09:28 AM

Gates Millennium Scholars Program providing opportunity at Ohio State

Over the past 20 years, Bill and Melinda Gates have invested more than $1.6 billion to provide access and affordability in higher education through the Gates Millennium Scholars Program.

The program, and the benefactors behind it, were featured this week on “60 Minutes.” The newsmagazine profiled the namesake leaders of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation about the program’s success in providing educational opportunity for underserved communities.

“What’s proven itself out now with the scholarship program, is you remove that [financial] barrier, they not only do as well as their white peers, no matter what ZIP code they’re from. They often actually do better,” Melinda Gates said on “60 Minutes.”

That success is on view at The Ohio State University. Travon Terrell, a fourth-year double major in biology and psychology, is one of more than 20,000 Gates scholars across the country funded by the program since 2000.

Terrell, an Akron native, applied for the Gates Millennium scholarship after a high school friend sent him a link. He remembers writing a series of essays on his personal life experiences and his future goals before he was selected into the program.

The scholarship funds the full cost of his education at Ohio State, something he said has alleviated a lot of stress. But it also opens doors to the larger world.

“In 2017, I went to Texas for the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity. I went with fellow Gates scholars and it was paid for through the Gates program,” he said. “I don’t know if I would have had that opportunity without Gates. I was able to network and meet people from all over the world.”

His father was an Ohio State graduate, so the decision to come to Columbus was an easy one. But Terrell also liked all the opportunities the university offered.

“The thing I really like about Ohio State is that you can find your passion here, but also find people who share it and be able to collectively grow together in whatever field that may be,” he said.

As a Gates scholar, Terrell has used the opportunity to expand his knowledge of the world. He did a study-abroad program in England as well as the floating classroom Semester at Sea.

These opportunities have helped shape his outlook on life.

“There’s really no guidelines to how to navigate life. That’s what Gates has shown me,” he said. “Don’t get discouraged. You can always continue to keep thinking and working and networking with other people to build those pathways to your goals.”

“He looks at everything and he’s like, ‘How can I make the most of this?’” Krystal Geyer, former senior manager for student programs at Ohio State, said about Terrell.

Terrell was in the first cohort of the Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship Scholars program Geyer ran. She said Terrell stood out as a leader in the program.

“He is engaging, funny and kind. Travon is the kind of person people want to be friends with,” Geyer said.

More than 37 percent of Gates Millennium Scholars transition into graduate school after earning a bachelor’s degree. Terrell wants to be among those who do. He said he intends to complete another study-abroad experience and then apply to dental school.

“I want to be an orthodontist,” he said.

The Gates Millennium Scholars Program is providing opportunities for students who might never attend college. But Geyer said it’s the school that benefits from students like Terrell.

“I could not imagine Ohio State if he had not happened to it,” she said.