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Students share how James B. Edwards scholarships changed their lives

By Allyson Crowell
Office of Development and Alumni Affairs

One medical student knew he wanted to be a doctor at age 12, when he spent three months at MUSC in treatment for seizures. Another student moved to Charleston during the fall of communism in her native Bulgaria, after her father won the green card lottery. And one young man decided to study psychiatry in hopes of treating diseases often downplayed in his own community.

These students number among those who received scholarships named in honor of MUSC’s longtime president, Dr. James B. Edwards. This year’s scholarship recipients gathered at Dr. Edwards’ Mount Pleasant home one recent afternoon. They nibbled cookies by the fireplace, as Dr. Edwards asked for each of their names and hometowns.

“I’m honored to have you in my home, and I hope you’ll keep in touch,” Dr. Edwards said. “I feel like you’re a part of me.”

College of Medicine scholarship recipients (left to right) gather with Dr. James B. Edwards (center) at a reception at his home: Thomas Larrew, C. Rashad Smith, Shayla Freeman, Lance Braye, Benjamin Stoner, Rali Peneva, and Cody Gathers.

The James B. Edwards Scholarship, awarded each year to two incoming students, provides a waiver of tuition and fees, plus $5,000 annually for all four years of medical school. The James B. Edwards Award, also presented to two incoming students each year, provides $10,000 annually for all four years. Both merit-based awards rely on funding from Dr. Edwards’ colleagues and friends.

Lance Braye, a first-year medical student from Walterboro, always wanted to be a doctor. The son of a nurse, he remembered going to restaurants in his small hometown and frequently stopping to talk to people who remembered how his mother, “Miss Ruby,” helped them when they were sick.

“I wanted that,” Lance said. His scholarship not only makes life easier now, he said, but it will benefit his future family when he doesn’t have as much debt to repay later on.

“There are few times in my life that I’ve been speechless, but the day I got the scholarship was one of them,” he said.

Shayla Freeman, a third-year student from Greenville, didn’t always plan to become a doctor. She previously worked in New York and Los Angeles, scripting film and commercials for advertising agencies. She decided on med school only after several years in the production industry.

“That’s what this scholarship was to me,” Shayla said. “It made me feel confident that I did the right thing and that I was in the right place.”

She told Dr. Edwards that, as each year passes, she feel less certain about what specialty she wants to pursue. “That’s normal, by the way,” he assured her.

Rali Peneva, a first-year student born in Bulgaria, said she also is interested in every area of medicine. She came to Charleston when she was 6, during the fall of communism in her native country, when her father won the lottery for immigrant visas for their family.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like without having this financial help,” Rali said. “My family is being very generous. I feel like I owe them the world but, with this scholarship, I feel like I’m contributing something.”

Rashad Smith, a fourth-year student from Spartanburg, chose psychiatry, because he wanted to study diseases often “swept under the rug” in the African American community, especially those disorders related to substance abuse. When he completed his rotation in psychiatry at MUSC, he felt comfortable working with patients who suffered from social disorders.

He also felt inspired by his scholarship’s namesake. Dr. Edwards, a dentist by profession, also served as South Carolina’s governor from 1975 to 1979 and as the third U.S. Secretary of Energy.

“I didn’t have people around growing up who said, ‘You can be a doctor,’” Rashad said. “This is a good way to give back. After reading the history on what Dr. Edwards has done, I would like to reciprocate."