ORANGEBURG, S.C. (courtesy claflin.edu) — Four Claflin University freshmen are receiving an intimate look at the challenges, opportunities, and skills necessary to succeed in the hyper-competitive corporate environment of the 21st Century as the inaugural class of BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Scholars.
The students also receive full scholarships and free room and board for four years, internships, and mentoring from company executives.
Kamara Chima, Siri Davis, Alexander Mills, and Aiyana Uter are Claflin’s BlueScholars. BCBS also selected students from Benedict College.
They recently began monthly lunch-and-learn sessions with executives from BCBS of South Carolina. The students will begin internships and engage in career development workshops during the program’s second year.
The students share mutual backgrounds as high-achieving high school scholars who arrived at Claflin with impressive academic credentials. Their diverse interests beyond the classroom include sports, music, and community activism.
The scholars are acutely aware that lofty expectations come with full scholarships and access to corporate mentors. The students are preparing for employment opportunities at BlueCross, and all four are envisioning how they can fit into the corporate healthcare arena.
Computer science major Kamara Chima shows little hesitation while pointing out that she is not all she plans to be. Yet, as a BlueScholar, Chima knows who she is now and what she represents.
“Creativity, spirituality, and openness,” Chima says. “These are the values that I constantly live by.” Identifying her value system is one of the takeaways this BlueScholar has gleaned from the lunch-and-learn series, where the students have table talks with a different BCBS executive each month. Chima is especially inspired by the advice she received from Vida A. Jennings, a corporate training and diversity manager.
“She tells us to live life with values and a sense of awareness of what we stand for,” Chima says. “Being a black woman, I look up to these black women in the organization with genuine respect. They have a lot of education and knowledge to share, and they are sharing it with us.”
Chima’s outstanding academic accomplishments include her induction into the National Honor Society as a student at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, Md.
She was an English honors student who graduated high school with a 4.0 grade point average. At Claflin, she is a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), committee chairperson for the Friends of the Earth, a member of the National Society of Black Engineers, and a scholar in the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College.
Chima, who has two older brothers, was initially torn about where to attend college. She was also unsure about attending an HBCU and living in the South. However, she went to a Claflin alumni reception during the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Basketball Tournament in Baltimore, Md. She made Claflin – South Carolina’s oldest HBCU – her choice.
“All of the people at Claflin really made me feel like family,” Chima says, adding that the BCBS Scholarship provided additional financial support.
BCBS is South Carolina’s only state-operated health insurer. She is attracted to the company’s “people-centered” atmosphere – which she finds very similar to the campus culture at Claflin.
“Helping communities is what fuels their mission and drive, and that aligns with what I hope to do in my career,” says Chima, who sees the art in creating online digital systems.
“I’m happy that there’s a place in the world of health care where I can insert my abilities and make an impact,” Chima says. “I just want to be a creator in life. I want to create works of art that speak to me. With faith and collaboration, I hope my work resonates and uplifts communities.”
Siri Davis is an accounting major from Orangeburg, S.C., with a minor in computer science. She believes working at the healthcare company will be symbiotic – matching her skill for navigating technology that constantly evolves with the company’s complex databases.
“This scholarship is fantastic,” says Davis, the youngest of three and the second sibling to attend Claflin.
Both older siblings are college graduates, and her parents were prepared to help their third college student. However, the BlueScholars all-expenses award has been a welcomed bonus to Davis’s self-described “middle-class black family, where education is always important.”
“We meet with an executive every month, and they each have a separate lesson plan for us,” Davis says of the monthly sessions. “We recently participated in an interactive session about self-awareness.” With that session in mind, Davis points out that she enjoys campus life while continuing to excel in the classroom. She is balancing life as a college student with the goal of graduating within four years.
“Many students arrive at college and are unable to balance the social aspects of campus life with their academics responsibilities,” says Davis, who was enrolled in college preparatory courses in pharmacy while attending the Orangeburg High School for Health Professions. Her extracurricular activities include being a scholar athlete on Claflin’s Lady Panthers volleyball team and helping players from her former high school – HSHP – develop their volleyball skills.
Heeding the voice of her parents and her own, achieving academic success is a priority. She was an honor-roll student all four years in high school and has made the President’s List at Claflin.
“Balance is important,” Davis says. “My advice to anyone is to consider what you learn from everything. I’ve taken much of what I learned and needed and applied it to what I’m doing now and as I prepare for the future. I want to be ready for the corporate world.”
When Alexander Mills and his family learned he was selected as one of four inaugural BlueScholars at Claflin, there was a lot of joy and a little “freaking out” in the Mills household.
“I know they don’t give that scholarship to a lot of people,” says Mills, an applied mathematics major from Columbia.”
Humble and hardworking, Mills was in a discovery program for high-achieving students at Spring Valley High School. The advanced placement workload was so rigorous that when he struggled in some courses, Mills considered dropping out. His parents encouraged him “to keep pushing through” and told him his efforts would be rewarded.
“When I got the scholarship, they were very happy for me and said my perseverance paid off,” Mills says. “I was super excited and ecstatic, too – just like my parents.”
Mills is mindful that his success is a beacon to his family, including his 16-year-old sister, who he says “is very bright on her own,” and hopes she considers him a worthy role model.
The BlueScholars award has heightened his experiences at Claflin, where he is a member of the band. His first semester also found him returning to Columbia for a weekend job working with his high school band.
Mills had initially considered attending several other universities, but those memories have faded since receiving the BCBS scholarship and other recognitions since enrolling at Claflin.
“I wanted the HBCU experience,” Mills says. “I’m getting that at Claflin, and the BlueScholars award enhances my experience.”
Through the monthly lunch-and-learn series, the corporate connection also gives him a community perspective. “We get to meet different people in the company, and they talk about how to work in different environments and how to evolve and handle different situations,” Mills says. “They talk about goals, their future at their company, and how the internship can affect our career and personal goals.”
Aiyana Uter openly admits that she wants to leave an indelible mark in academics and her professional career. The marketing major from Fort Mill, S.C., is vice president of Claflin’s Friends of the Earth environmental club. Uter admits that she and another student revamped and revitalized the organization shortly after she joined. Uter also makes and sells copper jewelry as an outlet for her creativity and to stay connected with nature.
As a recipient of the BCBS BlueScholars scholarship, Uter recognizes how the prestigious award has impacted her family, including her parents and three siblings.
“As the oldest, having that full ride and being able to show my younger siblings what they are capable of achieving is very exciting,” says Uter, adding that her parents were exceedingly thrilled by her accomplishment.
They had much to appreciate even before the scholarship award. Uter excelled in advanced placement classes, consistently made the honor roll, and held a student council position for three years at Catawba Ridge High School. In addition to volunteering at assisted living, nursing, and retirement homes and at elementary schools, she was an All-Region selection as a senior for a Catawba Ridge High team that captured a Region 3-4A tennis title.
“I was very ambitious,” Uter says. “The high school I attended opened in my sophomore year, so I was there to help build the culture and establish the school’s reputation. I wanted to distinguish myself and leave a lasting impression.”
She has displayed that same determination and intensity as a scholarship recipient at Claflin. She applies what she learns in her marketing classes to monitor the insurance corporation’s social media accounts. Her duties offer her a preview of how she can contribute to BCBS in the future. Interacting with BCBS’s executives at monthly lunch-and-learn sessions further fuels her intentions.
“Honestly, it still shocks me that we have in-depth conversations with these corporate executives,” Uter says. “It has a big impact. They are leaders who have achieved so much in this corporate environment. Hearing about their experiences helps me understand the correlation between how this scholarship and the internship will help prepare me for career opportunities and personal and professional development.”