Full-ride scholar chooses SDSU

Seth Harris

Brittany Zephier doesn’t have to worry about tuition.

While many college students receive a myriad of loans and scholarships in order to pay for the ever-increasing cost of tuition, Brittany Zephier, a freshman business economics major from Sioux Falls, has a Gates Millennium Scholarship that covers everything and more.

Zephier’s Native American descent allowed her to receive one of 1,000 Gates Millennium Scholarships, which targets minority students and covers the costs associated with attending any qualifying university in the United States.

The Gates Millennium Scholars organization received 23,000 applications for the scholarship in 2011. Zephier was the only applicant from South Dakota to receive the scholarship, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Another benefit of the scholarship is an all-expense-paid trip to California for a gathering of all the scholarship recipients. At this gathering, attendees will listen to Bill Gates and other prominent speakers.

Getting the scholarship wasn’t easy. Before graduating from Washington High School in Sioux Falls, Zephier spent months applying for the scholarship. Zephier said she submitted nine 7,800-word essays, among other references, nominations and background information in order to receive five years of paid-in-full college education.

Acquiring the extraordinary scholarship did not affect Zepheir’s choice of universities, though. She had already begun looking at SDSU for her freshman year. The friendly SDSU staff impacted Zephier positively over the course of her application process.

With that in mind, her familiarity with the campus, coupled with a number of her friends going to SDSU, persuaded Zephier to attend SDSU over USD and the University of Minnesota. “The people (at SDSU) are all super nice and easy to talk to,” she said.

Zephier had previously thought of transferring to UCLA after her first year at SDSU. However, because of the people in the business community and the closeness of home, she has decided to finish her degree at SDSU.

Obtaining the competitive scholarship required references and nominations by teachers and community members. Bruce Rekstad, Native American studies teacher at WHS, was highly supportive of Zephier and had been one of the teachers to suggest that she apply for the scholarship.

“She is a person of great integrity,” Rekstad said.

As part of a program for high school Native Americans, Rekstad mentored Zephier through high school. In that capacity, Rekstad spent a large amount of time getting to know Zephier. Rekstad spoke highly of her, saying that she was deserving of the scholarship and would use it well.

Zephier joins a small community of past scholarship recipients at SDSU. Lindsey Birdsall, a second-year pharmacy student from Ipswich, S.D., received the scholarship in 2008 and is also of Native American ancestry. Receiving the scholarship is more than receiving money; each student becomes a part of a network and support system, Birdsall said.

“I was very blessed to receive the scholarship,” she said.

Hearing the tales of young entrepreneurs, family members and teachers inspired Zephier to aim for the stars and achieve more in life. Once finished at SDSU, she wants to get a Master of Business Administration degree. From there, she said, “I want to own my own business or run my own. As far as what kind yet, I really don’t know.”

Correction: Brittany Zephier was one of 27 Gates Millenium Scholarship recipients from South Dakota. The original story reported that she was the state’s only recipient.