Claudia Rice, an art history major at Columbia's School of General Studies, is among the first class of Gates Millennium Scholars.
The largest scholarship fund in the history of education and financed by Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft Corporation, the program is aimed at helping low-income, minority students attend college. It will deliver grants to 20,000 students over the next 20 years. The scholarships cover tuition, fees, books and living expenses, and allow recipients to major in the subject area of their choice.
"The level of support that the Gates Foundation is providing to disadvantaged minority students with the Gates Millennium Scholars Program is impressive," said William "Skip" Bailey, director of educational financing for the School of General Studies. "The support makes a significant difference in the lives of students like Claudia. The impact this program can have, not only on the lives of the students who receive the scholarship, but also on the lives of those who live in the communities that these students graduate into, is immeasurable."
The program is a philanthropic experiment for the theory that "the best way to identify successful, college-bound minority students is to diminish the importance of admissions officers' holy trinity—standardized tests, grade-point averages and class rank—in favor of non-traditional criteria."
Many in the academic, political and civil-rights communities have applauded the Gates program as helping to "bridge the achievement gap between white and non-white students."
Claudia is one of 4,050 recipients to complete their first year in the program in 2000-1. The daughter of Chilean immigrants who settled in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, Rice dreamed of becoming an archaeologist at the age of 7, but lacked the money to attend the colleges to fulfill her dream.
While working and studying on and off at Montgomery College, a two-year institution in Maryland, Rice became enthralled with art history. "It was as exciting as archeology, only there was no dirt," she says.
Last year, Rice was accepted into the General Studies' art history program, but was unable to consider the offer at first because the tuition was considerably higher than her tuition at Montgomery College. However, soon after her acceptance, Rice received the Gates scholarship, which provided her with enough to cover tuition and most expenses.
"When I read Claudia's application, I felt that I was learning about someone special. I called her the very same day," said Carlos Porro, director of admissions for the School of General Studies, "I am very pleased that Claudia and General Studies have proven to be such an excellent match. Here we seek non-traditional students who have the potential to succeed…Claudia is the epitome of this."
Next spring Rice will begin an elective course that will fulfill her longtime dream. She will be off to the deserts of Egypt on a 10-week program in archeology.