COVINGTON — The burden of paying for college has been lifted for Ziana Benjiman. The Eastside High School senior was recently awarded a four-year, all-expenses-paid QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship.
Out of 18,500 applicants, Benjiman was one of only 1,464 to receive a College Match Scholarship. She will attend Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, currently the number 13 ranked liberal arts college in the country.
According to a spokesperson for QuestBridge, the scholarship, worth over $200,000, includes full tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, and travel expenses.
“My teacher, Mr. (David) Hornbeck, texted me that decisions were out early, so I checked and I saw the confetti,” said Benjiman, recalling the day she learned she won the scholarship. “When I learned I was accepted to Grinnell, I was very emotional. My mom was there with me so that made it extra special.”
Founded in 1994, QuestBridge is a national nonprofit based in Palo Alto, Calif., that connects the nation’s most exceptional, low-income youth with leading colleges and opportunities. By working with these students — beginning in high school through college to their first job — QuestBridge aims to increase the percentage of talented low-income students attending the nation’s best colleges and to support them to achieve success in their careers and communities.
Eastside High School math teacher David Hornbeck referred Benjiman to the program and was thrilled upon learning she received one of the scholarships.
“I taught Ziana last year — her junior year — in AP Statistics and in a college preparatory class,” said Hornbeck. “She is brilliant, but also one of the humblest, kindest and hardest-working students I have had the pleasure of teaching. Even when COVID-19 hit and school suddenly went virtual in the spring, Ziana’s work ethic did not waver. Ziana’s combination of intellect, determination, and character make her incredibly deserving of a QuestBridge National College Match scholarship, and I am so excited for her to attend Grinnell in the fall. I have no doubts that she will thrive there and genuinely make Grinnell and the surrounding community a better place.”
Although she has not had the opportunity to visit the Grinnell College campus yet, Benjiman said she’s already done a lot of reading and research and likes what she’s learned.
“They have a very accepting environment and I appreciate that,” she said. “They have a lot of programs not only for people of color but people who identify with different genders and more and that’s very important to me. I just find them to be very accepting and understanding and I really like that.”
While she’s unsure of a college major at this point, Benjiman is considering either computer science or psychology.
“I know it sounds cliché, but I love helping people, so I would think psychology would be a very interesting choice,” Benjamin noted. “Computer science is also an option. I’m taking it right now and I find it very, very intriguing to me. I have always liked technology — I was in robotics. I just like to find out how things work.”
Benjiman feels she’ll be well prepared academically when she enters Grinnell as she’s been enrolled in Quest or AP classes all throughout high school.
“I enjoy the rigor of the classes,” she explained, adding that she’s a little nervous about attending school up north.
“I absolutely wanted to get out of Georgia,” she said. “I knew if I wasn’t going to go to a big school then I definitely wanted to go out of Georgia, but I didn’t think I would end up in Iowa, honestly. It is going to be different, and I’m honestly quite scared — more so of the cold than anything. I’m nervous, but I’m excited to experience something new.”
Most of all, however, Benjiman feels like a weight has been lifted off her shoulders.
“Honestly one of my biggest fears was not being able to afford college,” said Benjiman. “Money has always been a struggle, so it was stressful to me to feel like I’m going to be a burden to my mom to make her have to provide for not only me but also her own household. To have all of that lifted with this scholarship is almost unbelievable. It feels amazing. I can concentrate and just enjoy school rather than constantly thinking that I’m going to have to take out a loan and spend the rest of my life paying it off.”
“What an incredible opportunity for such a deserving student,” said Jeff Cher, principal of Eastside High School. “Ziana has been an exemplary student, and her hard work and determination to succeed have definitely paid off. We always say that Eastside graduates excellence, and she is a prime example of that statement. We are very proud of her and wish her the very best at Grinnell.”