UMSL Suggs Scholars honored at St. Louis American Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education
A sold-out crowd gathered Nov. 4 at the America’s Center in downtown St. Louis for the St. Louis American Foundation’s 36th Annual Salute to Excellence in Education Scholarship and Awards Gala to celebrate the region’s outstanding educators and students.
Since 1988, the foundation has awarded millions of dollars in grants and scholarships to Black students and brought together the region’s most esteemed citizens and civic leaders at the gala. This year, nearly $2.8 million in scholarships were awarded, and three University of Missouri–St. Louis students were beneficiaries of that generous financial support.
First-year students Trinity Atkins, Chanel Harris and Shantavia Fuller are recipients of the Dr. Donald Suggs Scholarship and were honored at the event.
Suggs – the namesake of the scholarship – is a philanthropist, dental surgeon and executive editor of The St. Louis American. He was a founding member of UMSL’s Chancellor’s Council in 1979, was awarded an honorary degree in humane letters in 1993 and helped raise funds for the Barnett Memorial Plaza, established in 2012.
The scholarship was created to attract talented St. Louis students who hail from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds. It provides $12,000 towards tuition and fees for 30 credit hours per academic year with additional funding of $1,000 each semester for books and supplies.
That funding is aiding Atkins in her ambition to become a mental health professional.
As a student at McCluer North High School, Atkins participated in the UMSL Bridge Program Cigna Saturday Academy and Advanced Credit Program. When she began looking at colleges, she gravitated toward schools with smaller classes sizes, and UMSL offered exactly what she was looking for.
Now, she’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology – an interest she developed as an avid fan of thriller films – and also studying in the Pierre Laclede Honors College. She had already started classes at UMSL when she found out she’d received the scholarship.
“I started shouting,” Atkins said with a laugh. “Then I called up my loved ones, and I told them about it. I actually had a testimony about it at church.”
The financial support has been a relief and has made it possible for Atkins to focus fully on her studies.
“Now it’s just something I don’t have to worry about,” she said. “I really just have to worry about my education. So, it was just like a rock lifted off my back.”
Ultimately, Atkins intends to become a psychiatrist and hopes to encourage greater awareness of mental health care in her community.
“Not a lot of Black people go to a therapist or go seek mental health,” she said. “As a Black girl, I just feel like more Black people will probably come talk to people that can relate to the Black community.”
“It just really alleviates stress – not having to worry about things financially, like ‘How am I going to make these tuition payments?’ ‘How am I going to pay that?’” she said. “I don’t have to worry about that now. I can just focus on getting my degree.”
Fuller is now working toward a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. In high school, she considered pursing education in college but changed course after taking her first chemistry class. In the future, she wants to combine her passion for chemistry with another skill she’s honed.
“I am a licensed cosmetologist, and when I get my chemistry degree, I want to be a cosmetic chemist,” she said.
“Since the scholarship is here, it’s just me and how I act on it,” Atkins said. “I was given the opportunity; it’s just how I follow through on it.”
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