Overcoming Adversity and Academic Defeat
When I think about overcoming adversity and academic defeat I can’t help but to think back to my first semester at Ohio State, autumn 2012, it was that semester that really shaped me into the person I am today. That semester was probably one of the most challenging times in my life, personally and intellectually. I grew up always knowing that I would go to college, I was fortunate enough to have had the privilege to attend one of the top high schools in Cleveland. I graduated with a 4.71 grade point average, I obtained college credits (via Ohio’s Post-Secondary Enrollment Option Program) and was number three in my high school graduating class; I served on student government and was a part of numerous other organizations, including 4-H, Youth Fund Distribution Committee and Youth Advisory Committee of Cuyahoga County, just to name a few. Thus, I figured if I continued what I had done the last four years then the next four would be just as simple. Upon arriving to Ohio State, I enrolled in 15 credit hours (taking the classes my academic advisor told me I had to) and maintained my high school study habits - which, let’s be honest, were really non-existent. Well, as we can all imagine I struggled, I struggled significantly and I still remember the day I failed my first math exam. It really came as a shock to me, I just remember thinking there’s no way, I’ve taken all honors math since eighth grade - and I excelled in it, so how could I had possibly failed this exam? Nonetheless, I went on convincing myself that next time would be different. So, instead of seeking helping after that, I told myself now that I know the format I would pass exam two. Well, the second exam quickly approached and yet I received another F, well in Ohio State’s case an E. At that point I felt defeated, I gave up - not just on math, but on Ohio State altogether; I was ready to go home. I was in a place that was pretty much foreign to me, I was constantly surrounded by people who did not look like me, speak like me, think like me, nor could relate to or understand the struggles I was dealing with. I felt isolated and alone, I remember calling home proclaiming I wanted to leave Ohio State because it was not the right fit for me, too ashamed to tell my family about my struggles, because I was the kid who “made it”. So not only did I not have someone to talk to on campus, I didn’t have anyone back home, to discuss what I was really experiencing with - academic defeat, for the first time ever. My family didn’t understand the college process, and in someway still to this day doesn’t, thus they could not provide any comfort to me, they couldn’t coach me through it, they couldn’t reassure me that things would get better - because they’ve never experienced it. I am a first-generation, first in my family college student and I’ve never felt so alone, dumb and hopeless than I did during my first semester at Ohio State. Thus I tuned it all out and put on the face so many students in my position put on, I smiled, laughed, and acted as if everything was going just as I had planned. Well, I went on to end that first semester with a whopping 0.972 GPA (yup, you read that correct); I failed my math course, withdrew from other course (I was lucky enough to even know that was a thing), and barely passed my other courses. At the conclusion of the semester I packed my belongings with no intentions of returning. I had been defeated.
About a week into winter break, I received “the email” from Ohio State consequently placing me on ‘academic probation’. The email was very long-winded and really focused more on the failures than the hopes and beliefs the University had in it students. It made no reference to support services for students, it didn’t give me any tips to improve upon my academics, it really only told me I was a failure and the University has loss faith that I would successfully matriculate through the system (check out the email on the right, I kept it because I’ve vowed to frame it in a diploma case upon earning my doctorate degree). So instead of calling a quits, at some point over the winter break, I chose not to give up; I did not want to become another statistic. I returned to Ohio State the following semester, I changed my major and sought assistance. I turned to people from all across the University for support; my professors; my NEW academic advisor; an individual, who unbeknownst to me would become a super mentor in my personal, professional, and academic journey; and my peers. I enrolled in tutoring and participated in study groups. And with that, I concluded my second semester with a 3.28 GPA and I never felt so good, I was on a high. It gave me the motivation I needed, it allowed me to see myself at Ohio State. I begin to feel connected to the campus, I no longer felt like just another number. I developed relationships and connections with people from all across the University, joined student organizations, and put it into my mind that I would go on to fight the fight for future students, so they don’t have to feel what I felt or experience what I experienced. I ultimately went on to graduate from Ohio State, on-time, in four years, with above a 3.0 cumulative GPA. I was accepted into a master’s program immediately after graduating and went on to complete that program in two years and am now pursuing a Ph.D at the very institution that had initially written me off six years prior.
My time at Ohio State is something that I will forever cherish, it taught me so many life lessons - from determination to persistence to self-wealth to self-care, but most importantly it taught me how to step outside of my comfort zone and continuously challenge myself (and the system). For my current college students and future ones, as you embark on this journey remember it won’t always be easy, but it’s completely worth it. You’ll learn things in college that you won’t learn anywhere else. You’ll learn so much about yourself. So, I encourage you to always challenge yourself to take advantage of the numerous opportunities presented to you; embrace your difference; embrace change; meet new people; challenge injustices, continuously reflect on your experiences, semester, year, and journey, because there’s nothing more valuable than self-awareness and reflection, as these are the true keys to self-improvement; and finally, step outside of your comfort zone. We all have our comfort zones, and while it’s not a bad thing, it can, at times, prevent us from fully immersing in a good experience. So as you go through this journey, we call life, as you step outside of your comfort zone, just remember to remain true to your authentic self and know that you are just as worthy to sit in those seats as anyone else in the room.
A midwestern native, DaVonti' was born in Detroit, Michigan and relocated to Cleveland, Ohio at the age of nine, where he graduated from Whitney M. Young Gifted & Talented Leadership Academy (Cleveland Metropolitan School District). DaVonti' is committed to the success of students from urban and rural communities and has dedicated his time to enhancing the student experience and bridging a pipeline between institutions of higher education and secondary school systems. His research interests include collegiate access for urban and rural populations, successful transition mechanisms, retention, and programming for students from high school to college. Currently, DaVonti’ is the assistant director of operations at the iBELIEVE Foundation, in addition to pursuing his Ph.D.
DaVonti’ Educational History:
2012 - HS Graduate, Cleveland Metropolitan School District
2016 - BA in public policy, The Ohio State University
2018 - Master’s of Social Work, The Ohio State University
In progress - Ph.D in agricultural communication, education, and leadership, The Ohio State University
Connect with DaVonti’:
DaVonti’ Haynes (LinkedIn)
Dream Chasers, Keep Chasing!
After watching numerous football games on Saturday, and playing NCAA Football, I decided early on, “I want to play football for the team in red.” As I grew older, I realized “the team in red” was The Ohio State University, and that was the school I wanted to attend. Following a number of growth deficiencies, I accepted football to not be in my future, but Ohio State was still a reputable school, one in which I still had plans to enroll. No one understood how this kid from Harlem heard about Ohio State, let alone how he was so set on attending the university.
Most times, when I would share my desire to attend Ohio State, I would often get a chuckle and a “yeah okay, we will see”. Most people did not doubt my capabilities as a student but did not believe I would leave New York for the Midwest. Others believed this fascination would eventually fade away, and I would attend college elsewhere. Despite their beliefs, no one ever told me my dream was not feasible, and tried talking me out of it. This stood true until I talked with my college counselor in my senior year.
“LeRoy, it’s nice you want to attend there, but you won’t get in there, and if you do, it will be too costly for you to attend.” I could not ration why she believed such thoughts, let alone try to deter me from attending my dream school. I was second in my class, and had performed relatively well on both my ACT and SAT. I had met with the regional admissions manager in New York, and he said he liked my chances to get accepted and was impressed with my passion for the school. Why would I not chase my dream? After hearing her feedback, I channeled my energy to produce the best application I thought possible. I was not going to let her suggestions turn me away from applying and giving myself the chance to get accepted.
January 17, 2014 I was accepted into my dream school. At the time, my principal was a Buckeye alum, and I remember emailing her informing her of my acceptance and hoped she would share the news to the entire school. On January 30, I was selected to receive the Morrill Scholarship Program Prominence Scholarship, a scholarship worth the value of in-state tuition for out of state students. This scholarship automatically put me in consideration for the Distinction Scholarship, a full-ride scholarship at the university. On April 11, I received notification that I was selected for Distinction, and could attend my dream school for free.
I share this story, as humbly as I can, to inform students to set a dream, and work as hard as you can to achieve it. There will be people along the way who try to deter you, and in pursuit, the dream might take a few detours, but sticking to it, you can turn dreams into reality. My favorite poem is “The Man Who Thinks He Can”, and in that it says, “success begins with a fellow’s will, its all in the state of mind.” Believe in yourself more than anyone else can believe in you. Chase your dreams, follow your passions, and make it happen!
LeRoy was born and raised in New York, New York, where he graduated from Harlem Village Academy High School in 2014. After graduation, LeRoy enrolled at The Ohio State University, the school of his dreams since a young boy. Working towards a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology, LeRoy became involved in a number of organizations during his time on campus which helped develop him inside and out of the classroom. After graduating in 2018, LeRoy decided to continue his education, again at Ohio State, enrolling in the Moritz College of Law. He is expected to graduate in 2021.
LeRoy Educational History:
2014 - HS Graduate, Harlem Village Academy High School
2018 - BA in criminology, The Ohio State University
In progress - Doctorate of Law (J.D.), The Ohio State University
Connect with LeRoy:
LeRoy Ricksy (LinkedIn)
From Big Fish to Small Fish
When I graduated high school I was at the top of my class and had a reputation for being smart and an overachiever. I was confident in my academic abilities, considered myself to be “a genius”, and had plans of becoming a psychiatrist. I’m not sure if I can be considered a first generation college student, because both of my parents have associates degrees, but I am a first generation bachelor’s and graduate degree student; so it was a really exciting time for me to be the first in my family to be pursuing a four-year degree. Since I had never had to study, received a 29 on my ACT test the first try without studying, and was doing pretty well in my post-secondary classes on top of being a cheerleader and involved in as many extra-curricular activities I could, I figured I would be fine in college. I only applied to one school for undergrad, The Ohio State University, partly because I only knew of two big colleges in Ohio (OSU and OU) and partly because I was totally sure I was going to get in, so I didn’t need a back-up plan. Luckily, I was accepted, and even luckier, I was awarded a scholarship to cover tuition and enough smaller scholarships to cover housing my first year. There were three other girls from my ~70 person graduating class going to OSU in the fall as well, so we all moved in together in August of 2010 to start our collegiate journeys.
I started at OSU as a Psychology and Pre-Med double major. My first quarter (because we had quarters not semesters still) I was in a freshmen survey class, an abnormal psychology class, a pop culture class, and an intro math class. I spent most of the day sleeping or goofing off with friends, never studied, and ended the quarter with a D+ in the math class and a 2.66 GPA. I was embarrassed, but blamed my failure on the professor. I would say he had a heavy accent and I couldn’t understand him, and he wasn’t very good at teaching. It would be fine the next time. My “next time” came in Spring of my freshman year and Autumn of my sophomore year when I started taking chemistry classes to meet my pre-med requirements. In Spring I got a D in a Chemistry 101 course, and in Autumn I got a D+ in a Chemistry 121 course, with a term GPA of 2.10. If I continued on the course I was on, I was going to continue to ruin my GPA, lose my academic scholarship, and certainly wasn’t going to get into med school. I had to have a lot of hard talks with friends, my parents, advisors, and a woman who eventually became my mentor, about what I wanted my career track to be, what my back-up plan was, and how I was going to improve. This was extremely difficult because I had never had to ask for help before. I came from a school that didn’t challenge me, so there was never a need to ask for help, and to ask for help meant that you were incapable and I certainly wasn’t going to admit that I couldn’t do something. But, very quickly, I had to accept the fact that I either had to ask for and learn to accept help and change my plan a bit, or fail. After researching careers in psychology, I realized I could get a PhD in psychology and be a psychologist instead of getting an MD and being a psychiatrist. I ended up dropping my pre-med major and picking up a forensic science minor to become a forensic psychologist. I remember telling my roommate, Jessica, how disappointed I was that I was giving up my dream of being a medical doctor and she said something along the lines of it sucks that you have to give up that dream, but now you get to pick a new dream, and that’s actually really exciting when you think about it. It wasn’t meant to be super deep, life-changing advice, but it’s stuck with me since she said it.
After changing my major and picking up a minor, the rest of my undergrad career went okay. My grades got better for the most part, I never really recovered from having two years of D’s, but I graduated with a 2.67 cumulative GPA and was the first in my family to get a bachelor’s degree. After taking a gap year, I chose a new dream again, and gave up on being a psychologist in exchange for being a social worker by pursuing an MSW. I planned on being a trauma therapist social worker, but, through a scholarship/job opportunity I was offered, I ended up working with kids during my two years of my master’s program and decided then I wanted to work with kids in after-school and program-based settings, not therapy. I completed my MSW with a 3.8 GPA, and, overall, a lot happier and more confident than completing my bachelor’s. After another gap year, I am back in school working on a PhD, which I thought I would use to do research on girls’ leadership program development, but it turns out my dream has shifted again to multiracial identity development. We’ll see where I end up after this.
I’ve titled my story From Big Fish to Small Fish for the obvious reasons – I was a big fish in a small pond at my high school, and coming to college I became the small fish in a big ocean. It was a difficult transition going from top of my class to being the average (sometimes below average) student, but I made it through. The maybe not so obvious reason I chose this title is because of the important lessons I learned becoming the small fish. I chose new dreams because I saw new paths that I’d never seen before in my small pond, I learned to glean lessons from the bigger fish on how to reach my goals instead of see them as competition, and probably most importantly, I learned how to embrace being afraid and uncomfortable in order to reach my goals and grow. So, for any students making the transition out of their pond and into the big ocean, you can do this! Embrace the discomfort, do it afraid and unsure, and understand the only way to reach new heights is to do things you’ve never done.
Raven is a social work doctoral student in the 2018 cohort at The Ohio State University, where she also graduated with her BA in 2014 and her MSW in 2017. Raven’s social work career has been focused on creating curriculum and working with low-income youth on leadership and workforce development in after-school programming and out of school case management settings. Raven has also been involved with an interdisciplinary, qualitative research team since 2011 exploring Appalachian Ohio students’ transitions to higher education. Raven has presented at two Appalachian Studies Association National Conferences, competed in two research forums, developed First Year Success Series sessions on Identity and Positionality, co-taught a course on social movements for incarcerated youth, and acted as a teaching assistant for a women’s leadership and civic engagement course. Raven currently assists Ohio State College of Social Work faculty members with their research endeavors related to human trafficking as a Graduate Research Assistant, and her current interests beyond human trafficking include multiracial adolescents and racial identity development.
