CINCINNATI — Benya Coleman spent Sunday morning with her mother, Terry Adams, moving into her dorm room at the Marian Spencer Hall on the main campus of the University of Cincinnati.
Coleman, a freshman, is part of the inaugural class of UC’s Marian Spencer Scholars, a program providing 10 full-ride scholarships each year to Cincinnati Public School graduates.
“I’ve been dreaming of this day for the past few months. I can’t believe it’s finally here,” Coleman, 18, said Sunday during the first day of UC’s Welcome Week for new students.
What You Need To Know
- UC’s Marian Spencer Scholars program provided 10 full-ride scholarships to Cincinnati Public School graduates
- Students needed to be in the top 10% of their graduating class and exhibit characteristics displayed by trailblazer Marian Spencer during her lifetime
- The program is part of CPS-UC partnership to prepare future leaders of Cincinnati leaders
- UC plans to give our 10 scholarships a year for at least the next four years
The medical sciences major knows the campus “like the back of her hand.” She attended Hughes STEM High School, literally across the street from the university. She was a regular at the Chick-fil-A in UC’s student center.
Coleman joked she planned to volunteer as tour guide during Welcome Week to help familiarize her fellow freshman with Cincinnati before classes start next week.
But despite her family with her new campus, having her mom leave campus wasn’t easy, Coleman said. Even though Adams lives only 15 minutes away, the mother-daughter duo admitted to being heavyhearted.
“Just thinking about moving in made my stomach feel a little uneasy,” Coleman said. “Not like anything bad; I’m so excited to be here. But just having to leave my mom is difficult. I’m the last child to leave the house, so it really is emotional for both of us.”
Adams caught herself tearing up a bit. She made her youngest child promise to visit home in Avondale every weekend for the first few months, including Sunday meals with Coleman’s grandma.
But most of Adams’ emotions were that of pride. Coleman is the first of her four children to go to college, and she plans to go on to medical school with dreams of becoming an obstetrician.
“I’m just a really proud mom,” Adams said. “It finally hit home, like OK, this isn’t just us going shopping and buying stuff for her new room. This is the beginning of her venturing out to start her path in life.”
Inspiring the next generation of Marian Spencers
That feeling of pride ran rampant among parents and incoming Marian Spencer Scholars this weekend as they moved from their homes across the Queen City into their dorm in the center of the Clifton Heights campus.
A unique element of this scholarship is they don’t look at ACT or SAT scores or other factors. There are academic qualifications — a student needs to be in the top 10% of their graduating class —but that’s not the top quality they’re looking for, according to Cindy Jones, director of the Marian Spencer Scholarship program.
The Marian Spencer Scholarship selection panel looks for students who exemplify the qualities of the trailblazing civil rights icon UC named it after, Jones said.
Spencer, a UC alumna, played an instrumental role in the desegregation of CPS and Cincinnati’s Coney Island amusement park. She became the first African American woman elected to Cincinnati City Council in 1983.
As a Black student in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Spencer couldn’t live in the campus dorm that now bears her name. She passed away in 2019 at the age of 99.
“We’re looking for students who could be the next Marian Spencer,” Jones said. “We are looking for students who embody her tenacity, her grit, her ability to lead in their hometown.”
Another inaugural Marian Spencer scholar is Nia McGlothin, 18. The North Fairmount resident and Gamble Montessori High School grad felt “inspired” to apply for the position in part because of Spencer’s legacy.
“It’s an honor to be a Marian Spencer Scholar,” McGlothin said. “To represent her name, given all she’s done for this city as a Black woman, it’s a blessing.”
The Marian Spencer program is part of UC’s overall CPS Strong umbrella, a partnership between the university and the school district to “bring about the next group of homegrown leaders in the city,” Jones added.
Jones noted that this class of scholarship recipients are coming from neighborhoods known to be “vulnerable,” in part because of historic disinvestment or a lack of professional opportunities for residents.
Over the next four years, UC plans to expand the program to ensure there are Marian Spencer Scholars from all 16 CPS high schools.
As part of the program, the scholars will take part in various service-related projects throughout their college careers. That includes returning to their high school alma maters to talk to students, Jones said.
“There’s power in seeing someone from your community who can lead, inspire and then give back by highlighting that residents of their neighborhood can do great things,” she added. “These students will be examples to the students who follow in their footsteps.”
Setting students up for success in and out of the classroom
Beyond the books and the cost-free college education, the scholars receive enhanced advising support, student success resources and career coaching. They’ll also get additional financial support for internships and study abroad opportunities.
Plans call for this group to take part in a service trip to Tanzania.
“It’s really a dream come true in that it’s giving me the opportunity to get out into the world,” said McGlothin, who turned down chances to attend college overseas to be a Marian Spencer Scholar.
McGlothin only recently started to come out of her shell, she said. She appreciates the fact the Marian Spencer Scholars are living together as part of one of UC’s Living-Learning Communities.
The LLCs are smaller, residential communities with students with similar academic interests and backgrounds. For instance, there’s a floor in Marian Spencer Hall dedicated to honor students who are studying business.
While the academic support will be key, living on campus is an important part of each of the scholars’ personal growth as students and future leaders, Jones said.
Natalie Bennings, who’s rooming with McGlothin, feels living on campus is going to be a good thing. Her mother, Emily, also believes having her daughter get out on her own a bit will be a good thing for her, even if home is just a short drive away in Northside.
Benngings spent a lot of time on UC’s campus growing up. A graduate of the School of Creative and Performing Arts, Benning and her mom already know the campus well, particularly the Starbucks they’d frequent after a performance or camp at UC’s College-Conservatory Music.
Bennings credited UC and the Marian Spencer Scholars Program with providing the scholars opportunities to grow together as a group. They held mixers, and they had a Kings Island trip long before move-in.
Bennings said she and McGlothin “really clicked” during a gala earlier this summer recognizing the scholars for their achievements.
Despite coming from different backgrounds, Bennings feels she’s already learned a lot about her roommate. Her only fear, she joked, is they are already too close, and she didn’t want the fact they’re roommates to impede their budding friendship.
“I think we’re going to have a fantastic year,” she said with a smile.
As for Bennings’ mom, despite the occasional heartache of letting her daughter fly the nest, she’s excited for her child to make a memory on the same campus where she and her husband met.
The scholarship money — and knowing her daughter and the nine other college scholars will leave UC almost-debt free — is icing on the cake.
“The scholarship has just blown doors right off the hinges for my kid. I have always admired Marian Spencer and I couldn’t think of a bigger honor for my kid,” Emily said.
“I think we’re really the luckiest family on campus,” she added.