STEM scholars stand as model for how to graduate students


The University of Akron

Kiasia Chambers

Senior Kiasia Chambers stands as the ideal example of what the Choose Ohio First Scholarship programs strives to achieve. The chemical engineering major is within arm's reach of graduating and likely joining Lubrizol Corp., where she has completed two co-ops.

On Aug. 28, she joined hundreds of other Choose Ohio First Scholarship program scholars for a rally to celebrate the program's fifth anniversary on campus, and more impressively, its 74 percent five-year graduation rate.

Akron's program is now the model for other Ohio universities and not solely because of its impressive graduation rate. 

  • Most Choose Ohio First scholars will be the first in their families to earn a diploma and/or they are Pell recipients.
  • Many are from underserved populations.
  • All are in STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) fields, poised to help accelerate the state's comeback.

UA's Choose Ohio First program is now the largest in the state, having grown from 27 scholars in 2008-09 to 620 today. UA receives about $2.1 million annually from the Ohio Board of Regents for the program.

Relationships are key

At the core of the program's success is "intrusive advising," a combination of tough-love mentorship, counseling and college-life wisdom practiced by Choose Ohio First’s retention specialists, peer mentors and tutors. Monthly social activities tighten the bonds between the students themselves and the staff.

This year, the intrusive-advising model will be expanded beyond Choose Ohio First to 4,000 more students, most of whom were not directly admitted to their degree-granting college.

Adam Smith

Adam Smith, assistant vice president for student success, talks with Choose Ohio First scholars during a rally celebrating the program's fifth anniversary and its 74 percent five-year graduation rate.

 "You are the model," Adam Smith, assistant vice president for student success, told the scholars at the rally. "You are the data that shows us not only how to graduate more students, but the way to graduate them — into good jobs in science, engineering and technology fields, into good-paying jobs that can support families."

Smith's team of retention specialists, peer mentors and tutors have relocated to the third floor of Simmons Hall, a move they've cleverly promoted through "Penthouse Rock" T-shirts, roaming mascots and social media.

Happy students

Many of the Choose Ohio First scholars at the rally were effusive in their praise of the program.

"The staff is really good. They know how to connect with the students, and they get to know the students personally," said Chambers, the chemical engineering student.

Melinda Cross with Retention Specialist Callie Stokes

Radiology student Melinda Cross, left, with Retention Specialist Callie Stokes.

Melinda Cross, a radiology student in Summit College who is interning at Akron Children's Hospital, said, "The financial support made college possible for me, and the emotional and academic support has been so helpful."

Shianne McKinstry, an electrical engineering student, said her retention specialist has "made college a lot easier by helping with scheduling and with moral support."

AlRita Gore, a biomedical engineering student, said she is grateful for the program's leaders, advisors and peer mentors. "You walk in the office, and there's always someone joking around, but they're able to help you when you are struggling, whether it's with academics or something else. It's like having a big second family."

Gore participated in Choose Ohio First's "Running Start" program, allowing her to take classes with a cohort the summer before her freshman year. "It taught me how to study, how to manage my time how to handle college academics. It made a huge difference my first year."

Shianne McKinstry, Aaron Moser and AlRita Gore

Engineering students Shianne McKinstry, left, Aaron Moser and AlRita Gore.

Sophie Franchi, a biology major, was on hand with her husband E.J. and her son Indigo.  "The program is amazing. I couldn't do this without the financial support, and the academic assistance has been great. I took a five-week calculus course this summer, and (Retention Specialist) Callie (Stokes) helped me a lot." 

Smith told the scholars he has high expectations of them.

"You are the pace car, leading the way," he said. "You are showing what it takes to graduate, and you are now the model all of these other students."


Media contact: Eileen Korey, 330-972-8589 or