Richards semi-finalist for Gates scholarship

WINNSBORO – Two students from Fairfield County have been distinguished as being among 2,000 semi-finalists out of 33,000 applicants for one of 300 Bill and Melinda Gates scholarships. The prestigious scholarships cover up to $200,000 each for winners to attend any college or university of their choice within the United States.

One of those students, Lamar Richards, a senior, lives in Fairfield County and now attends the Richland One Middle College, a free, public charter school on the campus of the University of South Carolina. The other is Janiece Jackson, a senior at Fairfield Central High School.


Aside from being a semifinalist for the Gates scholarship, Lamar Richards has already been accepted to 11 top universities in the nation, with offers of full rides from Louisiana State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Furman.

The scholarship offer to LSU came after Richards and project partner Austin Greer earned first place in Engineering and Technology at a research conference in Baton Rouge last summer. Their win marked the first time in the conference’s history for a high school team to be invited to the undergraduate competition, let alone take home the win.

“That was a really great experience and it was even more incredible to win,” Richards stated. “It was a lot of hard work to get there, and it was very gratifying to have that hard work recognized.”

The project focused on creating fresh alternatives to dental-ware currently on the market that is both aesthetically pleasing and cost-effective. Richards is now preparing to publish that winning work and submit it to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research and to the Hill Research Conference in Washington, D.C.

Richards and Greer are now raising funds to travel to the national competition. Several foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have shown interest in replicating Richards’ and Greers’ research once it has been published, Richards told The Voice.

“We expect to publish in March,” Richards said. “We’ve been working on it since last summer. Because our research was government funded, foundations such as the Gates’ will have access to it. It’s all pretty exciting for us.”

Last weekend, Richards received another distinction – induction into his school district’s Hall of Fame as a “Legend in the Making.” And with his myriad academic achievements, his supporters say the label is likely prophetic.

In addition to being in the lead for valedictorian of his class that will graduate in June, Richards carries a perfect 4.0 GPA, taking 15 high-level college courses and electives along the way in highbrow areas of study such as organic chemistry, microbiology, biomedical engineering and 10 other Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

Richards attributes his success partly to surrounding himself with likeminded peers to help him keep his focus.

“I’ve had some great people in my life who supported me in going after the opportunities that are out there,” Richards said.

In looking to the future, Richards said he hopes to be a surgeon and medical researcher, but that he also intends to seek an MBA so that he can also serve in an executive leadership position.

One of Richards’ mentors, Dr. Jackie Long, a professor of biology at Midlands Tech downtown campus, said that Richards’ hard work throughout his young life has earned him these deserved accolades.

“Lamar is a highly talented and academically-decorated student. He continuously strives to attain the next level of excellence, and does not easily deter at the first sign of failure,” Long stated. “He is persistent in his pursuit of a rigorous education.”

While growing up in Winnsboro, Richards attended local public schools. In first grade  he was invited to apply to the magnet school for math and science. While attending Fairfield Central High School, he was accepted into the SC Governor’s School.

As the oldest of three children in a single parent home for much of his life, Richards credits the support of his mother, Alexis Perry, and his grandmother, Earlene Byrd Adams, for his perseverance to tackle challenges.

“My grandmother was a big part of my life from early on,” Richards recalls. “I still remember her walking me to my first day of preschool, and she really cultivated in me the drive to never give up.”

Richards said he expects to be the first in his family to ever attend college.

“I want to show my family that this is possible and that it can happen,” he stated.

Read about Janice Jackson here.

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