Khalisah Habeebullah is from Saint Charles and is pursuing a biology major with an emphasis in health sciences.
Saturday, October 17, 2020 concluded the 2nd jubilant night of the 1st Virtual Salute to Excellence in Education and the 33rd annual St. Louis American Foundation awards and scholarship event. The virtual extravaganza on Friday and Saturday, both nights hosted by Carol Daniel of KMOX, included scholarship presentations, a Zoom conversation with scholarship recipients, videos of awardees, and musical performances at the beginning and end of both evenings.
Webster University became the first virtual home of the long-standing Salute to Excellence in Education, usually held at America's Center convention complex in downtown St. Louis. Most of the ceremony was filmed on Webster University's campus. This year's celebration was hightened by Webster University furthering its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Webster University is investing over $1 million to offer 10 students a full-ride Dr. Donald M. Suggs Scholarship annually, even as schools still cope with the COVID-19 economic impact.
The school awards the scholarship to academically talented undergraduate students from ethnic groups that are under-represented in higher education. The scholarship is in the name of Donald M. Suggs, publisher and executive editor of The St. Louis American.
Webster University began awarding two of these scholarships annually in 2013. "We know these students are engaged and talented and will become leaders on campus,” said Chancellor Elizabeth Stroble. “We look forward to their contributions in the classroom and in the community during their time at Webster. We have confidence they will make their mark in their world when they leave us.”
Stroble said she met Suggs in 2009 when he was a member of Webster University’s Board of Trustees.
"I soon learned to tap into his wisdom, expertise and knowledge of the area to help me be a more effective leader,” Stroble said.
While Suggs is no longer a member of the board, Stroble considers him a mentor and advisor — one of the main reasons the scholarship was named after Suggs.
"He helped me to understand that we are living in a community with many challenges and issues, and each of us has to find a way to make it better, to follow his example of how to make it better however you can, and this is our way to make a difference,” she said.
The 10 new Suggs Scholars join a cohort of five who are still on campus and have already met one another in an online meeting. "To have such large number of scholarship students will enable them to build a supportive structure among themselves,” Stroble said. “Now they will be able to create a peer mentor structure.”
The 10 recipients of this year’s Suggs Scholarship are a varied group.
Bolanle Akinyemi is from O’Fallon, Missouri, and is pursuing a biological science major with an emphasis in health & medicine.
Macheala Brock is from O’Fallon, Missouri, and is pursuing an education major with an emphasis in elementary education.
Jessica Echols is from Hazelwood and is pursuing an Instrumental Performance major.
Julliette Ferch is from Arnold and is pursuing a film, television and video major.
Joi Johnson is from Edwardsville, Illinois, and is pursuing an interactive digital design major.
Dashauna Mairidith is from St. Louis and is pursuing a biological science major with an emphasis in health and sciences.
Jalalah Muhammad is from St. Louis and is pursuing a biological science major with an emphasis in health & medicine.
Khyree Plair is from Black Jack and is pursuing a media communications major.
Naba Yasir is from Manchester and is pursuing a graphic design major.
This year’s recipients of the Suggs Scholarship not only represent diverse ethnic backgrounds but also diverse educational interests. Naba Yasir, who is pursuing a graphic design major, was all set to begin a degree in the medical field when she, at the last minute, decided to follow her heart instead.
"The finances of going to college has been a stressor for me throughout high school," Yasir said. "Having a Suggs scholarship eliminated that stress, and I can now focus on my studies and career.”
Khyree Plair expressed similar concerns about paying for her education and was planning to begin her college career at a community college until she was offered the scholarship.
"I was at a loss for words, but extremely overjoyed,” Plair said. “This scholarship will be assisting me in becoming a profound African-American film director."
Two Suggs Scholars – Olivia Perez and Joshua Tyler – have graduated from Webster University.
"The Donald M. Suggs Scholarship meant the world to me because I could pursue a college degree without constantly worrying about an extreme financial burden,” said Tyler. “I feel more confident about my dream to work in the video/film production field.”
Tyler is now attending the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. Perez was the first Suggs scholar in 2013 at Webster University and is now a professional dancer in Los Angeles.
"Had I not received the honor of the Suggs scholarship I probably would not have been able to finish school,” Perez said. “To this day, I look at it as a turning point in my life and a testimony as to how God can open doors for you that you couldn’t imagine.”
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