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Class of 2017: Newest Brittain Scholar breaks boundaries

Freshman Janay DeVillasee finished sixth in her class at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C., with a 3.87 GPA and spent the summer interning with the CityBridge Foundation.

Emory University awards the Brittain Scholarship to a top student from the Washington, D.C., public school system whose family has very limited financial resources. These scholars, like Marion Luther Brittain — an Emory College alumnus, class of 1886, and a 1928 honorary degree recipient — are used to exceeding expectations.

The newest Brittain Scholar is incoming freshman Janay DeVillasee. Her all-expenses scholarship funding comes from the CityBridge Foundation, which is helping build a system of high-performing public schools in the nation’s capital. 

CityBridge is headed by Katherine Brittain Bradley, the great-granddaughter of Brittain. He was the president of Georgia Tech and helped set up the Georgia Board of Regents to help govern public higher education. “He loved everything that pushed the boundaries of what was considered achievable,” his great-granddaughter said. 

In that spirit, DeVillasee is looking forward to challenging herself at Emory. She arrives as universities are trying to deepen the pool of academic talent by attracting high-achieving, low-income students and helping them graduate. Higher education has always billed itself as the stepping-stone to advancing in this country; by falling short of recruiting and graduating students from every segment of society, universities are spurring an education gap. As the United States population and economy diversify, the need for decision makers and leaders from all backgrounds increases.

After finishing sixth in her class at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School with a 3.87 GPA and spending the summer interning with the CityBridge Foundation, DeVillasee talked about the significance of the Brittain Scholarship to her and her family.

Who helped you the most get this far in your education?

My grandparents have been the single most important driving force in my pursuit of education.

What obstacles have you encountered along the way and how did you overcome those?

I have a difficult relationship with my mother, who has placed a lot of obstacles in my path. This has made me even more determined.  Another obstacle I encountered this year was the loss of my grandfather in March. I was in the midst of IB (International Baccalaureate) orals and other tests. It’s hard to walk in the house and not see him sitting in his chair. Writing and giving the only eulogy at his funeral helped me overcome this. For me, writing is a means of releasing the things that trouble my mind.  

How did you hear about Emory and the Brittain Scholarship? 

I applied to Emory through Questbridge, which “connects the world’s brightest low-income students to America’s top universities and opportunities.” At my grandfather’s funeral gathering, I kept receiving emails from Emory’s financial aid office, which bewildered me because I hadn’t applied directly; Questbridge had applied to Emory for me. After learning I had received the Brittain Scholarship, I was convinced that it was meant to be that I attend Emory. It is my destiny to go there and do great things.

What difference does the Brittain Scholarship make to you and your family?

To my grandmother, it’s given her a final relief. She sent all four of her children to college and worked overtime to assure that my brother and I went to college. 

This scholarship is a wonderful thing because CityBridge Foundation is investing money in my future, and believes in me. Already, my internship at CityBridge has given me opportunities to learn, meet people, and explore their career fields. They’ve offered me professional development, helping me with PowerPoint, resumes, networking, and interviews, to mention a few. It’s not easy for me to let people down, and with the CityBridge family behind me, I have no doubt that I will make them and my family proud. This scholarship has shown me that hard work does pay off, and everything happens for a reason.

What have you learned about Emory from previous Brittain Scholars?

While interning, I have met Isaiah West (Emory College Class of 2014), and Julia Highsmith (Emory College Class of 2016). They’ve given me the rundown on the living situation and food situation and some wise tips. For example, Isaiah told me that I should never feel like I don’t belong at Emory, and that for him it was helpful to find reaffirmation, through a class or subject, that he could compete and did belong. Julia offered insight on finding what study habits work best for me. 

What do you most want to accomplish or experience at Emory? 

I want to make my time at Emory meaningful. I’m excited to do a lot of volunteer work. I am interested in starting a group or initiative that would motivate youth to have the same type of drive that I did, to continue to college and pursue careers outside of the norm. I’ve met a lot of high school students who opted out of applying to college because they didn’t see the point, wanted to earn money right away, or just didn’t like school.  It’s my goal to help students appreciate the value of a college education in the long run. 

Also at Emory, I want to learn about other traditions and customs, and I’m excited to grow as an individual, intellectually and emotionally.

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