PART 1: LEAVING HOME
It was a warm Saturday in June on a relatively quiet U-M campus. Most students had departed for the summer, but there was a buzz of activity at Alice Lloyd residence hall. Incoming freshmen in the eight-week Summer Bridge Scholars Program unpacked cars and vans, lined up to register, and said their goodbyes to parents.
Among the crowd was Tihnae Bennett. Friendly and soft-spoken, the 18 year old was leaving her home in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where she’s the baby of the family, to embark on the biggest adventure in her young life.
Like all U-M freshmen, Tihnae was a stellar high school student, managing to balance a rigorous academic load (including AP and honors classes) with extracurriculars, volunteer activities, and two jobs. She applied to four colleges in Michigan to take advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise, a program that pays tuition for students who have graduated from the city’s public high schools and enroll in a state college or university.
She understood the intense competition to get into Michigan (which had more than 65,000 applications for this fall’s incoming freshman class), so she tried to steel herself for possible rejection. She also tried to convince herself that Michigan State, which accepted her very early, would be a good experience. “I told myself, ‘Oh, State would be fine,’” she recalls. But in her heart, she was a Wolverine.
Then, one day before her Dec. 22 birthday, she got the present she had been hoping for. “I had an email from Michigan and it said ‘Michigan Decision.’ And I didn’t want to open it, but then I opened it and it said ‘Congratulations. You’re in.’ And I just was so shocked.”
But none of those who know her (including her parents, two brothers, and nine half-siblings) were shocked. When she made the announcement at her birthday party, she says, “everybody went wild; everyone started screaming. Most of my family are big Michigan fans—besides my dad, who likes Michigan State. But he’s happy because he knows how great a school Michigan is. When I was doubting myself, thinking I was not going to get in, he said, ‘Oh, there’s no way you’re not going to get in. If you don’t get in, we are going to call the school, because there’s been a mistake.’”
While her parents didn’t have the chance to attend college, they emphasized its importance for their daughter, a first-generation college student.
“We knew she was going to go to college,” says her father, Andrew. “But when she got into Michigan, that made it even better.”
While most U-M students spend the summer before freshman year preparing for their fall move, Tihnae joined more than 270 other students in the bridge program, which helps participants make the transition from high school to college with an intensive schedule of three classes as well as academic advising. But there also was time for fun.
“At first I didn’t think I was going to like it because it took up the whole summer. I wanted this summer to be with my friends at home. But I’ve made a lot of new friends here, and we always have different activities. One time we went to a challenge course, and they took us all to the movies. And they offered a self-defense class, so I took that. The peer advisers are always there for us if we have questions about the University or even just life or help with homework. So I’m kind of sad that it’s ending.”
She did get a two-week break between the bridge program and her move into West Quad, where she’ll be part of a multicultural housing community, so she could spend time with family and friends, many of whom are departing for other colleges around the state. She already knows that she’ll miss all her loved ones, who’ve been her most enthusiastic supporters.
“I went to school with most of my friends from elementary or at least middle school all through high school. And then my parents—they’re like best friends; I love them so much. I call them and they call me almost every day. And then whenever something fun happens, I call them and tell them about it.”
In fact, during the summer, “when I got an A on my midterm, I called my mom and told her. And she started crying.”
However, Tihnae knows how busy she’ll be once classes start. Currently in LSA, she plans to transfer into the Ross Business School next year. In anticipation of that move, she’ll participate in the school’s Preparation Initiative program to help her make the transition. And, of course, she’s thrilled to have season tickets to the football games. “I’ve come to some football games, and the Big House is just amazing; it blows my mind every time I think about it.”
She’ll also be active with the Alumni Association’s LEAD program and attended her first event, the freshman open house, three days before classes started. In addition to financial assistance for her room, board, and other expenses, she’ll receive career guidance, make connections with other scholars, and network with alumni.
In late August, packing up her car with her father and brother Tyler for the trip back to Kalamazoo, Tihnae thought back on the previous eight weeks and how they foreshadow the coming year.
“I always thought, ‘I want to be the best, so I’m going to go to the best school.’”
The LEAD Scholars Program provides scholarships to African-American, Hispanic, and Native American students who have been accepted into U-M. Visit umalumni.com/LEAD to learn how you can support the program and, thus, help create a more diverse campus.