Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon: It’s one of Sophia Emetu’s favorite quotes. Singer Paul Brandt’s lyrical line speaks to her hopefulness, her belief in setting goals and reaching them, her confidence in her own limitless potential. She knows she’s going to go far, that she’ll continue to climb higher and higher – and that, with the added boost of the R.I.S.E. Scholarship, even the sky can’t hold her back.
“Getting the R.I.S.E. Scholarship means that I have the chance to prove that I’m worth believing in,” says Emetu, the inaugural recipient of the four-year, needs-based Honors College scholarship. “It means that someone else believes that a small girl like me has a lot of potential.”
Emetu’s potential is clear to alumni Ben ’02 and Sara Givler DeWolf ’02, who established the R.I.S.E. Endowed Scholarship Fund last year. That gift has since prompted four other substantial alumni gifts for the scholarship, which is (R)ecognizing (I)ntelligence, (S)trength and (E)ngagement, as its name specifies.
“The idea is to give access to education for really outstanding, motivated students who otherwise wouldn’t have the means to go to the Honors College,” says Ben DeWolf, a portfolio manager at Tower Research Capital, who regularly hires CofC graduates at his hedge fund. “A more educated population is good for everyone.”
“Part of education is learning about people who are different from you. We’re helping provide a more diverse experience for students by giving them a wider range of perspectives to interact with,” says Sara DeWolf, an Honors College graduate who is now a member of the Honors Advisory Board and a mentor with the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance. “It’s just as much an investment in our alma mater as it is in the individual recipient – although, of course, we’re so lucky and honored to be a part of Sophia’s individual education.”
And Emetu is honored and grateful for the DeWolfs’ part, too.
“To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have been able to come to the College if it weren’t for this scholarship,” says Emetu. “The College was my first choice, but we needed to make sure it was the best, and the DeWolfs affirmed that for us, not only economically, but overall. So, thanks to them, I am now attending my top choice.”
But, Emetu stresses, “the scholarship is more than just money to me. The moral support I receive from the DeWolfs is overwhelming. The first night my family and I met them, there was an instant connection, and I feel like I have become a part of another family.
“I also feel empowered, which is something I believe every student needs to have when coming to school,” she continues. “The empowerment that the DeWolfs give me is what will last in my heart. Because no matter what trials I face during the school year, I can still count on the enormous amount of support from my family, the College and the DeWolfs.”
Growing up as a first-generation American in Columbia, S.C., and spending three years in her parents’ native Nigeria, Emetu knows how important it is to have the support of others. She has seen how hard life can be, how much we rely on others’ generosity and help and, ultimately, how far we can go when we put in the effort.
“I’ve learned so much from Nigeria. My time there changed my life, it gave me a whole other perspective, and it was there that I finally began to fully appreciate life,” says Emetu, adding that, while “being part of two very different cultures is not an easy task, I feel fortunate to take what’s best from both cultures. I am glad I have the mix because I really get to think about what I want to do. I am not constrained to one side, if that makes sense.”
Not that Emetu really needs to think about it: She knows she wants to help people.
“For a long time I’ve wished that I could make a positive impact on someone, but I was always too shy. Now that I have others believing in me, though, I know I can help others and give back as much as possible,” says Emetu, who plans to study biochemistry and then go to medical school to become a pediatrician. But first she wants to experience “the many opportunities here at the College. I just don’t want to learn: I want my knowledge to expand on a myriad of levels. I want to do things that will leave all the support people in my life with a legacy for others to follow.”
She hopes, too, to be a role model for her four younger siblings.
“I want to show them that an education is important and hard work is the only thing that pays off,” Emetu says. “Coming to the College hopefully showed them that nothing is a limit. I want to set the bar as high as I can to encourage them that they can do even better. Most of all, I hope that I showed them that you have to go by hope, not by sight. After all, that’s what got me into Charleston in the first place!”
And now that she’s here, she’ll keep rising to the top: The sky is hardly the limit!
This article originally appeared in the fall 2015 issue of College of Charleston Magazine.