Georgia Student Finance Commission

Award Recipients

Award Recipients

Award Recipients: In Their Own Words


If you would like to share your story about how a GSFC-administered program helped you, fill out this webform or fill out this form and send it to


Zell Miller Grant - Jacquelyn Mallard HOPE Scholarship - Sayvon Jarrett HOPE Grant - Blakelyn Larkin

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Name: Jacquelyn MallardJacquelyn Mallard

High School: Telfair County High School

College (Current or Future): Wiregrass Georgia Technical School 

Major/Intended Major: Automotive Technology 

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Grant


With the convergence of two major rail lines and five state highways, McRae, Georgia is known as the Crossroads City. It is no wonder Jacquelyn Mallard, a self-professed ‘military brat’, grew up with visions of going far.

“I had dreams of becoming an Officer in the Air Force,” said Mallard. “I was always told that in order to be successful and have a prestigious career, I would need to get a degree.”

She got off to a great start, graduating from Telfair County High School and earning the Zell Miller Scholarship. Mallard founded JAMM Enterprises LLC in 2015 while continuing her high academic achievements at Fort Valley State University, keeping the merit-based scholarship for two semesters, then one more semester at Valdosta State University (VSU) in 2016 before her life was put on a different road.

“I was diagnosed with Lupus,” said Mallard, “ending my chances of joining the Air Force and leaving me to find another passion.”

While she enjoyed hunting and fishing while growing up, she turned to another obsession from her youth – working on cars.

“I was too ill to continue classes at VSU and realized I would need a curriculum that was more flexible and accommodating during the times I would experience flare-ups from my condition,” said Mallard, who found a family of supporters after enrolling in the Automotive Technology program at Wiregrass Georgia Technical School. “Many people see an old, broken down vehicle as a useless piece of scrap. I see the potential of what it could be again. The process is intriguing, and I’ve been hooked since I first held a hammer and dolly in my hands.”

Mallard has taken advantage of multiple HOPE Grant programs while at Wiregrass, including the HOPE Career Grant and the Zell Miller Grant.

“I did not think that I would be able to make it this far, but it goes to show that when you work hard and are proactive when opportunities are presented, that it is indeed possible,” Mallard said. “Thanks to the many awards I’ve received, I have not had to pay out of pocket yet for my education and I am so very grateful.”

Her education is now focused on auto collision repair, something her Wiregrass instructor Roy Bramley noticed from the very beginning.

“From day one, she came in with a positive attitude and a strong work ethic,” said Bramley, who nominated Mallard for the Wiregrass Georgia Occupational and Leadership Student of the Year Award. “She has put many extra hours in training while working a part-time job and running her own business. I know she will be successful in whatever path she decides to take in life and business.”

Her academic success and financial awards will provide her a unique advantage going forward.

“(The scholarships and grants) have allowed me to take money I would have spent on tuition and allocate it towards purchasing tools and equipment,” Mallard said. “This puts me ahead of the curve since many employers prefer for you to have your own tools.

“I am more marketable and able to dive right into my career.”

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Name: Sayvon JarrettSayvon Jarrett

High School: South Brunswick High School

College (Current or Future): University of West Georgia 

Major/Intended Major: Accounting 

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Scholarship


The HOPE Scholarship rewards high achieving students like Sayvon Jarrett, despite the fact he didn’t graduate from a Georgia high school. Born and raised in New Jersey, Jarrett’s family moved to Villa Rica in 2017. However, he has moved from much more than just the Garden State.

“I currently live with my mother and my step-dad. I lost my father to a drugs at a young age and they have raised me since they were 19 (years-old),” said Jarrett. “They have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into raising me in order to get me to where I am today.”

Today, Jarrett has many titles including West Georgia Technical College (WGTC) Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership (GOAL) student of the year.

“(The GOAL) experience allowed me to grow as a leader and a public speaker. It has allowed me to truly shine,” said Jarrett, who represented WGTC at the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) GOAL student of the year competition. “I was able to meet so many wonderful people during the competition as well as other GOAL winners. I’ve definitely built a lot of lifelong relationships as a result.”

His results in the classroom earned him the HOPE Scholarship for his final semester at WGTC and his first this fall at the University of West Georgia.

“The HOPE award has been a blessing to me. When I graduated from high school, I wanted nothing more than to go to college,” said Jarrett. “The sad reality was that I could not afford to go to a university or any colleges for that matter. It was not until I moved to Georgia that my dream was realized.”

While his dream for postsecondary success has been realized, his career path is still undecided. An accounting major, Jarrett has served as the President of WGTC's Phi Beta Lambda (Future Business Leaders of America) Chapter. Currently working in the Internal Audit department at Southwire, his long-term interests include entrepreneurship, real estate development and possible politics while never forgetting the foundations of his success.

“My tuition is self-funded, so I need all the help that I can get (and) HOPE has made this all possible,” Jarrett said. “So now it is my turn to make good on that investment and give back to my family, community, and schools in any way that I can.”

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Blakelyn LarkinName: Blakelyn Larkin

High School: Madison County High School

College (Current or Future): Athens Technical College 

Major/Intended Major: Deaf Education 

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Grant


On the surface, the early years of Blakelyn Larkin are like anyone else.

“I enjoyed life and loved to be around people,” said Larkin, who was nominated by Athens Technical College (ATC) for the 2020 Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership (GOAL) student of the year. “I was a big tomboy growing up with three brothers too. I had a great childhood.”

But that happy surface was covering a secret that is hard for some to listen to.

“I grew up wearing hearing aids,” said Larkin, “and not knowing any sign language.”

The Hearing Loss Association of America says people with hearing loss wait an average of seven years before seeking help. Larkin waited 20 years before she was introduced to another person with an issue an estimated 1 in 5 teens experience.

“They helped me to learn sign language and help me accept my identity of being a Hard-of-Hearing woman,” said Larkin about discovering her self-described ‘Deaf Culture’. “I think it’s important for deaf children to know their language and their everyday struggles in a Hearing world.”

Since graduating from Madison County High School, Larkin’s dream of becoming a deaf educator has been funded by her taking advantage of three different programs under Georgia’s HOPE Grant while at ATC.

“I enjoy being with kids and watching them grow in knowledge,” said Larkin, who taught a free sign language class and had over 20 ATC students attending her weekly sessions.

President of ATC’s Early Childhood Care Education club, Larkin’s academic growth can be charted by the grant programs. She started with the HOPE Grant and the HOPE Career Grant, but will finish with the Zell Miller Grant, eligible only to those with a minimum 3.5 postsecondary GPA.

“The best thing is that I saved money and I don’t have to be so stressful about getting through college,” said Larkin, who was named ATC’s GOAL student last January.  “I plan to graduate in the spring with my associate degree (in Early Childhood Care and Education) and then finish my two years at Piedmont College.

“Once I finish, I will become certified to teach deaf and hard-of-hearing children.”

A dream achieved with minimal college debt, eliminating the fear of future financial concerns brewing under the surface.

Watch Blakelyn's video on correct ways of communicating with Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people.

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Name: Nicholas PorterNicholas Porter

High School: Seminole County Middle/High School

College (Current or Future): Georgia Southwestern State University 

Major/Intended Major: Business Management 

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Scholarship


For over a century, the Boy Scouts of America have bestowed the title of Eagle Scout to those demonstrating more than just leadership within their group. It requires completion of accomplishments set to a national standard, one that only four percent of all Scouts have earned.

Nicholas Porter joined the Scouts in 2013 and after six years of hard work and dedication, he earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

“Time management and organization are key to being successful and I want to be successful in everything I do,” said Porter, a recent graduate from Seminole County Middle/High School. “I don’t like things to be handed to me and that passion easily translates to my education and wanting to get a degree.”

Porter will seek to attain that degree at Georgia Southwestern State University and his HOPE Scholarship will assist with the cost of tuition.

“It will really help me save time and money,” said Porter, “two things that college students value most.”

Understanding values and finances fall under the realm of business management, the degree Porter plans to pursue.

“I plan on working in the automotive industry as a sales rep,” Porter said. “I like to work with people and there are plenty of job opportunities.”

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Name: Laura McKinley LangfordMcKinley Langford

High School: LaFayette High School

College (Current or Future): Georgia College & State University 

Major/Intended Major: Nursing 

Financial Aid Program(s): Dual Enrollment, Zell Miller Scholarship


Successful outcomes are always promoted; the results seemingly difficult to reproduce. However, the foundation of Laura Langford’s scholastic successes is rooted in options accessible to any student.

“I studied hard and used the resources I had available to me,” said Langford, who goes by her middle name – McKinley.

By any name, her achievements required hard work and perseverance. Not difficult to expect from the daughter of two educators.

“My parents are my ultimate inspiration,” said McKinley. “They have done nothing but support and encourage me throughout my journey.”

That journey gained focus during a health sciences class at LaFayette High School when McKinley recognized a calling for the health care field.

“My first option was the pharmacy track, but I soon noticed that I enjoyed the direct patient care that is involved with nursing,” said McKinley. “I realized that caring for people in need was my passion.”

To get that passion on track, McKinely used Dual Enrollment as a high school junior to take courses at Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC).

“I highly recommend Dual Enrollment to any high school student,” said McKinely, who finished three semesters at GNTC. “I was able to get a taste of what real college classes were like while also getting college credit.”

The college credits counted towards her high school GPA, one that saw her finish as the salutatorian of the Ramblers class of 2017. As a result, McKinley qualified for much-needed assistance.

“Being a recipient of the Zell Miller Scholarship has greatly benefitted my entire family,” said McKinley about the merit-based scholarship that provides full tuition. “We were able to save money. It has helped me attend college without financial stress. We are forever grateful for this opportunity!”

It is an opportunity she has done well to maintain, earning Dean list honors at Georgia College & State University for three semesters and the President’s List for two.

“While college has been more challenging, Dual Enrollment allowed me to earn credit for core classes, allowing me to focus on my major,” said McKinely. “I have continued making A's and B's because obtaining a college degree puts me in the best position to have a long, successful career in the field that I love.”

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Name: Ashia Hawkins

High School: Old Suwanee Christian School (Gwinnett County)

College (Current or Future): Kennesaw State University 

Major/Intended Major: Computer Science

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Scholarship

Ashia Hawkins is a proud recipient of the Zell Miller scholarship. Enthusiastic about technology Ashia Hawkins enrolled in Kennesaw State University Bachelor in Computer Science program. “Computer science as a major is very interesting. I enjoy learning about different ways technology can be utilized and how it functions. Right now, Kennesaw is providing various opportunities for paths within the technical field, which I am exploring to make the best decision,” said Hawkins. Technical jobs projected to grow in 2020 include Machine Learning Engineer, Data Scientist, Information Security Analyst, Software Engineer, Computer Research Scientist, and Data Analyst, among others. (Chad,, 2020)

Competitive and hardworking, Hawkins was a valedictorian of Old Suwanee Christian School in Gwinnett County and retained good grades throughout his school years enduring rigorous course. He also retained a perfect attendance from kindergarten into the twelfth grade. Hawkins cites his parents as his source of inspiration which encouraged him to aim high, set goals, work hard, and remain committed. “My parents have always told me I could do whatever I set my mind to and to always work hard and give your all at whatever you do."

Hawkins learned about the Zell Miller Scholarship, a merit-based scholarship, through GSFC outreach representative Hal Wilkinson who went over the steps to take to apply for scholarships and their requirements. By utilizing the Zell Miller Scholarship, Hawkins was able to take advantage of it by attending his preferred university.

Hawkins advises others who are preparing to attend college to work hard and study hard and to get ahead in testing. “Take the SAT/ACT early on around 10th or 11th grade so you have the time to improve your scores if needed. Visit colleges, apply for early admissions, and apply for any or all scholarships that are available to you.”

