Ba­jan girl gets first Ri­hanna schol­ar­ship

Daily Nation (Barbados) - - Front Page - By CAR­LOS ATWELL

WHAT ARE the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Robyn Fenty and Des­tini Gibbs?

Well, they are both born and bred Ba­jans but while one is a worl­drenowned mega singing su­per­star named Ri­hanna, the other may cause peo­ple to scratch their heads and ask “Who?”

But Gibbs is de­ter­mined to make a name for her­self – not in singing but in ge­net­ics – and she owes it all to Ri­hanna.

Gibbs is the first ever re­cip­i­ent of the Clara Lionel Foun­da­tion’s schol­ar­ship pro­gramme – the or­gan­i­sa­tion started by Ri­hanna in 2012, which is named af­ter her grand­par­ents, Lionel Brath­waite and the late Clara Brath­waite. The in­ten­tion is to award sev­eral peo­ple each year with the schol­ar­ship awards rang­ing from US$5 000 to up to $50 000, with the amount be­ing based on the stu­dent’s fi­nan­cial need.

But who is Des­tini Gibbs? The 20-yearold was born in St Michael and at­tended Head­start Nurs­ery School and the Charles F. Broome Pri­mary School – the lat­ter just like Ri­hanna did – be­fore mov­ing to Brook­lyn with her mother, Mar­queita Kell­man.

Gibbs at­tended The Bea­con School, a se­lec­tive col­lege-prepara­tory pub­lic high school in New York City. This pres­ti­gious school of­fers ex­ten­sive op­por­tu­ni­ties to par­tic­i­pate in stu­dent or­gan­i­sa­tions, var­sity ath­let­ics, com­mu­nity ser­vice, and in­ter­na­tional travel.

It also has a stock mar­ket club, de­bate club, model United Na­tions, math club, drama pro­gramme, film­mak­ing club, photo club, arts com­mit­tee, year­book, lit­er­ary mag­a­zine and stu­dent gov­ern­ment, as well as a wide va­ri­ety of ad­di­tional stu­dent clubs and ac­tiv­i­ties.

But the road was a tough one for the young woman as she had to pay her way through school, as is the norm over­seas, so when she got ac­cepted into the col­lege of her dreams, money be­came a ma­jor con­cern.

“I had dif­fi­culty get­ting funds for school. I was just try­ing to eke things out. I ap­plied for sev­eral col­leges but Cor­nell was my dream school so I was very happy when I got the acceptance let­ter but the money was al­ways at the back of my mind,” she said.

Kell­man chimed in at this point, say­ing Cor­nell was a very ex­pen­sive place to at­tend – around US$250 000 for four years – so with­out a schol­ar­ship, it was im­pos­si­ble un­less your pock­ets were very deep. Gibbs said she never lost hope. “I don’t think God would have al­lowed me to get this far with­out a way to get through fi­nan­cially,” she said.

And sure enough, help ar­rived. Kell­man said her daugh­ter looked at more than one schol­ar­ship pro­gramme but none of­fered enough un­til she came across the Clara Lionel Foun­da­tion in 2013 and was ac­cepted.

“I was so re­lieved when I got ac­cepted. It was nice not to have to worry about where I would get the tu­ition from. Now I can fo­cus on my aca­demics, which is a big weight off my shoul­ders,” she said.

But her mother said the foun­da­tion did not just pro­vide fund­ing but went above and be­yond the call of duty for her daugh­ter. “The spokesper­son for the foun­da­tion, Towalame Austin, did not give up. She made sure Des­tini got into Cor­nell. I can­not em­pha­sise enough the cru­cial role both she and Ri­hanna played in [Gibbs] get­ting into Cor­nell,” she said.

Now, the Bar­ba­dian stu­dent is at­tached to the Kwak Lab­o­ra­tory as an un­der­grad­u­ate re­searcher study­ing ge­net­ics. Her goal is to “de­velop a multi-se­quenc­ing tech­nique us­ing RNA se­quenc­ing tech­nol­ogy in or­der to can­cel out the batch ef­fect that arises when se­quenc­ing the nu­mer­ous genomes in our pop­u­la­tion” ac­cord­ing to Linkedin. If you have no idea what that meant, you are prob­a­bly not the only one, but it sounds im­por­tant.

Gibbs said she ul­ti­mately wanted to earn a PHD in ge­net­ics or ge­netic coun­selling but said it would have been a pipe dream with­out Ri­hanna and the foun­da­tion.

“I owe my en­tire col­lege ca­reer to her and I can­not wait for the day when I can pay it for­ward. The amount of grat­i­tude for her can­not be put into words. I think it is so won­der­ful she is giv­ing back like this and help­ing oth­ers,” she said.

As for her mother, Kell­man said she was proud but not sur­prised. Af­ter all, her daugh­ter had never shown any­thing but ex­cel­lence.

“I never had to worry about her. She was a per­fect stu­dent and the vale­dic­to­rian in mid­dle school. She is a hard worker so it is no sur­prise to me she is do­ing so well,” she said, adding Gibbs had also won the Er­rol Bar­row Memo­rial Schol­ar­ship – in the name one of Barbados’ na­tional heroes – in her high school sopho­more year.

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