Raven’s Educational History:
2010 – HS Graduate, Paint Valley Local Schools
2014 – BA in psychology, The Ohio State University
2017 – Master’s of Social Work, The Ohio State University
In progress – Ph.D in social work, The Ohio State University
Connect with Raven:
Raven Lynch (LinkedIn)
Making the Water Visible
I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, with my mother (a teacher in the Cleveland Public Schools) and a strong extended family committed to education. My early schooling was in two elementary schools that were remarkably diverse; one of these, Case Elementary School, drew students from African-American neighborhoods as well as Asian and Eastern European immigrant communities, and as a result I had incredible multilingual classrooms. Unfortunately, the 1970s were a financially challenging time for public schools in Cleveland, and cutbacks hit Case School hard.
Not only did we have nearly 40 students in my third and fourth grade classes, a shortage of teachers meant that I had, for two years in a row, a combined third and fourth grade classroom. Now that I am an educator myself, I appreciate the challenge that my teacher faced: a large number of students, not only of widely varying abilities but in actual different grade levels, and many of whom had English as a second language (with at least four different primary languages represented). My mother identified an opportunity for me to apply to an academically rigorous private school, where she felt I would receive more support. I was offered admission, with generous financial aid, and so in fifth grade I switched from an overwhelmed and overcrowded classroom to a well-resourced learning environment.
I also moved from a racially diverse environment to a more homogenous, predominantly white environment, where most families also had deeper financial resources than my family. I did not realize it at the time, but this was the first in what would become a career-long series of moments when I would be a visible minority in a classroom or on a campus, and the first of many moments when I would ask myself the question: Do I belong here? This continues to my current position as Kenyon College’s 19th president, and as its first black president.
In her brilliant essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” Zora Neale Hurston penned the beautiful statement, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” My academic career has largely been spent at institutions that are predominantly white, and while I have been fortunate to be a part of campuses that recognize the value of cultivating a diverse and inclusive community, it also holds true that for me, and for many others on campuses across the country, Hurston’s words reflect a feeling of daily life. It may not always be on the top of one’s mind, but that feeling is there.
Colleges were once thought to be places where only one type of student could fit — generally male, white, affluent. Schools then moved toward a model where a broader range of students was welcome, but students were expected to conform to the rigid environment of the institution — an institution that had not been originally founded with them in mind. The ultimate stage of a diverse and inclusive college is where a range of students is brought in, and all, including the institution itself, are challenged and changed in the process.
Changing historical and societal norms has never been, nor will ever be, effortless, easy work. The concept of race for many white Americans may best be described by the allegory made famous by David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon commencement address, “This Is Water”: It is the water, and goes unnoticed or unfelt. “The point of the fish story,” Wallace said in his speech, “is that the most obvious, important realities are the hardest to see and talk about.”
In my leadership of Kenyon, I have made it a priority to encourage all members of our community to do the work necessary to begin to see the water. Doing this work well must not entail one-directional outreach, but rather genuine conversations that give valuable space for learning and growing. This work also must entail a recognition that our understanding of diversity must become more textured. We need to be attentive to access on campus for students with a range of physical challenges; to the safety and inclusion of members of the LGBTQ+ community; to how we recruit students, particularly from geographically underrepresented regions. Moreover, diversity doesn’t automatically produce inclusion, so our efforts at bringing diverse students to campus must always be coupled with work toward ensuring their place as equals within our community.
The work of bridging divisions, of taking the risk of building community where it is difficult to do so, is work that is meaningful, and none of us should back down from it. There will always be moments in life when I feel like I don’t belong, but then I remember my great fortune: to be able to learn at, and lead, an institution of higher education. What better place for rigorous examination of the world, and my place in it?
Sean Decatur is the 19th president of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. Decatur is a lifelong champion for the liberal arts and an emerging voice in the national conversation about higher education. Under Decatur’s leadership, Kenyon has attracted its most diverse and academically talented incoming classes in history.
Prior to assuming the Kenyon presidency, Decatur served as a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Oberlin College from 2008 to 2013. From 1995 to 2008, he was an assistant and associate professor of chemistry at Mount Holyoke College, where he helped establish a top research program in biophysical chemistry. He was a visiting scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 2004 to 2005.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Decatur attended the Hawken School before earning his bachelor's degree at Swarthmore College, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1990. He earned a doctorate in biophysical chemistry at Stanford University in 1995.
Sean’s Educational History:
1986 - HS Graduate, The Hawken School
1990 - BA in chemistry, Swarthmore College
1995 - Ph.D. in biophysical chemistry, Stanford University
Connect with Sean:
Sean Decatur (LinkedIn)
It Doesn’t Get Easier, You Get Stronger
Growing up in Northwest Indiana is often viewed as an interesting dynamic for those who are familiar with the area. On one hand, you have the beauty of Lake Michigan and Chicago in your back yard. On the other hand, you have violence and a lack of economic development that makes it a very easy place to cautiously bypass if you are traveling north out of Indiana to get to the bright lights of Chicago. As a young child, violence was a thing that hit very close to home. I lost my mother at the age of two, and in seventh grade I lost my father - both to heinous crimes that left me feeling confused, angry, afraid and alone as I navigated middle and high school mostly in isolation. Because I was viewed as different, I was often bullied, picked on and not acknowledged by my peers. This created a huge sense of self-consciousness and embarrassment within me -- simply for existing, for being me. When it came time to think about applying to college, I considered it a way out from the loneliness, isolation and hopelessness I had developed as an adolescent. I truly had hope that college would be different. That I would find people who accepted me for who I am. A campus community that would allow me to thrive inside and outside the classroom as a Black male who is often written off before entering a room. For friends who could simply bring me joy and a healthy balance between academics and play.
It turns out that college has been all I hoped for and more. Since entering college, I have fully immersed myself into the experience of being a student. I've excelled academically, served as an orientation leader, peer mentor and presented at conferences on topics pertaining to the school to prison pipeline and the challenges of being a student of color at a predominantly white institution (PWI). I've even had professors, upperclassmen and university administrators reach out and serve as mentors to ensure I remain successful while at IUPUI.
Sounds great, right? A complete change from the dark days of middle and high school, right? Well, yes -- to an extent. While I currently serve in a number of leadership roles on campus and have found the supportive and dynamic community I have longed for since middle school, I still face challenges every. single. day that can easily derail me from my goals if I'm not careful. Whether it is the outburst in class from the white student the other day who told me it irritates her every time I speak up in class because I'm too "articulate", or the fatigue I experience from constantly talking about the racism, micro-aggressions and lack of concern for students of color to people who simply do not care, something inside tells me to k e e p g o i n g. I am here for a reason. The same hope I had prior to college is the same hope that pushes me every day to continue contributing in class -- regardless of who it "irritates". This same hope inspires me to pour into the twenty-five students who I have the honor of calling my mentees -- despite the daily challenges we face as students of color. This same hope propels me to continue receiving straight A's in my courses -- despite what society thinks of me. And, this same hope is what inspires me to prepare and pour into students who will come behind me and might struggle to find a place where they belong. To those students, I say hang on in there. Life is filled with highs and lows, and the difficulties we face will only strengthen our ability to handle the challenges that will inevitably come our way. Even in the midst of success, people will test you. Even when you find those student organizations that bring you much passion, your grades may slip. Even when you feel like you've finally gotten your life together, the rug will slip from beneath your feet and completely turn your world upside down. These inconveniences are opportunities for us all to become stronger. Again, life will constantly test you. But it is your ability to build the endurance needed to navigate and matriculate through these daily struggles.
College has literally been life changing for me, and I can only imagine where I'd be if I lost hope before even getting the chance to explore what it had to offer me. Every day, I am on a mission to advocate for others, maintain my own well-being and thrive in a society that was not created for my success -- all while striving to be the first in my family to receive a college degree. When the going gets tough, just remember: the best way out is through. You have to be willing to push through adversity to reach your goals. It doesn't get easier, but what's even better is you get stronger.
From Merrillville, Indiana, Darius is currently a junior at Indiana University Purdue University - Indianapolis (IUPUI) studying organizational leadership. Upon graduating, he plans to attend graduate school to study higher education and student affairs in efforts to ensure that all students have an opportunity to thrive and feel supported on their journey to a college degree.
Darius Educational History:
2016 - HS Graduate, Merrillville Community School Corporation
In progress - B.S. in organizational leadership, Indiana University Purdue University - Indianapolis (IUPUI)
Community College: Access to Opportunities
I was raised in the working-class and predominantly minority community of East Palo Alto, California, where less than nine percent of residents hold a college degree. Next door is Palo Alto, home to Stanford University, and in comparison, a land of copious opportunities and resources for its residents as it pertains to education. By random luck, I was selected as one of sixty children accepted into a voluntary transfer program that bused students from my neighborhood into Palo Alto to attend the superior and well-resourced schools.
My high school is uniquely situated in Silicon Valley, located directly across the street from Stanford. As such, my well-resourced predominantly white high school successfully prepares its graduates to go onto matriculate to four-year colleges of high caliber and prestige, including UC Berkeley and University of Michigan, institutions I never dreamed I could be an alum of. There was little discussion of community college other than as a place to make up grades for classes one had failed. Community college was presented as an option for those who were not cut out for four-year colleges, which given the context of my school translated to mean students of color. Dead-set on not fulfilling any stereotypes, I matriculated to a four-year institution despite it not being the best fit for me financially, academically, or in regard to diversity. After one semester at the institution, I dropped out and returned home only to end up right where I tried so hard to avoid, community college. Little did I know it would be the catalyst to my academic success.
While at community college, (shoutout to Cañada College), I experienced a number of academic firsts. I found myself enjoying classes, took my first class with an instructor that had my complexion, making the Dean’s list, and most significantly, beginning to see myself as a scholar. I excelled in my coursework and not because it was watered down, rather, because I had instructors who truly believed in me and mentored me and provided me opportunities to build my academic confidence. I had two professors who were mentors to me. They instilled in me the belief that I was worthy of attending an elite institution, that I was academically capable of succeeding at an advanced level, and that I could and should pursue a graduate degree once I obtained my bachelor's. They not only mentored me through their words but also through their actions. They each hired me as a subject tutor and teaching assistant for their courses, entrusting me with mentoring my peers, and equipping me with tangible work experiences and skills in academia, and writing my letters of recommendation for both undergrad and graduate applications.
Two years at community college transformed my life. Today, I hold degrees with honors from elite institutions, U.C. Berkeley (‘12), and the University of Michigan (‘17) which would not have been possible without community college. My community college provided me with access to quality higher education, lifelong mentors, a passion and excitement for learning, confidence in my academic abilities, and a chance to pursue postsecondary degrees at two of the nation’s most outstanding public institutions.
For those of you considering community college, do not underestimate the opportunities available at two-year institutions. Here are just a few benefits. First, consider the savings! Depending on where you live, community college can be free or relatively inexpensive. I am still paying off a student loan from my one semester at my first institution, whereas at my community college, my was tuition covered and I was even able to work and save money for my undergraduate degree. Second, instructors are accessible! Common advice is to get yourself a mentor, which can be daunting for first-generation or underrepresented students. However, at community colleges, instructors care about students as they are there to teach, not to do research. And third, find your academic strengths and passions! Community colleges are great because they allow you to explore your interests without major financial consequence and provide you the space to find your inner scholar. With a supportive instruction staff and community, you can find the support you need to gain serious academic confidence in yourself. If you apply yourself and take advantage of the resources and staff at community colleges, you can go anywhere.
Writer’s note: not all community colleges are equally funded or resourced. Just like with a four-year institution, do your research and find the community college that best fits your needs and goals. Check out what academic, financial, and personal resources and centers are available and which four-year institutions your prospective community college has Transfer Agreements with.
Monique is a proud Bay Area native from East Palo Alto, California. Her life’s mission is to expand opportunities in higher education for underrepresented students and support them as they pursue their educational goals. Currently, Monique serves as a Program Coordinator for the Diversity, Outreach, and STEM unit at Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies at Stanford University.
Monique Educational History:
2007 - HS Graduate, Palo Alto Unified School District
2012 - BA in history & BA in sociology, University of California, Berkeley
2017 - MA in higher education (Student Access and Success), University of Michigan
Two Generations Shaped By One University
I am the first black Editor in Chief of the Ohio State Law Journal, which has transformed my law school experience and carries great significance in my mind. I enjoy representing the university that I love and dedicating my time toward a set of objectives that bring good things to the Ohio State community. Despite my sense of accomplishment and the responsibilities of the job, I never forget that I didn’t make this achievement possible on my own. In fact, my success is years in the making, built from the opportunities provided by The Ohio State University.
My father is the son of working class people who fled the violence and segregation of the South in search of new opportunities and a better life. When my father was in high school, he and all of his black classmates were advised that they were not “college material” and to seek a skill at a trade school. Though my grandfather was a welder and my grandmother worked as a medical tech, my father had aspirations to be a physician. After he became the first person in his family to graduate from college, Ohio State gave him the opportunity to fulfill his dream and attend medical school.
I was born in Columbus during my father’s last year of medical school and one of my first big events was attending his graduation at the Horseshoe. As I’ve grown older, I understand that our family’s Buckeye fandom is an outgrowth of our deep love for The Ohio State University. Because of Ohio State, I started out with the biggest head start in the history of my family and I was determined to make the most of it once I decided to attend law school.
When I got to Moritz (Ohio State’s College of Law), I knew I wanted to do something that would properly reflect the significance of this university’s role in my life and share that energy with others. During my time at Moritz, I’ve been involved with the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and the Ohio State Law Journal, as well as the American Constitution Society. I’ve also mentored students at Moritz and an undergraduate student at Ohio State. In addition, I volunteer my time at university events whenever I am asked because I want to share my love for Ohio State and let people of all backgrounds know that their efforts will be rewarded here.
In all my efforts outside of the academic sphere of law school, I’ve been energized by the deeper meaning that Ohio State has in my life. This university transformed my fortunes in life before I was even born and helped take my family to new heights just two generations from sharecropping. I’ve tried to show my love for Ohio State and this university’s indispensable impact on my life in everything I do. I am motivated to share the positive transformation that happened to me and my father before me with other students from all backgrounds.
