WATERLOO — Ever since middle school, Alonzia Quinn has been interested in attending a prestigious college like Stanford University.
The East High School senior was participating in a program at the University of Northern Iowa Center for Urban Education during seventh grade when students were assigned to pick a random career and learn about it. She chose forensic science and “did a lot of research on” what it means to be a pathologist.
Quinn has since nurtured an interest in that field and within a year she had narrowed down a list of great colleges at which to earn a degree, including Stanford. The San Francisco Bay area institution is among the top U.S. universities.
“They were always at the top of my list,” she said, behind only Vanderbilt University.
As a result, when a notice from Stanford saying that she had been accepted on a four-year full-ride scholarship showed up on Quinn’s phone Dec. 1, there was a lot of excitement.
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“I was in art class, specifically, and then I freaked out,” she said, upon seeing the news.
She ran up to the classroom of Matt Tracy, her International Baccalaureate English and theory of knowledge teacher, to tell him. She then stopped in her other IB teachers’ classes to share the announcement. “So, I was running between the first and fourth floors,” said Quinn.
“She’s an amazing young person,” said Ellen Shay, IB Diploma Program coordinator for Waterloo Community Schools’ East and West highs. “I was over the moon when she told me. She’s so deserving.”
Shay said getting a full-ride scholarship for academic reasons is a feat few students achieve. She only recalls one other Waterloo Schools’ student earning a similar scholarship to a prestigious university – that time on the East Coast – more than a decade ago.
That’s the case “in part because students have to work really hard to get these,” she noted. “If we could clone Alonzia, we would have an amazing school. She is an outlier.”
The scholarship was awarded through an organization called QuestBridge, which accepts applications for high-achieving students from low-income families. Quinn’s tuition, housing, meals and books will be paid for.
“It covers everything, but then I still have to do work study,” she said.
Forty-five colleges and universities across the country partner with the organization. Students can apply to as many as 12 schools, writing a common essay and submitting supplemental materials for each. She applied to six and was among 6,312 scholarship finalists this year, including 1,674 who were notified of a college match Dec. 1.
According to the letter she received from the organization, more than 9,000 QuestBridge Scholars are attending the partner schools.
To qualify, “you have to have a higher GPA” and need to have taken rigorous courses, said Quinn. “They look at volunteering, passions, interests, all the clubs you’re in. It’s a really wide spectrum that they look at.”
She will major in human biology and has already updated her Twitter profile on social media to say “Stanford ‘26.” But she is still getting used to the idea of being accepted as a student there.
“It’s insane, it’s so surreal to me,” she said.
A trio of Quinn’s teachers listed the qualities and activities that helped make this possible for her. They said she is hardworking and inquisitive. They pointed to her involvement in National Honor Society.
“I’ve had Alonzia for four years,” said Tracy. During last school year’s schedule of alternating hybrid in-person and online classes through the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, “she was one of four students who showed up every day.”
He added, “I think the hard worker thing is across the board, it’s everything she does.”
IB math teacher Krista Platte said the subject is Quinn’s most challenging. However, “she doesn’t quit.” Instead, the teacher said, when facing difficulty she asks, “How can I push forward? I think that’s one thing that sets her apart.”
On top of all that, said IB science teacher Erin Hogan, “she’s affable. She gets along with everybody.”
“I think that when you consider a college like Stanford,” said Platte, “what she has done sets her apart enough even to apply. She sets the standard for other kids. Nothing is beyond an East High student if they choose to pursue it.”
Shay said participating in IB, an internationally-recognized advanced diploma program, “may have helped polish what is already an amazing young student” by improving her writing and critical thinking skills.
Quinn said determination was an important ingredient to get her to this point.
“If I’m determined to accomplish something, I’m going to go after it,” she noted. “Ambition is something that drives me, for sure.”
She said several past experiences have helped prepare her to move halfway across the country for college. One of those was Classic Upward Bound’s six-week summer residential program, where students take classes at UNI and stay in the dorms. The other was attending the Global Young Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C., and New York City during the last two summers.
The first year she learned about international leadership strategies with other students from all 50 states and more than 145 countries, visiting embassies and the United Nations headquarters. Last summer’s focus was law and crime scene investigation, exploring the full range of professions in the legal and forensic science fields. Both years, the Waterloo Schools Foundation awarded her funding to participate through its Young Scholars Program.
East High Principal Joseph Parker praised Quinn as a diligent student.
“We have a lot of students that don’t have that intrinsic motivation to get work done,” he said. “I’m really proud of her for being able to stick with it and do that.”
He wants East students to take notice that “someone from your community who looks like you and talks like you” was awarded a full-ride scholarship to Stanford.
“I’m hoping it kind of becomes a spark or a beacon for other students, that they can get into any universities they want to,” said Parker.