Niagara Gazette

May 5, 2013

Falls student Breanna Leslie Skye earns $20K scholarship from soft drink manufacturer

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Breaking barriers and shattering expectations is exactly what drives notable people to succeed and holds some human beings back from the scope of greatness.

No matter the adversity they endure, special people continue to push forward. People like Breanna Leslie-Skye, a senior at Niagara Falls High School.

Growing up, Leslie-Skye had a choice to make, not unlike many youth. She could have pulled up short, claimed a life in an economically disadvantaged city kept her from success. She could have succumb to the naysayers or her bullies, both of which, she said, were numerous.

But instead, she powered through and her hard work paid off in the form of a massive $20,000 scholarship through Coca-Cola.

“My mother’s always set an important example for me,” Leslie-Skye said. “Growing up, I always had a hard time at school. There were bullies. I have always been a little shy. I was hard to understand as a kid. But I channeled my energy into academics and it taught me how to be strong and to stay strong despite any hardships.”

Academically, it’s obvious Leslie-Skye has her head on straight. The Coca-Cola scholarship program takes applicants from across the country and offers 250 of them $10,000 toward college expenses. From those, an extra $10,000 is offered to the top 50 candidates after a networking event and interviews are conducted in Atlanta.

Leslie-Skye was chosen to be among the 50 for the full award, which will help her as she becomes the first member of her immediate family to attend college. And she’s chosen Columbia University as her destination, with an intent to become the next Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson studying astrophysics and astronomy.

Being the first person in her family to attend school does put a bit of pressure on her shoulders, she said. But it’s pressure she enjoys because it means she’s setting the correct example for her younger sisters, Cameryn and Sophie.

“I feel like I’m setting a milestone for my younger sisters, letting them know they can do it, too,” she said. “My mother always wanted me to go to college. Honestly, I think she’s grateful I’m setting a good example for them.”

The Coca-Cola money isn’t the only way her academic success has granted her access to schools like Columbia, as well as Duke and Cornell which she ultimately turned down. Columbia, it turns out, will provide Leslie-Skye essentially a full ride through school thanks to a small program designed to provide less-advantaged students with a head start. She’s also received a top scholarship through the Gates Millenium Scholar program.

She has grand designs of using the education she’s about to receive to join the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in hopes of bringing science and discovery back into the public sphere, which was recently scaled back due to budget cuts.

Eventually, she said she’s coming back home. She said beyond the pressure she feels from her family and from herself, there’s an overarching need from the community to be here and help right a ship which to many appears to be sinking.

“This is about more than just my family to me,” she said. “It’s about the community here as a whole. I do plan on coming back and I would like to help restore this city.”

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251, or follow on Twitter @timchipp.