When Life Gives You Challenges, Make Opportunities
Written by Sydni Edwards, Advancement Intern
Sitting in his AP history course at Gilbert A. Dater High School in Cincinnati, Demondre Peak immediately fell in love with politics and history. From that moment on, he knew that he wanted to obtain a career where he could pursue his love for the art of debate and exchanging ideas. However, choosing a college or university that would develop him to his fullest potential was the first step.
As one of the top three students in his 2013 graduating class, there were a number of schools that Peak could have chosen to pursue a higher education. Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia particularly caught his eye; yet, the Young Scholars Program (YSP) at The Ohio State University is the reason why Peak not only chose to become a student at Ohio State, but an Ohio State leader.
Housed in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Young Scholars Program is a needs-based scholarship program that makes college a reality for academically talented, first-generation students in the state of Ohio. It has served more than 3,000 students who receive a financial aid package consisting of federal and state grants, work-study, and the Young Scholars Award. Its success lies in engaging its scholars at a young age with essential skills and values, working to develop these skills all the way through college. Most YSP students start their journey in the eighth grade and make connections through networking and support systems that last them far beyond their respective anticipated Ohio State commencement.
“The most beneficial part of YSP is that it gives you an opportunity of furthering your education at Ohio State, while getting you accommodated to campus. YSP also has summer experiences that provide you a head start by meeting people on the campus and knowing your cohort before even starting classes,” says freshman student Cameron Johnson. “It is a great advantage not everyone receives.”
The University of Georgia Institute of Higher Education reported in 2015 that first-generation college students enroll and graduate at lower rates than non-first-generation students. With the strong preparation and support of the Young Scholars Program, Peak learned to overcome all obstacles and barriers and become the inspirational leader he is today.
Peak plans to graduate after four years in college, in May 2017, with a degree in Political Science on the Pre-Law track. He also plans to continue his education in law school with intentions to practice corporate law and ultimately serve as a judge. Currently he serves as the vice president of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., Delta Omicron chapter; a co-founder of student organization, Men With Purpose; the co-committee chairman of the African American Heritage Festival; a Diversity Ambassador; and an intern at the Attorney General Office.
“Being a Young Scholar to me means being able to rise above the specific barriers in your life that tell you to do everything other than succeed,” says Peak. “It gives me a sense of pride to be a part of such a huge loving, supportive family.”
The Ohio State University began the Young Scholars Program after numerous studies revealed a pattern of declining enrollment and comparatively low retention rates among Black students. Peak takes the same initiative to address the issues of his community by continuing to stay active in the Summer Bridge Program offered through Young Scholars.
“One of the most important lessons I learned from being a YSP student is to always – I mean always – reach back into our community and bring up another student to be just as successful as myself.”
Peak is just one of the many students who has benefitted from the opportunities that the Young Scholars Program offers. Ohio State continues to seek and address issues facing its collegiate community by ensuring that all students are afforded a chance to become Ohio State graduates. Along with the Young Scholars Program, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion also houses other organizations with similar focuses on minority students such as Upward Bound, an educational and outreach program focused on preparing Columbus City high school students for college, Leadership Initiatives for Women of Color, Latino and Latin American Space for Enrichment and Research (LASER), and ACCESS, which enables single parent students with custody of their children to earn an undergraduate degree and find employment suitable to their academic preparation.
While persisting through college may be a challenge for a lot of students, Demondre Peak has made prevailing against the odds and excelling academically and socially look easy. He remembers encouraging words from a mentor: “If you aren’t uncomfortable, then you aren’t growing.” Although the road is not always easy, Demondre Peak takes every challenge and turns it into an opportunity.