Abraham Lincoln High School senior Rolando Martinez-Rico has high hopes for the future.
He has been awarded a Gates Scholarship, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The scholarship will cover all costs of college attendance not covered by other financial aid or the expected family contribution as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or the methodology used by a scholar’s college or university, according to the scholarship’s website. It can be applied toward tuition, fees, room, board, books, transportation and some personal costs.
“It’s really an amazing scholarship that I would tell younger students to apply for,” Rolando said. “I’m very thankful, and I’m (glad) to be a Gates Scholar, because (completing his educational goals is) probably an opportunity that I wouldn’t have had without it.”
The scholarship is given each year to 300 outstanding minority students from low-income households to help them realize their maximum potential, according to the website. The student must be eligible for the Pell Grant and must be a U.S. citizen, national or permanent resident. They must be in good academic standing with a minimum cumulative weighted GPA of 3.3 on a 4.0 scale (or equivalent).
That’s no problem for Rolando. He has a weighted GPA of 4.5/4.0, an unweighted GPA of 4.0/4.0 and ranks first in his class. He was recognized as a Governor’s Scholar this spring. He took four college courses — medical imaging, pathology, anatomy and pharmacology — through the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s High School Alliance program and earned A’s in all four.
“Ever since I was young, I’ve always had an interest in science and medicine,” he said.
Rolando got to visit a cadaver lab, where a master’s student in anatomy helped him learn from it.
“Having the chance to learn from the cadaver lab was quite fascinating,” he said.
Rolando also earned A’s in 11 dual-enrollment classes completed through Iowa Western Community College, took six Advanced Placement classes at Abraham Lincoln and was named an AP Scholar with Distinction in 2020.
He served on the student council, was a member of the National Honor Society, led the marching band as drum major, organized events as a member of the Key Club and competed in robotics. He was a member of the Iowa All State Band three years and the Southwest Iowa Honor Band for four years. He also played in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Honor Band in 2019.
Rolando has completed more than 350 hours of volunteer experience. He served as an interpreter for a Latino festival and Christmas festival. He helped with child and teen programs at the Council Bluffs Public Library, helped organize books on library shelves and assisted in the office in the teen center. He completed Youth Leadership Council Bluffs during the 2019-20 school year.
Rolando heard about the Gates Scholarship from his TAG teacher, he said. It took most of the school year to go through the application process.
“The Gates Scholarship is a pretty renowned scholarship, and it’s a pretty long process,” he said.
The first phase is providing your school information, and the second is a more detailed look at your academic record. As a semifinalist, Rolando had to write four essays in response to different questions, he said. As a finalist, he had an interview via videoconference that included more personal questions about his activities, values, skills and goals for the future. Part of it was choosing an institution to attend. The student must plan to enroll full-time in a four-year degree program at a U.S.-accredited, not-for-profit private or public college or university.
“It came down to three state universities: University of Iowa, University of California-Berkeley and University of Nebraska at Omaha,” he said. “I had to do some internal reflection about what my intent was …”
UNO has an Urban Health Opportunities Program for students interested in going into medical school or a health field, Rolando said.
“I found that was an amazing opportunity to already go to UNMC as a freshman in college,” he said.
It was also an opportunity to stay in the community and help the minority community, Rolando said.
He will first pursue a degree in molecular and biomedical biology, he said. That will hopefully position him to enter medical school at UNMC.