By Christie L. Chicoine

CS&T Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA – As newly minted Gates Millennium Scholars, West Philadelphia Catholic seniors Jichang Ni and Patrick Osuagwu will be able to pursue their undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees at the college or university of their choice without paying a penny toward tuition, room and board.##M;[readmore]##

“It feels like I won the lottery,” Jichang said.

“It was one of the happiest days of my life,” Patrick said.

Both young men are 2005 graduates of St. Francis de Sales School in West Philadelphia. Patrick, a Catholic, belongs to St. Francis de Sales Parish. Jichang is Buddhist.

Both are considering careers in the field of medicine. Patrick may one day be a surgeon in his parents’ native Nigeria. Or a general practitioner or dermatologist, or researcher.

“I really want to be a doctor,” he said. “Medical school is my goal right now.”

Jichang, whose was born in China, wants to become a pediatrician or work in research, biology or business.

“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Jichang said. “Now, I can pursue anything I want to without any restrictions or obstacles.”

For Patrick, the scholarship was an answer to prayer. “I couldn’t expect to get a better gift from God. A burden has been lifted off my parents’ shoulders.”

Of the 20,500 students from low-income families nominated from across the United States for the minority scholarship program, 1,000 students were named Gates Millennium Scholars in mid-April.

“The competition was stiff,” Jichang said.

Knowing how selective the scholarship was, Patrick had been concentrating on a “backup plan,” he said. “A week before I got the scholarship, I was getting all my papers together to apply for a loan.”

Jichang and Patrick share bragging rights with four other alumni from West Catholic High and St. Francis de Sales School because, for the fourth consecutive year, Gates Millennium Scholars have been selected from both schools.

Both students had high praise for their Catholic schools.

Jichang said his parents initially sent him to St. Francis de Sales School because they considered it a safe environment for him. But it quickly became more than a safe haven, he said. “It was an extremely valuable experience,” he said. “It taught me morals, values and integrity which helped me grow as a person.”

Jichang said the best advice he received at the school was “be a self-directed learner.” He has been told time and again in high school, “Jichang, go for it. Don’t ever have any barriers.”

At St. Francis de Sales and West Catholic High, the academics and adherence to Catholic identity have amazed Patrick. Both schools and their administrations, teachers and staff have been “top of the line,” he said. “The teachers really care. They’re always there.”

Patrick is the youngest of four children of Samson and Mary Osuagwu. Samson is a regional rail supervisor for SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority). Mary is a registered nurse. One of her two part-time jobs is at Holy Family Home for the Aged in Philadelphia, which is operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Jichang is the oldest of two children of Ping Ni and Wang Sai Ming. His younger brother, Jimmy, is a fifth-grader at St. Francis de Sales School.

Their parents own and operate the Chinese restaurant New Harvest in West Philadelphia.

Patrick and Jichang “come from families that support them and support the school in what we’re trying to do for them,” said Sister Mary E. Bur, I.H.M., principal of West Catholic.

“West Catholic is honored to have students who have such a drive to do well,” Sister Mary said. “It’s just amazing to me that we could have six [Gates Millennium Scholars] in four years.”

At the same time, the principal is not surprised. “We have high expectations for our students. We have an exceptional faculty. They’re willing to go out of their way to help any student in any way – after school, before school, lunchtime, anytime a student needs help. I don’t know of any faculty member that would refuse.”

Sister Mary estimates that 40 percent of the student body at West Catholic is Catholic. “We’re a Catholic beacon to the community in West Philadelphia,” she said. “It certainly is a Catholic haven for our students.”

The Gates Millennium Scholarship program is celebrating its 10th year this year. For more information, call (877) 690-4677 or visit the web site

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or

What is the Gates Millennium scholarship?

The Gates Millennium Scholar application is not the average college application, said Sister Mary. Among other requirements, applicants must secure a nominator and a recommender, and complete eight extensive essay questions. “It’s not an easy task,” the principal said of the long and complicated process. “For them to stick by it and do it well is an achievement for them and an honor for us.”

Among other essay questions, applicants were asked to describe a situation in which they felt they or others were treated unfairly or were not given an opportunity they felt they deserved, why they believed the situation happened, how they responded and whether or not the situation improved as a result of their response.

In addition to what had been their favorite subject in school and why, applicants were asked to cite the subjects with which they had difficulty, the factors that contributed to their difficulties and how they dealt with those difficulties. They were then asked to name the subject areas in which had they experienced the greatest improvement as well any remaining problem areas.

They were also asked other than through classes in school, in what areas and how had they acquired additional knowledge or skills.