For students thinking about college and professional school, my advice is simple: GO FOR IT. My story is built on my father’s determination to become a doctor, which set me up for success from the beginning. You have the ability to transform yourself, inspire others, and unlock the untapped potential necessary to improve our world. Seek an educational environment with people that will invest in you and help you cultivate your sense of purpose. I’m rooting for you because I know that you can achieve your goals if you ask the right questions, believe in yourself, and never give up. I know that your success is possible because my father showed me how to do something nobody in our family had ever done before. If you are reading this, my hope is that you will find an educational experience that impacts your life in the way Ohio State has impacted mine.
A Cincinnati, Ohio native, David is a 3L law student in the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University. He currently serves as the first Black Editor-in-Chief of the Ohio State Law Journal. In his spare time, David enjoys sports (more specifically baseball), politics, and history. He prides himself on being able to draw on his experiences on the field/court, in the classroom, and apply them to meet the challenges of the day. Encountering problems and witnessing the issues people face on a daily basis inspires David to search for solutions. Upon graduating from Ohio State’s College of Law in spring 2019, David will work as a law clerk in the Chambers of the Honorable Raymond A. Jackson of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
David’s Educational History:
2009 - HS Graduate, Princeton City School District
2013 - BA in political science and government, Walsh University
In progress - Doctorate of Law (J.D.), The Ohio State University
Connect with David:
David Roper (LinkedIn)
Growing up, I always believed that I was going to be a doctor and pursue my creative interests during whatever spare time I had. I wanted to be a plastic surgeon who was on Broadway in her spare time. Or a brain surgeon who also wrote books. From playing hundreds of games of The Game of LIFE, I understood that doctors and lawyers made the best money. In the game, to become a doctor, the player must follow the “college” path and take out student loans because the card is only available to college-goers, as well as the highest salaries. Each time I played, I followed the same path: college, doctor, LIFE.
While in primary school, I developed two passions: science (especially biology and health sciences) and English, so I followed these two fields to wherever they took me. I had always been different from my peers growing up: I was black, poor, and I loved science and English, while most of them enjoyed math and history classes. And while we all existed in the privileged bubble of our private school, I put my head down and prioritized my schoolwork and my dream of getting into college above all else. My junior year of high school, I petitioned for the addition of an Anatomy and Physiology course to the curriculum and took AP English early, writing my first novel-length piece. As a senior in high school, I enrolled in the school’s first Anatomy and Physiology course, an independent study English course in Greek mythology, and Writing and Publishing. When choosing a college, I applied to schools with quality liberal arts reputations as well as science programs. I knew that I would double major in English and Biology, minor in psychology and neuroscience (if possible) and follow a pre-med track through college—after all, I had to become a doctor.
Of course, the game of LIFE is nothing like the real thing. My first semester in college, I ended up barely passing Chemistry with a D-. My professor let me know that like the many other students who didn’t pass, I would have to re-take the class next semester. The class was scheduled during my required English Composition course, and so I had to choose: re-vamp my entire schedule to re-take the Chemistry class or stay on-track for my double-major. I chose my double-major to continue pursuing both my passions and swapped my Biology major for Psychology. The next semester, I hunkered down and made straight As: President’s List.
My junior year of college, I made the biggest decision of my life: graduate school. I still had two options: graduate school for psychology or creative writing. In college, I’d fallen in love with both, obsessing over human behavior and the brain, pulling that obsession into my writing. But I’d also grounded myself in writing, especially as a nonfiction writer and writer of color, and I was interested in how writing could be used as a form of therapy. Getting a master’s degree in Psychology would mean I’d have to re-take that Chemistry class, but if I had a master’s degree in Creative Writing-Nonfiction, I could learn to control my craft and use it to explore the field of Creative Arts Therapies. After much deliberation, pros and cons lists and discussions with faculty, I chose writing. Suddenly, my family and friends were asking me what I would do with my life—because to them, writing wasn’t sustainable, writing wasn’t a career. But writing is what I was great at! I’d been invited to join Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor Society. I’d presented consecutively at Sigma Tau Delta conferences and become the president of my college’s chapter as a senior. I trusted my gut, which told me that writing was the path that I should take.
I got into one graduate school. They didn’t offer me any money and moving there was the most stressful experience. I was the only black student in the nonfiction cohort. One of three black students in the entire graduate program. I reminded myself that if it didn’t work out, I could always go back to Ohio and work before starting all over. So, I threw myself into my work. All I did was read and write. When I was overwhelmed by stress from the world around me, I wrote. I wrote when I woke up, I wrote while I waited for class, and I wrote before I went to sleep. I became a force to be reckoned with because I spent my free-time working on my craft, submitting pieces for publication, publishing work, and developing relationships with my professors and peers.
Everything felt right. I decided that I could spend the next three years of my life writing, reading, and talking about writing. For a long time, I didn’t share my work with anyone outside of my graduate program. My family still didn’t understand where writing would get me, what I was doing in graduate school besides drowning in debt, and what I would do once I had to graduate. My friends didn’t completely understand, but they supported me anyways. I kept writing. I made goals for myself and accomplished them. I took my presence in the program as a form of resistance: diversifying the writing field and paying homage to the black women writers who’d come before me. Slowly, but surely, I established myself as a writer in Midwest, booking public readings, publishing essays and networking with writers all over the country.
Pursuing art as a career is risky and difficult. Many times, especially in the black community, creative arts are viewed as a hobby or a side project—not a career. Currently, I teach Writing at Columbus College of Art & Design part-time. I also freelance for magazines and online publications. I’m working on my first book. Soon, I’ll begin working full-time as a Production Copywriter for Zulily. I’ve turned my passion for writing into a teaching career and writing one. So, my advice is to always follow your gut and do what you love. I’ll never regret moving to Chicago for graduate school because what began as a whim morphed into my career. Pursue what you love and hone your craft so that eventually you can break and recreate its rules. Embrace the challenge of establishing yourself in the city, then the state, the region, the country, and eventually the world. Be unapologetic in your craft—use it to approach topics of social justice, politics, race, feminism, mental health, and more. Ambition is the driving force of all creatives, so I encourage you to keep going, to adapt, and to challenge yourself and the world around you. I’ll never regret choosing art, because in many ways I chose to embrace my truest self.
Negesti is a Midwestern essayist. She is an alumna of Elon University where she received Bachelor of Arts degrees in English-Creative Writing and Psychology (with a minor in Neuroscience). While at Elon, Negesti joined Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor Society. As a member, she presented creative work at two consecutive conferences (2014 & 2015) and spent her senior year as President of the organization. In 2015, Negesti received the Ohioana Library Association's Walter Rumsey Marvin grant for Ohioan writers under the age of 30 who have not published a book. At the ceremony in October, it was revealed that, at 22, she was the youngest recipient of the award by four years. Her essays and arts criticism have been published in various publications, including Seneca Review, IDK Magazine, Nailed Magazine, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Wear Your Voice Magazine, Vagabond City Literary Journal, NewCity Lit, FreezeRay Poetry, READY Publication and Cosmonauts Avenue. In 2018, she earned her MFA in English and Creative Writing - Nonfiction from Columbia College Chicago. Her manuscript, a collection of essays, explored the intersections of pop culture, race, history, womanism, location, and heritage. She is a 2018-2019 mentee in the Representation Matters Mentorship Program for people of color interested in publishing. Currently, she teaches at Columbus College of Art and Design as an adjunct instructor, moonlights as a substitute teacher, and works on her manuscript in her spare time.
Negesti Educational History:
2012 - HS Graduate, The Wellington School
2016 - BA in English-creative writing and psychology, Elon University
2018 - MFA in English and creative writing-nonfiction, Columbia College Chicago
Connect with Negesti:
Why, I Have to Study?!?
Growing up, I never realized the differences in the education I received in Appalachia versus the education my counterparts were receiving in suburbia. That all changed when I moved to Columbus and started attending The Ohio State University. When I first got to Ohio State, I thought I was the creme of the crop and that school was going to be no problem at all, because that is how it had always been. Boy, was I wrong though.
My first semester at Ohio State was my most challenging semester of college. In high school, I never had to study or even really pay attention to get good grades, so I never learned the study skills that are necessary to be successful in college. As a result, I would go to my classes, not be able to focus at all, and then be completely unable to study in any environment I tried. In addition, all of the subjects I was learning about were so foreign that I had a hard time comparing them to anything personal. For example, I took an astronomy class because I thought it would be fun and it was one of the most challenging classes I ever took in college because I couldn’t relate to the material and I had to study to be successful. As the semester went on, I continued to get more and more stressed about it because I was not performing up to the standards I had set for myself during high school. Towards the end of the semester, I decided I needed to do something to take away this anxiety that was overtaking my life as a result of me not feeling prepared for life at Ohio State and in Columbus.
In addition to not knowing how to study or take notes, I also wasn’t aware of all the resources that were available to me to be as successful as possible. For example, my first papers at college were terrible because I was not a strong writer, didn’t know about the Writing Center, and didn’t know how to ask my professors for help. Now, as an educator in Appalachia, I have made it my goal to help students from Appalachia leave high school with the necessary knowledge and skills that are required to be successful in college, if they choose to pursue that path. For example, thus far this school year, I have created two different digital lessons (which can be found on my YouTube channel) that teach students how to effectively take notes and study. As I continue to reflect on my time as a student and learn more about Appalachia and the educational needs of the region, I am confident that this is an issue that can be overcome with strong educators and individuals that are compassionate about education and helping our students be successful. If anyone has any questions or needs help adjusting to life at college from Appalachia, feel free to reach out to me on any of the following platforms!
Malachi is a proud Appalachian, having graduated from Paint Valley High School in Bainbridge, OH in 2012. After high school, he attended The Ohio State University, where he received his Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education (2016) and his Master’s Degree in School Counseling (2018). Since graduating, Malachi has returned to Bainbridge, where he is working as an Intervention Specialist, School Counselor, and Coach at his alma mater Paint Valley, spreading his love for Appalachia and his belief in the future of his community to the students at the place he loves the most.
Malachi Educational History:
2012 - HS Graduate, Paint Valley Local Schools
2016 - BS in special education, The Ohio State University
2018 - MA in school counseling, The Ohio State University
Connect with Malachi:
Malachi Pulliam (LinkedIn)
Mr. Pulliam (Youtube)
Leveling the Playing Field
This title is fitting because making sure that the students I serve and have served possess the same exposures, opportunities and access has been my purpose in the 30 years I have been in education. I can’t say that I have walked in the shoes of many of my students, but I can say that my eyes have always been open and my awareness keen to the disparity and differences. When I majored in secondary education, I accepted the charge of making a difference in their lives and ensuring that all of my students have information and access.
Sitting in education classes at Kentucky State University, professors did not (perhaps they could not) adequately explain that as a teacher and administrator, I would wear many different hats and function in various non-educational roles throughout my career. Facts. I learned to be a better listener, how to show more empathy, to help problem solve life’s issues, to be a non-academic resource…..and I am better for it. I have always treated my students the exact same way I would expect my biological students to be treated at school. This has been a major part of my success.
I started at Marion-Franklin High School and I fostered my purpose at Independence High School, Beery Middle School, Southmoor Middle School, Indianola Middle School (all in Columbus City Schools), South High School, Whitney M. Young School of the Gifted and Talented, Carl F. Shuler High School, Washington Park Environmental Studies Academy (all in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District) and presently, at Cleveland Heights High School. I have travelled through the doors of many schools never wavering from my intentions. All of these experiences afforded me many opportunities, numerous teachable moments, and numberless “should’ves and could’ves.” The core of it all centered around my ability to ensure that all of my students (I have always affectionately referred to them all as “my kids”) knew that I cared and had their best interests. I have invariably been committed to tapping into their potential in some kind of way!
Many of my former students have kept in touch with me over the years! In this regard, social media is a Godsend! They have graduated college, completed programs, served our country, have a spouse and children - and I feel proud to be privy to the the path they chose. When possible, one of them will contact me and recant something that I said or did…..it always makes me smile. I am reminded that in spite of the mistakes that I made - and there are too many to count - I did something right.
My advice to students - now and then - is to do right by people without exception - in all capacities. This will serve as a strong foundation in whatever they choose to do. I used to post the same quote on every bulletin board, every year and it read: “We cannot change the direction of the wind, but we can always adjust the sail.” Truth.
I consider myself an adjuster and regulator for my students. The wind is symbolic of many things to them, and despite whether it is blustery, stormy or unsettling - they have and have had me to help them to adjust and anchor for 30 years.
A northeast Ohio resident, Alisa has an extensive background within the PreK-12 system. She has served in administrative roles at multiple middle and high schools within two of Ohio’s Urban 8 districts, Columbus City and Cleveland Metropolitan. Alisa currently serves as a high school principal in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District in northeast Ohio.
Alisa Educational History:
1985 - HS Graduate, Fayette County Public Schools
1989 - BS in English education, 9-12, Kentucky State University
1994 - Master’s of Education in higher education and student affairs, The Ohio State University
2009 - Ed.S in education administration, Cleveland State University
2015 - Ph.D in urban leadership: education administration, Cleveland State University
My Neighborhood, My Life, My Journey, My ACCESS!
My environment shaped a lot about me, my schools were all within walking distance of my home where me and my 5 siblings shared a three-bedroom one-bathroom apartment. I went to school in mobile units (I know that seems strange) called Phyllis Wheatly Parent Child Center, then I moved to the big school Isaac Newton which led to George Washington Carver Middle and High School. I graduated in 1982 at the age of 17, and I am sure my siblings were happy about mom holding me back when I was promoted from the 3rd to the 5th grade, she decided that 4th grade would suffice, as I had to grow into all that knowledge bestowed from that environment. First in my class of 1982 to get a Ph.D., and that didn’t happen until 2016, 38 years after high school. A Walden University doctorate in public health specializing in health promotion and community education…talk about confronting the social and health disparities that plagued your playground, neighborhood and community against the intimate comforts and familiarities in the place that I still call home. I grew up in one of the first public housing environments, went to the first private Historically Black University…Wilberforce University (1986) and went on to graduate school as a first in my entire family lineage (known and unknown) to acclaim a Master’s degree from The Ohio State University (1988)…these two prestigious documents would allow me to publicly do what I had naturally been doing all my life…creating ACCESS for other like me. And still I had not realized that was what I was doing. Nevertheless, there was and still is something to be said about incorporating who you are with who you will become, because even a toxic jungle can’t hold you back. It may make you sick, it may stunt your thinking, it may allow you to doubt your creative self, but it cannot take away the drive to want OUT!!!