Hawkins's extracurricular hobbies and accomplishments include playing basketball from middle school into high school, winning a soccer championship as a goalie during senior year, being a spelling bee champion for two years straight, and being the Bible Sword Drill champion from the first grade into the fifth grade. For entertainment, Hawkins watches sports, attends movies, and enjoys building computers.


Crabtree, Chad M. “Best Tech Jobs 2020: Top 20 Jobs in Tech for the Future.” Career Karma, Career Karma, 26 Feb. 2020,


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Name: Savannah Whitmire

High School:
Flowery Branch High School (Hall County)

College (Current or Future): University of North Georgia

Major/Intended Major: Accounting with minor in Graphic Design

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Scholarship

Savannah Whitmire wanted a chance to genuinely focus on her education without the worry of how to finance it. With the HOPE Scholarship, she was able to start planning for her future with minimal debt.

“Being an award recipient has allowed me to genuinely focus on my studies. I appreciate the chance to get a head start with minimal debt. The best part of receiving the scholarship was when I learned I wouldn’t have to worry about loans for many years to come,” said Whitmire.

Her interest is to pursue accounting until she can find a job with her alternate passion, graphic design. “After taking digital fabrication, I learned that I enjoyed creating graphics. When I started doing back-office training where I work, that is when I decided I should try out accounting. Accounting is a good starting field with plenty of jobs available and the most appealing part of being an accounting major is the pay that will come with it. I try to make financially sound decisions to help myself in the future.” Whitmire said.

Whitmire cites her significant other, counselor and cat as her sources of inspiration and encouragement. “My significant other is super supportive of me and my decisions so that helps to encourage me. For graphic design, I was inspired by my counselor to pursue the things I enjoy. Lastly, I have a cat, and she's one of my best friends.” said Whitmire.

For students, Whitmire advises establishing solid relationships with those surrounding yourself including professors. “Students need a rain jacket, umbrella, and some good walking shoes. Also, participation is beneficial for your grades.”

Whitmire graduated with distinction and received high scores on her AP exams along with being the president of the National Art Honors Society as well as art club in high school. She managed the academic team for two years and participated in the National Honors Society and Spanish National Honors Society. Whitmire invests most of her energy working, contemplating craftsmanship and art projects, and concentrating on self-improvement.


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Name: Jamaya Nix

High School: Westover Comprehensive Highschool

College (Current or Future): Georgia State University 

Major/Intended Major: Marketing 

Financial Aid Program: Dual Enrollment


Jamaya Nix is a proud recipient of the Dual Enrollment program. Nix learned of the Dual Enrollment program while attending Westover Comprehensive High School in Albany, Georgia. Nix cites her high school guidance counselor at Westover for introducing her to the program.

“Being a Dual Enrolled student has not only saved me and my family two years’ worth of tuition and fees, but it has saved us the stress of wondering how to finance four years of college. The experience of being able to interact in a real college setting was valuable and ultimately, better prepared me and my family for the transition from high school to college. The program gives parents and students the ability to prepare for college procedures, which is priceless.”

This bright scholar from Albany, Georgia took part in several extracurricular activities that included:  Art Club, BETA Club, 2019 Utilis Matronae Debutante Club, and Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA). Nix actively served on the Cheerleading Team for three years, of which she held the position of Captain for two of those three years. She also participated in the Governor’s Honors Program as a Nominee and The Gifted Education Internship Program as an intern with U-SAVE-IT pharmacy.  

Nix cites her parents as being her biggest source of inspiration. “My parents inspire me because they have sacrificed and invested so much into my future, simply because they believe in me and my ability to achieve everything, I put my mind to and more. “

On May 10, 2019, with much dedication and determination. Jamaya completed her Junior year in high school, as well as her first post-secondary program at Albany State University in Albany, Georgia.  

“My biggest accomplishment is graduating from Albany State University on May 10, 2019, at the end of my Junior year of high school. I started the Dual Enrollment Program in the Summer of my tenth-grade year, and from beginning to end it was a challenge. College compared to high school required so much more time and dedication. However, I refused to give up no matter how hard and tedious the work was. I wanted my cap and gown. I stayed up until two o’clock in the morning nearly every night to study, write papers, take quizzes repeatedly for better grades, and a lot of other things. I also constantly went to two different campuses on two different sides of town for tutoring regardless if I needed it or not. It was a lot of toil and sacrifice involved in the process. “

Nix plans to further her education at Georgia State University, where she plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree with a concentration in Marketing.

“I selected my major because, during school, I realized I had a knack for advertising.” Whenever there was a campaign involved my classmates would look to me to assist. Honestly, I was surprised by my talents and how much fun I had made the material. I realized I would not mind pursuing this as a career. I researched what kinds of jobs were included in this field and what education is needed to qualify for these opportunities. I learned that creating flyers and posters are a major part of marketing strategies.


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Name: Zion Brown

Zion Brown

High School:
Lakeview Academy (Hall County)

College (Current or Future): Berry College

Major/Intended Major: Business Management

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Scholarship

Zion Brown of Buford, Georgia grew up in a household that encouraged serving, volunteering and providing to others within his community. With his experience, Zion intends to take his passion for altruism with him into his career.

“My passion is helping people, and that was discovered right before my sophomore year of college where I began working with my church's youth group. This drove me to pursue a degree that would allow me to organize and use my leadership abilities to help others. The biggest challenge I have faced while pursuing this path has been narrowing down exactly where I want to help others and how I want to do so,” Zion said.

Zion intends to work in nonprofit organizations that focus primarily on service and assistance and wants to utilize the skills he has obtained through his business management degree to manage these organizations effectively and ethically. By utilizing the HOPE Scholarship and Tuition Equalization grant, Zion was able to afford his education.

“Being an award recipient of these two programs allowed me not to have to stress out about my future and attending college. These programs helped me save money which resulted in not having to take out excess loans so I could go to the school of my choosing, “said Zion.

His intended major is Business Management. The reason he chose the major was due to the flexibility it provides. “Due to my education at a prestigious liberal arts college, I am able to take classes not only in the management sphere, but I have the options to take marketing and business ethics classes. I love the variety that studying business management offers.”

Zion is also a young entrepreneur. “In college, I have had the opportunity to start my own photography business. This was birthed out of an on-campus job that required me to create design content and post to the college's social media. The business has been mildly successful and a huge accomplishment of mine,” said Zion.

Zion’s main hobbies include extracurricular's such as hiking, photography, watching movies, playing basketball, running his own business related to photography, intramural sports and an on-campus job working for the school Chaplain.

Zion cites his faith in God to be his ultimate inspiration along with his family members – his mother and sister. “He has put me in situations that has allowed me to discover my purpose. Also, my mother & sister are huge inspirations to me because of their hard work and sacrifice to make sure I had the best opportunities available,” Zion said.

When preparing for college, Zion advises starting the process early on in high school. “It makes the process of choosing a college as a senior much easier. Also, take advantage of dual enrollment and opportunities to take college classes. It will make the transition from high school to college easier,” said Zion.


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Name: Alison Short

Alison Short

High School:
Cartersville High School (Bartow County)

College (Current or Future): Shorter University

Major/Intended Major: Early Childhood Development

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Scholarship

Alison Short is a proud recipient of the HOPE scholarship. Short’s passion is to advance education for the youth in Northeast Georgia and beyond. Inspired by her love for teaching children, Short is currently majoring in Early Childhood Development at Shorter University in Rome, Georgia, a private Baptist University.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average teacher in Georgia makes $54,602 per year, which is 118% of the state average income.

A 2018 Georgia Department of Education study reported that teacher salaries ranged from $32,217 for first-year teachers with just a bachelor’s degree to $73,980 for teachers with at least 21 years of experience and the highest level of Georgia teacher certification. Georgia also provides additional pay incentives for those willing to teach in high needs school districts, or shortage subjects.

Short is a Cartersville native and went to Cartersville city schools her entire life. Her passion is softball. “I have played softball since I was four years old and I was a four-year varsity player. I still enjoy playing to this day and am going to continue my softball career in college,” said Short. During her stay at Cartersville city schools, she was also a member of the Beta Club.

The National Beta Club is an organization for 4th through 12th-grade students in the United States. Its purpose is "to promote the ideals of academic achievement, character, leadership, and service among elementary and secondary school students.” Additionally, Short was nominated for the Positive Athlete of Georgia Award her sophomore year due to her positive attitude and helpfulness in the community.

“My parents have always been my biggest source of inspiration in life because they have always pushed me to do more then what I believed I was capable of and provided opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” said Short. “I have always wanted to teach children in K-5 school and serve as an inspiration to them. My dream is to teach third-grade students.”

Short was referred to HOPE through her counselors at her school. She is grateful that the award has helped her by reducing the financial burdens of pursuing higher education for herself and her family. “By getting this award, it has taken a weight off my parents and me. I always believed that I would attend college but paying for it now is much easier through this opportunity.”


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Name: Kelli Caldwell – Kemp

Kelli Caldwell

High School:
Tri-Cities High School

College (Current or Future): Mercer University

Major/Intended Major: Early Childhood Education

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Scholarship

HOPE Scholarship recipient Kelli Caldwell is a teacher at heart. After completing her bachelor's at Mercer University in Atlanta, Georgia with a major in Early Childhood Education and following up with a master's degree as a Curriculum Specialist, Caldwell began teaching children at daycares funded by the Georgia Lottery Program. Caldwell’s love for educating began in earnest and she has been teaching ever since. "I am a teacher at heart. Teaching the youth is a passion that I acquired at a very young age. I have heard countless stories from my parents about how I used to write all over the walls trying to teach my dolls how to read," said Caldwell.

"Some of my fondest childhood memories come from assisting my aunt at her daycare. I knew that I had to fulfill my dream to teach in education. I had to set clear and concise goals to make my dream a reality.”

Kelli Caldwell

"A major source of inspiration for furthering her knowledge and career is her older sister, Tavis Caldwell. "My older sister has always been an inspiration to me. She establishes what she wants in advance and finds ways to obtain it," said Caldwell. Kelli’s hobbies involve reading and researching different methodologies and ways to educate the youth.

This resulted in her creation of a book club she calls Beauty and Brains. The book club is about encouraging the youth to connect through their unique perspectives and learn to interact with one another in a more positive, nurturing and harmonious way.

Before college, Kelli had little to no knowledge of the HOPE program. Once enrolled in school she utilized the HOPE Scholarship for her bachelor’s degree along with assistance from her financial aid counselor who explained to her the available financial aid options. "The support of the award has helped my family and I become less burdened by the cost of college each semester," said Caldwell. While preparing for college Caldwell advises students to set firm goals and to know what profession one wants to pursue before beginning the college experience. “Be resourceful and find out about the financial support available to you through the programs available within your state,” Caldwell said.

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Name: Guy Gober

Guy Gober

High School:
Rabun County High School

College (Current or Future): University of Georgia

Major/Intended Major: Agricultural Engineering/MBA

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Scholarship

With the awareness of environmental conservation, Zell Miller scholar Guy Gober wants to invent alternatives for sustainable energy. Since his childhood in his hometown of Rabun County, Gober has enjoyed exploring the woods and appreciating the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. His close relationship with nature has led him to consider a path towards a greener future.

Gober’s dream is to envision products that use environmentally friendly materials and structures to minimize negative impacts on the planet. He has chosen to major in Agricultural Engineering and pursue an MBA. "I think everyone has an altruistic drive to make humanity better, mine tells me that I should become an engineer. My endgame is to create plans for renewable electronics, building biological batteries that would allow us to power our phones, cars, etc. in a sustainable way,” said Gober.

“Humanity demands are increasing, but innovation will outweigh our massive growth.”

