LEFT: Qianli Wang is pursuing a PhD and MD at Washington University in St. Louis
CENTER: Chardenay Davis attended Spelman College before receiving her Master’s degree from Rice University
RIGHT: 2017 Paul Jepsen Scholarship Recipients Dinesh Karki, Tinca Joyner, and Micah Griffin
From the beginning, the staff of Central High School has been committed to giving every student an opportunity for a bright future. Some of those students have gone on, using their knowledge to establish a foundation upon which their futures can thrive. And some students have gone even further, building success and using it to help students whose shoes they once occupied. Ed Jepsen, CHS 1961, is one of those students.
In 2002, Jepsen and his family established the Paul Jepsen Scholarship, a generous award worth $80,000, which is given annually to three graduating seniors. The scholarship was primarily Jepsen’s way of honoring his father, Paul Jepsen, CHS 1929, and the legacy of family members who also graduated from Central spanning multiple generations. However, it has grown into something much larger than a simple way of honoring the past; the scholarship has connected the entire Jepsen family to generations of Eagles who are striving to change the world.
“It has just been a life-changing experience,” said Chardenay Davis, CHS 2007, “I have trouble even putting into words just how grateful I am for that scholarship.”
Davis, an Omaha native, made a cross-country move and decided to attend Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. The new environment helped propel her into a successful future which has required her to be both brave and adaptable to change.
“That school made all the difference in who I became,” said Davis, who graduated with a double major in English and secondary education. “Without the Paul Jepsen Scholarship I wouldn’t have gone to Spelman. Atlanta was important, and brought me up. It wasn’t a normal college experience, and it was so special.”
Familiar by then with living life outside her comfort zone, Davis moved to Japan after college to teach English through the prestigious JET program. She continued on to Rice University to get her Master’s in Education, and now teaches 7th grade English in Houston. With her sights set on her PhD, which would prepare her to continue making strides in the field of education as a leader, she credits her academic success to the English instruction she received at Central.
“My English teachers helped me find my direction,” she said. “[Furthermore] Central helped me develop the skills needed to make sound decisions in my college years and in my career. My teachers sat down with me, spent time with me, and helped me. When I left Central I had been stretched in a lot of ways.”
Every year, teachers and administrators from Central gather to submit suggestions for the Paul Jepsen Scholarship. The awards are based on merit, financial need, circumstance, and involvement in extra curricular activities. The final candidates are then evaluated by the Jepsen family, and every year they travel from their respective corners of America to sit at Central High School together and discuss who the winners should be. To date, the family has awarded forty-two Paul Jepsen Scholarships to CHS seniors.
It’s a way for the family to get together, said Jepsen. “It means a lot to participate in a meaningful activity together.”
He said the scholarship allows his family to reflect on the circumstances of others, such as being from a single parent home or speaking English as a second language. “[The family] gains a greater understanding of the world, and it is inspiring to see what some of these candidates have been able to accomplish.”
In fact, “inspiring” would be a word used in reference to Qianli Wang, who won the Paul Jepsen Scholarship in 2010. Wang attended the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and received a bachelor’s degree in biology. He is currently at Washington University in St. Louis studying simultaneously for his MD and PhD through their Medical Scientist Training Program.
“The scholarship was very important to my undergraduate research,” said Wang. “With their support I was able to stay in Lincoln during the summer to do research full time.”
Wang, who worked with the respected Dr. Lu Wen Zhang at UNL, conducted research on the Epstein-Barr virus and its ability to cause cancer. With the financial ability to stay at school during the summer semester, he was able to devote more uninterrupted attention to the research. And that hard work paid off. The paper documenting his undergraduate findings is now under review for publication.
“It’s my first big paper… I really made a contribution and now it’s about to be published. It’s very exciting and their support has been a big part of making that happen,” said Wang.
That undergraduate research was also essential to getting into Washington University, Wang said. They wanted applicants with experience doing research in undergraduate labs. The experience he received, with the help of the Paul Jepsen Scholarship, was an invaluable requirement for moving forward to get his MD and PhD.
“The education I got at Central has been a spectacular foundation. They really prepared me well for college. All the AP classes that were offered allowed me to transition well into college. The math and science classes were wonderful, and I was extremely prepared for writing and thinking critically.”
In 2016, the Jepsen commitment to Central High School became even stronger when Ed made a substantial pledge to the Central High School Foundation’s Legacy fund. The CHSF Legacy Fund, a permanent support endowment, is designed to ensure that current and future generations of Central High School students and staff will have access to the additional resources and opportunities needed to help them to be successful in the classroom and beyond. Mr. Jepsen, when asked about his Legacy contribution, said, “I have always had a fondness for Central in terms of what it does and the quality of public education it has been able to maintain over the years. I think it is an important institution.”