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Students unknowingly receive $50,000 in scholarship money

Pepco scholarship recipients discuss the award’s impact amid student battles with financial aid.

Juniors Jacob Bryant (left) and Ramiya Shelton are two of five scholarship recipients who were awarded $50,000 towards their Howard tuition. (Juan Benn Jr./The Hilltop)

One day, Jacob Bryant, a junior mechanical engineering major from Los Angeles, received an email notifying him that his financial aid had been adjusted. 

He was nervous that he’d possibly lost his scholarship due to his challenging engineering classes, but when Bryant checked his account in early November, he saw something surprising: A $50,000 scholarship deposited in his student account. Bryant, who didn’t apply for anything, had become a 2023-24 Pepco Power Scholar recipient. 

For many students, covering tuition and fees at Howard is quite a challenge. Various students have resorted to GoFundMe to cover their outstanding balances, and the recent 7.5 percent tuition increase for the 2023-24 academic year also raised many concerns. 

Another November email entitled: “Pepco Power Scholars,” congratulated him on becoming a recipient and provided a link to summer 2024 internships within the Exelon corporation. 

All Howard students who received this scholarship did not apply. 

“I saw like $25,000 for this semester, and I just stopped,” Bryant said. “I was stunned. It was just like, ‘there’s no way that this just happened.’” 

Nonetheless, he said it has financially changed the trajectory of his college experience. 

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Pepco is a company that delivers energy to residents in the Washington, D.C. and Maryland areas. They are under their parent company, Exelon, which is known as “the nation’s largest energy delivery company,” according to their website

Pepco has been providing grants to local community colleges and HBCUs since 2020 through its Pepco Community Scholars Program. The goal is to support the local youth and foster a larger talent pool for the energy workforce. 

They recently created the Pepco Power Scholars program, which would fund need and merit-based scholarships to five engineering, computer science and finance students, according to their website. The program would also include access to summer internships, mentorships and peer networking. 

Martin Harrison,  senior workforce development manager and HBCU engagement strategist for Pepco, explained that this program is part of a $7 million investment towards the four HBCUs within the area the company serves, including Howard University, University of the District of Columbia, Delaware State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

Harrison said it is important that companies like Pepco support historic institutions.

“The energy sector is not as diverse as you would think, so this is one of the ways that we are ensuring that our workforce continues to grow in a more diverse way,” he said. “Not just our racial makeup but also the types of backgrounds and things that they’ve studied.”

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Many scholarship recipients were surprised by the news and only knew they received the scholarship once it appeared in their Howard Epay account, which reflects their annual bill. 

Lori-Ann Knight, a Jamaican student and PEPCO scholar, stands in front of the Caribbean tree on the Yard. (Juan Benn Jr./The Hilltop)

When Bryant saw the email, he texted his friend and fellow scholarship recipient, Ramiya Shelton. 

Shelton, a junior chemical engineering major, was at a conference in Arizona when she was notified that her financial aid had been adjusted. Like many other recipients, she thought she might have lost her scholarship. 

Shelton checked her account and saw that her original scholarship went from $9,500 to $2,000. Then, she noticed a second scholarship for $50,000 for the entire year.

“I had to keep staring at it, like just maybe they added an extra zero by accident,” she said.

Shelton called Bryant, who confirmed that the same amount of money was also reflected in his Howard Epay account. 

“It was just a true moment, and the words I just kept repeating over and over was, ‘God has been so faithful,’” she said. “Honestly, it made my whole year.”

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For Shelton, this scholarship came at a time when she needed it. After grieving the death of her grandfather, she dealt with some academic struggles, which resulted in her having to appeal her scholarship. 

“I realize how expensive Howard is, and on top of that, with tuition increases, it’s a very sobering experience where you get faced with both finances head-on and have to really decide, ‘Can we logistically, reasonably afford this?’” Shelton said. 

She says the scholarship relieves her and her family’s financial burden as it covers her school tuition and fees. 

Bryant also felt relieved after receiving this scholarship. His parents, Ina and Jerard Bryant, said he had always wanted to attend Howard. They created a college fund to help with the finances, assuming that Bryant would get scholarships later on. 

“This scholarship really helps to make sure that rent and tuition is covered,” he said. “My sister’s a freshman at Howard, so having both of us here is a lot of money.”

Bryant’s parents were happy for him but initially didn’t believe the scholarship was real. They laughed together, reminiscing about their reactions to Bryant’s original announcement. 

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“You know, when he was relaying this to us, I was so confused. I asked, ‘Are you sure you won a scholarship? Jacob, check one more time,’” his mother said. “We weren’t expecting it, and it just came out. It was a surprise to us, but then it was gratitude for Pepco and for Jacob being the kind of student that Pepco could recognize in this way.”

They both emphasized that they never wanted their children to worry about finances, as that was the “parent’s job,” but say they understood that it was just in Bryant’s character to look at the bigger picture. 

“He’s always thinking about us and has even said, ‘I’m trying to help out not only for myself but for Maya,’ his sister, as well,” his father said. “I don’t know any 20-year-old who would be thinking that far out, so he cares and is very aware of that, too.”

Felix Eshun, a junior computer science major and one of the scholarship recipients, in the Valley. (Juan Benn Jr./The Hilltop)

Two scholarship recipients, Lori-Ann Knight and Felix Eshun, are international students from Jamaica and Ghana.

As a first-generation student from Jamaica, Knight depends entirely on scholarships to pay for her college tuition and fees. Although she worked part-time as a math tutor and received a few scholarships this semester, it was not enough to cover the rest of her tuition.

The junior mathematics major said the currency difference challenged her family’s ability to contribute. One Jamaican dollar is about 0.006 U.S. dollars, according to Forbes. 

“I was kind of worried about where the rest of it [money] was going to come from,” she said. “So when I found out that I got a scholarship that would cover everything, it did mean a lot to me, because I’d be able to finish college.” 

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Eshun, a sophomore computer science student from Ghana, also had to cover his college expenses by applying for scholarships. 

“My freshman and sophomore year, it’s always thinking about how to go about my remaining deficits,” he said. “It got to the point that I knew my parents couldn’t keep up with my remaining deficits. School fees are especially a big deal during the end of the year, right, so it’s like, ‘d*mn, how are we going to do this?’”

Eshun also did research while being a teacher’s assistant. He says he feels relieved about no longer having to worry about covering tuition and fees, and he can allocate more time to covering his off-campus expenses and focusing on his studies. 

“That worry isn’t there for the time being,” he said. “It makes me want to focus on other things. You know, I’m a computer science student, so my studies and all of that…I appreciate it a lot, and it couldn’t have happened better.”

Copy edited by Jalyn Lovelady

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