Gober learned about the Zell Miller Scholarship program through his sister and his counselors. "The Zell Miller scholarship opened up a world of opportunities, my parents couldn't afford to pay for most of my college tuition,” said Gober.” Without the Zell Miller Scholarship, it would have been incredibly difficult for me to go to school without accumulating massive debt." The Zell Miller Scholarship has enabled Gober to attend the University of Georgia in an affordable way and further his education.

During high school, Gober participated in the National Honor Society, Envirothon, and Georgia 4H. His proudest accomplishments include running and winning state championships. Gober’s inspiration is motivation from running. "I think humans need a driving force against them to motivate them to take action, you need something to be against if you're for something,” said Gober. I find my motivation and inspiration in my daily devotion to exercise and meditation, but finding your inspiration is specific to you.”

Gober’s advice to prospective college students is to choose an environment of familiarity or comfort and to seek out close, personal tours from acquaintances or family members. “Choose a place where you know you're going to be happy,” said Gober. “As much as a website can tell you or a campus-sponsored tour can show you, the best kinds of tours you really get at a college are from a sibling or a friend who shows you their side of the campus life.”

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Name: Kendall Jones

Kendall Jones

High School:
Rabun County High School

College (Current or Future): University of North Georgia

Major/Intended Major: Middle School Education Science

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Scholarship

Eighteen-year-old Kendall Jones, an honor graduate from Rabun County High School is proud to have received the HOPE Scholarship to assist in funding for her future and education. “Being a HOPE recipient made financial planning for college less stressful for me and my family. I was able to learn how to budget and reduce my student loan debt. I also had the freedom to engage and enjoy my new college life,” said Kendall. Since the HOPE Program began in 1993, over $6.4 billion in HOPE funds have been awarded to more than 1.5 million students attending Georgia’s colleges, universities, and technical colleges.

Inspired by her sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Jarrard and Georgia Studies Assistant Teacher Mrs. Kirby, Kendall tutored middle school students throughout high school and chose to major in Middle School Education Science. Her goal is to specialize in teaching after graduation. Additionally, Kendall remembers the hardships of being bullied and accepting her flaws. She wants to be a beacon of hope as her role models were to her growing up and wants those that have inspired her to be proud of the teacher she hopes to become in the future.

Kendall learned about the benefits of the HOPE Scholarship through her counselor and parents. She advises students to get a head start on applying for college early. “The best advice I could give another student getting ready to attend college would be to start everything early. Start filling out all your college applications and applying for awards as soon as you can. Getting a head start can make the process less stressful, especially if something comes up,” said Kendall.

Kendall has also participated in multiple extracurricular activities throughout high school such as being the president of Future Business Leader of America Club, National Honors Society club as Secretary, vice president of Interact club, and Reading Club where she participated in competitions. She also participated in Volleyball and Tennis and is the recipient of three private scholarships such as ADK, Lake Burton and Woodmen of World. She enjoys reading, music, going to the lake and spending time with her family and close friends. She is now a freshman at the University of North Georgia.


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Name: Marie-Emmanuela Newman

Mariella Newman

High School:
Charles R. Drew High School (Clayton County)

College (Current or Future): Georgia Institute of Technology

Major/Intended Major: Computer Science

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Scholarship

With the projected rise of STEM-related fields, multi-talented and Georgia-born Marie-Emmannuela Newman is setting her future path forward. Her love for technology and interest in software engineering led her to choose computer science as her major along with the Georgia Institute of Technology for her education. "Being a computer science major in a world that is rapidly moving towards technology, I realize that attending college is a great opportunity to network, find internships, and obtain essential skills and qualifications that could help me in a job search or the workforce," said Newman.

Newman's favorite subject is Mathematics. "Originally I was looking into Software Engineering, but what encouraged my transition to computer science was my enjoyment for math. I also like technology and computer science is a great combination of these subjects.

Also, there seemed to be a high number of jobs projected for this field," said Newman. By next year, there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs available in the US according to

Along with being the valedictorian for the Class of 2019 and Clayton County Scholar-Athlete for Charles R. Drew High School, Newman also participated in Spivey Hall's Honors Orchestra Program as well as Softball, Queens Mentoring Program, LIFE Dance, Beta Club and as the Girls Basketball Team manager. She also achieved the Georgia Merit Award and National Society of Collegiate Scholars Nominee. "Many times, I felt like giving up during the journey and it got hard, but faith and trusting God helped to overcome that," said Newman.

Newman's main advocate was her aunt, Andrea. "One of the things I am very thankful for is the level of support I had while going through the process of schooling. My aunt, Andrea, was able to console me on personal issues and advise me. She was always willing to provide an open ear and showed so much love by comforting me."

Newman qualified for the Zell Miller scholarship through diligence, hard work, support, and perseverance. "Being a recipient of the Zell Miller Scholarship has largely decreased the number of loans taken out for school," said Newman. "It truly shed light on the benefits of staying in-state for college. Paying for college is not the easiest thing and being blessed with Zell Miller allowed accommodation for my tuition costs."

As for providing advice to future students, Newman stated, "Work hard not only to obtain certain qualifications to be accepted into school but to meet qualifications for scholarships, such as the Zell Miller Scholarship, especially if you’re planning to attend school as an in-state student in Georgia. Apply early and ask others if they know about any scholarships as well because college is expensive."


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Name: Shadaymona Jackson

Shadaymona Jackson

High School:
Salem High School (Rockdale County)

College (Current or Future): Georgia Institute of Technology

Major/Intended Major: Biomedical Engineering

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Scholarship


The skies showed signs of rain but it held off, allowing Shadaymona Jackson to deliver her valedictorian speech at Salem High School in conditions as bright as the future of her entire graduating class.

“We stressed this entire week because of storms in the forecast,” Jackson said those in attendance at Seminole Stadium in Conyers, “(but) your hard work and dedication is the reason why we were able to weather the storm.”

Jackson’s hard work was rewarded with the Rotary Senior Award for Art, multiple Superintendent’s Academic Awards and ultimately, the Zell Miller Scholarship.

Shadaymona Jackson“My high school’s team of counselors and college advisors informed me about this opportunity and my teacher (Tapetress Ford) pushed me to apply to college,” said Jackson. “At one point, I didn’t want to go to college. I wanted to stay home. Somebody had to come to me and say you need to do this now, the deadline is close. (Ms. Ford) did that. And I ended up getting into my favorite college – Georgia Tech.”

Jackson plans to pursue a degree in biomedical engineering with a specific purpose in mind.

“I chose this so I can build prosthetics for people who are challenged,” Jackson said to the Rockdale Newton Citizen. “I want to combine the sciences and arts to create something different.”

Thanks to the Zell Miller Scholarship, Jackson has a different mindset about the potential costs of her college education.

“Being an award recipient has allowed me and my family to ease our minds,” Jackson said. “Working a part-time job while attending a university could become stressful, so having this award has allowed me to not worry as much as I would have without it.”

Jackson advises students not to worry about taking their next steps after high school.

“It can be scary at first, but once you realize that you are not alone and there are many resources to help you, getting ready for college can be one of the most exciting things you do.”


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Name: Calleigh Hitt

Calleigh Hitt


High School: Holy Ground Baptist Academy (Carroll County)

College (Current or Future): University of West Georgia

Major/Intended Major: Chemistry

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Scholarship

According to Calleigh Hitt, “I was able to graduate with a bachelor's in chemistry from the University of West Georgia (UWG) without accruing any debt because of the financial aid I received, of which the Zell Miller Scholarship was a significant part.

“The Zell Miller Scholarship has put me in an excellent position to begin at professional school in the fall without worrying about interest building up as I continue my studies.”

The same study habits that led to Hitt’s postsecondary success were in use before she stepped foot on the UWG campus.

“When I was preparing to apply to undergraduate programs,” Hitt said, “my family and I did research on scholarships and other funds that would help decrease the cost of attendance.”

Hitt’s grades at Holy Ground Baptist Academy, as well as her standardized test scores made her eligible for the Zell Miller Scholarship. She also received the UWG Presidential Scholarship, which covered the rest of her expenses for her four undergraduate years.

“Those awards enabled me to focus on my studies without worrying about debt,” Hitt said to the Times-Georgian, “which has been an incredible blessing.”

While at UWG, Hitt served as a lab assistant and supplemental instructor within the chemistry department.

“She is well respected for her patience and professionalism among her peers,” said Dr. Sharmistha Basu-Dutt, professor and chair of the UWG chemistry department. “Calleigh Hitt has been praised by her instructors for her intelligence, maturity, work ethic and amazing attitude.”

A positive attitude is something Hitt advises fellow Georgians to find within their circle of friends to ensure future success.

“Find like-minded people who have similar goals. Be sure to encourage each other and help each other when you can,” Hitt said. “It can be very easy to get distracted from what needs to be done, so having people around you that can help you realize when that is happening is excellent.”


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Harley ChastainName: Harley Chastain


High School: GED at Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC)

College (Current or Future): GNTC

Major/Intended Major: Medical Assistant/Lactation Consultant

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Grant & HOPE Career Grant

Whether working with newborn babies or adults, Harley Chastain is interested in helping people. That sentiment and her educational achievements have led to her selection to represent Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) at the statewide Exceptional Adult Georgian in Literacy Education (EAGLE) Leadership Institute March 11-13, 2019, at the Atlanta Waverly Hotel.

“GNTC’s adult education classes have prepared me for college,” said Chastain, who is currently studying to become a lactation consultant and eventually a midwife, “by giving me the right tool belt of knowledge.”

Chastain learned about state funding for postsecondary options online and used the HOPE Grant to offset the cost of her education. Lactation Consultant falls under the Health Sciences program of study at GNTC. Health Sciences is an industry in which there are more jobs available in Georgia than skilled workers to fill them. Therefore, Harley was able to receive additional funding through the HOPE Career Grant.

“Without the help of the HOPE Grant and the HOPE Career Grant,” said Chastain, “I would have had difficulty paying for my college education.”

Melissa Blevins is the lead teacher and site manager for GNTC Adult Education in Gordon County and nominated Chastain for the EAGLE award, a program that recognizes and honors adult learners who have demonstrated exceptional achievement in statewide adult education classes.

“Harley is dedicated, honest and she really believes in the program,” said Blevins to the Rome News-Tribune. “She wants other people to earn their GED® diploma and achieve their goal.”

Regardless of your goal, Chastain advises others to believe anything is possible with a little preparation.

“Do your research and find out what will work best for you,” Chastain said. “Create a plan. Do not go into college unprepared. It can be confusing and hard, but there are people there to help.”


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Name: Madison Kenney


Madison Kenney

High School:
Rabun County High School

High School: Georgia Connections Academy

College (Current or Future): Gwinnett Technical College (Current); Kennesaw State (Fall 2019)

Financial Aid Program: Dual Enrollment

Madison Kenney’s passion for science began with robot reptiles and it would not be a surprise if she is piloting machines on Mars in the not too distant future.

“I love making and inventing things,” said Kenney, speaking with the Atlanta Voice about a Girl Scouts women’s Expo she attended at the Georgia World Congress Center when she was 8. “I got the chance to program these little [mechanical] alligators to open and close their mouths at a table kiosk.

“I did not want to leave! I told my mom that this is what I wanted to do.”

Kenney’s passion led to Saturday STEM classes at Georgia Tech and eventually working with the Andres & Walter Young YMCA in Atlanta to develop a robotics team with corporate sponsorship.

“I wrote a grant to SeaPerch, asking for five ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicles) kits with the promise to coach four all-girl teams if they gave a kit for my team,” said Kenney, a sophomore at Georgia Connections Academy and founding member of the all-girls robotics team, the RoboChicks. “The YMCA Executive Director was gracious enough to let me implement this program using students from their after school program.”

The YMCA’s executive director Gavin McGuire told CBS46 News, “When Madison reached out to me, I was really blown away.”