Every dream has a dreamer from whom it originated, embrace the dreamer for without selfish-insight, the dream cannot be realized. I learned early on to invest in myself even at the will of being broke, as education cannot be foreclosed, and knowledge has no repossession clause attached to the price you will pay…because ACCESS is the only way OUT!!!
Writers Note: You can find me studying about the Quality of Life for Black girls in the city of Columbus under the vision of Columbus City Council Member Priscilla R. Tyson’s vision for the Commission on Black Girls (2018); or you may have read my research on An Exploration of Ohio’s Mandated Shaken Baby Law (2015), or remember the All Babies Matter campaign (2011) on infant mortality that was a contribution to the current work today on addressing race and health disparities in African American infant mortality rates in Franklin County, Ohio, or remember my work when Ohio celebrated all 88 counties participating in planting one pinwheel for every reported case of child abuse and neglect in April (1988) to recognize the adults and communities who advocate on behalf of children who are victims of abuse and neglect Pinwheels for Prevention. This is how I create ACCESS.
Pat grew up in the concrete jungle as some would like to say…Yeah the “projects’ or “AG” as she would fondly call it, or as it is properly known…Altgeld Gardens. She has 30 years of experience advocating on behalf of vulnerable populations in both clinical management and leadership. Her research interest is in the intersection of health promotion and education to health outcomes within minority communities and how legislative processes address public health issues. Pat is the current Executive Director of CERIIDD and is responsible for leading the charge in transforming lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Pat has previously served as President of the Association of Black Social Workers, Columbus (OH) chapter; Vice-President of the Executive Board of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC); on the Boards for: the Family Violence Prevention Council, the Diversity Board for Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), the Coalition for Family Violence School-based Task Force, and The Buckeye Ranch.
Writers Note: If you do the research, my home has been described as a toxic jungle and on the registry as a public health concern from environmental protection agency on the Southside of Chicago, Illinois.
Pat Educational History:
1982 – HS Graduate, Chicago Public Schools
1986 – BA in rehabilitation counseling, Wilberforce University
1988 – Master’s of Social Work , The Ohio State University
2016 – Ph.D in public health, Walden University
Connect with Pat:
PatLyons is my handle, look me up…Oh, now they call me Doctor P/Pat. I occupy the space where personal touch and contact matters…can’t tweet, post or find my story unless you find me personally!
As I reflect on my college years, I can definitely say it was the best years of my life. However, it was not a four year stretch of pure bliss. It was often a time of confusion and difficulties. These two aspects of college collided near the end of my freshman year. I was not sure if my major was the right one and if I even wanted to be at Ohio State.
At that moment is where I realized the best piece of advice I can give a college student; be involved in something outside of your academics. My involvement in student organizations placed me around people who motivated me directly or indirectly. In addition, my importance to the organization gave me just that, a sense of importance.
Due to my involvement, I transformed from a freshman who was loss in the sauce to a young man who had a sense of importance and belonging.
A Chicago native, Ryan holds a master’s in education from Marian University and a bachelor’s degree in health sciences from The Ohio State University. He is currently working as a high school teacher in Indianapolis.
Ryan’s Educational History:
2012 - HS Graduate, Rich Township School District, 227
2016 - BS in health sciences, The Ohio State University
2018 - Master’s of Education, Marian University
Becoming a Champion for Progress
My entire life, I have been taught the value of a work-save-invest ethic. With my father serving in the military and my mother working for organizations like the League of Women Voters during our childhood, my brother and I instinctively developed a desire to be civically engaged despite consistent reminders from our society that as black people we were undervalued no matter the contributions we made to society.
My parents made sure my brother and I understood the importance of education and knew the value higher education added to our future livelihoods. Our parents managed to become first-generation college students and we were brought up to believe in our ability to see it through just as they did. It was the expectation that we would do what we needed to do academically and civically to make sure we matriculated to and through college, so we did.
I attended the best public schools in Cleveland until overcrowding became a serious issue in middle school and scholarship funding became available for me to attend a private high school. My experiences in private school were drastically different than that of public school. I performed academically well in both settings which was great but for four years, I lived my version of a tale of two cities. This experience certainly had the potential to have a negative effect on my esteem, confidence, and outlook. Fortunately, none of that came to fruition. Instead, my high school experience taught me a pivotal lesson that would fuel my passion for education and community engagement; the lesson: access to opportunity had much to do with race, zip code, and socio-economic status.
Since then, I have been dedicated to be a part of the change I wanted to see. I went to college with an understanding that I had to make the most of the opportunity for the greater good.
During my four and a half years in college, I did more than I imagined I would. I participated in leadership development programs, served on exec boards, and attended so many free workshops just to learn more about Cleveland and strengthen my capacity for leadership and professional development. I discovered Christ for myself, worked a total of eight jobs along my path to debt-free graduation, met my financial goals, traveled abroad, served as the International Second Vice President of a $50M corporation, won a number of awards, found my passion for law injustice, embraced my singleness, and really began to find myself. I made friends and learned how to manage relationships with foes. There were times when I wanted to give up because of financial challenges my family faced and not-so-smart decisions I mad, but I knew I had to keep pushing, just like you.
Today, I am a champion for progress prepared to empower and inform vulnerable communities susceptible to the detrimental effects of systemic oppression about their abilities to overcome adversity. I am making the most of my gap year and sharing the lessons with others. Thus far in my gap year, I have purchased my first home, hosted budgeting workshops, and served my community in many ways. Upon completion of my MPA program in May 2020, I plan to attend a top-ranked law school and further establish my career as a civil servant. It is my intention to serve as an elected public official, lead a non-profit organization, serve as legal counsel on critical matters, serve as a senator and be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Looking back, I gave Case my best effort and the return on my investment in myself continuously yields a high return. Here’s my advice to students as they make it through college.
Make the most of your time in college – regardless of who’s paying for it and despite the challenges you may face.
Find your spiritual foundation. Without it, you’ll never be satisfied as the world cannot satisfy your soul. I encourage you to invest in your relationship with God.
Take advantage of free resources. Check your local libraries and OhioLink for your textbooks before you purchase them online. Attend events for free meals (in addition to the other benefits of course) and do not be ashamed. Apply for scholarships year round.
Keep record of your work and be organized, especially if you plan to go to graduate school. You will have to submit writing samples, so file your files accordingly. Also, take note of what skills you are developing in each class, so when a job application asks you to list your skills, you can quickly access a comprehensive list.
Begin to focus on your professional development your first semester on campus. Visit the career center and learn how to prepare for career fairs and career development opportunities. Join business fraternities and groups on campus related to your field of interest. Network with local chapters of the organizations you are in. Set up a professional LinkedIn account and use it. Network.
Embrace what makes you different and know that you are not alone. Even if you walk in a room and you are the only one, know that you stand on the shoulders of giants and there are people supporting your growth and success all over the world. You are paving the way for someone else, so move with intent.
Last but certainly not least, I truly believe you should know that if I can make, so can you. I am a girl from Cleveland, OH. A city where the annual income is $27,000 and only 16% of residents have a degree. The odds were against me as they were against so many other people from Cleveland and similar communities and we still made it. You can too.
Know you can do it. You can graduate with little to no debt. You can be at the top of your class and if you aren’t that’s okay, too. You can walk into the board room, courtroom, classroom, dorm room with your natural hair. You can be you. Yes, you can do it.
Keniece Gray is a Cleveland native on a mission to serve God and empower marginalized communities to enrich their communities and combat systemic oppression. Keniece currently works as a Performance Auditor in the City of Cleveland Mayor’s Office of Quality Control and Performance Management A four-time Who’s Who in Black Cleveland honoree, Keniece is the recipient of many awards, including the Stephanie Tubbs-Jones Memorial Scholarship, and has been recognized for her unwavering commitment to cultivate minority interest in leadership, mentorship, and professional development. She was recently named to the NAACP’s 2019 NextGen Fellowship Cohort. Keniece has been recognized for her service as the 2016 – 2018 International Second Vice President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA) and currently serves as the Board Development Committee Chair of the Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland Bridge Board, a Fair Housing Rights and Research Center board member, and member of many local organizations including AKA, NAACP, NBMBAA, NFBPA, and New Community Bible Fellowship. She loves to travel and try new foods. Most recently, she founded “Journey To The Board,” (JTTB) with the mission to provide minority youth with the skills they need to earn board or executive committee membership by age 25.
Keniece Educational History:
2012 - HS Graduate, Hawken School
2017 - BA in accounting, Case Western Reserve University
2017 - Master of Accountancy, Case Western Reserve University
In progress - Master’s Public Administration, Cleveland State University
Connect with Keniece:
Keniece Gray (LinkedIn)
Mental Health Doesn’t Matter…Right?
Writer’s Note: There is a trigger warning with this post. I talk about things that may be difficult for some to process, including suicide and mental illness. Please check in with your mental and emotional state before you continue reading. If you are in need of support, please click here for a list of resources*
I’m 23 years old, and I’m about to do something I haven’t done in almost 20 years. I’m literally about to wet the bed. My bladder is about to burst, and yet I know if I leave my bed I’m going to die. If I even move an inch, I’m going to die. I can’t breathe, my heart is pounding, my ears are ringing, my clothes are soaked with sweat, I can’t see clearly and I’m on the verge of throwing up. I haven’t left my bed in 3 days and I have medical school orientation in 2 days. There’s no way I can keep up this façade of perfection and I’m going to lose everything that ever mattered to me. I cry incessantly thinking about having to go to school and I start fantasizing about getting hit by a bus on my walk to school. This way, it’s not my choice to not go to medical school and I’m not letting anyone down. I am so ashamed that I don’t even share with my family or friends what is going on. As I lay there, desperation and hopelessness set in… I’m worthless, I’m nothing, I’m weak and I’m a failure. I might as well just end things myself. I called the suicide hotline four times that night, seeking solace from a stranger, grasping for something to keep me here.
It’s been 2 years since I had my first panic attack and subsequent breakdown, and writing this right now evokes painful emotions and visceral reminders of what happened. I had just returned from Taiwan a week before medical school and flew back to a new town smack dab in the middle of Appalachia. I was jet-lagged, emotionally labile from seeing my cultural heritage for the very first time and having to start a new life somewhere I did not want to live. When I finally opened up to family and friends about what was going on, many of them felt that this breakdown came out of nowhere. Reflecting back on that time, I realize that it was an untimely culmination of events combined with how I was socialized in my upbringing that resulted in me leaving medical school. I moved from Athens the very next week and swore up and down that I would never return… And yet I sit here back in Athens, 3 months away from finishing my second year of medical school.
I’ve basically been on a life track to medicine as long as I can remember. I can’t ever recall having a discussion with my parents about other options, and it was always assumed that I would just become a physician. While it is quite a blessing to have the resources and opportunity to pursue medicine, it’s also difficult to reach adulthood, come into your own and realize that you do not have a say in what you want for your life. The discourse between what you need for yourself, and duty to family is one that I continue to struggle with. I’ve always had an anxious personality (I’ve been nicknamed grandma by my family) and I thrive on schedules and structure. There was a lot of pressure during my childhood to be perfect, and I remember always feeling like I was a disappointment. There was constant anxiety and feelings of inferiority that ruled my actions and thoughts, and I learned to accept it as my normal. My anxiety reached a climax during that week before medical school, when I started to lose control over everything. Combined with no sleep, no eating, and isolation, and my breakdown starts to make a whole lot more sense.
My unplanned gap year was when depression really started to manifest in all aspects of my life. I had no purpose and I failed what seemed my only duty in life. Everything in my life before was reliant on my becoming a physician, and without that success, I was worthless. I couldn’t face myself or anyone from my past life. Coming from an immigrant Asian family, mental illness is basically thought of as an excuse lazy people make up in order to cruise through life. It is not validated, it is not understood, and it is something that evokes deep shame. If you’re struggling, you’re expected to suck it up and persevere through it. I do often wonder why I wasn’t able to push through the anxiety and depression. My dad would call us “strawberry” in times when he felt we weren’t being tough (since strawberries bruise easily and are fragile). During my year off, I felt relentless guilt that I was letting down my family, spitting in the face of my parents’ sacrifice. Was I being a strawberry? Was this just a first world problem that my privileged self was struggling with? Why couldn’t I just keep going, when a lot of people deal with way worse and still push on? How could I face my dad, knowing that I wasn’t strong enough to do the only thing that he wanted me to? My parents had given up everything for me, and I couldn’t give them anything in return.
My healing process is much too long, and much too incomplete to talk about in this post. I battle with my mind and my emotions every day, purely due to the nature of medical school. Medical school strips a lot out of your life, simply because you must dedicate all your time to studying. I’m going to be honest, I was debating whether to write this on my own experience or not. I still carry a lot of fear that people will find out that depression and anxiety is something I struggle with every day. It feels like a dirty little secret that I have, especially because weakness is not allowed in this profession. We have been socialized to cringe away from mental illness, and this stigma carries through to the medical field, even to the very people who are treating the illness. I’m sharing this incredibly personal and vulnerable side of me not to inspire people or talk about how far I’ve come. Let’s be real, yeah? But to normalize what this culture has plagued as abnormal for so long. Nobody ever wants to admit weakness, especially if it’s one of the mind. If we expect anything out of our physicians, it’s perfection. Little do people know, that rates of depression among physicians and medical students is sky high. But no one talks about it because society view doctors as invincible, perfect people. Reality check: physicians are human too and are not above mental illness. A lot of issues with the healthcare system and discrepancies in care are due to this unrealistic expectation. I am not weak, I am not crazy, and I am not defined by my depression and anxiety. It does not make me any less worth of a person and it does not affect my ability to be an excellent physician. In fact, I am going to be a better doctor because I can empathize with how patients feel in these situations. It will not affect my competence or my ability to care for patients. What did affect those things, was my refusal to accept that I needed help.
Had I not accepted that I needed help, that this was a problem I could no longer hide, if I had continued to dismiss it with a flippant attitude, I would not be here today. I had to learn how to validate what I felt and accepted that I could not hide from my mental illness no longer. My nature is one that worries constantly, takes to sorrow easily, internalizes pain and empathizes intensely. This causes me to think about things and feel things to a degree that other people do not. But I know that in order to be healthy, taking care of my mind has to be a priority. I am not ashamed that I participate in therapy and I take medication for my depression and anxiety. It took a long time for me to accept that this was what I needed. Some people have high blood pressure or diabetes, I just so happen to have depression and anxiety. But it took an incredible amount of humility, honesty, strength and self-validation to be ok with seeking help.
