After completing a 20-page application, writing nine essays and waiting for three weeks, Jerusa Miller was elated when she received notification that she was a finalist for the Gates Millennium Scholarship. Juggling the workload of three advanced placement courses, on top of extracurricular activities as a senior at Woodlawn High School, at times discouraged her from finishing the time consuming application.

But her hard work paid off. Out of 20,000 applicants nationwide, Miller was one of 1,000 winners to have all expenses paid for their undergraduate and graduate educational pursuits.

“I’m just an average girl that worked for it and I got it,” she said. “I feel honored.”
Administered by the United Negro College Fund, the scholarship is awarded to minority high school students who have at least a 3.3 grade point average and have demonstrated strong leadership skills through community service or extracurricular activities.

Miller graduated with a 3.78, was the vice president of her class, manager of the girl’s varsity basketball team and a mentor in the 100 Strong Female Role Models program. But she benefitted most from the Advancement Via Individual Determination program.

“I’ve been in the AVID program for three years,” Miller said. “It’s basically a preparatory program for college-bound students. It’s for students who just need the extra motivation. I filled out a bunch of little scholarship applications here and there but there were two big ones my teacher always talked about.”

One of those scholarships was the Gates. Now, with her financial award, Miller will study atmospheric science and meteorology at Millersville University of Pennsylvania in the fall and plans to earn her master’s degree and doctorate in similar areas of study by the time she is 28 years old.

“In eighth grade I did a unit in meteorology and I was really intrigued by that,” she said. “I also thought that’s something there will always be a demand for and there’s a high demand for African-American females.”

The youngest of five children, Miller said her family does not have a history of completing college, which is all the more reason they are so proud of her. She preferred to remain in Maryland for her studies, but could not find a school that offered the program she desires. Nonetheless, she is pleased with her decision to attend Millersville.

“I went there and fell in love with it,” she said. “They have a lot to offer.”
Miller attended a predominately White middle school in Silver Spring. At the beginning of ninth grade, her family moved to Baltimore when her grandmother became sick, so she completed high school at Woodlawn, which is predominately Black. Although she said the “drastic change” in atmosphere caused her to keep to herself, her peers soon began to notice what type of student she was.

“People used to call me ‘straight A girl’ in the ninth grade,” she said.

But by the end of her senior year, she became known as the Gates Millennium Scholarship winner and has received the praise of many of her peers.

“This is an opportunity that minimal people receive,” Miller said. “It’s truly a blessing for me to have it.”