According to GAFollowers, Kenney has “also recently secured funding to officially start the RoboChicks Second Generation (R2G), a younger all-girls robotics team.”

With all this going on, for the past two semesters she has added dual enrollment classes at Gwinnett Technical College as part of her school schedule.

“Most of my friends in robotics are dual enrolled,” said Kenney. “I knew I wanted to do it as well after hearing I could graduate with an associate degree and high school diploma at the same time.

“By participating in the dual enrollment program, my goal is to get familiar with the rigors of college classes so I am not overwhelmed when I attend college with a full schedule of courses.”

Her already busy schedule has been filled with requests to attend award ceremonies for honors like the Youth Service America Everyday Young Hero, a 2017 Women in Technology Girl of the Year Finalist and twice being named the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Georgia Affiliate Aspirations in Computer Award Winner.

But with all the accolades, Kenney is still focused on graduating from Connections Academy with more than just her diploma.

“I truly believe that attending Gwinnett Tech as a part-time dual enrolled student in my ninth and tenth grade years has given me the confidence to take on a full course load at Kennesaw State this fall,” said Kenney. “I aim to become a Mechatronics Engineer.

“I hope to use my degree to create more sustainable energy sources, work for NASA to explore space or just invent things to make life better.”

Kenney advises Georgians interested in Dual Enrollment to start small.

“I would suggest trying one class at first, nothing hard like calculus or physics. Something like history to get your feet wet and see how it goes,” said Kenney. “Then try two classes once you have a good feel for the workload. But be sure to keep it where you are comfortable and not stressed.”


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Name: Caroline Windham

Caroline Windham


High School: Landmark Christian School

College (Current or Future): University of Georgia

Major/Intended Major: B.A. in Journalism

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Scholarship

There were only 60 people in Caroline Windham’s graduating class at Landmark Christian School and according to the Peachtree City native, Georgia’s financial aid programs were “heavily promoted (by my school).”

“There were many reasons for (students like me) to explore what it was about,” Windham said, “which I was really grateful for.”

Many of Windham’s family either graduated from or currently attend the University of Georgia, making the choice of which school to attend an easy decision.

“My grandfather played basketball here in between his military service. My day and uncle both graduated from Terry College,” Windham said to UGA Today. “My sister is about to start her sophomore year and two cousins both transferred in this past fall. To say it lightly, UGA is definitely a family affair!”

Caroline Windham graduates from UGAWindham was able to lighten the financial burden on her family when she earned the Zell Miller Scholarship out of high school, then used the HOPE Scholarship while finishing her degree in Journalism from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“By having those scholarships, I was able to look at my possibilities and really assess what was best for me,” Windham said. “It really opened the door to pursue a graduate degree.”

Behind that door was a personal aspiration - to work with different companies and brands as a content creator/analytics specialist. That mindset fit perfectly with Grady College’s recently created Emerging Media master’s concentration.

“I’m committed to pursuing my purpose of loving people and making them feel accepted,” Windham said. “That’s what drives me and I am passionate about doing that through media and connecting people.”

Windham is happy that the HOPE and Zell Miller Scholarships allowed her to pursue her dreams with an open mind, advice she wants to impart to all Georgians.

“I never even dreamed I would be where I am today or be the person I've become,” Windham said, “and I attribute that to deciding to do things outside of my comfort zone and it definitely paid off.”




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Josh McDuffieName: Josh McDuffie


High School: Irwin County High School

College (Current or Future): Southern Regional Technical College

Major/Intended Major: Electrical Systems Technology

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Grant

“Don’t be in a hurry to find your future,” said Josh McDuffie. The US Army veteran returned home to Georgia after serving his country and took his own advice for the next chapter of his life.

McDuffie went back to college and was on track for an Automotive Technology diploma when one electrical systems class changed everything.

“I piddled around and fell in love with this,” McDuffie told the Daily Citizen News from the Southern Regional Technical College (SRTC) electrical systems classroom. “I hit the ground running with Industrial Electrical Maintenance, and just liked everything about it.”

Thanks in part to the HOPE Grant, McDuffie earned diplomas in both Electrical Construction Technology and Industrial Electrical Technology.

“I’m trying to learn everything I can because becoming a licensed electrician is what I want to do,” said McDuffie. “Going through this program has provided me that opportunity and I learned about all my financial aid options through the SRTC counselors.”

Josh McDuffie and Stephen MathisThanks to the counselors and faculty at SRTC, McDuffie showcased his talents this past March as he was named the 2018 SkillsUSA Georgia Postsecondary State Champion in Electrical Construction Wiring.

“The old saying that ‘there is no substitute for hard work’ holds true with Josh,” said Stephen Mathis, SRTC Electrical Systems Technology faculty. “He has worked harder than any student I have had in the last five years. He put in hours of extra work preparing for the SkillsUSA state competition and continues to do the same for the upcoming national competition in Louisville. It has been a pleasure to work with Josh and watch him grow in this field.”

It’s a field that McDuffie hopes to one day pass down as the start of a family tradition.

“Receiving this award has me and my wife excited. It has made me even more goal oriented and focused on my future career,” said McDuffie. “Maybe one day, later down the road, I’ll have my own business and this trade will be something I can share with my two sons. That would be nice.”


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Name: Katie Harrison


Katie Harrison - 2018

High School:
Fitzgerald High School (Ben Hill County)

College (Current or Future): Oglethorpe University

Major/Intended Major: Communications with Minors in Psychology and Sociology

Financial Aid Program: c and Georgia Tuition Equalization Grant


The year was 1991. An F3 tornado created more than $50 million in damage in Cobb and Douglas County; the Atlanta Braves went to the World Series for the first time in 33 years and Zell Miller was inaugurated as the 79th governor of Georgia.

A few weeks later, both the state House and Senate passed a resolution for a Lottery amendment to the state’s constitution. Around that same time, Katie Harrison was in the midst of her junior year at Fitzgerald High School.

“I started researching scholarships and financial aid opportunities with the help of the school’s guidance counselors,” said Harrison. “I had heard rumors that then-Governor Miller planned to create a merit-based scholarship for high school graduates.”

Miller’s original proposal for a merit scholarship was for students’ first year of college whose families earned less than $66,000.

“This news gave me hope that I would actually be able to go to college,” said Harrison, “so I continued to work hard so I could qualify if the program came to fruition.

"At that time, (my graduating class) was 16 or 17 years old. We had no political clout, but we were just thinking, 'Please make this work,'" Harrison said to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

Katie Harrison - 1998On September 22, 1992, Miller announced three educational programs: Lab equipment and computer hardware for primary and secondary schools, a voluntary pre-kindergarten program for 4-year olds and the HOPE Scholarship. Six weeks later, Georgia voters passed an amendment for the creation of the Georgia State Lottery. Not long after that, Zell Miller and the Georgia Legislature established the HOPE Scholarship Program.

“My entire senior class was ecstatic to learn that we would be the first graduating class to be eligible for the scholarship,” Harrison said. “I think we all realized how lucky we were to be members of the 1993 graduating class!”

That graduating class became the first to take advantage of a scholarship program that has helped over 1.7 million Georgians access education beyond high. That access allowed Harrison, who also received financial assistance through the Georgia Tuition Equalization Grant Program, to attend and eventually graduate from Oglethorpe University without accumulating significant amounts of debt.

“My current life would be completely different and unrecognizable without the HOPE Scholarship,” Harrison said, “I have always felt extremely honored and fortunate to have been given the opportunity to be a HOPE scholar.”


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Trey LeonardName: Trey Leonard


High School: Lowndes High School (Lowndes County)

College (Current or Future): University of Georgia (UGA)

Major/Intended Major: Entertainment and Media Studies & International Affairs

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Scholarship


There wasn’t much debate where Trey Leonard would end up after graduating from Lowndes High School.

“For as long as I can remember, I have donned the red and black, and as I moved through high school, applying to UGA became an obvious choice due to its clout in the Southeast as well as Grady College’s prestigious programs,” Leonard said to UGA Today. “I did end up applying to a variety of other schools across the country but never seemed to take them very seriously as four years in Athens kept lingering in the back of my mind.”

As his time in Athens quickly comes to a close, Leonard is expected to graduate this spring with a degree in Entertainment & Media Studies and International Affairs ­­– minus a substantial student debt.

“My family and I have felt incredibly blessed during my collegiate experience” said Leonard, “because the Zell Miller Scholarship has eased the financial burden of tuition as I have pursued my degrees from UGA.”

When he was just starting high school, Leonard learned about the state scholarship that provides full tuition at public HOPE-eligible postsecondary institutions like UGA.

“My school counselor, Dr. Dana Hutchinson, encouraged me to learn more about the programs,” he said, “because she knew that I wanted to attend an in-state university for my undergraduate career.”

His post-graduate career is focused on creating his original ideas and scripts. Leonard has already produced three student documentaries, one of which was nominated for a Southeastern Student Emmy. His success and financial stability has allowed the pursuit of other endeavors like study abroad programs in China and Australia.

“Having the Zell Miller Scholarship has allowed me to pursue other endeavors that have tremendously impacted my personal and professional growth,” said Leonard.

Regardless of what your personal and professional goals may be, Leonard advises Georgians to whole-heartedly believe in themselves.

“I would suggest never giving up on a commitment and seeking ways to elevate yourself in any field or position you find yourself in,” he said. “Always challenge yourself to innovate and think differently in order to bring your own unique voice to any endeavor.”

See more from Trey Leonard at his website –


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Name: Michaele Bryant

Michaele Bryant

High School:
Bainbridge High School

College (Current or Future): ABAC (Tifton Campus)

Major/Intended Major: Agribusiness

Financial Aid Program: Dual Enrollment


From picking your own peaches in Blue Ridge to bird watching in Arlington, agriculture and tourism are the state’s top economic generators according to the Georgia Agritourism Association.

Michaele Bryant, who graduated from Bainbridge High School while also working at the Pecan Ridge Plantation, hopes to master this merger between the rural and urban areas of the state.

“I’ve always had a passion for agriculture and know the importance of the industry to the economy, especially in southwest Georgia,” said Bryant. “I believe agriculture impacts every single person on some level and I’d love to educate everyone about the importance.”

Bryant used Dual Enrollment to get a head start on her postsecondary education, an idea that was sparked when Laura Brown, the Dual Enrollment advisor from ABAC-Bainbridge, came to her school.

“My mother and my guidance counselor encouraged me to investigate the opportunities with Dual Enrollment,” said Bryant.

The opportunities allowed Bryant to take college courses and receive both high school and college credit. After taking two courses during the summer before her junior year, Bryant took a full course load at Bainbridge State College for four straight semesters before this spring.

Michaele Bryant“In high school, your teachers are babying you and making sure you get your work done,” Bryant told the Post Searchlight, “but in college you’re self-reliant and you have to tell yourself to do your work.

“This is an opportunity for you to prepare for the college transition while earning high school credits and your success is dependent upon self-discipline, work ethic and dedication.”

Bryant’s dedication earned her the rare distinction; graduating from Bainbridge State College on May 10, then from Bainbridge High School two weeks later. Her motivation behind it all is something all Georgia students should strive for.

“My schedule at (Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton) will begin with major specific classes which will result in a head start in the workforce compared to others my age,” Bryant said. “I earned an Associate’s Degree without paying a dime, not even for a parking pass, thanks to (Dual Enrollment) and with this opportunity, I plan to graduate from college debt free.”


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Name: Crystal Wright

Crystal Wright

High School:
Eagles Landing High School (Henry County)

College (Current or Future): Georgia Piedmont Technical College

Major/Intended Major: Interdisciplinary Studies/Nursing

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Grant


Each institution within the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) annually presents the Georgia Occupational Award for Leadership (GOAL) to students who are not only achieving academic excellence, but active within their communities.

Before Crystal Wright could begin assisting others within her community, she turned her attention to her own family.