Wherever you are today, hear me when I say this.
Your worth is not tied to your success in life or how many degrees you have.
Your worth is not tied to anything that this world can offer you.
You are intrinsically worth as much as every other human out there, solely because you are you. I encourage every single one of you to hold this fact steadfast.
Prioritize the health of your mind and body. It may seem selfish, but you cannot care for others unless you are whole inside. I’ve learned this the hard way. Give yourself permission to be honest with yourself and to validate your own feelings, emotions, thoughts and passions. You are worthy of your own love and care.
Jo is currently a medical student at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. She grew up in Powell, OH and graduated from Olentangy Liberty High School. From there she attended The Ohio State University and graduated with a BS in Biology. Her passions in medicine include global and public health, women’s health, natural and Eastern medicine, education and social aspects of wellness. Outside of school, she enjoys cultivating her many plants, cooking (and eating!) and reconnecting with her Taiwanese heritage. Jo is always thinking about why the world is the way it is, and as a result, always looking to build relationships with people who challenge her to think in new ways, dismantle societal norms/ systems and create new spaces (so please reach out if this resonates with you!)
Jo Educational History:
2012 - HS Graduate, Olentangy Local School District
In progress - Doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine (D.O), Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
Connect with Jo:
Josephine Chen (Facebook)
An Unforeseen Story: Overcoming Adversity
When I look back to where I was in life after graduating high school, a young man who had dreams of helping others in becoming an anesthesiologist, I had no idea that I was headed down the path that I am now on. I was 4th in my class when graduating from Thurgood Marshall High School in Dayton, OH. The principal and teachers that had molded me into the academic anomaly that I was had very high expectations for me, similar to the expectations that I had for myself. I was one of very few students coming from my graduating class that was admitted to a well-accredited university of the likes of The Ohio State University. Additionally, I had received a full-ride scholarship through the Young Scholars Program. Every aspect of my academic life seemed to be planned out and soon to come to fruition. Then, unfortunately, reality set in. Here I am, a freshman at the university that I had always dreamed of attending. I am majoring in Chemistry as I thought it would prepare me in becoming the anesthesiologist that I had hopes of becoming at the time. I was taking 15 credit hours during my first semester. The courses on my schedule were General Chemistry, Pre-Calculus, French I and a survey course for Chemistry majors. After only a month of completing coursework for the classes, I noticed that each of these courses were rigorous to an extent that I had never saw coming. I remained optimistic as I had always been able to overcome academic struggles that I suffered from prior to this experience due to my inherent intellectual ability. But this time felt different. It did not matter how much I used my study skills from high school, which were honestly very mediocre, the grades that I had been receiving were making me become increasingly worried my status not only at the university, but in life in general. As one may already assume, I ended my first semester with an overwhelmingly low GPA (2.1).
There were tears in my eyes for about a week straight going into winter break after that final grade was entered in the system. I found myself saying “there is no way.” My dreams of becoming a medical doctor was shattered in a short period of six months. Not only were my dreams of becoming a doctor now over, I was on the verge of losing my scholarship. I thought about all of the teachers, principals, and family members that I would be letting down. My mother who is at home caring for my severely disabled sister would be devastated. I am now losing myself mentally as I wondered how I would overcome these struggles.
I then changed my major to exploration. This would allow me to complete some general education courses while trying to figure things out for the future and retain the much needed scholarship that was at jeopardy of being lost. I thought about how I could major in a field that could still allow me to help others to the extent that I had previously desired, but would not force me to doubt myself in attaining that overarching goal due to the difficulty of the courses. I cycled through the idea of becoming a nurse, first. I realized very early on that this was not the path for me. I then looked into the majors of Sociology and Psychology. I found Sociology and Psychology to be interesting as I had taken the intro courses for the field during my second semester and performed very well. I talked to my advisor about the major and the different outcomes that students see when graduating with the degree and found that the major would be perfect for me. I then told the advisor that I would like to change my major to Sociology while minoring in Psychology.
Upon taking more Sociology courses, I began to discover that the many struggles I faced as a first-generation student at the university were not just caused by my lack of study skills or academic achievement. I learned more and more about how there are different determinants in how prepared I would be for college.
I did not allow these to become excuses for the reason why I did not do well coming into college, though. Instead, I allowed the new information that I had acquired to inspire me to pursue new goals with undying effort and motivation. I started by making myself comfortable with situations and positions that I had previously saw myself being uncomfortable with. I joined different organizations and took on more leadership positions. These positions propelled me into becoming more of a leader and better person than I had ever thought I would be. The 40th African American Heritage Festival is one leadership position in particular that I credit for bringing personal change and development upon me. For the first time in my life, I spoke in front of large groups of others with confidence.
I am now in my final semester of my undergraduate coursework. I will be graduating with a GPA higher than 3.0 with a degree in Sociology with a minor in Psychology. I have plans of attaining my graduate degree in Forensic Psychology and going further to pursue a Ph.D in either Sociology or Psychology. If I were to offer any advice to those reading this story, I would encourage you all to never give up on any dream or goal that you have. Become more comfortable with who you are. Join different organizations, meet new people, and remain positive and optimistic about your future. Seek help when you feel as if it is needed. There is always a way even when you do not see a way, you just have to remain persistent and disciplined in trying to achieve in every field of your endeavors.
Born and raised in Dayton, OH, Del’Shawn is a high school graduate from Thurgood Marshall High School. Del’ is committed to the mental health and well-being of all individuals within our society, especially those who have felt like their voice is not heard when they call for help. Del’ has become committed to discovering new prevention/intervention plans to stop youth from becoming juvenile delinquents and working towards breaking the stigma surrounding the black community in regard to mental health. Del’ will be graduating from The Ohio State University with a Bachelors of Arts in Sociology with a minor in Psychology. Del’ plans to pursue a Master’s of Science in Forensic Psychology - which is the intersection between Sociology and Psychology – in trying to attain his goals. In addition to being in his last semester of undergrad, Del’ works for the Non-Profit Eye for Change Youth and Family Services and Huckleberry House Crisis Shelter while also serving on the executive boards for the organizations of Black Mental Health Coalition, NAACP OSU Chapter, and the 41st African American Heritage Festival.
Del’ Educational History:
2015 - HS Graduate, Dayton Public Schools
2019 - BA in sociology, The Ohio State University
Connect with Del’:
Del’Shawn Davis (LinkedIn)
The Power and Potential of Change
"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." - James Baldwin
Change has always been a topic of concern; yet, for me, it has been a heavily sought-after experience. You see, growing up in spaces that cultivated the intellectual and creative potential within me heightened my curiosity for the unknown. It also provided an onus to discovering the roots of everything, becoming the foundational spark for my quest of purpose.
One would think such an educational journey is the desired outcome for a young, gifted, Black child. Yes, I navigated classrooms and schools that were diverse racially, ethnically, and with almost equal male-to-female ratios. I was privileged in every aspect of my educational experiences. Moreover, I even had over half a dozen teachers of color, including Black male teachers for my high school math courses. Unfortunately, such experiences also left me void of an understanding of my Blackness. This all changed once I got to college.
As a collegiate athlete, I attended two private, predominantly white institutions (PWIs). For the first time, I was forced to face the fact that I was a minority. Not only face being a minority but also recognize and accept that I was Black, which meant I was different. In some capacities, being Black and different was, indeed, a negative. I faced assumptions and ascriptions of intelligence, (cap)abilities, aspects of my gender performance, and even physicality. Yet, being Black and different also provided positive elements. I found community within athletics, amongst my collegiate peers, and I was even afforded the honor of mentorship from other Black faculty and staff. Furthermore, my Blackness enabled me to have a seat at tables that needed a different voice. In particular, I became the first student of color to be elected and serve as my undergraduate institutions' student government vice president.
While I often wonder if such opportunities would have been afforded had I been just another White, male student, what I do know is that my Blackness, my maleness, and eventually my queerness, each intersecting identity that I possessed provided me with an opportunity to affect change. Change for me as a marginalized individual, for my fellow students seeking respect and agency, for womxn affected by instances of patriarchy and misogyny; my difference afforded me a newfound consciousness where I was faced to recognize that I had a duty to affect change for others who live outside the margins of society and respectability.
After I've said all of this, what does it mean for you? What sort of advice can I impart upon others? That's simple, BE the change you want to see. Do not wait for others to step up and take on the mission; let it be you. Find ways to make space for others, while also bringing others along with you. I would not be in the position I am today to make an impact upon others had it not been for many fearless individuals who saw the potential in me to change the world for the better.
Such change doesn't have to take on society, or even a large institution. Change can be as small as asking someone what their pronouns are, or even how their day has been. But remember, never face adversity alone. Find your community and most of all, find balance. Being a person of color, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, anything outside the norm comes with a degree of trauma and baggage that can weigh you down more than you recognize. You must take care of your foundation, which is yourself.
In closing, as with the opening, I leave you with a quote from James Baldwin to continuously reflect upon as you embark on a journey to become the change you want to see: "I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all."
Marques R. Dexter is a third-year Ph.D. student in the sport management & policy program at the University of Georgia. Hailing from Philadelphia, Marques is a former NCAA Division I & III track & field coach and was named the 2013 & 2014 USTFCCCA Division III Atlantic Region Men’s Indoor Assistant Coach of the Year. Currently serving as a Graduate Assistant for Student Programs in the Office of Institutional Diversity, Marques also has the pleasure of being the Program Coordinator for the institution’s African American Male Initiative (AAMI) program, a grant-funded initiative under the University System of Georgia. Additionally, he is a member of the Sport Instruction Research Laboratory. Outside of the many leadership, social justice, and service involvements, Marques research focuses on the experiences and identities of Black male athletes, particularly those who are academically and athletically high-achieving. Through his scholarship and involvement in student engagement initiatives, Marques desires to broaden the narrative surrounding Black male athletes to conceptualize a more holistic scholar-athlete identity.
Marques Educational History:
2003 - HS Graduate, The School District of Philadelphia
2007 - BSBA in sports management , Robert Morris University
2009 - MS in kinesiology (sport management & policy), University of Georgia
In progress - Ph.D in kinesiology (sport management & policy), University of Georgia
Connect with Marques:
Marques Dexter (LinkedIn)
A Proud Appalachian Coach
I was called a lot of names growing up my small, river town in Southeastern Ohio. “Nerd”, “Jock”, and “Zach’s brother” I am very proud of all them, actually. Unlike many from the region, I won the parent lottery. My parents sacrificed everything for the both of us. They valued education and made sure we knew that our future would include higher education. But it was not until I arrived on Ohio State’s campus that I was called something that would wake me up every day focused on impacting others: “Appalachian”.
After spending four amazing years in Columbus, I became the youngest assistant coach in the Big Ten at the University of Illinois. And in just three seasons, I came back to my alma mater to coach a Big Ten Championship team. Eight years later, I act as the Associate Head Women’s Basketball Coach. It is the daily grinds of coaching and recruiting that breath tremendous passion and happiness into my life. I have had the opportunity to travel to over 40 states and 10 countries. But most importantly, I have had the opportunity to see my players become professional basketball players, doctors, lawyers, and even coaches.
Most people think that being a coach is my life’s biggest accomplishment. It is not. In 2011, I started a non-profit called The iBELIEVE Foundation, focused on providing Appalachian youth educational opportunities. Over the past 7 years, we have raised over a $1million for students from the region. We often hear the negative narratives associated with growing up in this region: poverty, the opioid epidemic, and lack of education preparedness. That IS the reason why I received that scholarship in 2002 from the Office of Minority Affairs. However, The iBELIEVE Foundation has developed thousands of students academic skills, vision for a future, and confidence to go back and create change in their school and communities.
I am most proud to lead a group of students proud to be “Appalachian” now. Over 98% of our students are in 2 or 4-year institutions. And my advice to them is simple: it doesn’t matter how old you are, where you are from, what you look like, or what your parents do for a living. What matters is that you are passionate, hard working, and willing to put service as your North Star throughout your life!
A native of Belpre, Ohio, Patrick attended Ohio State, earned a bachelor’s degree in business management in 2005 and a master’s degree from the Fisher College of Business in March 2010. Patrick currently serves as the Associate Head Coach of Women’s Basketball Team at The Ohio State University. He served his first five seasons as an assistant coach and was promoted to Associate Head Coach prior to the start of the 2016-17 season. Outside of his coaching duties, Patrick in charge of scheduling and plays a major role in donor relations and the academic success of the student-athletes. Patrick, has served as an assistant coach at the University of Illinois from 2007-09, as a graduate assistant on Jim Foster’s Ohio State staff from 2005-07 and again in 2011 where he assisted in several areas including summer camps, community service and supervising the student managers. Outside of athletics, Patrick is the founder of PB& J Consultants, a leadership consulting firm in Columbus, Ohio. He also is the founder and executive director of the iBELIEVE Foundation, which provides leadership, communication and problem solving skills to youth from the 13 state Appalachian region.
Patrick Educational History:
2002 - HS Graduate, Belpre City Schools
2006 - BS in business management, The Ohio State University
2010 - Master’s of Business Administration, The Ohio State University
Connect with Patrick:
Patrick Klein (Facebook)
Altered Expectations and Changing Goals
When I started college, I thought I had it all figured out. I had graduated from my high school valedictorian. Feeling like I could do basically anything, and also feeling like I was expected to either do pre-med or engineering, I chose to enter Ohio State as a pre-engineering major. Pre-med, after all, would never work out for me – I was too squeamish. Engineering seemed right. Engineering seemed like what I was supposed to do.
There were some things I never factored into my early choices before arriving for my freshman year. I had never really learned how to study. I came from a small high school in small town Ohio and what I didn’t realize is that perhaps things came easy to me there not because I was some Einstein-level intellect, but maybe instead because classes at my high school weren’t exactly what you’d call rigorous. Additionally, I was on both merit-based scholarships as well as minority scholarships; I hadn’t realized until my senior year of high school that the region I had grown up in – Appalachian Ohio – is considered an at-risk, underdeveloped part of the country. Wow, what luck! I thought. Free money, all for winning the location lottery. I wasn’t thinking about why such aid was offered to Appalachian students at the time or the fact that these scholarships were to help students overcome adversity and barriers to education. I didn’t yet fully understand what those barriers were.
