- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 6, 2005

Daniel Patrylak has two shelves of trophies and medals in his bedroom. Although he likes to play soccer, at least five of the medals are for academic achievements.

Honored as a Carson Scholar fives times since the fifth grade, the 17-year-old senior at Parkville High School in Baltimore has earned $5,000 to put toward his education. He is interested in public relations, and although he hasn’t decided on a college, he is considering Towson University.

“School is the basis for the rest of your life,” Daniel says. “The harder you work in school, the harder you will be willing to work in everything else you do. It really gives you a head start in the world.”

The Carson Scholars Fund Inc., based in Towson, Md., is a nonprofit organization started by Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson in 1996. It aims to recognize and reward students in grades four through 11 who earn the highest level of academic achievement and also display strong humanitarian qualities. Recipients are deemed “Carson Scholars” and receive $1,000 for college.

Challenging students at an early level is an essential part of a successful education, Dr. Carson says. Since he doesn’t want the United States to play “second fiddle” to countries such as India, Pakistan and China, he offers scholarships to students to motivate them. He wants students of high academic achievement to be put on the same pedestal as all-star athletes.

Although Dr. Carson is a surgeon, he thinks like an education reformer. He wants calculus to be taught before 11th or 12th grade so students can become more skilled in the subject at an earlier age. Further, an understanding of basic grammatical skills, mathematical functions, biology and chemistry should be expected from high school graduates, he says. He is in favor of an exit exam for all graduating seniors.

“During the agricultural age, our country was very strong because we could produce so much,” Dr. Carson says. “Then we moved on to the industrial age, and our power increased even more. All you really needed during the industrial age was a strong back and willingness to work, but now we’re in the technological age, the information age. Education is the fuel for that. Unfortunately, I don’t see us responding as a nation the way we should be, in order to maintain our pinnacle standards.”

Although Dr. Carson had a rough childhood — he grew up in the ghettos of Detroit — he says those obstacles didn’t hold him back. Today, he is best-known for breakthroughs in neurosurgery, such as his 1987 separation of conjoined twins who shared part of the same brain.

He credits his faith in God and the inspiration of his mother as driving forces in achieving his goals. He has written three books, “Gifted Hands,” “Think Big,” and “The Big Picture.”

“The person who has the most to do with what happens to you is you, not somebody else, not some exterior force,” Dr. Carson says. “It’s not the situation in which you were born. It’s not the color of your skin. All of those things could create problems, grant you, but you have been given this incredible brain by God, not so you could think of excuses and complain, but so you could figure out how to get around those things.”

Carson scholarships are awarded mainly in school districts within Maryland, Delaware and the District, but honors have been given in Pittsburgh; Northern Lancaster County, Pa.; Lenore County, N.C.; Atlanta; Battle Creek, Mich.; Indianapolis; Racine, Wis.; and Seattle.

Participating schools each nominate their best and brightest student, says Marty Eaton, program director for the Carson Scholars Fund (www.carson scholars.org). Teachers write a recommendation and the nominated student writes an essay on suggested topics, such as the characteristics of a hero. All applicants must have a grade-point average of 3.75 or above. In addition, they must demonstrate humanitarian qualities in school and the community.

Applications for this academic year’s scholarships must be postmarked by Feb. 6. Winners will be notified by March 31.

Last year, there were 403 Carson Scholars.

“You can’t go anywhere and do anything in life without knowledge and education,” Mr. Eaton says. “Without education, you’re stuck. Education rounds a person. It allows them to be able to think better and judge better and make informed decisions. It’s common sense to have someone be very well educated.”

While in high school, Lisa Philipose, 24, was honored as a Carson Scholar. When she received the award, she told Dr. Carson her goal was to become a doctor. She is now a third-year medical student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Carson served as a mentor during the first year of her studies.

“In a society that is focused on so many other things, this fund is good at keeping people’s focus on education,” Miss Philipose says. “Someone rewards you for your academics and says, ‘Keep it up.’”

The incentive of the scholarships even motivates parents, says Sandra Bolden, reading specialist for Battle Creek Public Schools in Battle Creek, Mich., who works with 15 schools.

Although a fourth-grader may not understand what having money for college means, the parents definitely do, she says. Parents want to make sure their child can be considered for the award.

“Since the Carson Scholars Fund looks at how much kids volunteer in the community, we’ve actually had an increase in volunteering,” Mrs. Bolden says.

Becoming a Carson Scholar has motivated BriAna Crocker, 11, of Baltimore, to set her goals high. A sixth-grader at Mount Royal Middle School in Baltimore, she hopes to study music in college.

“You should study hard so you can achieve things that you didn’t think you can achieve,” BriAna says. “You should do your best in school so that you can pass and have a good education as you get older.”

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