“I am the oldest of five children and took on a lot of responsibilities when my parents divorced,” said Wright, who was awarded the HOPE Scholarship in 2002 to help pay for her tuition at Clark Atlanta University (CAU). “During my time at CAU, I found it very difficult to focus on my educational goals due to family strife.

“My mother fell into a very deep depression and I made the decision to leave school to take care of both my mother and my siblings.”

Wright worked many jobs to support her family, but never lost her desire for a medical career. Once her siblings finished high school, she was able to refocus on her educational dreams.

“When I was ready to go back to school, I ran into the financial hurdle of not being able to afford it,” said Wright, who learned about the Zell Miller Grant and other state programs during her admissions to Georgia Piedmont Technical College (GPTC). “I realized that I had many options I was unaware of and I could still become a nurse.”

Eliminating concerns about financing allowed Wright to earn her initial nursing assistant certification and become a licensed practical nurse. She showcased her abilities last April at the Statewide SkillsUSA Leadership and Skills Conference where she won the gold medal in the Practical Nursing competition.

Crystal Wright This was one of many things that led her nursing instructor, Kaye Henry, to nominate Wright for the GPTC GOAL.

“She is an inspiration to me and I know she will be an inspiration to everyone else,” said Henry. “Although she has overcome a lot while in this program, she was determined to excel.”

Wright is determined to obtain her Master’s degree and become a registered psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner. With this position, she can focus on helping aid in the recovery of psychiatric disorders and reduce associated stigmas of receiving mental health treatment.

“I have worked so hard to get to where I am today (with) many setbacks,” said Wright. “But I kept striving for what it is that I’ve wanted – and here I am today and so happy!”


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Name: Benjamin Olson

Benjamin Olson

High School:
Islands High School (Chatham County)

College (Current or Future): Ogeechee Technical College

Major/Intended Major: Radiologic Technology

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Scholarship


A hospital operating room (OR) in action is full of people helping to save lives. When Ben Olson’s mother shared stories with her son about her time as an OR nurse at Memorial Health University in Savannah, he was captivated.

“I was immediately interested in stepping into a serious operation and being the eyes of the surgeons throughout the procedure,” said Olson. “I entered into the Memorial Health Job Shadowing opportunity in 2016, my first year at Ogeechee Technical College (OTC), and spent time working hands on with the technologists there and immediately fell in love with the profession.”

A Computed Tomography (CT) technologist uses scanners to produce cross-section images of patients' internal organs and tissues for the diagnosis of medical issues. Olson’s passion for the field was noticed by Jan Martin, the Radiologic Technology program director.

“During his first semester in the Radiology program, the department manager (at St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital in Savannah) contacted me searching for a student that would be interested to work as a student assistant to the CT technologist,” said Martin. “Ben was my first and only choice. He had the drive to be a great employee.”

During that first semester at OTC, Olson learned about the HOPE Scholarship from, “a few classmates that had already received it. HOPE gave me the opportunity to focus solely on my studies with little to no worry of how to make a payment for the upcoming semester’s tuition. It gave me mental relief and financial stability during the hardest days of my program of study.”

Those hard days paid off when in December, Olson received the Academic Achievement award of Excellence at a pinning ceremony for the OTC Radiologic Technology Class of 2017.

Benjamin Olson“The award comes from our accrediting agency the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology and is presented to the student with the highest program GPA,” Martin said. “Ben achieved and maintained a 4.0 GPA (and it’s) been several years since we have had a student to maintain a 4.0 GPA throughout their college career.”

During his stellar college career, Olson maintained his position at St. Joseph/Candler. He passed the national certification exam through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists and a bidding war ensued for his services.

“Another clinical facility wanted him to come work for them,” Martin said. “When the department manager at St. Joseph/Candler Hospital learned about this, she assured him that he would have a full time position upon graduation and asked him to not take the other position.”

Thanks to the HOPE Scholarship, Olson is in the position he set out for with minimal college debt. His advice to younger Georgians is to stand strong and never quit on your dreams.

“Have a plan of action and stick to it, no matter how hard the road may be,” Olson said. “Go into college with a goal and do everything in your power to achieve this goal. Even when you have doubtful thoughts that you cannot achieve what you set out to do, hold strong and it will pay off in the end.”


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Name: Caroline Heard

Caroline Heard

High School:
Forsyth Central High School

College (Current or Future): University of Georgia

Major/Intended Major: Exercise and Sports Science

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Scholarship


Before Caroline Heard even reached Forsyth Central High School, she knew about the state’s financial assistance programs.

“Teachers and counselors had told us about the HOPE programs since I was in middle school,” said Heard.

Caroline took advantage of Dual Enrollment, taking classes at Gainesville State College during her senior year and earned the Zell Miller Scholarship to attend the University of Georgia.

“It was such a great honor and was extremely helpful throughout my four years at UGA,” said Heard about receiving the scholarship. “You save thousands of dollars that you can spend on something else.”

She saved money by graduating in four years with a degree in Exercise and Sports Science. Caroline has since been accepted into the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program at Mercer University, one of the best in the state.

“Thanks to the Zell Miller Scholarship, my family saved more than $50,000 in tuition,” Heard said, “and I’m now able to afford going to professional school to get my doctorate.”

Regardless if your path eventually leads to a graduate degree, Heard advises high school and college students to take advantage of state programs like the Zell Miller Scholarship if at all possible.

“You should definitely work hard in high school and make sure you meet the program’s requirements,” Heard said, “because it saves you money in the future.”


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Name: William Nichols


William NicholsHigh School: Home Schooled

College (Current or Future): Georgia Northwestern Technical College

Major/Intended Major: Computer industry, possibly animation

Financial Aid Program: HOPE GED Grant


A disability didn’t stop William Nichols of Calhoun from achieving his dream of going to college.

“I was able to get a GED® diploma through Adult Education even with autism,” said Nichols. “I want to encourage others with disabilities to reach for the stars.”

Raised on a farm and home-schooled with a curriculum tailored for him, Nichols reached a sixth-grade academic level and thought, “that was as far as I would be able to go.”

However, Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) was ready to help. According to GNTC’s Amber Jordan, in 2017 the Office of Adult Education assisted more than 2,700 students towards continuing their postsecondary pursuits and 533 graduated with a GED Diploma like Nichols.

“Some days, I can’t think straight and my mind takes things and switches them around,” Nichols said. “But when I went to GNTC to get my GED, they set my mind at ease, encouraged me and provided me with additional tools to help.

“I was able to boost my confidence, meet other people (and) learn different methods to solve problems.”

William NicholsAfter receiving his diploma, Nichols is using the HOPE GED Grant towards his career aspirations, either in animation or the computer industry.

“(William) has shown others that despite a disability you can accomplish anything,” said Melissa Blevins, lead teacher and site manager for Adult Education in Gordon County who nominated Nichols for the State EAGLE Award by the Technical College System of Georgia. “William will go far in life because he knows what he wants and he will do what needs to be done to accomplish his goals.”

Nichols’ goals are to have a home and family he can support on his own and he understands the importance of a college degree to achieve it.

“It was hard for me to get my GED and go to college, but the results are forever beneficial,” said Nichols. “I may have bigger mountains to climb in the future, but I can look back at this and smile, knowing I have this.

“If a life-changing storm happens and makes me change course, I now have one extra tool in my belt to help with the task at hand.”

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Name: Amanda Campbell


Amanda CampbellHigh School: South Paulding High School

College (Current or Future): Chattahoochee Technical College

Major/Intended Major: Design and Media Production Technology

Financial Aid Program: Dual Enrollment


Thanks to Dual Enrollment, Amanda Campbell was able to follow a family tradition – she attended Chattahoochee Technical College (CTC).

“I learned about (Dual Enrollment) from my high school counselor,” said Campbell, who graduated from South Paulding High School in May 2017. “I applied and started at CTC in my junior year with all expenses paid.”

In December 2017, Campbell had completed enough credits towards her associate degree in Design and Media Production Technology, she was able to participate in CTC’s graduation ceremonies along with her older sister, Portia Harris.

Amanda Campbell“My sister graduated with a diploma in Medical Assisting,” Campbell said to the Dallas New Era, “and in 2016, my mom (Rozella Campbell) used the HOPE Grant and graduated from (CTC) with a Cosmetology diploma.”

The youngest Campbell graduate from CTC is currently pursuing a volunteer position for her graphic design and animation talents with a “worldwide organization based in New York.” She’s also teaching English as a second language to Chinese students online.

“Participating in the Dual Enrollment program lifted a potential burden for me and my family. I was able to focus on my assignments and not how I would pay off a debt for the rest of my life,” Campbell said. “I can now look to the future with confidence and make my family proud.”

Campbell advises others to follow in her footsteps and try out the various opportunities to continue your education beyond high school.

“Georgia provides so many options when it comes to financial aid. Even if you think you won't be eligible, it won't hurt to do the research and see,” said Campbell. “Once you're in college, do your best and don't be afraid to ask for help.”

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Name: Laura Vinson


Laura VinsonHigh School: Rabun County High School

College (Current or Future): University of North Georgia

Major/Intended Major: Business Administration

Financial Aid Program: REACH Georgia


Laura Vinson’s advice: “Be prepared to be unprepared.”

While this can be applied to dealing with the first year of college, it also serves as a life mantra for a 19-year old who’s gone from the tragedy of losing her mother at an early age to the triumph of having Governor Nathan Deal attend your high school graduation.

“Change always happens (and) if you are anything like me, then change gives you some sort of anxiety,” Vinson said. “However, to deal with that, I learned that being unprepared for what might happen helped in making change flow easier.”

While growing up in Clayton, her father lost his business while raising three children on his own. Therefore, helping Laura’s sister pay for college wasn’t possible.

“I was told at a young age that I did not have a great chance of going to college unless I worked hard in and out of school to earn scholarships and other types of financial aid to help me,” said Vinson. “Watching how hard (my sister) struggled paying for college on her own with little helped scared me. I was afraid I would not make it.”

As a seventh grader at Rabun County Middle School, “the principal and counselor handed out REACH scholarship packets to a numerous amount of students,” said Vinson, who was part of the inaugural class of REACH Georgia Scholars.

Laura Vinson"When I was honored with the REACH scholarship, my outlook changed tremendously,” said Vinson. “I had something to motivate me. It gave me a new found hope in pursuing my educational dreams.”

That hope was noticed by Governor Deal, who according to the University of North Georgia Newsroom, “was so impressed with her poise and maturity that he took her to other functions as the de facto spokesperson for the program.”

“We are proud to have Ms. Laura Vinson attending UNG as a REACH scholarship recipient,” said Dr. Tom Ormond, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs. “Based on the competitive nature of the REACH scholarship and the education successes (she has) enjoyed to date, we are very hopeful (she) will achieve (her) academic dreams while at UNG.”

To date, Vinson’s career dreams are undecided. However, her success as a REACH Scholar has fortified her future.

“Not only did this program open my mind about going to college, but it taught me who I was and what I was capable of doing,” Vinson said. “It broadened my horizons and helped me be an example for others in a similar situation.”

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Name: Miguel Ramirez


Miguel RamirezHigh School: Rockmart High School; Cedartown High School

College (Current or Future): Georgia Northwestern Technical College

Major/Intended Major: Business Management

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Scholarship


Miguel Ramirez has proven it’s never too late to pursue your dreams.

“Growing up in a low-income family, I learned about financial aid programs when I was in middle school,” said Ramirez. “I knew if I was ever going to go to college, financial aid was my only hope.”

But his aspirations of attending college were put on hold when unexpected family events forced Ramirez to drop out of high school during his junior year and work full-time to help pay bills and rent.

“I had a great support system with my family,” Ramirez said to The Calhoun Times. “When family events prevented me from finishing high school, I eventually went back and got my GED from Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC).”

