Surprise scholarship

Newark Charter High School counselor Ryan Mitchell, hip-hop artist and former teacher Dee-1 and Donna Vieira of Sallie Mae pose with Newark Charter High School senior Nicole Gill Friday

A local student who has managed to overcome a lifelong challenge was meeting another one head-on: paying for college.

That burden for Nicole Gill and her family is now lightened considerably. In a surprise kept until the very end, student lender Sallie Mae presented her with a $25,000 Bridging the Dream Scholarship during an assembly Friday at Newark Charter High School where she is a senior.

Until that morning, Nicole was only aware that she was a finalist for one of nine scholarships.

"I thought I was still under review. So the fact that I already won, I was really surprised," Nicole said.

One of Nicole's guidance counselors, Ryan Mitchell, nominated her for the scholarship. It is designed to assist high school juniors who excel in academics, athletics, school activities or community service but may face personal or financial challenges in pursuing higher education.

Nicole deals with the effects of cystic fibrosis.

"Despite facing adversity her whole life, Nicole continues to shine inside and outside of the classroom," Mitchell said.

Another counselor, Penny Halfen, called Nicole "one of the most phenomenal, remarkable young students I have ever met in my 25 years of education."

"She is just so hard working, so resilient and so deserving of this opportunity," Halfen added.

"The Bridging the Dream Scholarship program is an extension of our mission and purpose," Sallie Mae Chief Marketing Officer Donna Vieira said. "We help students build prosperous futures through education, and we're committed to opening doors for aspiring minds like Nicole. We're excited to see what's in store for her."

According to Sallie Mae, it has awarded $560,000 in scholarships to undergrad and grad students through its Bridging the Dream program since 2016.

Even at her young age, Nicole is able to share some advice for classmates who are dealing with the confusion of college:

"Probably just be patient - things will work out like they're supposed to."