ACCESS/MSP Alumni Scholar Spotlight:
Monica R. Liggins-Abrams
In 2002, as a first-generation college student from a low-income family in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Monica R. Liggins-Abrams applied to The Ohio State University. While in high school, she had spent time in Columbus and attended a summer enrichment program through the African-American and African Studies Extension Center. It was a one week residential program that introduced her to Ohio State.
After applying to Ohio State and being accepted, Monica was offered the chance for a special visit to the campus for out-of-state students to learn more about the Morrill Scholarship Program (MSP), run by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI).
Monica found the campus to be “amazing,” and everyone she came in contact with was very welcoming: “I felt at home.” During the visit, Monica also met other minority students from all over the country. “I kept in touch with another student, and we were roommates my freshmen year. She is still one of my lifelong and closest friends to this day.” Monica was offered a scholarship to offset her out-of-state tuition costs through MSP and received the scholarship all four years she attended Ohio State.
MSP helped Monica have the independence she wanted while minimizing the number of student loans she had. “As a first-generation college student from a low-income family, my parents did not have the financial resources to support me pretty much at all while I was in college. My oldest brother and other extended family members helped, but I wanted to do it on my own.”
While a sophomore in college, Monica became pregnant, and she was adamant that she was going to stay in school and not return to Michigan. Her academic advisor told her about the ACCESS Collaborative Program – another initiative within ODI – and Monica signed up when pregnant with her oldest son.
First to admit that the appeal of the ACCESS program was receiving priority registration, Monica stated, “I was not much interested in the community/family that program offered because I was a bit of a loaner and had a group of close and supportive friends.”
But what Monica received from ACCESS was so much more than she expected. Without ACCESS, she says, she does not believe she would have finished her undergraduate degree, let alone in four years. The events that impacted her the most were the life/group counseling sessions lead by two women who came in from the community to work with ACCESS students. “They created a safe space for us.”
There were many things about being a parent – and a single parent – that Monica says she was not ready to handle as a twenty-year-old. “The life coaches supported us through our big and small life challenges brought on not only by being a parent, but a single parent and full-time student. They helped us celebrate our successes but also provided a space where we could release and cry if needed about the stresses we faced on a daily basis.” The life lessons learned from those meetings gave Monica the coping skills and tools needed to overcome non-academic barriers that could have prevented her from persisting with her education.
Once she graduated from Ohio State with a BA in Political Science, Monica went on to receive a Master of Public Administration from Walden University. Her experiences as a Morrill Scholar and in ACCESS have helped her in her current position as director of Success at WMU (Western Michigan University).
Those lessons learned during her time at Ohio State remind Monica to think about the unique needs of the students she serves: “Every student that steps foot on a college campus is unique. The formula for them to feel connected and engaged will be different. Programs like ACCESS, MSP and Success at WMU not only provide information and resources, they can help students feel like they belong in college. Finding fit for all students is critical. These programs give you a mechanism for doing that. By removing non-academic barriers for students, you give them the opportunity to blossom and reach their highest potential.”
Another source of inspiration for Monica has been her family. While at Ohio State, Monica says her oldest son was her inspiration because she wanted to be good parent to him. “Part of being a good parent in my eyes was earning a decent living to care for him and me. Completing my degree at OSU provided me an avenue to do that.” And Monica has always drawn inspiration from her immediate and extended family. Despite being a first-generation college student, Monica’s family has always placed a strong emphasis on education. “They provided me with a strong foundation and have always supported me to pursue my education. Many family members have faced life challenges through the years, but despite that, they faced them with grace, and their strength and resiliency keeps me motivated.”
Currently, Monica is working on her PhD in Educational Leadership from Western Michigan University, which she expects to receive in 2022. Her family helps to maintain her focus between work and school. “I often say “we” are getting a PhD because without them I would not be able to pursue my education and professional goals in the manner I am now.”
Her advice for upcoming Buckeyes who are heading to college for the first time? Take advantage of every opportunity to make your experience in college a fulfilling one. It is easy to fall into a routine, go to classes and just get by, Monica states. But students need to remember that higher education provides them with a unique opportunity to meet new people, explore their identities, engage in new cultural experiences, build professional skills, network and just have fun.
John McCray spotlight
John McCray lives and breathes college athletics and the college environment. Yet he admits that, as a young student, higher education wasn’t a concern. “At that time, I wasn’t even thinking about college,” says McCray, a Cleveland native and former high school basketball player. “So that’s what Young Scholars did for me. It opened my mind up.”
Diontre Davis spotlight
Diontre Davis’ journey to an education abroad experience at the University of Oxford began in grade school when Diontre’s 6th grade teacher encouraged him to apply to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Young Scholars Program.
Yasmiyn Irizarry spotlight
ACCESS (an acronym for A Comprehensive College Experience for Single-Parent Students) focuses on increasing graduation rates via providing resources and opportunities to full-time single students who also maintain full custody of children. Dr. Yasmiyn Irizarry, now an Assistant Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies, is a testament to the enduring nature of the program’s benefits.
Korrie Johnson Spotlight
Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, Korrie Johnson had plenty of support from family and friends. “I had people who looked like me to serve as role models, give me support and tell me that I was going to do great things.” So when Korrie made the decision to pursue a PhD, he knew that it would be very important for any university he chose to have an active diversity unit.
Alfonso Gillette spotlight
ODI Scholar alumnus Alfonso Gillette would be the first to admit that since he graduated from The Ohio State University in 2015, his career path has been anything but linear. Armed with a bachelors in strategic communications and a minor in economics, after graduation, Alfonso completed two years of service with City Year, an organization that helps to close gaps in high-need schools by supporting students' academic and social-emotional development.
Bryson McEachin spotlight
Growing up, Bryson McEachin thought he wanted to be a veterinarian. But once he got older, he realized that science wasn’t his thing. “What am I passionate about? What do I care about? I realized that I was passionate about New York City, its people, the communities, the Bronx, Harlem, Queens, and Brooklyn.”
Reginald Woods spotlight
Within his major of microbiology, Reginald Woods has found the perfect discipline, one that combines both his passion for science and his devotion to alleviating issues in minority communities.
Jason Allen spotlight
Jason Allen is a Morrill Scholar from Houston, Texas, who is studying Political Science. He hopes to graduate in Spring of 2020.
Candace Cooper Spotlight
Candace Cooper will be graduating from The Ohio State University in May, 2018, with a Bachelor of Science in Social Work. It’s a field of study she has been interested in since her senior year of high school.
Deja Rush Spotlight
Meet Deja Rush, a sophomore LSAMP Scholar, who is majoring in Biomedical engineering with a minor in Spanish and music. She plans to graduate in 2020.