By Justin Jones, Staff Writer
Sunday, May 5, 2013 —
A former Stanly County Schools student has been awarded one of the most prestigious scholarships in the country.
Morgan Howell, a former student at South Stanly High School and current student at North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, has been awarded the Morehead-Cain scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Morehead-Cain scho-larship was the first merit scholarship program established in the United States and offers four years with four summers of education and training, all at no cost to the student.
Howell transferred to the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham following his sophomore year at South Stanly.
While in Norwood, Howell showed a love and gift for science, particularly biology. Along with teacher Marlene Pratt, Howell was able to form the first AP biology class at South Stanly.
But following a semester in Pratt’s class, it became apparent that Howell had nearly drained all the resources available through the school system.
He applied and was accepted to the School of Science and Math, meaning he would leave home two years earlier than anticipated.
“That was the hardest thing we ever had to do, but we knew he needed more than he could have gotten here,” his mother, Gina Howell, said.
After transferring, it was almost as if he had hit the reset button. At a school filled with academic competition, he was taking basic classes and trying to stand out among his peers.
Howell did find his place, obtaining several leadership positions, including one as a resident life assistant for his dormitory.
He then used the opportunities available, including collegiate opportunities through Duke University.
A flier posted along a door asked for interest in Duke’s iGem team, which stands for International Genetically Engineered Machine.
“I guess it was blind ambition there at that point. I didn’t really think I had a shot at it, but I’m just going to throw on there what my inspirations are and what drives me, even though I don’t have the top teer credentials,” Howell said.
Through making the right connections, Howell was chosen to represent Duke as a high school student.
He and another student at the School of Science and Math teamed together with the program mentors and competed nationally at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
“That’s what moved my interest from biology to computer science,” Howell said.
“We competed at this college competition, presenting this research that we had worked so hard over the summer for. Literally sacrificed my summer for.”
The pair left with a silver medal, falling behind the University of Pennsylvania team, but edging out the Ivy League’s Yale.
Only 17, Howell has already impressed scientific minds across the country.
While observing and researching in labs at Duke University, Howell developed his own software, which he later shared before the school board.
“I wrote a piece of software that gated and analyzed between activated and inactivated cells so that scientists could more rapidly screen for genetic therapeutic targets for cancer,” Howell said.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, the right minds were in the room.
One entrepreneur urged Howell to pitch his ideas to Google. When Howell told him he didn’t have the finances to do so, he was afforded the opportunity to fly to southern California and present before a Google team.
After his presentation, Howell was offered an internship position at Google.
Although he won’t be able to accept it because of obligations through the Morehead program, it showed that others have noticed his abilities.
Neither of Howell’s parents were college graduates. His father Frank, along with his mother, make a living through a barbershop Frank owns in Troy.
Through their experiences, Howell said he was urged to do well in school and use education as a way to success.
“I’m one to attest that it’s a very large gap between South Stanly High School and School of Science and Math,” he said.
“That has motivated me to come back to Stanly County and reform the education system and sort of integrate some things that you would see in an urban system.”
Before he can make those dreams a reality, he’ll have several other opportunities through the Morehead-Cain program, which of all applicants has only a 3 percent acceptance rate.
To submit story ideas, contact Justin Jones at (704) 982-2121 ext. 24.