When high school senior Nia Franklin heads to Stony Brook University in September, an Albert Shanker College Scholarship will help defray the cost. The Manhattan HS for Environmental Studies student will be majoring in marine vertebrate biology and says the $5,000 scholarship will enable her to live on campus in a dorm, “instead of having to commute from New York City.”
Franklin is one of the 134 public high school students and eight graduate students to win Shanker scholarships from the UFT this year. On June 2, the UFT hosted the 52nd annual Albert Shanker Scholarship celebration virtually, and students, their families and educators came together over Zoom to share in the accomplishments of a group of high-achieving students as diverse as the city where they live.
The students’ dedication and hard work were all the more remarkable given the adversity they faced. “Your last two years of high school have really not been fair, but you have a story to tell the rest of the world now, because you figured out how to get to your graduation in the middle of a pandemic,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the audience. “And you get big props for getting that done. We’re so proud of all of you.”
Mulgrew encouraged the students to continue reaching out to their educators and the UFT when they need support, because “we’re there to take care of each other.”
Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter congratulated the students and their families and told them, “Like you, I was a New York City public school graduate and I’ve been in the seat you’re sitting in right now.”
The union-funded awards each year provide almost $1 million to academically excellent and financially eligible public high school seniors and graduate students. Since 1969, the program has awarded more than $50 million in scholarships.
Joe Usatch, the director of the UFT Albert Shanker Scholarship Fund, welcomed the scholarship winners and told them, “This is one step in your personal journey. Dedicate yourself — the sky is the limit. Go change the world!”
Franklin credits her high school AP calculus and AP biology teachers with helping her home in on her major, and she credits her mom with nurturing her love of animals. They enjoyed watching nature shows together from the time she was in day care, she recalled. “I’ve always been fascinated by the ocean, what’s out there,” she said, already anticipating the field research she’ll do in the Semester by the Sea in her junior or senior year at Stony Brook.
Wilhelm Leyson, her AP calculus teacher, said Franklin has “a passion for learning evident in her enthusiasm and performance in class.” In addition, she said Franklin “was always willing to help classmates, and other students turned to her when they had questions.”
Despite the challenges of this pandemic year, Leyson said Franklin showed resilience in overcoming challenges and balancing her academics and extracurricular activities. “There is no doubt that Nia will succeed in whatever path she takes,” said Leyson. “She will stand out as a leader and a phenomenal woman who will use her voice and experience to pursue her passion to serve the community that she’ll be part of.”
Another scholarship winner, Ali Farooq of the Bronx HS for the Visual Arts, will be heading to St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights next year. He plans to major in information technology and hopes to help small businesses with their customer service issues.
Farooq credits his school counselor, Edson Millien, with helping him find his way in the daunting college search. “He was my mentor and also mentored my sister, who graduated from high school last year. He helped us both whenever we needed any advice. It didn’t matter whether it was the weekend or what day of the week it was, he was always there for us and for everyone else as well,” Farooq said.
Farooq said that in addition to helping him with his college search, Millien “opened my mind to various majors I hadn’t heard about and was helpful with college applications, too.” He is also thankful for Millien’s support in applying for the Shanker scholarship.
Millien is pleased that Farooq won the scholarship, the first student in the Bronx HS for the Visual Arts to do so. “I think it’s poetic that Ali, who takes advantage of every opportunity to further his education, who takes initiative to come and ask about college and career, is honored this way.”
Millien said Farooq was a model student. “He represents what we strive for in our students: someone who is engaging, hard-working and self-advocating for their needs,” he said.
Meanwhile, Farooq can hardly wait for September to arrive.
“I’m very excited about college,” Farooq said. “I’m excited about everything about it!”