Once he received his GED, Ramirez returned to the workforce but never lost sight of his ultimate goal.

“I had economic and personal obstacles that made me put a halt on my dreams of attending college,” said Ramirez. “Thankfully, we have technical colleges that have been designed to turn people’s dreams into reality.”

Ramirez excelled as a full-time student at GNTC; volunteering for the Human Rights Campaign, serving as a member of the National Honor Society and making the President’s List each semester with a 4.0 GPA that qualified him for the HOPE Scholarship.

“Our best hope for the future are students like Miguel,” said Gerald McFry, director of GNTC’s Business Management program and Ramirez’s instructor. “He’s a full-time student and he holds a full-time job and a part-time job, all while maintaining a perfect grade point average.”

McFry nominated Ramirez for GNTC’s 2017 Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership (GOAL) award, an honor he won January 31, 2017.

“The benefits of attending a technical college are one of the reasons I decided to go back to school,” said Ramirez. “Technical college allows people to be prepared to enter the workforce without running up a lot of student debt.”

Ramirez is already using the knowledge learned at GNTC as a Human Resources Assistant at Apache Mills, a global manufacturer of commercial and domestic floor mats based in Calhoun.

“My degree helps out a lot in my current job,” Ramirez said. “I understand how the manufacturing environment works, as well as the importance of positive employee relations.”

Ramirez was once in a position where a postsecondary education was out of reach, but he now advises others to remember their goals and seek support to make them a reality.

“We sometimes get so caught up in the competitive mindset that we lose sight of the benefits and opportunities that are in front of us,” Ramirez said. “Make friends, constructive friends; friends that will help you in achieving your dreams and inspire you to keep moving forward.”

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Name: Qasim Hassan


Qasim HassanHigh School: Central Gwinnett High School

College (Current or Future): Georgia Institute of Technology

Major/Intended Major: Mechanical Engineering

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Scholarship


Qasim Hassan plans to major in mechanical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, taking full advantage of the Zell Miller Scholarship he earned as the valedictorian at Central Gwinnett High School.

Qasim’s valedictorian speech paid homage to his favorite epic film series, Star Wars. While he wasn’t able to deliver it cos-playing as Darth Vader, his life had some similarities to the famous saga: a traumatic past and heroic resolution.

“I was abandoned at two years old and the feeling of isolation never left. Nobody seemed to care enough to break through the cold shell of a lonely young boy,” Hassan said. “I never felt that I could amount to anything more than a failure, but I was wrong. There was something out there waiting for me. I couldn’t see it yet, but it was time to follow my dreams wherever they led.

“My father was the one who helped me feel that I was at home with my family despite all the visions from the past.”

Qasim’s father also told him about the Zell Miller Scholarship “years ago, to emphasize the importance of pursuing high academic goals,” and he steadily worked towards those goals during his time in high school.

“Today, the force is strong with me as I continue my training to become the person I hope to be.”

Hassan provides Yoda-like advice for students, advocating for unlimited ambition when planning for their future.

“You should set big targets for yourself,” Hassan said, “and focus on achieving them by working hard every day.”

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Name: Hannah Collins


Hannah CollinsHigh School: Ola High School (Henry County)

College (Current or Future): Piedmont College

Major/Intended Major: Biology & Chemistry

Financial Aid Program: Tuition Equalization Grant


Hannah Collins helped Ola High School’s volleyball team to be one of the best in school history, compiling a 44-8 record and the school’s seventh Henry County championship while still maintaining a 3.52 GPA to make her eligible for the HOPE Scholarship.

“It’s not overwhelming,” Collins told the Hoof Print. “You just do the work whenever you have time.”

Collins will attempt to strike a similar balance as a freshman at Piedmont College. While Piedmont, a Division III school, does not offer athletic scholarships, they have presented Collins with a Presidential Merit Scholarship.

In addition, Piedmont College encouraged Collins to take advantage of the Georgia Tuition Equalization Grant (GTEG), which is another state financial aid program administered by GSFC. The grant provides non-need based funding for Georgia residents to attend in-state private colleges.

“Any financial help that I can receive will reduce the burden that my family will have to pay out of pocket for my college education,” Collins said. “This will enable me to take my education to a higher level.”

Collins plans to major in biology and chemistry, preparing for medical school in the future. Her advice to younger students is to use their time wisely.

“Don’t procrastinate. High school graduation and college will be here before you know it,” Collins said. “So be sure to learn about all the possible scholarships that are available.”

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Name: Jamie Grady


Jamie GradyHigh School: Pierce County High School

College (Current or Future): Wiregrass Georgia Technical College – Valdosta

Major/Intended Major: Esthetics/Chemistry

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Grant


Since she was a young girl, Jamie Grady had a passion for beauty.

“When I began researching options for my career path,” Grady told Valdosta Today, “Esthetics revealed itself as a great opportunity for me and an outlet for all of my interests.”

Esthetics is the principles of beauty, and the program at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College (WGTC) teaches everything from facial treatments and skin care procedures to salon management. However, Grady’s career goals are to formulate her own makeup and skincare line.

“After I finish my core education at WGTC, I will transfer to a university where I will study chemistry,” Grady said. “I plan to pursue a career in cosmetic chemistry upon college graduation.”

Her technical college tuition has been paid for thanks to the Zell Miller Grant.

“I have known about the Zell Miller Grant since my senior year of high school and I have thought the award was an unmatched advantage,” Grady said. “It was so humbling to learn that my grades from my first semester of college were good enough to receive the award.”

This summer, Grady was awarded a gold medal in Esthetics at the National SkillsUSA competition after winning the state competition in the spring. The competition features 100 different technical, trade and leadership fields with challenges designed, ran and judged by experts in the field.

“Taking gold at Nationals, she competed against 19 candidates,” said Talarie Giddens, the WGTC Esthetics Program Coordinator. “She truly brought her best, and I could not be more proud.”

Grady is proud of the fact that her grades have provided financial relief for her family.

“As a motivator for my future, the Zell Miller Grant has allowed me to worry less about financial burdens,” Grady said, “and focus on what is truly important – my education.”

Grady advises other Georgia students to remain focused on their goals and take advantage of available opportunities.

“Apply for EVERY SINGLE scholarship that you are eligible for,” she said. “Think forward and keep in mind how every little bit of financial aid will positively affect you even 20 years down the road.”

“The feeling of accomplishment is irreplaceable and the best reward for hard work. Keeping your focus, doing what’s necessary, and overlooking the miniscule setbacks will help you get where you want to be. Trust me, it is worth it!”

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Name: Karan Lakhwani


Karan LakhwaniHigh School: LaGrange High School

College (Current or Future): Georgia Institute of Technology

Major/Intended Major: Aerospace Engineering

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Scholarship


Karan Lakhwani is quick to praise his older sister when discussing the Zell Miller Scholarship.

“My sister Sonika gave me first-hand knowledge about the scholarship,” said Karan, who also got information about the Zell Miller Scholarship from Bernice Thomas, his guidance counselor at LaGrange High School.

Sonika Lakhwani received Zell Miller for four years at the University of Georgia before graduating in May 2017.

“She spent a lot of effort trying to get me to go to Georgia, but she’s supportive of me,” Karan told the LaGrange Daily News about his decision to attend the Georgia Institute of Technology. “She’s happy with what I’m doing.”

What he’s doing is attempting to turn a youthful passion of building airplanes into a potential future profession.

“As a kid I always got to travel and airplanes always fascinated me,” Lakhwani said. “To be able to build those and problem solve and figure out how to make them more productive and more efficient, I was always fascinated and it was always something I wanted to do.”

While at LaGrange, Karan co-founded and co-captained the school’s science bowl team and volunteered for four years at WellStar West Georgia Medical Center. He also took advantage of Georgia's Dual Enrollment, formerly the Move On When Ready (MOWR) program, taking classes at both the University of West Georgia and West Georgia Technical College.

“Using MOWR and the Zell Miller Scholarship means I will have little to no debt when I graduate college,” said Lakhwani, who plans to major in aerospace engineering. “I would love to have the opportunity to design, produce and test new aircraft that have better fuel efficiency and a longer range than current aircraft.”

Lakhwani advises other students to take advantage of opportunities to better themselves.

“I would tell students to challenge themselves in high school. High school is all about becoming a better, smarter person and this can only be accomplished by challenging yourself,” Lakhwani said. “I would advise them to take a harder course load, but also save time for friends and family.”

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Name: Hayden Lee Harris


Hayden Lee HarrisHigh School: Grovetown High School (Columbia County)

College (Current or Future): Georgia Southern University

Major/Intended Major: Business Management

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Scholarship


With a 40-round draft and multiple teams associated with each franchise, Major League Baseball has the most opportunities for athletes like Augusta’s Hayden Harris to fulfill a lifelong goal.

“I hope to pursue my dream as a professional baseball player,” Harris said, “however in the event that doesn’t work out, I plan to own my own business.”

Harris intends to major in Business Management at Georgia Southern University, using an athletic scholarship and the HOPE Scholarship to pay for his education.

“I was raised by a single mom,” said Harris, who graduated from Grovetown High School with a 3.5 GPA, “and there was no way that she could have afforded to pay for me to attend college without financial assistance.”

Georgia Southern head baseball coach Rodney Hennon believes Harris and his incoming recruiting class can assist his team. An All-Region 3-AAAAAA First Team selection, Harris led Grovetown as a junior with a 4-2 record and 1.40 ERA, with 57 strikeouts in 50 innings.

"We are very excited about our early signing class," said Coach Hennon in a Georgia Southern press release. “These young men will be outstanding additions to our program as we fill the needs of our roster for the 2018 season.”

Even with his athletic scholarship, Harris looked into the HOPE Scholarship after speaking with his counselor.

“The more that I researched state programs like HOPE, the easier it became to make the decision to go to an in-state college,” said Harris, who received offers from out-of-state schools like Furman, Newberry and USC Aiken. “I truly wanted to minimize using student loans as much as I could.”

Harris has advice for any students looking to minimize student loans.

“Start looking into financial aid early, study hard and get the highest GPA possible,” Harris said. “Be a dedicated citizen, and most importantly, have a plan.”

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Name: Ashley Kramer


Ashley KramerHigh School: Bryan County High School

College (Current or Future): Georgia Southern University

Major/Intended Major: Biology with Chemistry Minor (Pre-Med)

Financial Aid Program: Dual Enrollment


A relative’s advice sparked Ashley Kramer to forgo a traditional high school education for something different.

“I was in the ninth grade at Bryan County High School,” Kramer said, “and my aunt, a principal in Orlando, encouraged me to learn more about dual enrollment.”

She cites working with counselor Joanne Grossman for guiding her through the Move On When Ready (MOWR) process. The results were that Kramer already completed her sophomore year at Georgia Southern University in May as she received her high school diploma.

“One of the greatest benefits of MOWR is that it has relieved my parents of a great financial burden,” Kramer said, “and prevented me from acquiring years of college debt.”

She was accepted into Georgia Southern after completing her sophomore year of high school and, according to Grossman, has served as an inspiration.

“Ashley has been a tremendous student role model for our school and the program for the last two years and has experienced great success,” Grossman told the Bryan County News. “All of us at BCHS wish her the best.”

Kramer has done her best to give back, working with non-profit organizations - D.A.R.E. Program, America’s Second Harvest and Encouragers Society. She’s also started a graphics business and received recognition for editing and graphic design for a weekly television program currently airing on the PBS network in Alabama.

“I love every creative aspect of graphic design and I love the thought of working in the film and television industry,” Kramer said. “My goal is to be successful in whatever I set out to do, and be happy while doing it.”

When advising fellow students about the future, Kramer says to be a leader, not a follower.

“Simply work hard, be true to yourself and don’t be afraid to chart a different path.”