I finally got it my first week, though. My engineering classes were miserable – not because I felt like I couldn’t do them, but because they were boring to me. I was panicking. To make matters worse, within a few weeks I realized I had no idea how to prepare for college level exams. My pre-engineering advisor coldly told me that a lot of people weren’t cut out for the rigors of the major and that maybe I should switch, and good luck finding courses open now that the semester had already started. I get that she probably saw so many freshmen panic and jump ship from the major, but it was cold. I finally realized the gravity of the fact that I was now personally responsible for the course of my entire life. I was 18. I was not prepared for this.
I switched into Exploration – Ohio State’s fancy term for undecided students that made me at least feel like I was Indiana Jones instead of a young adult in the midst of a pre-quarter life crisis. One of the most helpful things I did was talk to people, multiple people, all the people – because although some people might seem like they’re totally uninterested in the students they’re supposed to help mentor (looking at you, pre-engineering advisor lady), if you keep digging, you’ll hit gold eventually - you just have to find the right fit. Eventually I found a few right fits – an advisor I had a single conversation with at a major fair, who told me if I enjoyed languages in high school I might try an Intro to International Studies course – just one, to see if I like it. Nothing necessarily lost if I didn’t, I’d just leave knowing a little more about the world. He directed me to a list of the U.S. government’s so-called “critical languages” – languages important for national security, but with few qualified experts in the States. I decided to try Russian, and there I met another mentor – my Russian professor, who was a hard-ass but surprisingly knowledgeable and encouraging. I found a lot of her recommended study habits for Russian were transferable.
I also decided to pursue opportunities for development beyond just classes. One of the best pieces of advice I have for newcomers - and I cannot stress this enough - is to pursue these varied opportunities and to meet as many people as you can. I applied starting my sophomore year to any and every interesting internship until something stuck – I probably sent out around a hundred applications for things I was much underqualified for. I even applied to one internship that I felt like I knew for certain I had no chance of being selected for. Unfortunately, I was rejected for the summer. So I applied for the fall, because hey – most students don’t apply for those, given it doesn’t fit as easily into an academic calendar year. And to my surprise, I was accepted. I interned in the fall of 2013 at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Later, in graduate school, I also interned at the U.S. Department of State headquarters in Washington D.C. I met so many wonderful people on these internships. In fact, five years after the first internship, a fellow intern tipped me off on an obscure but wonderful job opportunity, ultimately leading to my first job out of grad school.
It can be hard to adjust to college, especially given all the variables – moving from a small school to a large one; learning to navigate the bureaucracy; simply finding out where the opportunities are before you can even begin to go about figuring out how to secure them. My advice is: don’t panic. Take a deep breath. Don’t beat yourself up if your plans change – we go into undergrad as just-barely-adults and that means we have a lot of expectations that maybe don’t quite match up with reality. Your journey will not be straight forward; you will likely have to explore your options to find the right fit. Your network is your support, so talk to everyone. Feel it out and build connections. And pursue opportunities beyond the classroom – academic clubs, social groups, internships, research. Often those experiences will be the most meaningful, and the most rewarding.
Jessica hails from Chillicothe, a small town in southern Appalachian Ohio. She currently works in Houston as an analyst in global risk, focusing on threat analysis for Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia.
Jessica Educational History:
2010 – HS Graduate, Paint Valley Local Schools
2014 – BA in international studies and Russian, The Ohio State University
2018 – MA in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, The University of Texas at Austin
2018 – Master of Global Policy Studies, The University of Texas at Austin
Connect with Jessica:
Jessica Terry (LinkedIn)
Backwoods Hick in the Big City
I grew up on a farm outside a poor, rural village in Appalachia, Ohio. Our high school didn’t have much, but that didn’t stop me from becoming involved in everything I could. I ran track, cross country, did quiz bowl, acted in plays, took pigs & rabbits in 4-H, and joined National Honor Society. I thought I had things figured out; after all, I had never gotten less than a B+ in any of my classes. Nothing was stopping me and I graduated Salutatorian of my class. I graduated with the idea that I was some brilliant student and that I was going to be one of the top students in college, as well.
I remember my very first quarter. I took an English class, my best and favorite subject, and got a C on the first paper. This same scenario applied to the rest of my classes. I was “studying”, but it was clear that my method of studying wasn’t enough. I was getting failing grades in subjects that were easy to me before. My peers were way ahead of me in terms of the things that their high schools had prepared them for and I could not catch up. I completed the first year with a D in multiple classes and at the end of the year I was at the point where I no longer cared, and thus no longer bothered attending classes.
I’d like to say that the first thing I remember upon my arrival at OSU as a freshman was the diversity of people or the unique architecture. No, the first thing that stuck out to me was the number of North Face jackets. New, expensive jackets worn by what felt like every person I saw. Meanwhile, I survived on my too thin, stained, 3 year old jacket my mother had bought me on sale at JcPenneys “as a splurge” for that year’s upcoming winter. While it seemed like such a trivial thing, I believe those jackets represented the “otherness” I felt from fellow students throughout my college experience. They represented the way in which I felt unworthy compared to everyone around me who had the money or the “brains.” This idea that I didn’t belong is what held me back from asking for help and from pushing myself to work a little harder. I felt like a “hick” in a big city with my southern accent and affinity for the outdoors, and it was hard to find fellow students who had similar experiences. Fortunately, my best friends from high school attended OSU with me, and I truly believe that if it wasn’t for them, I would not have graduated. They continued to remind me of the importance of my value at OSU and the importance of getting a degree.
The biggest thing my high school failed to prepare me for was how to ask for help. In rural Ohio, to ask for help of any kind is to be deemed as weak. It wasn’t until I had gotten an email from my history professor asking if I was okay after the 4th missed class in a row that I realized I should swallow my pride. My intense fear of asking for help was unfounded; in fact, that teacher was so kind that he allowed me to turn in late things just so I could pass the class. That was the final “D” in my college career. From that point on, things improved and I succeeded in bringing my GPA up to a 3.0. I even had the opportunity to work as a research assistant and joined several clubs! I graduated on time and had learned enough from my time spent in undergrad at OSU that I was able to finish a Master’s of Social Work degree with a 3.9 GPA.
The advice that I give you, current and future students, is to not give things power that should not hold it; just as I erroneously gave those North Face jackets the power to make me feel as though I was unworthy of going to college. You have the ability to put power where it belongs – in your studies, with your loved ones, and ultimately within yourself. Knowing you are worthy, that YOU have the power within yourself to succeed, will take you anywhere you want to go.
And please, please ask for help.
Hannah grew up on a farm in Bainbridge, OH where she attended Paint Valley High School. Hannah spent her undergrad experience studying different populations through a sociological scope, and graduated from The Ohio State University with a BA in Sociology & Criminology. This passion for helping other people led her to a position working at a domestic violence shelter, where staff encouraged her to pursue a Master of Social Work degree at OSU. Hannah’s passions include social justice, especially in regards to LGBTQ+ & other intersectional folks, and she is currently working with older adults to allow them to remain independent in their homes. She currently holds a license in social work and is planning on going back to school for a PhD.
Hannah Educational History:
2010 - HS Graduate, Paint Valley Local Schools
2014 - BA in sociology & criminology, The Ohio State University
2018 - Master of Social Work, The Ohio State University
Connect with Hannah:
Hannah Reall (LinkedIn)
Keep Moving Forward, but Remember to Pay it Backwards
Going through school I never really had much foresight. I vaguely remember talking with someone my 9th grade year in high school about going to college. It was brief. I think all I said was I wanted to major in psychology and left it at that. The topic was revisited late in my 11th grade year and throughout my senior year of high school. I was on track to graduate number two of my class so my counselors and mentors talked with me more about what I wanted to do. “I just want to help people.” Was what I thought and that manifested into my pursuit of a psychology degree because it gave me that opportunity. With that degree I could do a lot of things. I could become a teacher, counselor, social worker, work in human resources, practice therapy and so much more. I wanted to go this route to pursue counseling and therapy because that interests me the most in helping people that way.
I decided to attend The Ohio State University. This was a great opportunity for me. Not a lot of people coming from where I come from got this opportunity. My mom was proud of me and my community was pouring support into me. I promised that I would do well by them so I could come back and make a difference. In spite of all this greatness that I had to look forward to ahead of me, in the back of my mind I had a few doubts. One concern was my lack of “excitement” that everyone around me had. Other seniors seemed really enthusiastic about taking off to their colleges and universities, I was lacking that because to me it just felt like more school. I have been in school my whole life. Then another concern, which did not bother me much at first but grew as the years passed was that some people were telling me that my high school achievements meant nothing. That I was going to reach college and my A’s and B’s would turn to C’s. What a thing to say to a young person trying to do better for themself, right? As an adult they could not have found any encouragement or advice to give me? They chose to say that? I appreciated it all the same though because in reality I did not need those people to believe in me. I believed in myself enough so they could sit back and just witness what I was about to achieve. I thought they don’t need to clap for me, simply hold that seat in the audience because I am going to put on a show even without their applause.
Early in my collegiate career I was doing well. For the first year or two I was able to maintain a B average. Also, I had a work study position at the Black Cultural Center, I was involved in mentoring Black males on campus, and I picked up a second job working under one of my most cherished mentors that inspired me to work within the community. I was extremely grateful for all these experiences I gained and people I met.
As I went on things just kept piling on. I was working two jobs and struggling to pay for school, other bills, classes were getting a bit harder, I had been spreading my self thin with over involvement on campus, and overall was gaining a sense of “burn out” where I became so exhausted in everything and was fed up with school. The naysayers were right, my As turned to Cs. School was tiresome; however, I kept moving forward. No matter how small the steps I took became, no matter if I even stumbled as I took them I kept pressing on. This was a journey I took with not just myself in mind, it would have been easier to simply give up on myself a while ago, but I was committed to finish for my mother, my community, my mentees, for the people that could not be here and whoever else ever gave me a chance and believed in me. I could not give up on them.
Now I am a graduate of The Ohio State University. I moved back home to my community in Cleveland, Ohio. I am taking a break from school for now to work, connect with others back home and inspire people to foresee some goals for themselves as the mentors that guided me along the way did for me. I am home to pay it backwards and give back to all the outlets that poured into me so that others can benefit from them as well. I plan to go back to school for social work, become licensed for counseling and therapy and eventually attain my PhD as well. A message from me would be for people to not give up on themselves and keep moving forward. You may not know how far you can go but you will never get there if you give up now. Find something bigger than yourself to invest in and do not give up on it because when you are gone your legacy will live on.
Zaid Hightower is an inner city Cleveland native born and raised on the east side. As valedictorian of the Class of 2014 from Ginn Academy he went on to earn his degree in Psychology from The Ohio State University and graduated in 2018. He currently works for the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland and as a Treatment Specialist for a social work agency. He plans to enroll in graduate school to attain his Master’s degree in social work, become a licensed therapist and move on to earn his Ph.D.
Zaid Educational History:
2014 - HS Graduate, Cleveland Metropolitan School District
2018 - BA in psychology, The Ohio State University
Resilience During the Arduous Climb to the Top
I knew medical school would be hard before I started. And as I type this piece out, I’m sitting here thinking, “wow was I right.” It’s been a journey! This intense four years of job training truly is not for everyone. I had to really want it. It had to be worth the stress, time, financial burden, and time away from loved ones so that I could focus on my studies. But let’s take a step back to how I got myself here. I was in 4th grade when Mrs. McBride had my class do the classic ‘what do you want to do when you grow up’ art project. I had recently experienced my childhood midlife crisis when I decided to not be a pilot because I would have to be in college for 6 years! That was too long I thought to myself. And then I ironically relinquished that dream and chose medicine. In 8th grade I had done a project about Internal Medicine and became so excited to just finish through high school and start my pre-medical education. Now mind you, I’ve never been the strongest test taker, and I will never forget one of my math teachers in High School who told me I would never get into Ohio State with my score. And now I have a piece of paper hanging in the wall of my room saying otherwise. Later at OSU one of my professors did not think I was competitive enough to get into medical school. And yet, in a years time I’ll be walking down a stage with a new title in front of my name. I say this not to brag and say, “look what I did!” Instead I say all this because I had to be resilient through this arduous journey. I’ve always grown up hearing “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I do not believe that’s true at all. Being told “you won’t be able to do what you dream of,” really hurts. But I never let that stop me. You know what I know? If I desire something, and it lines up with God’s will for my life, nothing and no one has the power to stop me. And yet, with God right there, I have still been tempted to quit. My journey has been exhausting. I had a minor panic attack during my MCAT, but had to pull myself together. Let me put things into perspective. When I took a step back, I realized that the kids who graduate from high school the year I finish medical school, were in third grade when I started college. Let that sink in haha. But I am still here! I did not get all this way to stop now.
So how did I attain the resilience to get through? My advice during this time is to discover something that you love to do. We all know that graduate school means a lot of studying. But finding something to take your mind off your studies is what has kept me sane. Mind you, I’m not saying do not study. We all still need to be wise with our time. One thing I did not expect, is that 98% of the time I was always behind. Med school has not been hard in the sense that I was unable to understand the information. The issue has been the extreme amount of information and trying to cram it all into my head. But outside of studying, personal time for meditation, or faith-based community, your favorite sport, and hanging out with friends who do not only want to talk medicine are examples of some things that will help to keep you sane. The journey is obviously long, but it has also gone by so fast. Those of us in this career had to really really really want this. Shadowing a physician early during my time at Ohio State was essential to me being able to say I see myself practicing in this career for the rest of my life. Keep on going, people may doubt you along the way, times will be rough, but remember it is not supposed to be easy. Keep on climbing up the mountain, and when you get to the top, be thankful for the journey. The good times, and the bad that made you stronger.
Kabwe was born across the ocean in the southern African country of Zambia. His family relocated to Cleveland, Ohio in 1995 for his father's job. Kabwe's family lived in the suburb of Westlake, Ohio until they next relocated to the Toledo suburban area of Maumee, Ohio. In high school Kabwe was involved in football, ran track, the speech and debate team, show choir, concert band, marching band, French club, and the National Honor Society. Surprisingly he was voted most involved by his class. He then finished his B.S. at The Ohio State University where he was heavily involved in Real Life and H20 church. He also was a member of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity, the Biological Sciences Scholars, was an Office of Diversity and Inclusion scholar, and served on the Homecoming Court during his senior year. As a medical student, Kabwe's is heavily involved in his church Rock City and serves as Assistant Regional Director for the Student National Medical Association. This group is dedicated to supporting minority medical students and raising up culturally competent physicians. In his role he helps to support the mission of SNMA at 16 medical school chapters in the states of Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. He aspires to run for National Vice President this coming year. Kabwe is interested in practicing Family Medicine, with special focus on Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy to treat musculoskeletal symptoms, pediatrics, women's health, and the special needs and LGBTQIA community.
