CUA Junior Awarded Gates Millennium Scholarship

Hoai An Truong, a junior studying biochemistry at CUA, has been selected as one of the first recipients of the Gates Millennium Scholarship.

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates earlier this month announced the first wave of scholarship candidates, chosen from more than 62,000 applicants from around the country. The award for minority college students concentrating on math, science and education was created from a $1 billion pledge over 20 years from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Approximately 4,100 scholarships will be awarded for the 2000-2001 academic year. The award will pay for what remains of Mr. Truong’s costs for tuition, books, room and board after his other scholarship offers have been taken into account, he said.

"I was very excited. It’s going to be a big help for reducing the loans I've had to take out," said Mr. Truong, 21, a native of Vietnam who immigrated to the United States at the age of 10. "My parents are very happy for me."

Catholic University nominated 10 students for the award. To be eligible, applicants needed to have at least a 3.3 GPA; be accepted into or enrolled in an accredited four-year undergraduate degree program or graduate degree program in mathematics, science, engineering, education or library science for the academic year 2000-2001; demonstrate leadership skills and community involvement, and demonstrate financial need. The United Negro College Fund is administering the scholarship program and overseeing the selection process, in partnership with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the American Indian College Fund.

Mr. Truong, who has been studying biology, chemistry, physics and calculus in addition to general liberal arts requirements for his degree, currently has a 3.8 GPA.

"They wanted you to write in general about your family background, career aspirations, and a personal statement, and other things that you would want them to know," said Mr. Truong, who is considering a career as a doctor or pharmacist.

Applicants also needed a letter of recommendation, and a nominating letter from one of their professors. Mr. Truong sent his application package off in mid-March and in early June received a letter from the Gates Millennium Scholarship program notifying him that he would receive the award pending confirmation that he was enrolled for next semester.

In his essay, Mr. Truong wrote of immigrating to the United States with his mother and younger brother in 1990. Mr. Truong’s father, who had gone to Australia in 1983 to make a better life for the family, joined them in the U.S. upon their arrival. Once here, Mr. Truong started elementary school and began studying English. In seventh grade, he started volunteering at a child care center for children with disabilities, the first of many service projects he would undertake. Mr. Truong credits his grandfather in Vietnam – who worked with an American Red Cross medical team to distribute medicine to the needy – with passing on the philanthropic urge.

Those who wrote letters of reference for Mr. Truong said his volunteerism and scholarship were an easy combination to recommend to the Gates scholarship selection committee.

Mr. Truong has been instilled with a strong commitment to help those less fortunate than he, said Cynthia Brewer, an adjunct professor of chemistry at CUA who recommended her former student for the award.

"He’s done nothing but excellent work academically," Professor Brewer said. "But what makes him stand out from other students is he’s sincerely idealistic. He’s always been taught not to look at what you don’t have, but to see what others don’t have and think of a way to help them. I think he’s destined to be a leader and a champion and an advocate for people who are less fortunate."

When the Gaithersburg, Md., resident isn’t working as a pharmacy clerk at a Giant Food store in his hometown, he’s volunteering for the emergency department, orthopedic unit and information desk at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, where he’s logged more than 130 volunteer hours since 1997. He serves as president of the CUA Vietnamese Student Association and is an officer of the CUA biology club; he's also an avid ballroom dancer.

Despite his busy schedule, he’s always ready to lend a hand, Professor Brewer said. "I mentioned to the class that I was going to be a science fair judge at my child’s school. He and two other students volunteered very quickly. As busy as their schedules are, they wanted to come do some of the judging and talk to the children," she said. "I got the idea that he really enjoys participating and helping out."