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Name: Keira Stacks


Keira StacksHigh School: McIntosh High School (Fayette County)

College (Current or Future): Georgia College

Major/Intended Major: Biology with Chemistry Minor (Pre-Med)

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Scholarship


Keira Stacks, a junior at Georgia College (GCSU), uncovered something new to the world of science, a discovery assisted by her HOPE Scholarship.

“The HOPE Scholarship has lightened my financial burden,” said Stacks, “which allows me to focus on the most important aspect of school – learning.”

According to Connection Magazine, Stacks uncovered a new bacteriophage, a virus that infects bacteria, as part of an international research project.

The discovery was entered into the Actinobacteriophage Database, which collects information for the Pittsburg Bacteriophage Institute at the University of Pittsburg’s department of biological sciences. The project’s goal is to encourage scientific research in youth and promote the DNA sequencing and characterization of useful viruses.

This knowledge of viruses should help Stacks as she pursues a career in medicine, an endeavor the HOPE Scholarship has helped her prepare for.

“I have been able to avoid student loans throughout my undergrad experience. This has allowed me to put away more money for medical school,” Stacks said. “My educational pursuits would not be possible without HOPE.”

Stacks acknowledges Hope Huey, her counselor at McIntosh High School, for informing her early about the state scholarship.

“I had just moved to Georgia my freshman year of high school from Montgomery, Alabama. So, I had no idea what the HOPE Scholarship was until I met Ms. Huey,” said Stacks. “I remember her being very helpful when I was applying for colleges and scholarships at the time. She was an amazing counselor and did a great job explaining all the financial benefits I could receive from this scholarship.”

She advises fellow students to take full advantage of opportunities available while in college.

“Take this time to become the best version of yourself. Find something that truly inspires you and get involved,” Stacks said. “Meet new people, get to know your professors, be open to new experiences and most importantly have fun! You only go through undergrad once.”

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Name: Rachel Shay


Rachel ShayHigh School: Douglas County High School

College (Current or Future): Chattahoochee Technical College

Major/Intended Major: Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technician

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Grant


The U.S. Department of Labor lists over 100 occupations that are defined as nontraditional careers for women, or those in which 25 percent or less of people employed in these jobs are female. Professions include everything from police officers and aircraft pilots to cement masons and the profession Rachel Shay has chosen to pursue.

“I want to be an air conditioning maintenance technician in the commercial field,” said Shay, who heard about the program from her cousin who works in admissions at Chattahoochee Technical College (CTC) and recommended that she apply.

According to CTC Special Populations Coordinator Brannon Jones, women make up only 1.4 percent of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning workforce. Shay is planning to take advantage of that fact.

“Not only is an increased salary an incentive for individuals considering nontraditional careers,” Jones told the Cartersville Patch, “but the opportunities for professional growth are endless.”

Shay’s opportunity is founded thanks to state financial aid programs like the Zell Miller Grant and the HOPE Career Grant, formerly known as the Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grant.

“I never thought that I would be able to go back to school because of the costs. Receiving financial aid has meant everything for my career and my future,” Shay said. “In today’s industry, no one wants to hire without some kind of extra schooling. My parents are getting older and I needed a way to support myself. And knowing that I can start in an industry where you can only move up makes this a great choice for me.”

Shay anticipates her movement within a traditionally male-dominated field will be assisted thanks to a “high demand for females, because, for the most part, we are more detail-orientated.”

She advises all students, regardless of gender, to take advantage of the many opportunities available.

“Don’t put your education off because of the costs,” Shay said. “There is so much assistance available to help you pay for school. Find something you love and go for it.”

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Name: Paola Berrios


Paola BerriosHigh School: Georgia Cyber Academy

College (Current or Future): Georgia Institute of Technology / Georgia State

Major/Intended Major: Neuroscience

Financial Aid Program: Move On When Ready


Paola Berrios has her sights on a medical career and has used the Move On When Ready (MOWR) program to further that passion.

“I intend to attend medical school following my undergraduate graduation. By the time I'm thirty, I hope to be a neuro-oncologist,” said Berrios. “My own personal experiences in the field, as well as my MOWR classes, have fostered a love of neuro-oncology for me, and I hope to use both these factors to reach my utmost potential.”

Berrios’ personal experiences led to her being honored at the 2017 Georgia Student Government Association and Georgia National Technical Honor Society (NTHS) State Conference. She received the Georgia NTHS Outstanding Citizenship Award for starting a website, The Shoulder to Lean On Project. The site provides information for teenagers dealing with loved ones starting their fight against cancer. Berrios’ mother, Maria Maldonado, was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2015.

“By doing this project, I hope to keep others from having to go through this journey alone,” Berrios says on the web site. “No one’s alone in this world and it’s important that we remember that in our times of need.”

Berrios describes MOWR as “nothing short of a blessing.” She initially heard about the program from her guidance counselor during ninth grade at Georgia Cyber Academy. She attended a MOWR informational event at Chattahoochee Technical College as a sophomore and began her first semester of dual enrollment as a junior.

“First and foremost, it has provided me with the opportunity to adjust to college life while getting ahead of the curve,” Berrios said. “I will be graduating high school with 35 college credits: a feat that I hope many other high schoolers will pursue in the near future. This has set me up to come into school this fall with plenty of college credits—something which will certainly benefit me in the future.”

The benefit of starting college with completed class credits isn’t the only reason Berrios advises others to enroll in MOWR.

“My dual enrollment experience has allowed me to get a first-hand college experience before many of my peers. The MOWR program is a fun and exciting way to prepare yourself for the world of professors, stricter deadlines, and college life.

“I wouldn't change my experience for the world and I hope you follow in my footsteps!”

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Name: Alexys Bolden


Alexys BoldenHigh School: Heritage High School (Catoosa)

College (Current or Future): West Virginia University

Major/Intended Major: Forensic and Investigative Science

Financial Aid Program: Move On When Ready


Finding the financing for a college education can be a mystery for even the smartest students, but Alexys Bolden linked her passion with her future to solve the problem.

“I want to be a forensic pathologist,” said Bolden, “because I want to help solve puzzles.”

She fell in love with the idea of being a forensic pathologist while attending a National Youth Leadership Foundation in Washington D.C. This organization has a summer camp designed to put high school students on the path towards a career in forensic science.

Bolden “loves figuring things out,” and with the advice of her high school counselors, she figured out a major benefit of the Move On When Ready (MOWR) program.

“(MOWR) helped me and my family save so much money towards my college education,” said Bolden, who received her diploma from Heritage High School and an associate of science degree from Dalton State in May. “My family and I have been able to plan on paying less for college.”

“Everyone should pursue dual enrollment. It will be the best decision you can ever make in high school.”

Her associate of science degree provides college credits that will transfer to the college of her choice – West Virginia University.

“I chose WVU because they have the number one forensics program in the nation,” said Bolden. “They're very prestigious in this field.”

When it comes to college, Bolden advises other students not to wait to start solving their own puzzle.

“Make sure to submit your college applications as early as possible,” Bolden said. “Explore different colleges and find the one that you love best.”

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Name: Madison Higbee


Madison HigbeeHigh School: Home Schooled

College (Current or Future): Georgia State University Honors College

Major/Intended Major: Psychology or Sociology

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Scholarship

Thanks to Move On When Ready, Madison Higbee attended Kennesaw State during her senior year of high school and experienced a ‘wonderful transition’ between home-schooling and college courses.

“I felt like it was a bit different from being home-schooled, because it was a traditional classroom setting,” Higbee said in a Georgia State student spotlight. “I took a German course fall semester, and in that course I kind of felt like I was just sitting around because I knew a lot of German already.

“But that same semester, I took an honors statistics course, and I was working my butt off the whole time to keep up in that class. I ended up making an A, but it was a very challenging course.”

Higbee went on to earn the Zell Miller Scholarship, which provides full-tuition towards her education at Georgia State University (GSU) Honors College where she is finishing her freshman year.

“The award helps me to see that I, as an individual, can accomplish my goals through hard work,” Higbee said. “It’s also provided me and my family with financial freedom from college debt.”

That freedom allows the Ball Ground native to try “things out and (see) what I enjoy the most.”

Last summer, Higbee attended the Summer Teach-In at the Center for Civil and Human Rights and was chosen for the prestigious GSU Presidential Scholarship. This scholarship is presented to students accepted to the Honors College with a commitment to service.

“My biggest passions are social justice and human rights,” said Higbee. “I am looking for a career that will enable me to better understand human nature and to find ways to equalize society and help people get along.”

The advice she wants to share with fellow students is to work hard and challenge yourself daily.

“As you prepare for college, try to envision yourself as a character in a story, evaluate how your character has evolved, but also what core values have stayed the same. Then, as you apply to college, you will have a better idea of how to convey who you are.”

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Name: Malcolm Lamont Cooley II


Malcolm Lamont Cooley IIHigh School: Cartersville High School

College (Current or Future): Georgia Southern University, Georgia State University or Georgia Institute of Technology

Major/Intended Major: Engineering

Financial Aid Program: REACH Georgia

When Malcolm Cooley graduates from Cartersville High School in May, he will be part of the first graduating class of REACH Georgia Scholars. Launched in 2012, REACH is part of the Complete College Georgia Initiative and “rewards students for self-accountability, promotes parent involvement and provides motivation and support,” said Governor Nathan Deal.

When REACH launched, Cooley was part of Cartersville Schools Foundation’s GateKey Scholarship program. Dr. J. Howard Hinesley is credited with starting the program designed to serve at-risk students and provide them with two-year scholarships to Georgia Highlands College or Chattahoochee Technical College. It also served as one of the models for REACH Georgia.

“I was given a ‘bump up’ to the REACH Georgia Scholarship by our GateKey/REACH committee,” said Cooley, who was one of nine Cartersville City School System students that joined in 2014.

Each REACH Scholar receives $2,500 per year for up to four years at a HOPE-eligible college or university. Cooley is currently undecided between Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Georgia Tech. All three schools are double-matching REACH partners, meaning he could potentially receive $30,000 towards his postsecondary education.

“Receiving the REACH Scholarship has provided me with more options on which college I may attend because it has eliminated the need for student loans for a 4-year college,” said Cooley, who is considering pursuing an engineering degree. “It has relieved my family of the financial burden student loans would have placed on them.”

While there are many types of scholarships and grants available, Cooley advises younger students not to take anything for granted.

“Don’t slack when it comes to grades. Every grade in high school counts. Every bad grade narrows your choices for college,” said Cooley. “Don’t procrastinate! You will have so much to do your senior year without putting things off to the last minute. There are not enough last minutes to get everything done.”

Malcolm Cooley won the REACH Scholar essay contest and spoke at REACH Day at the Capital.

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Name: Hannah Seawell


Hannah SeawellHigh School: South Paulding High School

College (Current or Future): University of West Georgia

Major/Intended Major: Chemistry (Pre-Med)

Financial Aid Program: Move On When Ready

Hiram resident Hannah Seawell was recognized as an honor student during her three semesters as a Move On When Ready (MOWR) student at the University of West Georgia, gaining credits towards a career in medicine while still in high school.

“MOWR has not only saved me and my family time and money,” Seawell said, “but it has also opened my mind to burgeoning ideas and given me confidence to pursue more challenging things.”

The South Paulding High School junior is now in Washington D.C. after being appointed by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., to participate in the U.S. Senate Page Program.

“I am proud to welcome Hannah to our nation’s capital and into the highly competitive United States Senate Page Program,” said Isakson to the Marietta Daily Journal. “I expect great things from her and know she will represent the state of Georgia and our office well.”

Seawell previously served in the Georgia State House of Representatives and Georgia State Senate Page programs. She is still taking academic classes each morning before reporting to the Senate floor to distribute amendments and statutes inside the Congressional compound.

Seawell has advice for her fellow students across the state.

