At 16, MPS grad is off to the Ivy League

August 22, 2014
Helen Fetaw

Helen Fetaw

Helen Fetaw and her MPS Class of 2014 classmates earned $31 million in scholarships


Going to one of the nation’s most prestigious universities is a goal of thousands if not tens of thousands of American high school graduates each year.
For Helen Fetaw, a graduate of Milwaukee Public Schools’ Rufus King International High School, that dream has become reality – at age 16.
She’s headed to the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school located in Philadelphia, this fall.
Fetaw’s success story is one of many among the MPS Class of 2014.
MPS’ 2014 graduates earned a total of $31 million in scholarships to colleges and universities including Brown University, Columbia University in the City of New York, the Milwaukee School of Engineering, Marquette University, New York University, the U.S. Naval Academy, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and many more. You can read more success stories at
Seats are still available in a number of MPS schools that start September 2 and families can apply at any MPS school, at MPS’ District Parent Resource Centers at North Division and South Division high schools, at MPS Central Services or online at
Fetaw was born in Zogno, Italy to parents originally from Eritrea in east Africa. She immigrated to the United States at age three.
From an early age, education was a focus.
“People spend time with the things they value and my parents mentored, inspired and challenged me. At the age of four my father and I would spend time at the public library or at home teaching me subtraction and addition with a box of Cheerios,” Fetaw said.
She also watched her mom earn a nursing degree.
“My mother truly inspired me going back to school with three small children. Witnessing the nights she’d stay crammed up at our little kitchen table for hours poring over books, motivates me to this day to continue in pursuit of my endeavors,” the Rufus King grad said.
Those early lessons from dad – along with absorbing everything her older sister brought home from school – helped Fetaw skip from K4 to K5 at MPS’ 81st Street School, she said. From there it was on to Lancaster School, 95th Street School and Samuel Morse Middle School for the Gifted and Talented, now part of Morse·Marshall School for the Gifted and Talented.
Even while taking advanced classes at a gifted and talented middle school, she sought an even greater challenge. Fetaw was promoted into 8th grade early.
Impressed with the dedicated teachers at each of the MPS schools attended, Helen speaks highly of her grade 8 biology instructor in particular.
“Ms. Stone took the time to understand me both as a student and a person. She encouraged my dedication to learning and sought to help me succeed in her class – assisting me before and after school answering my numerous questions and continuing to encourage me in all my endeavors,” Fetaw said.
She says she can’t thank all those who contributed to her education enough, including both educators and fellow students.
“I had the pleasure of studying with students that embraced education for all that it offers, in and out of the classroom,” Fetaw noted. “I admired the teachers who could make their students laugh with innovative diagrams and real-world anecdotes.”
She said that motivation that surrounds MPS students – again, both educators and peers – propels students to succeed.
Fetaw certainly has.
At Penn, she plans to study pre-medicine and biochemistry with a minor in bioethics and Spanish.
From there, the Rufus King grad plans to go on to medical school, pursuing research and traveling to enrich her experiences by providing medical services in countries that need assistance.
Her advice to her peers is to take advantage of different opportunities, take responsibility for your dreams and dedicate yourself to hard work.
“Persevere against all odds until the day that comes where your dreams and reality are one in the same,” she said.