Accepting the invitation: the start of two Gates Millennium Scholars

Nydia Sánchez, Flor De La Garza, Amira SpikesFrom Left: Nydia Sánchez, Flor De La Garza, Amira Spikes

Accepting assistance for applications can uncover unexpected avenues; such is the case for Amira Spikes and Flor De La Garza, who will be beginning their college careers as Gates Millennium Scholars.

Nydia Sánchez first met the two in January 2014 while taking a course in the anthropology department. As part of the course, she would visit the Peer Assistance, Leadership & Service class at Denton High School to document participant observation hours and get to know the students.

"Flor and Amira immediately introduced themselves to me on the first day and asked me questions about college. They stood out from other students in that sense," said Sánchez. "At the end of the semester, I invited all the juniors in the class to contact me if they wanted an extra pair of eyes to review their college essays or if they were interested in working with me through scholarship applications. Of the entire twenty-plus class, only two students followed up with me that summer - Flor and Amira."

Their first meeting took place at a bubble tea shop and was centered on the Gates Millennium Scholarship. After learning the details about the scholarship and the funding they could receive, both Spikes and De La Garza became committed in pursuing it. Before long, a tradition of weekly sessions at Willis Library was born.

A few hours each week, the two would meet with Sánchez to work on the scholarship application and eight short essays that would highlight areas such as their leadership skills and community experience.

"I think the hardest part for all students is figuring out just what to write about. I was able to mentor them through that process," said Sánchez.

Each year, the Gates Millennium Scholars Program selects 1,000 graduating high school students across the United States to be awarded up to 10 years of funding for a bachelor's, master's and PhD. The Gates Millennium Scholars Program was initially funded in 1999 by a $1 billion grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"Receiving the scholarship means the world to me. It has been a true blessing and Nydia was a gift from God throughout the process of applying to the Gates Scholarship. I am thrilled about my upcoming future," said De La Garza, who stated that she will major in health promotion.

"I am so thankful for the love and support that was shown to me from not only my teachers and principal, but also from the one person that always pushed us to be our very best, my mentor, Nydia! This scholarship is truly an honor and a blessing that will positively change my life! That makes me extremely grateful for everything!" said Spikes, who indicated that she will major in engineering.

Sánchez, who is also a Gates Millennium Scholar, is a PhD candidate who is currently researching how border-town Latina/o college students who serve as scholarship ambassadors for the Gates Millennium Scholars Program help others learn about college and foster educational uplift within their communities.

You can learn more about the Gates Millennium Scholars Program at their website.

Information about scholarships available at the UNT College of Education can be found at https://www.coe.unt.edu/scholarships

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By Jessie Laljer, UNT's College of Education Development and External Relations Office
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