Academic spotlight shines on New Haven students

Renowned pediatric neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson ’73 — known for cracking open skulls — promoted his investment in opening the minds of youth Friday at an awards ceremony for local high-achieving students.

Four New Haven students received the Carson Scholarship for their outstanding academic record and community service work at a special presentation that took place Friday at the Dixwell-Yale University Community Learning Center. Family and teachers of the winners, who are generally focused in the sciences, said they are grateful for the college opportunities the $1,000 scholarships will offer them.

As scholarship recipients, fourth-grader Cody Barlow from Wexler-Grant Community School, fifth-grader Dimas Brown from Christopher Columbus Family Academy and 10th-graders Nyghel Byrd from Metropolitan Business Academy and Darcy Yankowich from Hill Regional Career High School each received an honorary medal and a certificate of recognition, in addition to the scholarship.

“We want to give enough spotlights for kids who are often called nerds and geeks in school,” Carson, the scholarship’s founder and a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins, said after the ceremony.

Carson established the scholarship in 1994 with his wife, Candy Carson ’73 , to recognize and reward students in fourth through 11th grades in cities around the country who strive for academic excellence and demonstrate a strong commitment to their community.

“We don’t want our kids to see only sports stars or entertainment people sleeping with each other on TV or newspaper,” Carson said during the ceremony. “We want to establish those Carson Scholars as role models and good examples for other kids.”

Yankowich, who has maintained a nearly perfect grade-point average — a minimum of 3.75 is needed to qualify for the award — and volunteered as a summer camp counselor, said she was “extremely surprised” when she won. She said the scholarship will “definitely encourage [her] to work even harder in the future” and perhaps even push her to apply to Yale.

Byrd was described in the award presentation as demonstrating his deep interest in engineering, a field he hopes to pursue after high school.

Excitement over winning the award was also evident among the relatives and mentors of the younger winners — even if the elementary-school students have to wait a few more years before putting the money to use.

“I often take my son to the New Haven Public Library and bookstores and read the books with Cody to cultivate the love for schools and books in my son,” Barlow’s father said after the ceremony.

Rose Nunez Evens, school librarian at Christopher Columbus Family Academy, said after the ceremony that Dimas is the pride of the entire school.

“Dimas checks out a book per week, most of them being non-fiction books, particularly science-related subjects,” Evens said. “Dimas also tutors kindergarten kids through the buddy system of our school on weekdays.”

Yale Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander ’65, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and New Haven Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo joined Carson to present the scholarships.

“We are grateful to Dr. Carson for using the powerful lesson of his life to reach out to our young people,” Mayo said during the ceremony. “He shows our students that nurturing your academic potential and staying on track with school is the best way to succeed in life.”

Alexander — who, with his wife, contributed to the scholarship fund this year along with the Office of New Haven and State Affairs and the Yale College Class of ’51 — called the Carson Scholars Fund “an invaluable opportunity for community members to support high-achieving local students.”

Promoting science and engineering among youth is essential, Carson said after the ceremony.

“In this technological age, we are falling further and further behind China and India in producing engineers,” he said.

But he also reaffirmed that the scholarship is open to students of all academic bents.

This year marks the second time the Carson Scholarship has awarded stipends to students in New Haven. The organization has awarded over 2,800 scholarships since its founding.

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