Charleston student earns $100,000 scholarship

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

CHARLESTON, Mo. -- When Charleston High School senior William "Wilson" McNeary IV applied for a $100,000-national scholarship earlier this year, he was hopeful to at least become a finalist in the program.

On May 4 in Long Beach, Calif., McNeary was named a winner of the Proton Energy Scholarship, which recognizes and awards high school seniors who demonstrate outstanding achievement, excellence and promise in the fields of science and technology and plan to pursue higher education in these areas.

"I was pretty surprised when they called (in April) and said I was in the top 10. It was great but I wasn't expecting to win," McNeary said

As a winner, William received a four-year undergraduate scholarship prize of $100,000. He was one of 10 finalists chosen out of 550 applicants nationwide.

Entrepreneur Tom Sullivan surprised everyone during the announcement of the winner of the Proton Energy Scholarship when he awarded all 10 finalists with a $100,000 four-year undergraduate scholarship at the NHA Hydrogen Conference and Expo). The initial plan was to give the four-year scholarship to one of the 10 finalists, but Sullivan decided all were worthy of the full scholarship and made the presentation.

"All 10 finalists are truly exceptional individuals and it was impossible to only give away one $100,000 scholarship, so we awarded all the students the grand prize," said Sullivan, supporter and funder of the Proton Energy Scholarship. "Each and every student shows tremendous promise in fields of science and technology, and we are excited to help support the bright futures ahead of these talented individuals."

The scholarship is sponsored by global hydrogen leader Proton Energy Systems, which is owned by Sullivan, and administered by the Hydrogen Education Foundation.

The Proton Energy Scholarship finalists were evaluated on academic performance, strength of application, commitment to further education in a science or technology related field, financial need and demonstrated leadership, work ethic and community involvement.

"I hadn't really found a scholarship like this one that was this close to my interest," said McNeary, who has always had an interest in alternative energy.

McNeary said he learned about the scholarship from his high school counselor, Lisa Harris.

Harris said she found the scholarship offered by the global hydrogen leader online one weekend while researching scholarships for her students.

"I found it on Feb. 7, and the deadline was Feb. 10," Harris recalled.

Harris said the scholarship was exactly what McNeary wanted to get into so she called him, and he eagerly began the application process, she said.

"The application itself was pretty intense," Harris said.

McNeary said he put forth his maximum effort on the application process, which required filling out a lengthy form, writing a short essay and two other essays as well as getting letters of recommendations from teachers.

McNeary narrowed his focus to three things he thought could make a convincing case for his receiving the scholarship. The first, he said, was financial need.

"Both my parents are teachers so we definitely were going to need help paying for college," McNeary said.

He also wrote about his academic achievement and work ethic throughout his school years, McNeary said.

"The biggest reason I wrote about was how interested I was in alternative energy and how closely I felt the scholarship linked to my future career. I've had an affinity for chemistry and I'd like to work in a field that utilizes the enjoyment of my love for the subject," McNeary said.

A member of the marching and jazz bands, McNeary is also a member of the Student Council, Environmental Key Club and Future Teachers of America. He organized a collection of blankets for Hearts for Africa, an organization that gives supplies to orphaned, homeless children in Africa.

"We're very excited here to have someone be honored with a scholarship like that and he is very deserving," Harris said. "I know the money will be put to good use, and I think he will do wonderful things with his education."

The counselor said it's definitely not common for a student to receive a $100,000 scholarship. The closest four-year scholarship students have received is about $60,000, Harris said.

"It's pretty amazing, and he's very deserving. He's an all-around, good young man," Harris said of McNeary.

McNeary, who is the son of William and Charlotte McNeary of Charleston, said his experience at the three-day conference was incredible.

"I think my family is going to send a couple thank you gifts, but I don't know if there's any way we could express our gratitude to them. We're grateful to our counselor and a couple of teachers who wrote recommendation letters for me, and we owe thanks to them as well," McNeary said.

McNeary even met California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger while at the conference.

"I got to talk to him and shake his hand," McNeary said of Schwarzenegger, who attended the conference to receive an award.

McNeary plans to attend the University of Missouri in Columbia this fall and wants to help America to eventually become energy dependent.

The high school senior said: "I hope I can put the gift they've given me to good use and get a good college education and go out and help in the effort to get alternative energy more widely used and accepted."

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