The announcement of the winners of this year's Barnes Scholarships marks a milestone in the program's history: 10 years of helping local high school seniors achieve their dreams of attending top U.S. colleges and universities.
Since 1999, the Barnes program has provided financial aid to 36 Tampa Bay students. They have enrolled in 24 schools across the United States, including Georgetown, Cornell, Northwestern and Duke. Of the 36 students, 20 have graduated — in four years or less — and gone on to graduate studies or careers in medicine, business, education, architecture and law. Others have entered the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and the military after graduation.
"The success of our winners over 10 years shows that what talented young people need is some help getting started," said Andrew Barnes, former CEO and chairman of the St. Petersburg Times, for whom the scholarships are named. "It has been a great satisfaction to be able to provide that boost to a few each year."
The 2009 Barnes winners announced today are Chantell Albert of Hillsborough High School and Taylor Cochran of King High School in Hillsborough County, Jem Lugo of Springstead High School in Hernando County and Thomas Jack "TJ" Holdstein of St. Petersburg High School in Pinellas County. The winners were selected from 10 finalists interviewed in January. A total of 397 students from public and private high schools in Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties applied for the scholarships.
The St. Petersburg Times Fund Inc., the nonprofit philanthropic arm of the Times Publishing Co., administers the scholarship program. The fund has awarded scholarships and fellowships in journalism and other academic disciplines since 1953.
The Barnes Scholarships target high-achieving high school seniors who have overcome significant obstacles in their lives. They are named for Andrew Barnes, who retired from the Times in 2004. Each Barnes winner is eligible to receive up to $15,000 per year for four years of higher education.
Over the past decade, the fund has provided $1.635-million in financial support for the Barnes program. This year, the aid will amount to nearly $200,000 for the 16 undergraduates enrolled at the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Duke, Georgetown, Northwestern, Columbia, Cornell, Yale, MIT, Ohio State, the University of Tampa, the University of Florida and Eckerd College.
"Through our charitable giving, we support a variety of worthy causes, but these scholarships for promising young people occupy a special place in our hearts," said Paul Tash, chairman, CEO and editor of the Times.
The students selected as 2009 Barnes Scholars, like the previous winners, all have excelled academically and have set big goals for the future:
Chantell Albert, 17
Chantell has been the "new girl" at school more times than she wants to remember. Her father is in the Navy, so she has moved around a lot: seven times in the last 17 years. High school has meant three schools in four years. "Constantly shifting lifestyles have shaped me," Chantell wrote in her essay. "I've learned to see a challenge in a positive light. I figure if I can find the best in an awful situation, things won't be as bad."
She enrolled in Hillsborough High School as a junior in the IB program, where she is in the top 1 percent. She is a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society. She has been named an Outstanding Participant in the National Achievement Scholarship Program and has received an Advanced Placement Honor Award. Because she loves to write, Chantell works on Hillsborough High's school newspaper and writes spoken-word poetry in her free time. On the girls' varsity track team, she has run hurdles and the 200 meters. To help pay for college, she has been working part time.
In 2005, about 30 members of Chantell's extended family in New Orleans came to live with her and her family after Hurricane Katrina. One of her counselors noted that the experience taught Chantell time management skills and the ability to study efficiently. "Chantell is an exceptional young person who has the motivation and intelligence to do very well in her chosen career," he wrote in his letter of recommendation.
Chantell has been accepted at the University of Chicago, the University of Miami, Oglethorpe University, the University of Florida and Florida State University. She plans to study early childhood education.
Taylor Cochran, 17
The bottom fell out of Taylor Cochran's world in sixth grade, the day her father died. "Waking up that morning, I never would have guessed that it would be the day that changed my life forever," Taylor wrote. Her mother and father were separated, so the time she and twin brother Tyler spent with their father was especially precious. "My whole family seemed to fall apart after that."
Their mother tried, but her grief and the challenges of an illness of her own became too much for her. The children went to live with their grandparents.
Taylor began attending the peer support groups at the LifePath Hospice Children's Grief Center in Tampa. Now she is a volunteer children's counselor at the center.
