Most students do not enter college until after they complete a four-year high school degree. However, 12-year old African American student Caleb Anderson is taking a different route. When most of his peers were starting middle school, Andersen was starting college.
Anderson has always been ahead of the curve, mimicking his mother’s speech at just four weeks old, reading at six months old and signing in American sign language at nine months. By the age of three, he was already doing fractions and had passed the 1st grade. When it came time for middle school, Anderson was ready for courses well above middle school level; however, his parents decided not to push him forward.
“We still decided to put Caleb into the seventh grade to build social skills and just think about the well-rounded child.” said his mother, Claire Anderson. Yet, in traditional middle school, he felt unchallenged, breezing through work without studying. “I didn’t like the character that was building in him,” stated his mother. “He didn’t have any study skills, perseverance, grit. He didn’t ask for help.”
With Caleb’s educational and social needs in mind, his parents decided that the best solution for Caleb was to attend college under the supervision of his father. Currently, he is entering his sophomore year of college at Chattahoochee Technical College, majoring in aerospace engineering. He is set to graduate in two years with both a high school and an associate’s degree. From there, he plans to attend the Georgia Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Georgia Tech) for graduate school, continuing his focus on aerospace engineering. Eventually, he says he would love to earn a coveted internship working for SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and then work for NASA.
Robert F. Smith Helps to Expand Educational Opportunities for All African Americans
Caleb Andersen is clearly an extraordinary student, tacking college years before his peers. However, not all African American students have the opportunities to attend college at any stage of their lives due to many issues, including a lack of college prep classes, resulting in low standardized test scores. In fact, according to the United Negro College Fund, only 57% of African American students have access to the full range of math and science courses that would best prepare them for college. The lifelong financial burden that college tuition loans would create also deters many African Americans from pursuing a degree. Fortunately, philanthropist and entrepreneur Robert F. Smith is working hard to remedy the problem of student loan debt in many ways, expanding educational opportunities for African Americans through grants, scholarships and low-interest loans.
For example, at Cornell University, his alma mater, Smith pledged $20 million to the chemical engineering school and created the Robert Frederick Smith Tech Scholars Program, which financially aids underrepresented African Americans and female high school seniors pursuing an engineering degree at Cornell. Smith and his brother Allan also created the UNCF Sylvia M. Young Smith Scholarship Program, which awarded over $600,000 in merit-based scholarships to students attending accredited four-year historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs). Most notably, Smith paid off the college debt of the 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College. Over $34 million was donated to the Morehouse Student Success Program, which helped ease the financial burden of over 400 graduating seniors.
Recently, Smith launched the Student Freedom Initiative (SFI). Funded by grants from both the Fund II Foundation and Smith, this non-profit organization will offer juniors and seniors at nine HBCUs majoring in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) a flexible, lower-risk alternative to high-interest private student loans. The program aims to help 5,000 new students each year.
Smith and the Fund II Foundation
Aside from the SFI, the Fund II Foundation, of which Smith is founding director and President, is working on other projects to expand educational opportunities. The Fund II Foundation partners with InternXL, a program that helps to connect students of color with internship opportunities in many fields of study. The Fund II Foundation UNCF STEM Scholars Program was also launched in 2016 with a $48 million initiative aimed at addressing diversity gaps that exist in the STEM fields. Over the course of five years, 500 students will receive thousands of dollars in scholarships to attend the college of their choosing.
Learn more about Robert F. Smith’s efforts to help expand educational opportunities for minority groups, including the Student Freedom Initiative.