More than ninety high school students from nine urban school districts across the state shared in The Ohio State University’s silver anniversary celebration of its Young Scholars Program.

By Ben Lewis, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, The Ohio State University

Three sisters, five degrees from The Ohio State University, and two more in progress. All from a family that wasn’t sure how it would pay for college, but with a mother who always believed they would find a way.

The Young Scholars Program (YSP) at Ohio State turned their mother’s belief into reality for the Tolliver sisters. Sophia, Sylvia, and Starling Tolliver are all Young Scholars from Akron who went on to become Buckeyes.

“My mother, for as long as I can remember, always told us we were going to college. It was something she never had the experience of doing or the opportunity to really do. So when this opportunity came around, it was almost God-sent. This thing that financially we knew we weren’t going to have the opportunity to do, it gave us that pathway to do it,” said Sophia Tolliver, who is now in medical school at Ohio State.

Older sister Sylvia is a two-time Ohio State graduate and younger sister Starling is a sophomore majoring in biochemistry.

Danny Glover

Evelin Nunez-Rodriguez, a tenth-grade student from Cleveland, Ohio, addresses her peers during the Ohio State University Young Scholars statewide induction luncheon held at the Ohio Union as actor and keynote speaker Danny Glover looks on.

Founded in 1988, YSP annually identifies 120 academically promising middle school students from economically challenging backgrounds to join the program. In all, more than 3,000 students have benefited from their participation in YSP.

“The Young Scholars Program at Ohio State is a remarkable success story. For twenty-five years, Young Scholars from across Ohio have been empowered to earn a degree and make their unique mark on this great university. We are very proud of the impact this program has had on so many talented young people and their families around the state,” said former Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee.

Students are inducted into the program when they are in the sixth grade. In the ensuing years, the Young Scholars and their families are mentored and provided personal and professional development opportunities that will prepare them to succeed in college and life. Students who attend Ohio State are provided with financial assistance that covers gaps between other financial aid they receive and the cost of tuition and living expenses as undergraduates.

“I think the thing that makes the Young Scholars Program unique is the early start it provides the students, our Young Scholars,” explained Dr. Curtis Austin, director of the Young Scholars Program. “There are a number of programs that work with middle school students and particularly high school students, but this is a very comprehensive program that starts you in the sixth grade and no other program does that. This is a very holistic way of addressing the needs of underserved students to succeed in college.”

Beyond working with the Young Scholars themselves, the program offers workshops and training for their parents and guardians.

“We let them know the benefit of the program, the importance of college and how it can change not only that student, but the family and the community from which they come,” Austin said.

With offices in Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Lorain, Toledo, and Youngstown, YSP helps Ohio State fulfill its Land-Grant mission of providing educational opportunities for the citizens of Ohio.

Dr. Shawn Price, an orthopedic oncologist based in Louisville, participated in the Cincinnati Young Scholars Program. For him, the chance to visit Ohio State every year as part of YSP’s Summer Academy allowed him to make connections that would benefit him during his time as a student at Ohio State and help jump start his career in medicine.

“Some of the opportunities that were available at the summer program really allowed me to meet researchers and professors at Ohio State that I was able to develop a relationship with, and I actually got to work for them when I got there my freshman year. So those opportunities opened the door for me in medicine by giving me mentors that I could talk to,” he said.

During Price’s time in YSP, all students in the program visited campus every year, but like many programs across the country, recent economic challenges have caused budget reductions for YSP. Rising seniors still have an outstanding capstone experience at the Summer Academy, but that is their only official campus visit. Austin says ideally every student would be able to come to Columbus annually, “but it depends on the budget because you are talking about buses from eight different cities, plus food and housing for hundreds of students.”

After graduating from the Columbus Young Scholars Program, Keisha Hunley-Jenkins went on to earn five degrees from Ohio State.

Her experiences in YSP helped shape the path she would take in her career, which has seen her work in the education policy field and now for the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, where she oversees work in the Great Lakes/Midwest region that amounts to $22.6 million per year.

“The Young Scholars Program has given me so much; it made me want to give back to the community,” she says. “It definitely pushed me to a helping profession. I wanted to do something where community service would be my career.”

Hunley-Jenkins credits her YSP scholarship for enriching her undergraduate experience and as a springboard to furthering her studies.

“I wouldn’t have been able to go on to grad school without Young Scholars,” she said. “I didn’t have to take excess amounts of loans and was able to do three study abroad trips. I know I wouldn’t have been able to do the JD and PhD programs if I would have had a lot of debt.

“I’m very thankful. I’m a Young Scholar forever.”