It began like any other school day: Samantha Brew was sitting in her first-period biology class, waiting for the bell. But when it finally sounded, her teacher held the class.
“Nobody knew what was going on,” said Brew, 17, who is a senior at McKinley Technology High School in Northeast. “And all of a sudden, a huge Colonial head popped into the doorway.”
The Colonial was George Washington University’s mascot, George, who was accompanied by the university’s president, Steven Knapp, and a camera crew. They were there to surprise Brew with a full, four-year scholarship to the university.
“I was so shocked, I just stared at him,” Brew said. “I’m the first one in my family to go to a four-year college, so this is huge for all of us.”
Brew was among nine District high school students awarded a full scholarship to the university as part of the Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship Program, named after the school’s previous president. On March 22, Knapp stopped by each student’s school to hand-deliver the scholarship, which amount to more than $200,000 each.
Karen Felton, GW’s director of admissions, said scholarship delivery day is when she loves her job the most.
“The reactions are always a combination of intense excitement, pride and relief,” she said. “The parents are thrilled that their child has the opportunity to attend a world-class institution, and the students are proud because they’ve earned it.”
Brew is no exception. In addition to being active in her school and community, she co-directed a public service announcement on sexually transmitted disease prevention that was targeted at young people in the District and collaborated with a local office of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to promote an HIV/AIDS awareness program on MTV.
In college, she plans to study international affairs and global health so she can follow her dream of becoming a prosecutor to combat human trafficking. Brew has a cousin in West Africa whose parents sold her on the labor trafficking market to pay for the family’s medical bills. Brew’s family brought her to live with a grandmother in Togo.
“I was young when we visited her, but the poverty really struck me,” Brew said. “Model U.N. went from an extracurricular to a passion.”
Although Brew was immediately drawn to GW’s global health program, she knew she would need financial assistance. Tuition at the private institution is more than $45,000 annually. The Trachtenberg scholarships cover tuition, room, board and books.
After being nominated by their high school counselors, students undergo a thorough application and interview process. They are selected based on several factors, including academic talent, extracurricular involvement, teacher’s recommendations and demonstrated need.
Above all, Felton said, the university is looking for seniors who will fit in with the school’s student body. “We want students who are looking to change the world,” she said.
The program has awarded 142 D.C. students more than $16 million in scholarships to date. To apply, recipients must be D.C. residents attending an accredited city high school.
Along with Brew, the recipients are Taylor Young of Duke Ellington School of the Arts; Avonda Fogan of the Maret School; Tinsley Harris and Edwin Musibira of Woodrow Wilson Senior High School; Darielle Anderson of Cesar Chavez Public Charter School; Nia Christian of Benjamin Banneker Academic High School; Francisco Palucho of Cardozo Senior High School; and Ayodele Akosile of the SEED School of Washington, D.C.