Sophomore Shania Valentine is a Gates Millennium Scholar, an opportunity she said has changed the course of her life. In addition to her schoolwork as a secondary education major, Valentine works at NAU’s Native American Student Services and serves as a Gates Millennium Scholars campus-based leader, guiding other scholarship recipients through the many university processes.

“It is really amazing to know that we don’t have any barriers keeping us from our full potential just because of our backgrounds, financial burdens or demographics,” Valentine said.

After graduation, she plans to continue to uplift other young people, possibly returning to her hometown of Page, Arizona, where she could guide disadvantaged high-school students, including fellow Native Americans, toward a higher education.

The Gates Millennium Scholars program is funded through a $1.5 billion grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the intention of developing a new generation of leaders. Eligible applicants are U.S. citizens who are African-American, American Indian, Asian-American or Latino-American.

Figures released from the Gates Millennium Scholars program tout a six-year graduation rate for most participants, a figure that is double the national average of students from similar backgrounds who are not in the program.

NAU scholars have been awarded $3,767,501 since the program’s inception. There are 34 Gates Millennium Scholars enrolled at NAU this school year.

“NAU is very proud of the Gates Millennium Scholars on campus,” said Jane Kuhn, vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs. “These students excel academically and are very engaged on campus.” Also, Kuhn added, the university’s mission to serve Native American students is supported by the Gates Millennium Scholars program, with a high percentage of recipients in that category.

As a Gates Millennium Scholar, NAU alumnus Simon Chief earned a dual-major in business and hotel and restaurant management as an undergraduate student and a master’s degree in educational leadership. Now, he’s employed by NAU’s Native American Student Services and serves as a staff mentor for current scholars.

“The program gives students the opportunity to go to school which many of them would not have without the scholarships, so it is opening doors of opportunity,” Chief said.