Ds Scholarship

Pillow Academy student is 2021 female national winner of Heisman High School Scholarship

Story Submitted by Heisman High School Scholarship


Dia Chawla is just one of the 5,000 students in the nation who achieved a perfect 36 ACT score which was the culmination of years of hard work. However, Zia realized that she had an advantage that not many in the form of expensive books and tutoring.

She lives in a highly segregated area with many poor students. So, I started an ACT preparatory class with seven African American students from a nearby public school. Building on the success, she invited seven students from her school to join the class and thus founded the ACT Diversity Preparation Club. Chawla said, “For the first time in decades in my hometown, there was interracial mixing in the classroom. All of my 14 students saw improvements in their ACT scores; most importantly, they saw an improvement in their outlook. Through this class I realized that I I am not only a teacher; rather, I was a student learning more about the beauty of accepting all people.”

Dia Chawla (Photo courtesy of Heisman High School Scholarship)

Dia herself was on the receiving end of the lack of acceptance. Always focused on academics with the encouragement of her parents, in elementary school, she was the target of ridicule for her lack of mathematical skills. “During recess and PE, the kids would pick my teammates and I was always the last girl to be picked. My confidence got shot, and I struggled in all sports,” Chawla said.

Determined to change the game, she started watching every sports video she found on YouTube and faced her older brother in backyard competitions. “I was battered,” she said, “but the hard work ethic I gleaned from these embarrassing moments set my stomach on fire.”

Dia turned that fire into a multi-sports victory. She became a tennis player in the sixth grade and has since won the state title. She led her basketball team in a free-throw percentage in her freshman year and earned a spot as a main reserve on the 2020 High School Basketball Tournament team. She led the dance team at the state championships, won 12 singles places, and scored high marks in the Mid-South regional competitive dance .

Dia has learned from these experiences that winning is not related to where you come from; It’s about the hard work you want to do. However, she realizes that not everyone has the same opportunities to stand out. Through her volunteer work with organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and a local rural hospital, she has become acutely aware of the inequalities that exist in her community, and has made it her mission to do her part to change that. She plans to study primary medicine and public policy so that she can put herself in a position to continue to make a difference and ensure everyone has a chance to fulfill their potential.

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