Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Incoming freshman receives President’s Scholarship, creates scholarship fund with personal savings

Wednesday, August 4, 2021
Joshua Nelson delivers a speech during his high school graduation from St. Charles West High School this past May.
Photo Submitted by Joshua Nelson

When incoming freshman Joshua Nelson received Southeast’s President’s Scholarship, he took it as a sign it was his turn to start giving back to others in a big way.

Since the St. Charles native's college costs are covered by the President’s Scholarship, he decided to use his own college fund of $1,000 to create the Joshua Nelson Leaders In Action Scholarship.

The scholarship is for students at Nelson’s alma mater, St. Charles West High School, who are members of the Multi-Cultural Achievement Committee, have a 3.5 G.P.A or higher, and show leadership inside and outside of school. Nelson served as the first president of the committee during his senior year.

Nelson planned to add $1,000 to the fund each year to keep it going, but when word of Nelson’s good deed spread, his story received attention from news stations across the nation, and he said it seemed everyone wanted to contribute.

As a result, enough funds have been raised for the scholarship to have funding for more than a decade, Nelson said.

Nelson is preparing for his first year at Southeast, where he will enter the pre-optometry program and major in biomedical sciences.

Here, Nelson speaks with the Southeast Arrow about how the Joshua Nelson Leaders in Action Scholarship came to be, his family life, high school experience and what the future holds —

Arrow: How did you come up with the idea to create the scholarship with your own money?

Joshua Nelson: While in my last year at St. Charles West High School, I was the president of the Multi-Cultural Achievement Committee, and that's kind of where this whole story started. So, we started at the beginning of this year, and, basically, what the Multi-Cultural Achievement Committee does is it prepares historically-underrepresented minorities for college and career readiness. So I was already thinking of those things, and during that process is when I ended up receiving the SEMO Presidential Scholarship. After that happened, an idea came, which really was fate because, honestly, from a young age, I've been pretty attached to giving back to people. It’s something I’ve always loved doing and looked forward to doing, and I've always been excited to be able to do it in a big way. So, after I finally got the security as far as college for the most part being taken care of, I created the Joshua Nelson Leaders in Action Scholarship.

How did you gain that mindset at a young age of wanting to give back to others?

My faith plays a huge role in it because it really taught me that when you're obedient to God and you truly listen to him, how much can come from that. Honestly, this idea all started from the biblical principle of giving that got to me from a young age, and it was just eye-opening for me, and it really taught me, personally, how to hear God's voice and know when God’s telling you to move.

Were your parents also religious, and is that how you found your faith at a young age?

Yes, so my faith was a huge part of my upbringing — it was really unique as far as how my parents brought me up — as far as I can remember, my parents have taught me to always live by the Word of God and seek your own relationship with God because that's a topic my parents always told me, but I really didn't grasp that concept until I got into high school, like, you really can have your own personal relationship with God. I feel like once I started learning that you had your own personal relationship with God and you could see how God moves in your life, that's how faith really began to impact my life. And God continued to grow me as I studied his words as far as living by the fruits of the spirit of love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, things such as that.

Being awarded the President’s Scholarship from Southeast is a pretty big accomplishment in academics. Did you get good grades and enjoy school while you were growing up? What extracurricular activities besides the club were you involved in throughout high school?

So, I've always strived to do very well in the classroom and get involved. Mainly, it’s because my older brother set a very good foundation as to how to achieve because he actually did attend college with a full-ride scholarship to Jackson State University. So, kind of looking at his model encouraged me to want to do the same and to elevate it. So, my brother graduated high school, got a full ride scholarship, and I graduated high school, got a 4.0 [GPA], and I got the Presidential Scholarship. And, you know, I feel like a big principle I've lived by as far as getting involved in a whole bunch of extracurricular activities is to make sure I'm not just getting involved to be involved or to put it down on my resume, [but to] make sure it's something that I'm engaged in. And I actually want to be invested in it, because when you're engaged in something versus involved in something, then you really put energy into it, and when you're asked about it, you can expand upon it really well.

Did your parents attend college, as well?

Both of my parents did go to college. My dad went to St. Louis College of Pharmacy, and my mom, she went to a couple of different places.

