By Jaime Sarrio
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The first call Kaitlin Camp made after learning she'd won the Gates Millennium Scholarship -- and with it a full ride through college and beyond -- was to her older brother.
Five years ago, he too earned the Gates award and, as a master's student, is still reaping its life-changing benefits. Camp, who is first in her class at Atlanta's Douglass High School, said her brother assisted her though the application process, thus helping her secure a financial reward that will set her up through her college career.
"I cried immediately," said Camp, who plans to study chemistry and eventually pursue a doctorate in pharmacy. "It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders."
Camp is one of 88 Georgia students and 1,000 nationwide to receive the Gates scholarship, which covers tuition, room and board for any university, for any major, for as as long as it takes to graduate. The goal, according to Gates, is to promote academic excellence and to increase college access for lower-income minority students.
Seventy-three metro Atlanta students earned the award, 22 of them from Atlanta Public Schools, which had the third-highest number of Gates scholars in the nation. For the last several years, APS has been one of the nation's top suppliers of Gates winners, something school officials attribute to the "small community" setup of its high schools.
For Camp, financial need was her primary motivator. She knew her family did not have the money for college and that it would be up to her to earn her way through using scholarships. Camp has a 4.0 GPA and plans to attend the University of Alabama, a school she would not have been able to attend without Gates money.
"You have to motivate yourself," she said. "In high school, it's easy to let your grades fall by wayside. You have to think about yourself and your future."
The scholarship was established in 1999, initially funded by a $1 billion grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It's renewed each year, provided students show "satisfactory academic progress." Students can get funding for graduate school if they pursue a degree in computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health or science.
More than 15,000 scholars have been named since the start of the program, according to Gates. The five-year college graduation rate for scholars is about 80 percent. The six-year national average was 56.2 percent in 2010 for public four-year colleges, according to the Southern Regional Education Board.
Camp's brother, Arman Lakes, is working on his master's in educational counseling at Clark Atlanta University. He plans to earn a specialist's and then a doctorate degree in educational leadership. Eventually, he wants to be superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools.
Lakes said he still returns to Atlanta high schools to help students apply for college scholarships. Education is expensive, he tells them, but ignorance costs even more.
"There's free money out there for education," he said. "And for Gates, all they want to know is about you and all you do is have to put it on paper. It's a great thing."
Jeromey Beaman, a senior from Woodland High School in Stockbridge, said the Gates scholarship means his dreams of becoming a neurosurgeon can be realized. Beaman said his parents have been saving since he was in elementary school, but even those savings would only cover a year of college. Without the scholarship, he would not be able to attend his dream school, the University of Alabama.
Beaman credits his ninth-grade biology teacher, Suzanne Scudder, for helping him transition from middle to high school and instilling in him a passion for science and biology. He also credits his Advance Placement and Honors chemistry teacher, Debbie Steiner.
"There is so much more than money that comes with it … the prestige, the ability to network with others who have gone where I want to go in life," he said. "I'm still at a loss for words."