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Following a LEAD Freshman

A four-part series in celebration of 10 years of LEAD.
Read time: 3 minutes

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Alumni Association’s LEAD Scholars Program, Michigan Alumnus is featuring a four-part series in which we follow a LEAD scholar during her first year at Michigan. In this final installment, Tihnae Bennett reflects on her freshman year.


As I write this, I’m sitting in a café in Paris, reflecting on my freshman year at U-M and realizing I wouldn’t be in this great city if not for the University. Study abroad has always been one of my dreams, and the opportunity to study the African diaspora in Paris for three weeks was a dream that has actually come true. It’s been an unreal experience and just one of many that has contributed to my freshman journey at the University.

Not that my journey has been easy. I knew that attending such a prestigious university was going to be a lot of hard work. One of the biggest lessons I learned this year was that I needed a strong support system to help balance schoolwork and extracurriculars. But I did not have my old network—family and friends back home—close by.

Fortunately, I did find support through my many organizations that offered mentors and allowed me to make friends.

One program was the LEAD Scholars. Before moving to campus for my freshman year, I was accepted as a LEAD scholar and got to talk to current scholars on the phone to ask questions. They were so nice, and I knew even then that I was going to be very involved with the program. LEAD hosted many events throughout the year, and I attended them regularly. My favorite was an ice skating trip to Yost Ice Arena. This trip was really fun because one of the new friends I had met through LEAD had never been ice skating before—trying to teach them was very entertaining. Afterward, we all ate pizza and talked about how the semester was going, which was a nice break from classes.

My mentors also made a big impact. Hearing older students talk about their experiences—good and bad—is comforting. Because they have made their share of mistakes, they let me know my mistakes (which were plenty) did not mean the end of the world. They always gave me such great advice about classes and even social things. These mentorships formed through the various organizations that I joined, including the Bridge Scholars PLUS and Support for Incoming Black Students, as well as upperclassmen who I clicked with. There is a lot of stress that comes with college, and it can be overwhelming at times, so just having people around to help made a big difference.

Other friends that I made also provided support. None of my high school friends enrolled at U-M, so I had to make all new friends. Last year, I participated in U-M’s Summer Bridge Scholars Program and met people through classes and activities and was able to stay connected when regular classes started in the fall. I also made more friends through classes and organizations that I joined. We bonded as we attended events, ate together, studied together, or just hung out. So if any of us had problems, someone was always willing to listen and help—that was one of the biggest stress relievers for me.

This exposure to so many new people and ideas has changed me this first year. I have gotten better with time management and learned the importance of studying outside class. The classes will only teach so much of a subject, so the reading and practice outside classes help a lot. And it’s made me excited about the upcoming years of college. One of my favorite things about college life is the fact that I am never bored. There is always someone to talk to, something fun to do, or studying that should be done. All in all, I have made so many memories; it’s been amazing.

The LEAD Scholars Program provides scholarships to African-American, Hispanic, and Native American students who have been accepted into the U-M. Visit to learn how you can support the program and, thus, help create a more diverse campus.

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