Starling Tolliver

Starling Tolliver works in operating roomWhen she was in middle school, Starling Tolliver read a book that changed her perception of what she could become. The book, We Beat the Streets, tells the story of three friends from poor, single-parent homes in urban neighborhoods who made a pact to go to college and become doctors and dentists. The book resonated with Starling because she also had two best friends who wanted to become doctors. After reading the book, Starling understood that being a doctor was something that she could do. Up to that point, she says, “I had never met a black doctor. This book is what initially got me interested in medicine.”

Starling only had to look to her two sisters to see how attending college and the dream of becoming a doctor could become a reality. Her sisters, who are 13 years older, had been in The Ohio State University Office of Diversity and Inclusion Young Scholars Program or YSP. Working with Scholars in grades 8-12, YSP provides an opportunity for academically talented first-generation students to attend college; scholars in good academic standing receive a robust financial aid package for admission into Ohio State. “My sisters helped me to see that succeeding in college was definitely possible.” Starling also had the support of her mom, who was determined not to let her fail and kept her focused on doing well in school.

With that book as inspiration – and also her sisters – Starling became a Young Scholar in Akron, Ohio. The Young Scholars Program provided Starling with different enrichment programs such as academic coaching, math and science workshops, ACT prep classes, and reading courses. In addition to helping prepare her for college, as a Young Scholar, Starling was given the opportunity to get away from the all-too-common violence in her neighborhood.

Once she started at Ohio State, Starling felt she had found a place that would challenge her intellectually and allow her to grow. YSP and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion were there to encourage Starling both academically and socially: “YSP has supported me in my goals of giving back to incoming students, and ODI has supported me with love, mentoring, and the beloved test banks.” Despite all that she had to go through with her classes, extracurricular activities, and standardized testing, Starling credits the people around her with helping her to still have fun at the end of the day. “I can be a really big book worm and have a laser focus on doing well, but I really appreciate the group of friends who would pull me out of my books when I needed it and make me laugh. They helped keep me sane while pursuing medicine.”

That isn’t to say that there weren’t challenges along the way. When she first arrived at Ohio State, Starling was on track to become a doctor but didn’t feel motivated. It wasn't until her best friend, Maria, was murdered that she gave her all to becoming a physician. “Things had changed so drastically from that time in the 6th grade when we both wanted to become doctors to when she died. She just started down a different path. I realized that the only reason why our positions weren't reversed was because of a difference in resources and mentorship.” Starling was now determined to pursue medicine, not only to finish what she and Maria had set out to do but to help other minorities who may not have the resources or mentorship to achieve their dreams of pursuing medicine. 

All of Starling’s hard work at Ohio State has paid off as she has been accepted into three medical schools. After graduation this spring, Starling plans on enrolling into her top choice and continuing her journey to new growth and knowledge through the study of medicine. And she is grateful for the assistance that YSP and ODI lent to her along the way. “To be perfectly honest, I did not understand what it truly meant to be a YSP Scholar until the end of my college years. When I graduated from high school, I could not imagine the struggle and triumph I would go through in these last five years. I did not understand what the implications of having a full room and board scholarship would have on my life.”


Serving as a stepping stone for success at Ohio State and beyond, since 1988, YSP has served more than 3,000 students from the nine largest urban public school districts in Ohio: Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Lorain, Toledo, and Youngstown. Support more programs and initiatives of the Young Scholars Program by giving to the Young Scholars Development Fund: 308684.