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Cilla Shindell, University of Dayton

A 16-year-old senior at the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) has been selected as a Gates Millennium Scholar, a prestigious national scholarship award that will pay for his college education.

Charles Wilkes is among 1,000 students selected for the award from more than 20,000 applicants.

"It's a great honor," Wilkes said. "I attribute a lot of what I have learned to my mother (Theressa Brooks of Dayton) and to DECA. I learned how to multi-task and to avoid a lot of the things teenagers in my neighborhood get into. DECA helped me stay focused and stay on the straight and narrow."

DECA is an innovative charter school located at the University of Dayton. It's operated by the university under the sponsorship of Dayton Public Schools and it was the first early college high school in Ohio. DECA also is the nation's only charter school operated by a Catholic university.

Wilkes is a member of the senior cabinet and serves as a student ambassador for DECA. He was also a member of DECA's mock trial team and played varsity basketball for Belmont High School.

As the son of a single parent who worked at a local factory and who has been retired on medical disability, Wilkes said he has been worried about how he would pay for his education. The scholarship will pay for Wilkes's books, tuition, and room and board. It provides up to 10 years of funding to include undergraduate work and may extend into fellowships in one of seven specified graduate areas.

DECA focuses on first-generation college students, predominately from low-income or minority families, as well as those who might not be successful in a traditional classroom.

"DECA was created to make it possible for students to go to college who otherwise might not have explored the possibility," said Thomas Lasley II, dean of the School of Education and Allied Professions at the University of Dayton.

DECA will graduate its third class this spring. Every student who has applied to college has been accepted. In December, it was recognized as one of the country's best high schools by U.S. News and World Report.

by Cilla Shindell, University of Dayton

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