Building Careers and Enriching Communities through the Graham School’s HBCU and HSI Scholarship Programs

HBCU and HSI Bridge Scholarship student luncheon

By Philip Baker
Photo by Norval Glover

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) Bridge Scholarship students celebrated their first quarter at UChicago with a December lunch held by the Graham School in honor of the inaugural year of the pilot program. Students reflected on their experiences in and out of the classroom and shared some of their goals and hopes for the future. Graham School's Dean Mark Nemec, Vice Provost for Academic Leadership, Advancement, and Diversity Melissa Gilliam and others were on hand to congratulate students and offer their perspectives for the program.

Appreciation of the opportunities presented by the program, as well as determination to bring back opportunities to their communities, were twin themes that students emphasized. Whether it was a close-knit Latino community on Chicago’s West Side, or the bond of brotherhood felt at Morehouse College in Atlanta, the students in their own ways spoke passionately about their initial experiences at the University and how these were already deepening and opening up perspectives on their life experiences so far.

Designed to provide exceptional graduates of HBCUs and HSIs an opportunity to explore paths to graduate or professional school after their college graduation, the full-tuition scholarship allows students to take up to two courses per quarter for three quarters at the University of Chicago. In its first year, more than a dozen students from across the United States and Puerto Rico have embarked upon this year of study, during which they will also work closely with advisors from the Graham School to ensure their academic success towards their future professional goals.

“The University of Chicago is poised at an exciting moment in its history,” said Gilliam, “Not only do we have lots of new programs and cross-institutional work beginning and underway, we’re also asking a lot of difficult and institutionally critical questions surrounding diversity. Our goal is to do all we can to ensure that everyone who comes here will have an inclusive and positive experience.”

Speaking to the larger context of the HBCU and HSI Bridge Scholarship Programs at the Graham School and the University of Chicago, Nemec, highlighted the focus the University has placed on diversity since its beginning, recalling that its co-educational and non-denominational roots integrally inform such core values as knowledge, inquiry, and the life of the mind.

“Today’s Graham School seeks to uphold those values not just in a historical sense, but into the future as well,” Nemec said, adding that these sorts of programs build careers and serve as critical bridges at a time when paths through higher education are no longer linear.

Mary Daniels, Associate Dean of the Bridge and Partnership Programs at the Graham School, who originally formulated the two scholarship programs, stressed the importance of “piloting these sorts of programs in the world we live in today,” adding that diversity matters now more than ever. “Maybe most important of all,” she said, “is the opportunity for new beginnings that programs like these offer, and how a year of study and reflection can renew and bring new perspectives to lives sometimes hemmed in by day-to-day pressures.”

Exemplifying such a renewal was Mariah Levy, a graduate in Political Science from Howard University in Washington, DC, who said that the courses she had taken at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration (SSA) during the fall quarter were already giving her valuable insight into her life. She said her interests had ranged broadly before beginning her scholarship year, from philosophy to politics to the visual arts, but what she had been exposed to at the SSA had allowed her to begin to tie her different talents together.

“My time at the University of Chicago has already clarified what I see myself doing with my life,” she said. “I hadn’t appreciated all the ways justice might be pursued through working with populations before. It’s really impossible to quantify the gratitude I feel for being given this opportunity.” She sees herself applying to UChicago Booth School of Business in the next year, where she hopes to focus on nonprofit management and social entrepreneurship.

Ruben Bautista, who majored in Economics and Political Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, also emphasized the tremendous opportunity to learn that the program has granted him. Having taken a class in microeconomics at Booth and an academic and professional writing course in the College during his first quarter, he intends to use the knowledge gained at the University of Chicago to better position himself for law or business school, degrees he will use to deepen work he is already engaged in within his community.

“People from my community,” he said, referring to his roots on Chicago’s West Side, “don’t ever imagine they will attend the University of Chicago. Many have never even heard of the University, despite living in the same city. I will be able to take what I learn here back to my community and become a role model for others there.”