Like many high school seniors, Mikayla Hanna, a senior at Lake City High School, worries about how she will pay for college.
With a 4.6 grade point average, the salutatorian knew she would receive some academic scholarships to help pay for college, but she was still concerned with how she would pay what those scholarships didn’t cover.
Hanna can rest easy now that she has earned a Gates Millennium Scholarship that will pay her college expenses beginning with her undergraduate studies and continuing until she earns her doctorate. She has been admitted to the Meyerhoff Scholars program at the University of Maryland – Baltimore County, where she will enter into a joint MD/Ph.D. program. Hanna will leave home June 6 to participate in a summer program at the university.
“I was most worried about the money for college,” Hanna said. “A lot of people stress out or drop out [of college] because of money and I won’t have to worry about that.”
Hanna said she received a letter Monday informing her of the scholarship award and she immediately called her grandmother, Leatha Hanna. “I was overwhelmed,” her grandmother said. “The more I think about it, the more I want to cry.”
She is the first student in Florence County School District Three to receive the prestigious scholarship that is awarded to 1,000 students each year nationwide.
“I am so proud of Mikayla!” said Laura Hickson, assistant superintendent and superintendent-elect. “Our mission in Florence School District Three is to ensure our students are college and/or career ready, and the Lake City Graduation Initiative is one of the initiatives we have in place to ensure students, particularly students who are first generation college students, have the guidance for successfully attaining postsecondary pathways. The LCGI coaches, as well as the great teachers who have taught Mikayla, were very instrumental in Mikayla’s achievement,” Ms. Hickson added. “This achievement represents the potential of our children in our district and communities. Additionally, this achievement represents the need for continuing the implementation of the LCGI.”
Hanna plans to major in biochemistry and focus on biofabrication, which is the automated production of tissues and organs to address health challenges in medicine.
Hanna said her interest in biofabrication stems from the loss of her mother and other relatives who may have been saved if biofabrication of organs were available at the time.
As a freshman, Hanna took both chemistry and biology at Lake City High, although she said she really didn’t like science at the time. LCH science teacher Nina Blake and a summer internship at Claflin University where she was exposed to scientific research sparked an interest, she said.
Although the application process for the Gates Millennium Scholarship was grueling, including submitting eight essays, Hanna said she received a lot of support and assistance from FCSD3’s Lake City Graduation Initiative and its College Planning Cohort, which assists Lake City High students with completing and submitting college and scholarship applications as well as financial aid forms.
The College Planning Cohort partnered with Mychal and Nina Wynn of the Foundation for Ensuring Access and Equity of Marietta, GA, a nonprofit organization that assists students from underserved and underrepresented communities with college and financial aid planning. Hanna was one of 19 Lake City High students participating in a June 2014 college planning cohort. Those students have been admitted to over 60 colleges and universities and earned nearly $3 million in college scholarships and institutional aid.
Hanna said she and the other cohort participants researched scholarships that fit their strengths, such as academics, sports and other areas. She said she wrote more than 25 essays and applied to 18 colleges and universities. Hanna said by participating in the cohort she learned the importance of knowing what grade point average and test scores are required for acceptance by each school, as well as the importance of community service and participating in extracurricular activities. She volunteers at the Lake City Senior Center and the Manna House in Florence. She also volunteers with FCSD3’s Reading Partners, which pairs volunteers with struggling readers to help students build strong literacy skills.
Hanna also is president of the LCH Beta Club and Book Club, is a member of the National Honor Society and is a drum major with the school’s marching band.
“There were a lot of things I didn’t know,” said Leatha Hanna. “[The college cohort] gave us a lot of good advice and information.”
Hanna said the essays she submitted focused primarily on her “life’s story” and the adversities she has faced, including the death of her mother when Hanna was nine years old. Hanna lived with her mother in Connecticut, but after her mother’s death, Hanna moved back and forth between Lake City and Connecticut until she settled in with her grandmother in Lake City as she entered FCSD3 schools.
Hanna received acceptance letters as well as scholarship offers from a number of in-state universities such as Claflin, the University of South Carolina and Clemson University, as well as out-of-state universities including Xavier University, Howard University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
“I want to make the people in Lake City proud,” Hanna said. “I want others to know that they can do what I’ve done or do even better.”
The College Planning Cohort is a component of the Lake City Graduation Initiative, which was created in 2012 with a $306,250 grant from the South Carolina Education and Economic Development Act and is awarded through the South Carolina Department of Education.
The district -wide program creates a partnership between the district, regional postsecondary institutions, local civic organizations and businesses to intervene with dual credit coursework, career and college choice guidance, and supplemental strategies.
The goals of the Lake City Graduation Initiative are to increase the high school graduation rate and college or career readiness.
The grant provided funding for Florence Three to implement strategies to reduce the dropout rate, disciplinary referrals, truancy, and other at-risk performance factors that may lead to students not graduating from high school and not being college or career ready.