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.
Shelly Martin spotlight
If there is one thing that Shelly Martin has learned, it is that education can light up a dark world. And when she realized that her passion was people, she combined those two certainties into her life’s work and purpose. Read more about Shelly Martin.
Zaid Hightower spotlight
The spring before Zaid Hightower was ready to begin classes at The Ohio State University, he received an email from the Todd A. Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male, inviting him to attend the Center’s Early Arrival Program (EAP). It was his mother who read the email and told Zaid that he needed to attend the program. Read more about Zaid Hightower.
Maya Prabhu Spotlight
The day in April 2013 that Maya Prabhu received the Morrill Scholarship will forever be etched in her memory. “It was a day of tears, hugs, and – most importantly – empowerment. Since that day, my experiences with the Morrill Scholars Program and the Distinction Scholarship have given me many tools and resources that I know will help me succeed in all areas of my life.” Read more about Maya Prabhu.
Daniel Moussa Spotlight
Daniel Moussa has long been interested in the sciences, and his background in sports has led him to focus on the “silent epidemic” of traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which are often the results of sports accidents. “As someone who plays sports, I am aware of the dangers of concussions, which are a type of TBI, and their long-term effects,” Daniel stated. Read more.
Ignacio Munoz Spotlight
After just one week at The Ohio State University, Ignacio Muñoz was confident that he made the right choice when choosing which university to attend. A freshman at Ohio State, Ignacio is proud to be a Buckeye because he knows that the university will provide him with a current platform to build upon all aspects of himself as well as become a future springboard to propel him into his career and adult life. Read more about Ignacio Muñoz.
Rolando Muniz Spotlight
Rolando Muniz always understood the value of and the need for diversity and inclusion. At St. John's Jesuit High School and Academy in Toledo, Rolando was part of the school’s 20/20 Program, which helps underrepresented students by providing financial aid and scholarship opportunities. The program also pays for students' ACT and SAT and college application fees – or any other needed test or document – and provides additional support such as jobs outside of school and volunteering opportunities. Read more about Rolando Muniz.
Demondre Peak Spotlight
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. Read more about Demondre Peak.
Komal Paradkar Spotlight
A third-year student, Komal Paradkar chose The Ohio State University not only because it is close to her home in Mason, Ohio but also because of the university’s many opportunities, including the number of undergraduate degrees offered. Ohio State’s 200 plus majors contributed to Komal’s decision to attend: the university is one of only a handful of colleges in the country to offer an undergraduate major in Biomedical Science. Read more about Komal Paradkar.
Alessandra Bliss Spotlight
A 1976 report, The Double Bind: The Price of Being a Minority Woman in Science, highlighted three challenges faced by underrepresented women in scientific disciplines: gender, race or ethnicity, and having a career in a STEM field. These same obstacles were familiar to Alessandra Bliss, a scholar in The Ohio State University’s Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program. Read more on Alessandra Bliss.
Starling Tolliver Spotlight
When 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. Read more about Starling Tolliver.