By MARINA WATERS
Just a few months ago, Daniel Boone High School senior Connor Wilson informed Duke University—his dream school—that he wouldn’t be interviewing for their college program.
Now, he’s ready to continue chasing the premed dream he’s had since he was a kid.
Wilson has been awarded a QuestBridge Scholarship worth over $200,000. The scholarship is designed as a way for lower-income students in rural areas to attend the nation’s top schools. QuestBridge is partnered with schools like Yale, Princeton, Vanderbilt, Dartmouth and Columbia University to allow students who are academically eligible to pursue their college dreams though they might not have the funds to do so otherwise.
Wilson will be attending Colby College in Waterville, Maine in the fall of 2017. Though it’s not the school he always pictured for himself, it’s a dream come true for the Boone student.
“I’ve always known I wanted to go somewhere big, go somewhere I feel like I’d have the best chance at,” Wilson said. “My sister was always super focused on her education and she always wanted to go big. I was like, ‘I really wanna go somewhere that I’m extremely proud of.’ When I looked at QuestBridge, all the schools were somewhere I was like, ‘I could see myself going here.’ It’s what I wanted since I was a kid.”
Wilson said he concentrated on his academics and community service to land a spot at an elite school. Activities like academic clubs, the soccer team and outside community service have kept Wilson busy. And his former AP chemistry and physics teacher Mike Taylor said Wilson’s well-roundedness also played a large role in his college search.
“I don’t want to say he was a model student because those aren’t really as well-rounded as he,” Taylor said. “And I know that the colleges and the QuestBridge people would rather see someone who is more well-rounded than someone who is so focused on studies; they don’t do anything else around the world. He is so involved that for him to do what he did in my class is wonderful.”
Before Wilson involved himself in his community, his mother Sarah recalled the moment she felt her son was meant for something big.
“I saw something at a very young age,” Wilson’s mother said. “I told him to go hang up his jacket. He couldn’t have reached that jacket. There’s no way he could have reached to hang his jacket up, but I just wasn’t thinking. Next thing I know, I hear this noise … He had gotten into his daddy’s tool box and he had gotten a hook and somehow had put this through a door where the key is. He figured out how to be able to make this concoction so he could hang up his jacket. He was a problem solver. And of course I totally knew it was my fault. I told this child to do this and he totally ruined the door, but he just saw things outside of the box.”
Now the high school senior hopes to solve some of the world’s problems; Wilson plans to double-major in neuroscience and Spanish. Pediatric neurosurgery is his main goal, but he has known since his grandfather was diagnosed with leukemia that he wanted to pursue a future in the medical field.
“I want to do research. That’s one of the reasons I decided to go into neuro,” Wilson explained. “You can’t really research a whole lot on the heart because we’ve got the heart pretty figured out, but we know hardly anything about the brain. There’s so much more that we can do to figure that out. I’d like to do research because impacting one life is huge; impacting thousands or millions of lives through research is a totally different scale. I’d love to be able to contribute.”
Along with his academic goals, the incoming college freshman also wants to aid those without proper medical care.
“I went actually on a mission trip in Nicaragua so I saw the health disparity there,” Wilson said. “These people, they live on matted dirt. So I definitely want to do something to use medicine. Go and help people outside of the country—those are future goals.”
In order to consider his future in such a large frame of mine, Wilson said he felt he had to think bigger than most high school students.
“Most people around this area, they don’t really go out and push the boundaries of what you can do educationally or even athletically,” Wilson said. “They kind of go for the norm. Coach Taylor for me was the teacher that was like, ‘Hey, you don’t have to be normal’. He was the guy that was like, ‘You can do better things than most people do.’”
When asked what he would tell other students aiming to attend an elite college, Wilson relayed similar advice to what he received from Taylor.
“You can do it is the main thing,” Wilson explained. “It’s totally possible. Don’t let people really tell you that ‘Yeah you can shoot, but you’ll probably just go to some other lower place.’ You can do it. It’s possible. All you have to do is put in the effort if you want it bad enough.”
He may be heading 18 hours from Northeast Tennessee to Colby College, but his mother, who is a fourth-grade teacher at Ridgeview Elementary School said she is proud her son is a product of Washington County schools. And now more than ever, she believes she was right all those years ago when she saw a big future for her son.
“(A small future) That’s not what he was made for. And to get a scholarship, period is awesome. But to get it based on merit and academics, as a teacher, I was so extremely proud,” Wilson’s mother said. “But I also expected it from him. I expected it. He wasn’t made—I’ve told him since he was little, he’s like David in the Bible. You weren’t made for small things. You’re not capable of small things. Go big or go home.”