Salina Som, a senior at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, has been named a Gates Millennium Scholar for the Class of 2014. More than 52,000 students applied for this honor which distinguishes her as a Leader for America’s Future™.
Aimed at helping minority students with financial needs for college funding, the Gates Millennium Scholarship program also provides academic support, leadership training and professional development for the 1,000 students chosen nationwide each year.
Salina’s strong leadership, community service and academic achievements contributed to her selection.
As a Gates Millennium Scholar, Salina will receive a scholarship to attend any accredited college or university in the United States. The renewable scholarship initially funds undergraduate studies, and can also fund Salina’s education through the master’s and doctoral levels.
This is the second consecutive year that St. Petersburg College has produced a Gates Millennium Scholar. Maria Thurber won the award last year and is now a student at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., studying international relations.
Salina plans to pursue a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Florida followed by a doctorate in Pharmaceutical Engineering. She discovered her passion for the lab in a Organic Chemistry class at St. Petersburg College’s Collegiate High School.
“One of the last labs was a multi-synthisis lab for Acetanilide, which is aspirin,” she said. “On the last day of the lab I just put the flask down and the crystals started forming from the solution. It was really big crystals because it was pure. I was so excited. It was the first real drug I synthsized.”
Exposure to college science labs and a research paper on the Evolution of Drug Discovery also fueled her passion for medicine.
Born in Cambodia, her family moved to Boston when she was 3 months old and then to St. Petersburg when she was in first grade. Her father, Savonn Som, just celebrated 10 years on the custodial staff at St. Petersburg College. Her father is still trying to take it all in.
“I can’t tell you because it is too much,” he said. “My whole life I never thought about something like this.”
After escaping from Cambodia and then to Thailand and eventually America, he never even dreamed of things like having a car or getting an education. He gives his daughter all the credit.
“I just worked hard to put her in school,” he said.
Salina came to SPC as a high school sophomore from St. Petersburg High School’s pre IB program.
“It was a great program but just not a good fit for me,” she said. “Here I found more hands-on learning. The teachers gave me more attention when I needed help. It was less competitive and more collaborative.”
“I am so proud of Salina,” said SPCHS Principal Starla Metz. “She is a humble and hardworking student who is most deserving of this honor.”