LYNN — With a full ride to New York’s Vassar College, at more than $75,000 a year, the future for St. Mary’s senior Michaela Olabisi is already looking bright.
Thanks to the Questbridge National College Match Scholarship, Olabisi gets to finish her senior year of high school with ease. She found out on Dec. 3 she was one of 1,044 finalists, of the initial 16,000, selected as recipients of the nationwide competitive scholarship which helps low-income, first-generation students get into prestigious schools.
“It helps a lot because now I can just focus on my schoolwork and I don’t have to overstress myself to finish all those college applications,” she said. “If I didn’t get matched, I would have applied to more than 20 schools. I really needed money to go to college, so now that I don’t have to worry. It’s a big relief.”
The scholarship matches its finalists with one of its 40 college partners, Olabisi said. While she was hesitant about moving out of state and away from her family, she said it is the first step in the right direction for her future in neuroscience, film, or both.
“At first I just felt blessed for the full ride, but as I started doing research I realized how good the school is, especially for me since I want to do neuroscience and film,” she said. “It’s a liberal arts school with an open curriculum so I can do a little bit of both.”
Her passion for neuroscience came at the age of 9, after her grandmother died of a brain tumor, and her love for film came after she joined the theater program at St. Mary’s, she said. She plans on researching neurocinematics and how films and production editing can affect the way people think.
“Film has made me more comfortable with voicing my opinions and made me unapologetic about things because I used to be scared to voice how I felt about being a minority and a woman of color,” said Olabisi. “Through film, I didn’t have to say anything. I just had to create the art and put it out there and I felt that was very important for my self growth.”
Throughout the six-month process of applying for the scholarship, Olabisi wrote at least eight essays with help from her mentors at Raw Art Works. She joined the after-school art center in the eighth grade and said she doesn’t think she would be where she is today without the help of everyone there.
One of her essays was about how grateful she is for Christmas every year, since her mom works three jobs and that is the one day a year they can fully spend together, and another was about her admiration for the medical field after watching her mother work as a certified nursing assistant.
“I also wrote about my grandmother’s brain tumor and how that whole process of seeing her and her doctor interact and how the doctor made her feel made me realize I wanted to be a neurosurgeon,” she said. “I want to impact people’s lives the way that her doctor did and the way my mom did with her patients.”
Olabisi has an older brother but he was unable to go to college, she said. Being the first one in her family to get a higher education means everything to her and she said she hopes to be a role model for kids of color in communities like Lynn.
“This scholarship means that I can advance and help my family, because my mom is an immigrant,” said Olabisi. “She came here with basically nothing from Jamaica, so now I have this opportunity and it means a lot to her because she knows I can truly fulfill my dreams and be able to afford things we can’t afford now.”