“I believe preparing for college is like many things in life,” Seawell said. “We should set goals, work hard and not be afraid to ask others for help.”

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Name: Kyle Runner


Kyle RunnerHigh School: Highland High School, Blackwood, NJ

College (Current or Future): North Georgia Technical College

Major/Intended Major: Automotive Technology

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Grant

Mr. Runner relocated to Georgia after graduating from high school in New Jersey in 2003. He returned to school in 2016 believing it’s never too late to finish your education and keep learning because knowledge is power.

That mindset helped Runner finish the summer 2016 semester at North Georgia Technical College with a 4.0 GPA. He was informed about qualifying for the Zell Miller Grant and admits, “I was unaware that there were any other financial assistance opportunities beyond the HOPE and Pell programs…and I was equally shocked and proud upon receiving this award.”

A single father of a child with autism, Runner says the Zell Miller Grant, “not only gives me the peace of mind that my tuition and related fees will not be a concern, but also provides even more motivation to continue to perform well academically.”

He is currently pursuing an Associate of Applied Science degree in the Automotive Technology program and plans to earn an AAS in Applied Technical Management. His goal is to own an automobile service center and he’s highly optimistic about the future.

Runner’s advice to others: “Utilize every opportunity and resource available to you in your quest for success. How far you go and the greatness you can potentially achieve is all up to you.”

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Name: Haley Jill Crumpler


Haley Jill CrumplerHigh School: Vidalia Comprehensive High School

College (Current or Future): Southeastern Technical College (STC)

Major/Intended Major: Dental Hygiene

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Scholarship

While attending Vidalia Comprehensive High School, Haley Jill Crumpler decided to become a Dental Hygienist and didn’t wait for graduation to make steps in that direction.

“You can never do enough research on your chosen field of study. When I decided that I was serious, I contacted a local office and asked if I could shadow for a couple of hours,” Crumpler said. “This gave me a practical insight as to what I would be getting myself into.”

She followed that by contacting STC Dental Hygiene program advisor Jennifer Gramiak and shadowing at the STC Dental Hygiene Clinic. Crumpler enrolled in the ACCEL program (now Move On When Ready) in her senior year of high school, taking STC courses for free.

“It was during this time that I was informed that if I maintained a good GPA, the HOPE program would help pay my tuition,” Crumpler said. “That has been a driving force to keep me motivated to do my very best.”

She graduated from Vidalia High School with a 3.3 GPA, earning the Zell Miller Grant for her first two semesters at STC. Crumpler is now receiving the HOPE Scholarship while working towards her Dental Hygiene Associate of Applied Science degree.

“Being an award recipient has helped my family and ensures that once I graduate, I will not have to repay any outstanding student loans,” Crumpler said. “The HOPE program, as well as scholarships awarded by the STC Foundation, have given my family a sense of financial security.”

Once she finishes the program, Crumpler hopes to secure a position locally while, “sparking an interest in my community and imparting knowledge about the importance of oral health.”

“Knowing that I will not owe anything once I graduate takes the burden off of having to set aside money to repay my education,” Crumpler said. “I am very grateful for that financial assistance.”

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Name: Joshua Cherian


Joshua CherianHigh School: Home Schooled

College (Current or Future): Georgia Southwestern State University

Major/Intended Major: Pre-Engineering - Regents’ Engineering Pathway

Financial Aid Program: Move On When Ready

Whether you are creating something to fly the friendly skies or soar into outer space, a fast takeoff is required. Joshua Cherian, an aspiring aerospace engineer, used the ACCEL program, now Move On When Ready (MOWR), to get a head start on his postsecondary education.

“My parents heard about the dual enrollment program through my home school group and we thought, ‘Why not?’” said Cherian, who took dual enrollment courses at Toccoa Fall College and Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW) before enrolling full time at GSW where he is currently completing his junior year.

With the additional classes taken via dual enrollment and earning the Zell Miller Scholarship, Cherian has not had to take out any student loans and remains free from educational debt. He is currently undecided about his career goals, but is considering corporations like SpaceX, where engineers are developing technology to explore the stars by designing, manufacturing and launching advanced rockets and spacecraft.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Brazil. They have a great space program,” Cherian said, “but I would have to learn Portuguese first.”

His advice for all Georgia high school students is to take advantage of MOWR.

“It gives you a great head start financially and academically,” Cherian said, “prepping you for college before you even go while making you a stronger student once you’re fully enrolled.”

Once enrolled, students can indulge in their hobbies. Cherian, a Rubik’s Cube enthusiast, recently organized a regional competition on the GSW campus. Participants from surrounding states competed for prizes provided by the gaming website,

“Georgia has a pretty strong speed cubing contingent compared to a lot of other nearby states,” Cherian said. “There are competitors who average under 10 seconds, easily.”


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Name: Brian Minter


Brian MinterHigh School: Hillgrove High School

College (Current or Future): Georgia College and State University

Major/Intended Major: Computer Science / Mathematics with a Teaching Concentration

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Scholarship

The Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference took place this summer in San Francisco. Only 350 students were invited to attend, a list that included Georgia College senior Brian Minter thanks in part to the app he created.

CourseKeeper keeps track of your grades, produces a semester GPA and includes a Final Exam Calculator. Becoming a software developer in the greater Atlanta area is something Minter hopes to do after he graduates in December, something made easier by the HOPE Scholarship.

“The scholarship has eased the financial burden on my family which allowed me to stay focused on my studies,” said Minter, who learned about HOPE while at Hillgrove High School. “I've been able to avoid student loans and I'm in a good place financially as I enter the workforce.”

Entering the workforce is easier when you can show expertise within your field of choice and Minter offers an interesting way to do just that.

“After a couple years in school, try to get a job as a tutor or a supplemental instructor,” Minter said. “This helps you learn your subject matter even more and gives you more time to interact with your professors.”

Professors like Dr. Gita Phelps, who recognized Minter was interested in more than just getting a good grade, “but finding ways to use what he learns in real world applications.”

“(Minter) is such an inspiration to other computer science students,” Dr. Phelps said to Connection Magazine. “He has a thirst for knowledge and constantly challenges himself to do new things.”

Doing something new is another piece of advice Minter offers for students preparing to go to college and possibly use his CourseKeeper app.

“When you get to college, get as involved as you can. Join clubs you're interested in and talk to professors you'd like to work with,” Minter said. “This makes it easier to acclimate yourself to college and will open doors for you in the future.”

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Name: Jamisha Dove

Jamisha DoveHigh School:
GED at Athens Technical College

College (Current or Future): Athens Technical College

Major/Intended Major: Cosmetology/Applied Technical Management

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Grant

Ms. Dove learned about the Zell Miller Grant from Marchelle Sandoval, the Transition Specialist at Athens Technical College.

With the financial assistance, she was able to qualify for and pass the State Board Cosmetology Licensing exam.

“I hope one day to own my own business,” said Dove, who also took advantage of the HOPE Grant in the spring of 2014 and the summer of 2015. “I want to give back to my community by offering self-made wigs for cancer patients.”

Dove plans to work in a hair salon and, “sharpen her skills” after graduation. She advises others to craft a solid plan for their future. Quoting Carl Rogers, Dove says, “The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.”


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Name: Vincent 'Cole' Blasczyk

Vincent 'Cole' BlasczykHigh School:
Robert S. Alexander High School

College (Current or Future): Undecided

Major/Intended Major: Nursing

Financial Aid Program: REACH Georgia Scholarship Program

Douglas County was one of the five pilot school systems when REACH Georgia, the state’s first public-private, needs-based scholarship program, was established in 2012.

Vincent “Cole” Blasczyk was an original recipient and when he graduates from Alexander High School in the spring, he will be part of REACH’s initial graduating class.

“Being a REACH Scholar gives my family security knowing that I will have some money towards my college education,” Blasczyk said. “It also provides me assurance that I will reach my college goals.”

Thanks to public and private donations, there is a $10,000 scholarship he can use up to $2,500 per year towards the cost of attendance at a HOPE-eligible institution. Blasczyk signed a contract to maintain a 2.5 GPA and has met with a volunteer mentor and academic coach since 8th grade.

“I have met and worked with some great mentors over the past five years,” Blasczyk said. “They have all motivated me to want to do better and keep my grades up.”

Blasczyk plans to keep his grades up as he pursues a career in nursing. While he is currently undecided, there are many public and private postsecondary institutions that will match the REACH scholarship and some that will double-match the total award amount.

Wherever Blasczyk ends up, he is thankful the REACH Georgia program has taught him to, “be passionate about what you want to do, then work hard towards that goal.”

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Name: Roberto Carillo


Roberto CarilloHigh School: Wilcox County High School

College (Current or Future): Valdosta State University

Major/Intended Major: Spanish (FLED Tract) & Pre-Med Tract

Financial Aid Program: HOPE Scholarship

Mr. Carrillo’s family emigrated from Mexico to the United States when he was two.

“Neither one of my parents had the opportunity to attend college, so they pushed me to excel in school,” Carrillo said. “With us being a single-income family, every scholarship I could get was vital for me to further my education and attend college.”

Carrillo’s teachers at Wilcox County High School educated him about the HOPE Scholarship and the importance of keeping track of his GPA. Their lessons were taken to heart as he graduated with a 3.9 GPA and 18 college credits from Wiregrass Technical College by participating in the ACCEL dual enrollment program - now Move On When Ready.

“HOPE has played a vital role in paying for my tuition,” said Carrillo, who plans to attend medical school and become a bilingual radiologist. “It’s helping me become the first person in my family to graduate from a 4-year institution.”

For others hoping to follow in his footsteps, Carrillo advises students to take their grades seriously, something he believes high school freshman and sophomores don’t think about.

“I understand the thinking that your (high school) grades won’t matter once you get into college, but they’re important,” Carrillo said. “A high GPA is one of the keys to make affording college easier.”

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Name: Ashley Rodgers


Ashley RodgersHigh School: Macon County High School

College (Current or Future): South Georgia Technical College (Graduate Spring 2016); Middle Georgia State University

Major/Intended Major: Business - Marketing Management

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Grant

Knowing she had to pay her own way through college, Ms. Rodgers researched scholarships before the financial aid office at South Georgia Technical College (SGTC) informed her of the Zell Miller Grant.

"It really helped relieve a huge burden for both me and my family," Rodgers said. "I was able to graduate debt-free (and) focus more on my education."

That focus was acknowledged by her SGTC professors and rewarded with Ashley's nomination for the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership (GOAL) program.

GOAL focuses on excellence in technical education at Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) institutions. After a lengthy process involving multiple interviews and selection committee reviews, Rodgers was named the state GOAL winner.

"I want to inspire others to continue to work hard and never stop reaching for their dreams," said Rodgers, who was awarded a new automobile and will serve as an ambassador for technical education in Georgia.

Her goal is to obtain a job with the TCSG Marketing Department and advise current and future students on how to stay focused. "It is so easy to lose sight of your goals when you step out into the world," Rodgers said, "but your degree is what paves the way to success."

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Name: Elizabeth Sprinkle


Elizabeth SprinkleHigh School: Rabun County High School

College (Current or Future): University of Georgia

Major/Intended Major: Accounting

Financial Aid Program: Zell Miller Scholarship

In 2015, Ms. Sprinkle graduated with a 3.96 GPA and was informed by the guidance office at Rabun County High School of her eligibility for the Zell Miller Scholarship.

The award "has helped me and my family tremendously," said Sprinkle, who plans on obtaining a CPA license and using her accounting degree to do social work. "Without this scholarship, it would be very difficult for me to attend UGA."

Sprinkle spent her freshman year at the University of Georgia learning how to study because it was a skill she never picked up in high school. "Time management is also very important in college," she said.

Her advice is to, "make time for academics, but also allow time for a social life," Sprinkle said, "otherwise, you'll go crazy."

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