Kabwe Educational History:
2011 - HS Graduate, Maumee City Schools
2015 - BS in biology, The Ohio State University
In progress - Doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine (D.O), Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
Connect with Kabwe:
Kabwe Chilupe (Facebook)
Never Devaule Your Worth
I remember when one of my childhood friends got shot. News spread like wildfire around my neighborhood. Growing up in East Harlem, New York I knew as a young Black male I was more likely to end up in jail than attend college. Not too many of the people I know made it out. A couple of them are either locked up or dead.
For me education was my escape. I loved to learn and I did this through reading and writing. When I first put pen to paper I created something that would be my ticket to education. I excelled well in high school yet still struggled to understand the importance of living and succeeding. I wanted to be like others hanging out with all the girls and flashy clothes. However I knew there had to be more outside of Harlem.
I graduate high school top 20 in my class and went to Binghamton University. In college I failed hard. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. All I knew was that no one in my family had ever done it before. I struggled to succeed and at one time considered dropping out. It wasn't until I visited my uncle in jail did I push myself to graduate. You see Black men in America are targets of injustice, pain. and profiling. My uncle in that green jumpsuit was facing a hard reality. If I did not get my education I would more than likely be there.
I knew I was struggling. I decided to speak and join organizations where I spoke with other marginalized students about our issues. This is when I wanted to focus on helping other students like myself graduate. Once I graduated from Binghamton I worked in undergraduate admissions as a Alumni Representative. I spoke with parents, students, and co workers about what we needed to create and equitable campus. This pushed me to apply for law school however I did not get in.
Again defeated I wanted to quit. I knew this was the kick in the ass I needed so I went back to my writing and acquired my MFA at Queens College. During this time I lost my grandfather and broke up with my girlfriend of three years. I went into a dark place and wanted to stay in my rut. After the dust cleared, I went back to understanding my mission, and that was to serve others who looked like me.
I decided to go to Texas State for my M.Ed. My graduate program in Texas was a transition. I experienced racism, a unsupportive cohort. and my relationships with my faculty advisors weren't great. I again felt like quitting. I found a family in our Student Diversity Office where I became an intern. In this intern I worked helping young college men with identity and development. I worked with upper administrators on our campus climate, and was a strong advocate during a time of uprise when our students wanted justice.
I write all this to say. I have doubted myself but never doubted the vision. Our Black is beautiful. As a new Student Affairs professional working in Multicultural affairs at a small college everyday is a struggle. Students from marginalized communities are struggling, I see me in them and I have to continue this work. The struggle are not without great pains, but within those barriers you find yourself, you find your purpose.
Sean is a first-generation African-American who is a new Student Affairs professional advocating for social justice and underrepresented student populations. A 2009 graduate of Binghamton University, State University of New York where he obtained a B.A. in English and Sociology. Sean has worked to push forth ideas and ways to increase the retention of marginalized identities. Sean has also acquired a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Queens College, City University of New York in 2012 and a Master of Education in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Texas State University in 2018. Sean grew up in East Harlem, New York where poverty is high and many young Black male are either in gangs or incarcerated. Attending St. Raymond High School for Boys in the Bronx. NY was where he found his escape. After graduating in 2005, Sean knew he wanted to serve students and work in the education field. Today he is a higher education professional working in Multicultural Affairs fighting and promoting equity for all underrepresented youth.
Sean Educational History:
2005 - HS Graduate, St. Raymond High School for Boys
2009 - BA in English and sociology, Binghamton University, State University of New York
2012 - MFA in creative writing, Queens College, City University of New York
2018 - M.Ed in higher education and student affairs, Texas State University
Connect with Sean:
Sean Hembrick (LinkedIn)
A Life Well Spent
As I reflect on a life well spent, I somehow find myself in my 30th year as an educator. In 1985, I graduated from Lynchburg-Clay High School as a clueless and broken 18 year old. Broken, because I had devoted my time, heart and love into the sport of basketball and during tournament play my senior year I destroyed my ACL. Everything I had worked for and loved, including basketball scholarships shattered before me. Thirty four years ago the recovery from an ACL reconstruction was at least eight months and with no promise of a complete recovery. July of that summer, I had the surgery and chose to commute to Wilmington College my freshmen year in order to recover at home. My parents, in the midst of their second divorce, made home life quite a challenge. I believe it is also important to mention, that money was not a commodity that my family possessed and I was unable to work. To say life was difficult would be an understatement. Being the first person in my family to attend college, support was lacking. My hometown of Lynchburg, Ohio is part of Appalachian America.
I recovered quickly from my surgery and found myself a second chance at basketball at The College of Mount Saint Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio, my sophomore year. Between academic and athletic scholarships, my college tuition was nearly completely covered. My junior and senior years I became a resident assistant in the dorms and gave up basketball (my knee never fully recovered). I participated in many school activities, clubs, groups, etc. I was involved in all facets of college life and loved it. I maintained a 3.85 GPA and held a work study and outside employment as well. I graduated from The College of Mount Saint Joseph in 1989 with a bachelor’s of arts. I was certified to teach health and physical education grades K-12.
I immediately received a job offer from Northwest Local School District in Cincinnati, Ohio. I accepted a position as a middle school teacher at Pleasant Run Middle School and left my rural hometown for good. I spent 25 years at Pleasant Run as a 6th through 8th grade health and physical education teacher. Pleasant Run was a suburban school district which turned into more of an urban environment with each passing year. I enjoyed the classroom but yearned to be in a position of leadership. After 15 years and two children of my own, I chose to go back to school to pursue my master’s in educational administration. I received a scholarship from the University of Cincinnati and finished a two year program in a year and a half with a 4.0, while continuing to teach.
After a difficult divorce, I chose to move back to my hometown of Lynchburg to have the love and support of my family for my son and daughter and myself. At that time I was a single parent and my children were not old enough for me to pursue an administration position which would require more night hours. I waited patiently and continued to teach and raise my kids. Finally, in 2014 I felt it was the right time to pursue administration. After numerous interviews in various districts, I was offered a position at Fairfield Local in Highland County. For the past five years I have been an assistant principal and middle school and high school athletic director at Fairfield.
I can honestly say that my career in education has given me the opportunity to see diversity from many angles. In Cincinnati, I experienced racial diversity and poverty. In rural America I experience little racial diversity, but more socio-economic diversity. I also have a bi-racial son who spent the first half of his life in Cincinnati and his teen years through the present in rural Lynchburg. I have learned that it is possible to make a difference in all kids’ lives, regardless of race, gender, socio-economics, geographical location, etc. Kids are kids and need positive role models desperately. At the end of each day, I am fulfilled with the satisfaction of knowing I have spent 30 years making a difference with children from all walks of life. I am able to relate to children with difficult backgrounds because my younger years were challenging and dysfunctional in many aspects.
Thirty years have gone very quickly in a profession I am proud to have been a part of. I can honestly say it has been thirty years well spent making a difference in so many children’s lives.
Denise is a Lynchburg, Ohio native (Highland County) having graduated from Lynchburg-Clay High School in 1985. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from The College of Mount Saint Joseph and a master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati. Denise has since returned home to Highland County, where she works as an Assistant Principal and athletic director within the Fairfield Local School District.
Denise Educational History:
1985 - HS Graduate, Lynchburg-Clay Local School District
1989 - BA in education (health & physical education), The College of Mount Saint Joseph
2007 - MA in educational administration, University of Cincinnati
From the Hood to a Graduate Hooding and Back
I grew up in a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood in South Los Angeles known by the community as “The Jungles.” Many of my friends were—and continue to be—lost to jail cells, state violence, and/or pushed out of the educational system. My younger brother and I often talk about the many times we “fit a profile” on our way to and from school, the random searches on our high school campus, and how hyper-vigilant we still get when we interact with police officers. While we use humor to cope with these larger systems of inequality, we are aware that our experiences are indeed a reflection of the consequences of racialized, class-based, and gendered inequalities that continue to impact our South LA neighborhood. Now, as a Ph.D. student in sociology, my work grows out of an interest to push us beyond research on the punitive punishment of Black and Latino youth towards frameworks of empowerment via grassroots youth organizing and community based organizations.
Growing up I was often told that education was my ticket out of the hood. Yet, this never set well with me. As James Baldwin writes, “It is your responsibility to change society if you think of yourself as an educated person.” To me, this means that no BA, MA, or Ph.D. is a one-way ticket out of the hood. Instead, these degrees are a set of tools that I can use to challenge the injustices that my community faces. This, for me, takes multiple forms. At times, it is organizing and taking to the streets. Other times, it is teaching first generation college students from the hood in sociology undergraduate and graduate courses. This is why I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in sociology. I aim to be a professor who provides undergraduate and graduate students sociological tools to develop and understanding of social change and social justice.
My own journey to sociology and college is quite interesting. The summer I graduate high school, the first thought that crossed my mind was getting a job. I did that. I worked at a 99 cents store for two months until my dad woke me up one day and said (in Spanish), “I know you applied to college. Let’s go check out one of the schools that accepted you.” At the time, as a first generation student, I had no idea had to enroll in courses or confirm that my FAFSA was submitted correctly. Yet, my dad drove me to Cal State LA and we both walked into different offices with many questions about enrolling (well, my dad did all the talking haha!). With his limited English, he asked about my admission and signing me up for orientation. That day, I walked out with an orientation date set. When the orientation date came, he dropped me off at Cal State LA with enough money to pay for tuition for one quarter and said, “go pay for your classes, enroll, and we will eventually figure out the rest.” Imagine my surprise when I showed up to the cashier’s office and they told me my tuition was covered. I had financial aid! Three years later, I enrolled in a sociology elective titled “Class, Race/Ethnicity, Gender.” This class changed my life. This was the first time I was provided the sociological tools to frame my experiences in South Los Angeles in a structural context. After a couple of stints in K-12, and a BA and two MA degrees later, I am now working to become a Latino professor that fosters a sense of community for the growing number of Black and Latinx students entering universities.
While this is only a tiny glimpse into my life, I share it in order to give you one piece of advice. That is, stay grounded in who you are, where you come from, and who walks with you. The hood, my parents, my brother and sister, and many others in my community have taught me to be a better scholar, person, and community member. The streets taught more about society than any book ever will. For that, I will always be in debt and will continue to forge ways to remain committed to my hood, Black and Latinx youth, and movements moving us closer to liberation. Always lift as you climb!
Uriel is South Los Angeles native and current third-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Informed by what he witnessed growing up in an under-invested and over-policed Black and Brown neighborhood, he is a sociologist of race, gender, education, and youth social movements. His work examines the organizational, cultural, and intersectional programming that shape the political and racial identity and masculinity of Black and Latinx young men in a coalition of 9 community-based organizations. Moreover, he explores the strategies that Black and Latinx youth activist adopt in their efforts to decriminalize youth of color. Uriel received a Bachelor and Master of Arts in sociology from California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) where he is currently an instructor. In addition, he is a Project MALES Graduate Scholar at the University of Texas at Austin, a 2019 American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education Graduate Fellow, and graduate student researcher with the Student Success & Equity Research Center at UC Santa Cruz. He sits on the board of the Pacific Sociological Association, and serves on the American Sociological Association’s Latinx Sociology Section Council. Uriel’s work has been published through USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and the Association of Mexican American Educators Journal.
Uriel Educational History:
2008 - HS Graduate, Los Angeles Unified School District
2012 - BA in sociology, California State University, Los Angeles
2016 - MA in sociology, California State University, Los Angeles
2018 - MA, University of California, Santa Cruz
In progress - Ph.D in sociology, University of California, Santa Cruz
Connect with Uriel:
Uriel Serrano (LinkedIn)
Who’s in your Circle?
At a very young age, my family instilled in me the vital importance of prioritizing school and my education. To my family, education was not a choice, it was a requirement. Even as a child, I was groomed to become the fifth-generation to graduate from college. I was extremely fortunate to have such caring family members that made sure I stayed on the right track. Growing up in New York City, and being in an environment where there are more opportunities to go down the wrong path than there are to go down the right one, I have my family to thank for steering me away from all the negative influences that could have impacted my chances of making a great life for myself.
When I finished middle-school, with the help of great mentors and advisors in my Breakthrough New York Program, I was awarded with an acceptance into the A Better Chance (ABC) program. This nationwide program gives thousands of students of color opportunities to attend great schools they would not otherwise would not have access to. Through ABC, I was able to attend Winchester High School in Winchester, MA through the Winchester ABC Community School Program. Here, I lived in a scholar house with seven other students from all over the country and was blessed to have Resident Directors (RD) that served as our guardians while away from home. The relationships I developed with my RDs, Jamoul and Alisa Celey, and the other scholars are ones I will cherish forever. They provide me with a support system every successful person must have, as they help with common life challenges I face everyday.
Thanks to my mentors, my colleagues, and family, I have been able to thrive personally, academically, and professionally. All in all, what I am trying to express through my story is that your success is dependent on the quality of people you surround yourself with. No one achieves success and prosperity on their own. Behind every great person is a strong support system comprised of amazing people that helped mold them into the person they are. If someone is not fostering your academic and professional success or helping to uplift you, then all they are doing is holding you back. You have to remove the cancers from your life in order to grow and develop. Be careful of who you let into your life, because this has a significant impact on where you will end up. The better the people you surround yourself with, the better you will be.
Bryson was born and raised in New York City, and currently live in Harlem, NY with his mother. Through the A Better Chance Program, he was able to go out-of-state for high-school, and graduated from Winchester High School in Winchester, Massachusetts in 2016. After graduation, he enrolled at The Ohio State University to study political science with a specialization in inequality and justice. Currently, Bryson serves as a Student Administrative Assistant in the Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center, as well as a Presidential Host for the Office of the University President at Ohio State. He is on track to graduate in the spring of 2020 with his bachelor degree.
