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Gates Millennium Scholar chooses to attend Whitworth

May 15, 2012
Recipient is a member of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe

Coeur d'Alene Tribal Member Vernie Ronald Johnson III, who was recently selected as a Gates Millennium Scholar (GMS), which provides a full-ride college scholarship, has decided to pursue his education at Whitworth University. He plans to major in kinesiology.

A senior at Lapwai High School, "Ronnie" Johnson has been on the Honor Roll throughout his high school career, has served as the captain of the LHS Knowledge Bowl team, and was the 2011 recipient of LHS's citizenship award. In addition, Johnson has participated in the Dual Credit Program to prepare for college and has earned college credits through both Lewis-Clark State College and the University of Idaho. He has also volunteered for the local Meals on Wheels program making and delivering meals to senior citizens in Lapwai and has served as a mentor for younger student athletes in local youth and middle school track and football programs.

In addition to his academic accomplishments, Johnson is a standout student athlete who has excelled in football, basketball and track throughout his high school career. Johnson will be attending Whitworth University starting in the fall, where he received an academic scholarship and an undergraduate minority diversity scholarship. He will play football for the Pirates.

"I knew I was a finalist for the program, but I was really surprised when my principal told me I had been chosen for the scholarship," Johnson says. "I'm really excited to be able to attend Whitworth – I visited their football program and I really liked their campus and the academic programs they offered. I just knew I wanted to go play football and get my degree there and I'm honored that the Gates Millennium Scholar Program is going to help me do just that."

Coeur d'Alene Tribal Chairman Chief Allan says, "The Coeur d'Alene Tribe is really proud of Ronnie – he has already accomplished so much both academically and athletically. He's a great role model for all of our tribal kids and he's definitely a rising star in our tribe."

Johnson was recommended and nominated to apply for the scholarship by the school's athletic director, Mary Lynn Walker and was encouraged by his science and English teachers to complete the application process. Approximately 24,000 students applied to the GMS Program and Johnson was one of 1,000 new students who received this year's award.

"Education continues to be the best pathway to opportunity, and we believe that college costs should not be an obstacle along that path," says Jim Larimore, deputy director for student success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "That's why scholarships like the Gates Millennium Scholars Program and others are so important. Scholarships provide students who have the will to get a postsecondary education with a way to get one, thereby securing a better future for themselves, their families and their communities."

The GMS Program is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and was established in 1999 to provide outstanding low income African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander American, and Hispanic American students with an opportunity to complete an undergraduate college education in any discipline they choose. The program provides recipients with leadership development opportunities, mentoring, academic and social support as well as financial support. The program is known for its recipients' high graduation rates – a six-year rate of 90 percent (45 percent higher than the national graduation rates for all students).

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.


Heather Keen, director of public relations, Coeur d'Alene Tribe, (208) 686-2023 or

Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or