Lakeland grad is Gates scholarship winner

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A local high school senior has earned enough money in scholarships to put himself throuh undergraduate school twice, as well as earn master’s and doctorate degrees.

James Watson, a senior at Lakeland High School, was one of six students in Hampton Roads to receive the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholars scholarship.

“I’m just happy that my hard work paid off, and I encourage others to do the same,” he said.

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He is the first and only student in Suffolk to receive the award, which will pay for his tuition at Norfolk State University until he earns a doctorate degree or for 10 years, whichever comes first, he said.

Watson said he plans to major in computer or optical engineering. His goal is to discover ways to make life easier and more accessible for people with disabilities n to “better their lives through whatever I can do.”

The GMS, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was established in 1999 to provide minority students the opportunity to complete undergraduate and graduate degrees, particularly majors in math, science, engineering, education, or library science, according to the Web site

The scholarship is awarded to students based on their academic achievement, leadership ability, community service and financial need.

Watson admits that even though he applied for 42 different scholarships, he had never heard of the GMS. Suffolk City School Superintendent Milton Liverman, who knew Watson through church and was aware of his financial need, recommended him for the award.

Watson said the scholarship is not often applied for because it is a strenuous process. It took him two-and-a-half months to fill out all the necessary paperwork, he said. The student must have someone nominate them as well as recommend them. Watson’s principal, Thomas Whitley, nominated him.

“James is a humble young man,” Whitley said. “The Lakeland High School family is very proud of all he has accomplished.”

Watson said he considers himself the type who tries to be better every day, and he encourages others to do the same. He attends East End Baptist Church where he participates in a number of activities, especially those geared toward youth. This summer he plans to attend a mission trip to Trinidad.

The GMS was not the first of Watson’s success. He was selected for the

Dozoretz National Institute for Mathematics and Applied Sciences at NSU, as well.

The DNIMAS program is for students studying basic and applied sciences. All students are supported by full, four-year scholarship/grant aid that is renewed on an annual basis. The program features a four week pre-matriculation summer session, intensive science curricula, research internships, field trips, projects, career counseling, seminars, and a peer mentor-tutoring program.

He has received three other smaller scholarships, including one from the Ronald McDonald House Charities, which he turned down because he already had more than enough money for school.

Watson was, understandably, excited about his success. He knew he wanted to go to college and that it would be up to him to earn the scholarships needed to make it happen. His parents, James Sr. and Felicia, have supported and guided him, he said.

“They gave me the foundation and it was up to me to continue building.”

Watson also thanked his sisters, Kimberly and Jaleesa, his nephew Dylan, friend and fellow church member C.J. White, and LaShawndra Walker and her family for all their support.