Taylor continues to excel academically. She is in the IB program at King High School in Hillsborough County and ranks in the top 2 percent. She is a member of the National Honor Society. Since the 10th grade, she has been vice president of BOLD, a student group aimed at promoting global diversity and understanding. She was one of 40 students nationwide in an interfaith diversity camp sponsored by the Interfaith Alliance last summer in Washington, D.C.
She has volunteered at the Moffitt Cancer Center and with her school's Relay for Life team. She also has tutored children at the Brandon Family Resource Center. She has played competitive soccer, on a community team and on her high school team.
"Even though the past six years of my life have been difficult," Taylor wrote, "I have never felt sorry for myself or sought pity from others. I have learned and grown from my experiences. I have learned to appreciate life, the satisfaction of helping others, and — above all — how to love again."
Taylor wants to be a child psychiatrist. Her college choices include Amherst and the University of North Carolina.
Jem Lugo, 17
Jem Lugo's resume reads like a romp through life: roller hockey, marching band (bass drum), valedictorian, yearbook editor, class president (unopposed her senior year); dual enrollment classes at Pasco-Hernando Community College, AP classes in high school; homecoming court three years in a row, clothing designer.
Need a leader? Look for Jem.
"Jem is that one in a million student who is always willing to help others learn and who can always be counted on to get the assignment done correctly and on time and who possesses an innate sense of honesty that is above reproach," her physics teacher wrote.
She strives for excellence. Her unweighted GPA is 3.98. She has been on the high honor roll all through high school and is a member of the National Honor Society, the Phi Theta Kappa Community College Honor Society, and the Psi Beta Community College Honor Society in psychology. She has been named a USAA National Honor Roll award winner, a National Hispanic Recognition Scholar and a Ventures Scholar.
Last summer, Jem and other students at Springstead were upset at the school district's proposal to require uniforms at their school. They decided to make their case to the School Board. They researched the effect of uniforms on academic performance in high school. They distributed fliers promoting their cause. At the board meeting, Jem acted as spokeswoman, presenting their research and explaining their opposition to the change in dress policy. The board tabled the idea for further review.
Jem has applied to 22 colleges but tops on her list are MIT and Harvard. She wants to study genetics, brain research or neuroscience.
Thomas Jack "TJ" Holdstein, 18
Thomas Jack "TJ" Holdstein said this in one of his essays: "Throughout my educational career, I have found that setting goals greatly bolsters my success." So he set his goals for high school, and he has gone about achieving them.
First, academic excellence. TJ is in the IB program at St. Petersburg High School and ranked in the top 1 percent. He has received only one B in high school.
Next, community service. He found a way to combine his passion for cars with a meaningful mission. TJ and four friends are refurbishing a 1991 Nissan 240SX to sell to benefit Bead for Life, a nonprofit group that helps impoverished Ugandan women. Their goal is to raise at least $2,500, the cost of the car.
Finally, financial independence. Since his parents' divorce when he was in elementary school, money has been tight. TJ has a sister who is a junior at the University of Florida. So TJ has been working part time for the past two years to save money for college. "I feel like I have overcome too much in my short life to be held back by money."
TJ is president of the Interact Club and a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, Science Honor Society, and Mu Alpha Theta math honor society. He was on the varsity tennis team for three years.
His top college choices are the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia and Northwestern. He wants to study industrial engineering and economics. His career goal: To work in the field of renewable energy.
The six runners-up for the Barnes Scholarships will each receive a one-time award of $1,000. They are Zerina Arapovic of Dunedin High School, Yun Min "Danny" Chang of Tarpon Springs High School and Lukas Pleva of St. Petersburg High School in Pinellas County; Jessica Glover of Plant City High School in Hillsborough County; Michael Maxey of Crystal River High School in Citrus County, and Joshua Shannon of Springstead High School in Hernando County.
The winners and finalists will be honored at a luncheon on April 23 at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in St. Petersburg.
The guest speaker will be Bryan Casanas, a 2003 Barnes Scholar and a 2007 graduate of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. He is a graduate student in international studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa.