By Nasir Aziz, ’20

As the final class of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program emerged from a pool of 53,000 applicants, Malik Bell, ’20, found himself among 1,000 students nationwide to receive the prestigious scholarship.

The Gates Millennium Foundation aims to remove financial barriers for high performing students like Bell through sponsorships that last through graduate studies. “It’s a very generous scholarship,” he remarks. “I don’t have to worry about money. I don’t have to worry about student debt. I don’t have to worry about not wanting to go into any field because it’ll be too expensive.”

Bell graduated from Monacan High School in Chesterfield County, Va., just outside of Richmond, a place he has grown to cherish. “Where I come from, there is a close sense of community. People look out for other people. And one of the benefits of being in that sort of community is learning not exactly how I affect other people, but how the community affects me, and learning how to appreciate that.”

He’s now extending his community support network to include thousands of Gates Millennium Scholars. “One of the great things about this scholarship is that it’s not just a transactional scholarship,” he explains. “What we get from it is a network of connections and resources that we can utilize. They have alumni in every field that we can directly get in contact with and ask for their advice.” He’ll also have the chance to offer his own knowledge and experiences to others as he remains in the program for the next 10 years.

Armed with this priceless resource, Bell hopes to pursue research opportunities, study abroad programs, and perhaps most importantly, graduate studies, all focused on his expected chemistry major. “That’s something that I appreciate and thought would be best tailored to my talents are, what my desires are, what my endeavors are in life,” he says.

While Bell sees a promising future in chemistry, he wants to round out his academics with exploration into other fields of study. “I hope to learn how to be a critical thinker,” he says. “And just learning how different academic fields are not segregated, how you take techniques from a lot of different places and think in an interdisciplinary way.”

It’s an approach that served him well during high school when he was active in many extracurricular activities, including senior class treasurer, Spanish Honor Society, National Honor Society, Beta Club, a mentorship program, and volleyball. He insists that it was never too much and would advise others to do the same.   

 “It may seem cliché,” he says, “but the only real limitations you have are the ones that you place on yourself.”