Bryson Educational History:
2016 - HS Graduate, Winchester Public Schools
In progress - BA in political science, The Ohio State University
Connect with Bryson:
Bryson McEachin (LinkedIn)
Bryson McEachin (Facebook)
My parents started pushing me academically at a very young age. I was reading chapter books in kindergarten with a few of my peers while everyone else did arts and crafts. By 3rd grade I had started the Talented and Gifted Program. Once a week we completed rigorous coursework much above our grade level. From 3rd grade to 6th, a dozen of my peers and I learned Chinese, did basic algebra, and read long chapter books that couldn’t include “Junie B. Jones” or “Magic Treehouse”. There was one other person of color in that program and she had been adopted. I owe a lot of my success to TAG but I also attribute my desire for perfection to that period of my life. Don’t get me wrong, you should always strive for greatness but trying to prove yourself because of the color of your skin can become mentally exhausting.
This continued on for the rest of my academic career and even sometimes now I have to remind myself that I deserve to be here and I need to be kinder to myself.
In an advanced math class during 8th grade, I chose to sit with people that I had grown up with and considered “friends”. I noticed them whispering & giggling when one boy said out loud, in front of the class that the “tribe had spoken” and I “couldn’t sit with them”... To this day, I have no idea if this had anything to do with the color of my skin but being one of maybe 3 people of color in the entire class, I began to feel like an outcast.
From that point on I attempted to make more friends of color. Unfortunately there were not many in my classes so I only saw them at lunch & in extracurricular activities. That’s when I realized; I didn’t really have a place. I had plenty of friends but they regularly made comments about my race. My white friends claimed to be “blacker” than me and my black friends made jokes about me being an Oreo, white on the inside... You get it. Other white friends told me that their parents and grandparents didn’t typically like black people BUT I was an exception because I was a good girl and had decent parents. I didn’t experience blatant racism until after high school but the microaggressions were enough to drive anyone crazy.
The icing on the cake was this: Going to college was never a question for me. My dad graduated from the University of Dayton as a first generation college student and made sure we knew that our job in high school was to get into college with as little debt as possible, just like he had. In 2014, I was honored & blessed to have received the Morrill Scholarship of Excellence through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to attend The Ohio State University. This was a huge accomplishment for me. That was quickly shot down when one of my closet friends at the time said, “oh, I wouldn’t qualify for that because ya know, I’m white & my family makes too much money”.
At that very moment, I understood that my small, Appalachian town had no idea what diversity was and to them, I was still just a black girl. Not the successful student that took all AP & honors courses throughout high school. Not the president of National Honor Society, the VP of Student Council, and the secretary of Key Club and Spanish National Honor Society. And most definitely not the girl that was in the top 10% of her class, graduated with a 4.3 GPA, and got into every college that she applied to. Nope! I was just a black girl.
I started to feel like I only got in to college because I was successful “for a black girl” and got scholarships because I was a “success story”. A 2nd generation college student from Appalachia AND she’s black?
The sad thing about this is that there are a lot of black and brown students out there that have a similar experience. The difference is, I have an extremely supportive family that never gave up on me, even when I was ready to give up on myself. My mom taught me to have thick skin & loved me unconditionally so that I always knew that I mattered. My dad gave me his determination and pushed me along the way, so much so that I am now getting my Master’s at Ohio State.
I still have days that I’m not sure if I deserve my success thus far. I discredit myself more than I’d like to admit. I still have days where I feel like giving up, exhausted from graduate school and still trying to stay on top as one of few people of color in my program but then I run into the many successful black leaders on campus such as Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, Dr. D’Andra Mull, Dr. James Moore III, Dr. Gisell Jeter-Bennett, Mrs. Khadijah Jones, Mrs. Donya Gilmore, and Mrs. Courtney Johnson that have paved the way for myself and others. I also run into students that remind me that I helped them with their college application during their senior year or pushed them to consider college through my time with the Diversity Ambassador Program in Undergraduate Admissions.
So I’ll leave you with this, YOU MATTER! No matter what obstacles you face, no matter how many times they try to deter you from your dreams, you matter and you deserve every opportunity that comes your way.
Lauren was born and raised in Chillicothe, Ohio, just an hour south of Ohio State’s campus. She is a Master’s level social work student in the advanced standing alternative program at The Ohio State University and is on track to graduate in May 2019. In May 2018, she graduated from OSU with her Bachelor’s in Social Work. Lauren is passionate about her community and empowering women of color. While she was involved in a number of organizations during undergrad, she is currently focusing on her position as vice president of Mwanafuzni, the Ohio State Chapter of the National Association of Black Social Workers. After completing an internship at Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana in 2018, Lauren decided to pursue medical social work and is currently placed at Nationwide Children’s Hospital for a 9-month internship. She intends to continue in medical social work after graduation. Lauren became a licensed social worker in December of 2018.
Lauren Educational History:
2012 - HS Graduate, Chillicothe City Schools
2016 - BS in social work, The Ohio State University
In progress - Master’s of Social Work, The Ohio State University
Connect with Lauren:
Lauren Hitchens, LSW (LinkedIn)
My Greatest Failure Pushed Me to Even Greater Success
“Even if you got a 100%, you would still not have enough points from your final exam to pass this class. The level of your coursework in my class has been unsatisfactory. You are going to FAIL my class, Kavian.” I sat there reading through this email, completely emotionless. I already knew what the outcome would be. I didn’t need to send an email asking Dr. Palmer if I was going to get a passing grade in this class, if I did well on the final exam. My fate in my Intro Chemical Engineering class was sealed weeks ago and it was the culmination of the worst semester of school in my entire life.
During this semester I had failed Chemical Engineering, withdrew from Organic Chemistry too late resulting in another failing grade, and received a D and a C in Statistics and Economics, respectively. This led to me having a 0.62 GPA for the Spring 2013 semester. For someone who was over 500 miles away from home this had resulted in a perfect storm of self-doubt, uncertainty, and loneliness.
Growing up, things had always been so easy for me academically. I was frequently showered with praise from teachers, coaches, family, and friends for my academic achievements. But things changed once I entered college. I realized that I NEVER learned how to study, and I rested on my natural gifts to succeed. As a result, I became a very content and lazy student. Sure, I accomplished a lot at Benjamin E. Mays High School; Vice President of my class in Student Government, lettered in football, track and swimming, excelled in several AP classes and even received college credit for courses taken at Atlanta Metropolitan Community College. Despite all this, I had never been in a position where I failed at something and I believe there are very important life lessons that come from failure.
In addition to my study habits, I believe that my status as a first-generation college student was weighing heavily on me. My family structure wasn’t the greatest. I was raised by my grandmother; my mother had been in prison for drug charges for much of my adolescence and my father never played an active role in my life. Despite all of this, I always felt like I had a strong support system. But there were just things that I could not rely on my grandmother to help me with while in college. Being a college student was something she had never experienced and therefore couldn’t give me advice on.
Reading Dr. Palmer’s email and having such a bad semester set me back in a major way. I didn’t get the credits I needed so I graduated 2 years after most student in my class. I attended Ohio State on a scholarship that covered four years, so those additional two years cost over $70,000 in student loans. But if I could redo this moment in my life I wouldn’t change a single detail (that $70,000 would look really nice in my bank account though). These lessons that I learned during this ordeal prepared me for so much more.
Dr. Palmer lit a fire under me that I never had, and I realized something in me needed to change. From that point forward, I leaned on my college support system more and used the resources that were available to me. These included Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male, and Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith. They gave me a team comprised of both peers and mentors who were all black men (and some women) that could relate to my life experiences and could guide me in the right direction. These institutions and people helped to build me up and grow as a young man and scholar.
By the end of my college matriculation, I was able to graduate with my Bachelor of Science in Biological Engineering, study abroad in Costa Rica, Brazil, China, and Ghana, and win several awards from the Office of Student Life including outstanding chapter president for my work with Kappa Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. I’ll leave you with a quote that got me through this tough time. Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” I would undoubtedly say that the spring semester of 2013 was a truly amazing failure!
Some advice for current/future college students:
-PRACTICE MINDFULNESS AND BE SELFISH: College is going to be challenging and take a lot out of you. Remember to take care of yourself and reward yourself for your accomplishments, no matter how big or small
-MAKE FRIENDS: Once piece of advice that I remember from my freshman orientation in 2010 was to not go home every weekend and make sure I connected with my peers. Although I was 500+ miles away and it was impossible to get home every weekend I internalized the essence of that advice. Make sure you’re opening up to new experiences and new relationships. Your friends in college are also a resource. They help you to unwind, they’re your study partners, and they’ll be the people you remember once those college days swiftly pass.
-USE YOUR RESOURCES: Universities are built to help young adults navigate life. There are people there who are hired to guide you in the right directions. There are all sorts of counseling, tutors, gyms, museums, other extracurriculars, and OFFICE HOURS. These are provided to you through the university. Take advantage of them, you’re likely paying for it regardless of if you use them or not.
Kavian Anderson-Spells is a native of Atlanta, Ga. In 2010 he received his High School Diploma from Benjamin E. Mays High School. Afterwards, he obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Engineering from The Ohio State University in 2016. Currently, he works in Buffalo, NY as a Process Engineer for the J.M Smucker Company. In this role, Kavian’s responsibilities includes improving existing technology, troubleshooting major problems, and implementing cost-saving measures.
Kavian Educational History:
2010 - HS Graduate, Atlanta Public Schools
2016 - BS in biological engineering, The Ohio State University
Connect with Kavian:
Kavian Anderson-Spells (LinkedIn)
Kavian Anderson-Spells (Facebook)
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know…Until You Know It
I had heard this saying a lot when I was growing up. I use it now as I look back on my experiences with education. I grew up in Lorain, OH my entire life. We were known for… not much honestly. All I knew was that too many people told me I needed to focus on “getting out” of Lorain. My parents were high school sweethearts who were constantly pushing my brother and I to go to college. This was a goal of mine before I even knew what a goal was! I had the privilege of having my mother as a stay at home mom while my father worked day in and day out in the assembly line at Ford. With nothing more than two high school diplomas and my father’s four-year term in the Navy, my parents settled down and began their family in Lorain, OH.
Growing up in Lorain, I knew nothing outside of my city. My mother was amazing and my father provided for us every way he could. We were all that we needed. We had it good and were fairly sheltered from the world around us, so much so that we could barely see our little city crashing down.
I recall when I was in middle school, a shooting took place at our local high school and my parents decided that they would move to give us a better opportunity. We moved to a smaller district within Lorain and began middle school there. Middle school was a time of growth for me. I made new friends with so many different stories then what I had known growing up. The ways that we were raised were so different and I often wondered how kids dealing with so much could show up to school everyday and want to learn? At the time I didn’t realize, but looking back, I now know that learning often times didn’t take place at school, but instead at home. My mom pushed me to read books. My teachers obviously supported it. But for many of my peers, they were not offered these same benefits. Many of my peers fell behind. During this time, many of them stopped showing up. I remember being told by teachers that kids were going to the detention home for not coming to school. This scared me and I knew I had to make sure I was coming to school.
High school only brought more education disparity. Not only were my peers behind but I was also slacking. I was encouraged to do the bare minimum to get by, so that is exactly what I did. At this time my mom enrolled in the community college. She instilled in me the importance of education. This was a turning point in my educational experience. From that point I knew that I really did want to go to college, whereas many of my peers did not see college as a possibility or even a viable option. I took the courses I needed to take and was offered the privilege of taking college classes through the local community college. Many of my peers struggled to graduate or at times, show up. Teachers began pushing kids through despite their grades they would say things like, “I can’t have you again next year.” I watched as the system failed my peers and it only got worse from here.
Summer of 2014, I went away to college. When I got to college it was no walk in the park. Throughout high school I had breezed by, now I could barely pass algebra at the college level. I struggled. I was never taught how to handle financial aid or what I needed to maintain it. That when I dropped too many classes because I was struggling, I could actually lose it? To sum it up, I was screwed. I had no one to talk to. I felt alone. It seemed like no one could relate to me. Learning did not come as easy as it did in high school. In high school, I passed my classes simply by showing up. Now they expect me to remember things and read a lot and take tests. They want me to think critically? I was never taught that… what even is that? How do I do this?
I freaked out. I couldn't do it.
Not to mention the things that were taking place back home that I could not help but focus on. My world was crashing down around me and no one understood. All in all, I felt uneducated and out of place, maybe college just wasn’t for people like me. That’s what I believed. Until I read a book. The first book I picked up during my college years was the “Autobiography of Fredrick Douglas”. In this book I finally realized the importance of education. I recalled the way that it was withheld from slaves during that time to keep people enslaved. If people had received their education (reading, writing, etc.) they would be empowered, which was too threatening to slave owners. It reminded me of my city.
After reading about Frederick Douglas’ life I can recall gaining a desire to learn and grow in knowledge. The remainder of my college experience was difficult, but I made it. I completed my Bachelor’s in Social Work and am currently pursuing my Masters in Social Work. I have moved back home to Lorain, OH and I have a strong desire to assist in improving our education system and give back to my city. People don't know what they don’t know, or what they have been deprived of knowing. I now know my city has been stripped of the opportunity to receive adequate education. Thanks to my education, I learned the privilege of education and now have the opportunity to empower, encourage and inspire others to reach their education goals.
College has been one of the most amazing, difficult experiences of my life! I would encourage anyone going to college to trust the process and don't take it for granted. This will be an amazing time to learn and grow as an individual and when you feel like it isn’t for you that means you are making a new path for others to follow after you. Break barriers, mark your path and do what you love! This is a great way for us to create change in our communities and break the chains that are keeping so many communities held down and stuck in the cycle of poverty. Change truly starts with you! Good luck and enjoy your experience! Wishing you the best of luck!
Rebecca was born in Lorain , Ohio where she graduated from Clearview High School in 2014. Rebecca completed her Bachelor’s of Social Work at The Ohio State University in May of 2018 and is currently working towards a Masters in Social Work. While attending The Ohio State University, Rebecca focused much of her time and efforts providing evidence-based programming at middle schools and mentoring youth on the near east side of Columbus. Rebecca is currently working as an intensive home based therapist in her home town where she focuses on providing children and families with the tools and resources they need to be successful. She has spent much of her time working to assist youth in low-income neighborhoods build positive relationship skills, enhance positive decision making skills and develop goals for their academic and professional futures. Rebecca is interested in continuing to provide psychoeducational services to youth and families in low-income neighborhoods, as well as, providing community based programming interventions to meet the needs of the communities she works in.
Rebecca Educational History:
2014 - HS Graduate, Clearview Local School District
2018 - BS in social work, The Ohio State University
In progress - Master’s of Social Work, The Ohio State University