Growing up as a first-generation American in Columbia, S.C., and spending three years in her parents’ native Nigeria, Sophia Emetu knows how important it is to have the support of others. She has seen how hard life can be, how much we rely on others’ generosity and help and, ultimately, how far we can go when we put in the effort.
And, with the help of the RISE Scholarship, she knows there are no limits to what she can do.
“Getting the RISE Scholarship means that I have the chance to prove that I’m worth believing in,” says Emetu, the inaugural recipient of the four-year needs-based Honors College scholarship. “It means that someone else believes that a small girl like me has a lot of potential.”
Emetu’s potential is clear to alumni Ben ’02 and Sara DeWolf ’02, who established the RISE Endowed Scholarship Fund last year. That gift has since prompted four other substantial gifts for the scholarship, which is (R)ecognizing (I)ntelligence, (S)trength and (E)ngagement, as its name specifies.
“The idea is to give access to education for really outstanding, motivated students who otherwise wouldn’t have the means to go to the Honors College,” says Ben DeWolf, a portfolio manager at Tower Research Capital, who regularly hires CofC graduates at his hedge fund. “A more educated population is good for everyone.”
“Part of education is learning about people who are different from you,” says Sara DeWolf, an Honors College graduate who is now a member of the Honors Advisory Board. “We’re helping provide a more diverse experience for students by giving them a wider range of perspectives to interact with.”
Emetu can appreciate the value in expanding your perspective.
“I learned so much from Nigeria. My time there changed my life, it gave me a whole other perspective, and it was there that I finally began to fully appreciate life,” she says, adding that, while “being part of two very different cultures is not an easy task, I feel fortunate to take what’s best from both cultures. I am glad I have the mix because I really get to think about what I want to do. I am not constrained to one side, if that makes sense.”
Not that Emetu really needs to think about it: She knows she wants to help people.
“For a long time I’ve wished that I could make a positive impact on someone, but I was always too shy. Now that I have others believing in me, though, I know I can help others and give back as much as possible,” says Emetu, who plans to study biochemistry and then go to medical school to become a pediatrician. But first she wants to experience “the many opportunities here at the College. I don’t just want to learn: I want my knowledge to expand on a myriad of levels. I want to do things that will leave all the support people in my life with a legacy for others to follow.”
She hopes, too, to be a role model for her four younger siblings.
“I hope that I showed them that education is important and hard work is the only thing that pays off,” says Emetu, noting that one of her favorite quotes is a Paul Brandt lyric: Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon. “Coming to the College hopefully showed them that nothing is a limit. I want to set the bar as high as I can to encourage them that they can do even better. Most of all, I hope that I showed them that you have to go by hope, not by sight. After all, that’s what got me into Charleston in the first place!”
That, and the DeWolf’s generosity, of course.
“To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have been able to come to the College if it weren’t for this scholarship,” says Emetu. “The College was my first choice, but we needed to make sure it was the best, and the DeWolfs affirmed that for us, not only economically, but overall. So, thanks to them, I am now attending my top choice.”
But, Emetu stresses, “the scholarship is more than just money to me. The moral support I receive from the DeWolfs is overwhelming. The first night my family and I met them, there was an instant connection, and I feel like I have become a part of another family.”
“We really want to be supportive in whatever way we can – not just financially,” says Sara DeWolf, who also serves as a mentor with the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance. “It’s just as much an investment in our alma mater as it is in the individual recipient – although, of course, we’re so lucky and honored to be a part of Sophia’s individual education.”
“The empowerment that the DeWolfs give me is what will last in my heart,” says Emetu. “Because no matter what trials I face during the school year, I can still count on the enormous amount of support from my family, the College and the DeWolfs.”
With that kind of support, she knows she is going to go far and that she’ll continue to climb higher and higher. After all, now that she’s at the College, the sky is hardly the limit!