Teen gets college scholarship, donates savings to help other students in need

Joshua Nelson said he will donate $1,000 to the fund every year.

Teen gets college scholarship, donates savings to help other students in need
Courtesy Joy Nelson
June 3, 2021, 4:00 AM

A future college student is giving back in a big way.

Joshua Nelson, 18, from Missouri, is graduating from St. Charles West High School this week and will be attending Southeast Missouri State in the fall. He had saved up money to pay for his tuition, but when he received the college's President's Scholarship, he decided to take his savings and donate it to other students in need.

"It comes from my upbringing and faith," Nelson told "Good Morning America." "I've always lived by strong principles as far as being a cheerful giver and having an open hand when it comes to giving back so I feel like that really motivated me."

SEMO's President's Scholarship is the school's most prestigious, and is only awarded to five top students annually.

Joshua Nelson, 18, donated his college savings to fund a scholarship for future students in need.
Courtesy Joy Nelson

Nelson said he sat down and outlined how a scholarship could work to help future students who need financial assistance for college. Originally the plan was to give away $1,000 the one time, but then he met up with his counselor, Yolanda Curry, to iron out a game plan.

"I was actually shocked...I wasn't expecting it at all!" Curry told "GMA." "He asked if we could Zoom one day because he had a great idea and wanted to share it with me. I could tell he was really excited."

Nelson, in conjunction with his high school, set up the Joshua Nelson Leaders In Action Scholarship fund. Each year, $1,000 will be awarded to a senior. The money will come from donations, of which there have been $16,000 so far -- for a total of $17,435 at last count, according to the school.

With the money already in the fund, there's enough to give out a scholarship each year for over a decade.

"I would have never guessed in a million years that we would have this much funds," Nelson said.

The first scholarship was awarded on June 1 to Darrell Montalvo-Luna. As the inaugural recipient, his scholarship was $2,000.

Joshua Nelson (right) with Darrell Montalvo-Luna (left), the first recipient of the Joshua Nelson Leaders In Action Scholarship.
Courtesy Joy Nelson

"Joshua has the heart of a servant leader. He leads by example and he's genuinely excited when good things happen for other people," Curry said. "He's an encourager -- he's good at building others up and does what he can to help encourage and motivate those around him."

In addition to the fund, Nelson is also the first president of the school's Multicultural Achievement Council Scholars program, which aims to assist underrepresented students with college and career preparation.

Nelson said he wants to help people with his professional career as well. He will be entering into SEMO's pre-optometry program and majoring in biomedical sciences.

"My whole family has very poor vision, we're all relying on contacts and glasses," Nelson said. "I was thinking if I want to go into the medical field, let me go somewhere that's going to help me and my family."

He added, "If you take into consideration how much vision is going to downgrade due to exposure to blue lights with technology and stuff -- I feel like it's going to be a much needed profession."