It seems like you have a lot of good role models to choose from — who would you say you looked up to the most as you were growing up?

I feel like all my family has played a role in inspiring me, personally. I mean, honestly, I could pick out each one of my family members as far as how they inspire me: My dad has always done a great job of inspiring me through his actions. My dad is honestly probably the most humble person I know because our family, we are pretty well off, but if you ever see my dad, he never shows it, and that's one thing I admire about my dad, and that's one trait I always try to take away from my dad. Even with this whole situation going on where I have been in the media a lot lately, when I walk through this hallway, I don't want to portray somebody who's unapproachable. I don't want to portray somebody who's Hollywood or something because he's on the news. I want people to know that I'm here for them — I'm not going to act any different than I was before. And I want to use this media exposure to help everybody who's in my circle or anybody who's associated with me, period. My mom, as far as me and my mom, we're almost like, it's almost like my sister because we're so close, and we talk about anything. My mom is always there for me when I need to talk about anything to give me advice. As far as my brother, I mean, as far as just being able to set a model of hard work and having a great work ethic. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my brother turn down any type of challenge that comes his way; he's always willing to put in the work for anything, and I truly admire him for that.

How has it felt for you and your family to see yourselves recognized on different news channels and the support and encouragement you’ve received nationwide?

Originally, we were kind of caught a little off guard because we've always tried to be the family that kind of tries to stay out of the scene. So we've kind of tried to stay in the back, so you know when all this happened, it definitely caught us off guard, like took some getting used to, but now we're really just trying to use this platform to inspire other people. And we really see it as something that God sent — this platform was created by God. This is kind of crazy, but I'm gonna tell you the story from my sophomore year — which really, everything happening is really a huge boost of my faith, because I had a conversation with my friends my sophomore year, and they had asked me a question. They asked me, “Josh, why do you believe in God? What is it that proves you that God is real?” At that time, my answer was, “You know what, I can't give you any type of a definite answer. My best answer is, watch my life over these next two years, and that should prove something to you.” And I didn’t know how that was going to show up — originally, I thought it was gonna be me hanging up a jersey, like being a big basketball star at my school, but honestly, what came was bigger than I could have ever imagined — all this coming has really proved a lot.

So you played basketball in high school; do you plan on playing any club or intramural sports in college?

Oh yeah, I definitely think I'm gonna play some intramural basketball when I come to SEMO. I have some friends that are coming to SEMO from my school that used to be on my team, so I think we're going to link up and make a little intramural team, so people might want to watch out because we're gonna definitely be killin’ it.

What are you planning on majoring in at Southeast, and how did you choose this major?

So, I'm going to be in SEMO’s pre-optometry program. I'm going to be majoring in biomedical sciences. The reason I'm going into pre-optometry is because I do want to go on to become a practicing optometrist or even an ophthalmologist — I'm kind of weighing the two right now. But I've always been interested in somewhere in the medical field, and usually it's kind of been a gray area as to where I want to go, but once I kind of did some more research in certain summer programs, I realized that the eyes is a huge factor that affects me and my family. We all have very, very poor vision. I rely heavily on contacts; my mom, my brother and my dad did have good vision, but unfortunately, I think it was two years ago he had a cataract — we had to get some surgery to get that removed. So, you know, the study of the eyes really affects my family, and I feel like if I go into the healthcare field, not only can I help others, but I can help people close to me.

How did you choose Southeast, and what are you most looking forward to as an incoming freshman?

So, basically, SEMO was the first school that really showed interest in me. My junior year, they actually offered me a scholarship — it was a $3,000 Copperdome Scholarship. And that's really what had me first looking at SEMO. And, from there, I just kind of went to some campus visits. I was looking at SEMO, and I was looking at other schools, but at the end of the day, SEMO seemed like it really cared about me, like, it really wanted me there, especially after they came and gave me the Presidential Scholarship — the fact that they drove two hours out just to surprise me really seemed to be a school that I feel like I'll be supported at. And I feel that that really drew me to SEMO. Not to mention, they have my program, as far as optometry. They also have a very good mass communication program, and I love video production. I've been doing video production since I was eight years old — I actually have a YouTube channel right now. And I feel like their video production program would definitely cultivate my video skills that I want to continue to build upon while I'm in college.