I remember the moment of pure exhilaration when I was chosen to become a Bezos Scholar. In my small East Texas town, I had never heard of an opportunity of this magnitude. Remarkable students from across the United States and Africa would join together to listen to speakers sharing their passions with the world. We as students were to become the next wave of leaders, thinkers, and innovators changing the way we see our world.
And why was I a part of that?
I asked myself this so many times. I haven’t done anything too special. I haven’t done anything that would mark me as different as a person. I only have a couple of good grades, one or two examples of leadership, and an ability to write a few essays. Out of all the juniors who applied, there was a 0.0003 percent chance of my name being chosen (give or take!).
In collaboration with the wonderful educators and leadership mentors, I was able to listen to my passions, like STEM education in elementary schools. Along with my educator scholar and the generous assistance from the Bezos Scholars Program, we created a Local Ideas Festival where participants built hovercrafts for younger students to ride and discussed the laws of rocketry. I personally was able to showcase how different salts make different flame colors, and another volunteer taught basic circuitry and computer-programming skills. Science was never a huge part of schoolwork in my little neck of the woods. But after our Local Ideas Festival, teachers were excited and wanted to make it an annual event.
Two weeks before I left for the Aspen Ideas Festival, I was in an accident while volunteering that resulted in the amputation of a finger. After I had undergone surgery, I felt as though I had lost what made me me. I didn’t think I could play instruments anymore or even use my hand correctly. But the Bezos Scholars Program still welcomed me with open arms. Through the process of our Local Ideas Festival, I realized that to change the world, we must keep moving forward. I am currently enrolled at the University of Texas, Austin, studying honors biomedical engineering to develop better prostheses for amputees. I’ve already designed one for myself and am in the process of designing the next one.
The Bezos Scholars Program helped me find what I’m passionate about. It equipped me with the skills I needed to make a difference and to inspire others to make a difference. Stay curious.
Jacob Urbina is a 2016 alumnus of the Bezos Scholar Program.