studies with the boost that was given to me.”
In her second semester on campus, Taylor has already been named Freshman Class President through Southern University’s Student Government Association. She’s a member of the Honors College and Praise Team, and these groups are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to extracurriculars Taylor hopes to join.
Taylor was the only high school student from Louisiana to receive the Bridging the Dream scholarship in 2021. She applied during the spring semester of her senior year at St. James High School after learning about the program from her mother.
The 2022 application opened on January 17 and will remain open through February 28 for current high school seniors planning to enroll in a two- or four-year degree, professional certificate or professional training program. Students are eligible to receive up to $10,000 by submitting a video interview or essay explaining how their education would benefit their family, friends, community, and ultimately their own future.
The Bridging the Dream Scholarship program is entering its seventh year, according to Sallie Mae spokesperson Connor Peoples. In recent years, Sallie Mae has partnered with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to remove barriers to college access and completion for students in underserved communities.
Sallie Mae is an education solutions company that operates primarily through private student loans. The company is dedicated to awarding $3 million in nationwide scholarships over the next three years.
Sallie Mae offers three scholarship programs: The Bridging the Dream scholarship for high school seniors to access college, the Completing the Dream scholarship for students who might have a smaller financial need preventing them from completing education, and the Bridging the Dream scholarship for graduate students.
“Our focus is really getting students to and through college. In 2020, we kicked off the partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. What we wanted to address was the barriers to accessing higher education,” Peoples said. “We saw a lot of people in historically underserved communities — minority students, LGBT+, and low-income or first-generation students — weren’t enrolling into college at the same rate as students from higher economic classes. Our goal here was to develop a scholarship to get their foot into the door and enroll into a higher education institution, whether that be a two-year or a four-year school.”
Scholarship funds can be used for tuition, housing, books or other educational materials, as determined by the student’s school of choice.
Sallie Mae takes a holistic approach to reviewing scholarship applicants. One factor is the student’s financial need, Peoples said, noting that Sallie Mae wants to tailor the scholarship to individuals who need the extra push to pursue higher education.
Also considered is whether students belong to one of the historically underserved communities. Finally, Sallie Mae looks at the student’s character, academic performance and extracurricular involvement.
The 2021 recipients encompassed students from all walks of life – English and engineering majors, future scientists and lawyers. No matter their chosen path, all of them are rock stars in their communities, Peoples said.
When it comes to scholarship opportunities, Taylor encourages current high school seniors in the River Parishes and beyond to “apply, apply, apply.”
“Scholarships give you the financial freedom you need to attend whatever college you want,” Taylor said. “I’m extremely excited and extremely grateful for this opportunity.”
Students can apply for the 2022 scholarship at SallieMae.com/BridgingTheDream.