Four Claflin University freshmen are receiving an intimate look at the challenges, opportunities, and skills necessary to succeed in the hyper-competitive corporate environment of the 21st Century as the inaugural class of BlueCross® BlueShield® of South Carolina Scholars.
Claflin University is one of the black colleges supported by the Black College Fund which provides financial support to maintain solid, challenging academic programs; strong faculties; and well-equipped facilities.
The students also receive full scholarships and free room and board for four years, internships, and mentoring from company executives.
Kamara Chima, Siri Davis, Alexander Mills, and Aiyana Uter are Claflin's BlueScholars. BCBS also selected students from Benedict College.
They recently began monthly lunch-and-learn sessions with executives from BCBS of South Carolina. The students will begin internships and engage in career development workshops during the program's second year.
The students share mutual backgrounds as high-achieving high school scholars who arrived at Claflin with impressive academic credentials. Their diverse interests beyond the classroom include sports, music, and community activism.
The scholars are acutely aware that lofty expectations come with full scholarships and access to corporate mentors. The students are preparing for employment opportunities at BlueCross, and all four are envisioning how they can fit into the corporate healthcare arena.
Computer science major Kamara Chima shows little hesitation while pointing out that she is not all she plans to be. Yet, as a BlueScholar, Chima knows who she is now and what she represents.
"Creativity, spirituality, and openness," Chima says. "These are the values that I constantly live by." Identifying her value system is one of the takeaways this BlueScholar has gleaned from the lunch-and-learn series, where the students have table talks with a different BCBS executive each month. Chima is especially inspired by the advice she received from Vida A. Jennings, a corporate training and diversity manager.
Chima's outstanding academic accomplishments include her induction into the National Honor Society as a student at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, Md.
She was an English honors student who graduated high school with a 4.0 grade point average. At Claflin, she is a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), committee chairperson for the Friends of the Earth, a member of the National Society of Black Engineers, and a scholar in the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College.
Siri Davis is an accounting major from Orangeburg, S.C., with a minor in computer science. She believes working at the healthcare company will be symbiotic - matching her skill for navigating technology that constantly evolves with the company's complex databases.
"This scholarship is fantastic," says Davis, the youngest of three and the second sibling to attend Claflin.
Both older siblings are college graduates, and her parents were prepared to help their third college student. However, the BlueScholars all-expenses award has been a welcomed bonus to Davis's self-described "middle-class black family, where education is always important."
Heeding the voice of her parents and her own, achieving academic success is a priority. She was an honor-roll student all four years in high school and has made the President's List at Claflin.
When Alexander Mills and his family learned he was selected as one of four inaugural BlueScholars at Claflin, there was a lot of joy and a little "freaking out" in the Mills household.
"I know they don't give that scholarship to a lot of people," says Mills, an applied mathematics major from Columbia."
Humble and hardworking, Mills was in a discovery program for high-achieving students at Spring Valley High School. The advanced placement workload was so rigorous that when he struggled in some courses, Mills considered dropping out. His parents encouraged him "to keep pushing through" and told him his efforts would be rewarded.
"When I got the scholarship, they were very happy for me and said my perseverance paid off," Mills says. "I was super excited and ecstatic, too – just like my parents."
Mills is mindful that his success is a beacon to his family, including his 16-year-old sister, who he says "is very bright on her own," and hopes she considers him a worthy role model.
Mills had initially considered attending several other universities, but those memories have faded since receiving the BCBS scholarship and other recognitions since enrolling at Claflin.
"I wanted the HBCU experience," Mills says. "I'm getting that at Claflin, and the BlueScholars award enhances my experience."
Aiyana Uter openly admits that she wants to leave an indelible mark in academics and her professional career. The marketing major from Fort Mill, S.C., is vice president of Claflin's Friends of the Earth environmental club. Uter admits that she and another student revamped and revitalized the organization shortly after she joined. Uter also makes and sells copper jewelry as an outlet for her creativity and to stay connected with nature.
As a recipient of the BCBS BlueScholars scholarship, Uter recognizes how the prestigious award has impacted her family, including her parents and three siblings.
"As the oldest, having that full ride and being able to show my younger siblings what they are capable of achieving is very exciting," says Uter, adding that her parents were exceedingly thrilled by her accomplishment.
They had much to appreciate even before the scholarship award. Uter excelled in advanced placement classes, consistently made the honor roll, and held a student council position for three years at Catawba Ridge High School. In addition to volunteering at assisted living, nursing, and retirement homes and at elementary schools, she was an All-Region selection as a senior for a Catawba Ridge High team that captured a Region 3-4A tennis title.
"I was very ambitious," Uter says. "The high school I attended opened in my sophomore year, so I was there to help build the culture and establish the school's reputation. I wanted to distinguish myself and leave a lasting impression."
She has displayed that same determination and intensity as a scholarship recipient at Claflin. She applies what she learns in her marketing classes to monitor the insurance corporation's social media accounts. Her duties offer her a preview of how she can contribute to BCBS in the future. Interacting with BCBS's executives at monthly lunch-and-learn sessions further fuels her intentions.
"Honestly, it still shocks me that we have in-depth conversations with these corporate executives," Uter says. "It has a big impact. They are leaders who have achieved so much in this corporate environment. Hearing about their experiences helps me understand the correlation between how this scholarship and the internship will help prepare me for career opportunities and personal and professional development."
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Black College Fund provides financial support to maintain solid, challenging academic programs; strong faculties; and well-equipped facilities at 11 United Methodist-related historically black colleges and universities. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Black College Fund apportionment at 100 percent.