"This is so much better than getting a letter in the mail!"
Cristina Smith, a senior at Alma Senior High School, shook with excitement as she held an armful of Central Michigan University shirts, water bottles and pennants. Surrounded by her parents and sister and in full view of her classmates, she enthusiastically accepted a Multicultural Advancement Award of Distinction scholarship.
Smith was one of three high school students to receive a surprise visit from members of CMU's admissions team over the past few weeks.
Honor for multicultural thinkers
"Each year, Central Michigan University receives hundreds of applications for this scholarship. We narrow that down to just 10 outstanding students," Patricia Young said. Young is CMU's assistant director of admissions for multicultural recruitment and was part of the team that surprised Smith.
"It's a great scholarship. The students receive full tuition, room and board, and a stipend for books," she said.
Award of Distinction winners are part of the Multicultural Advancement and Lloyd M. Cofer Scholarships program — MAC scholarships for short.
MAC scholarships are awarded to high school students who live out a commitment to academic achievement, community service, enhancing diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion, and who promise to continue to do so at CMU.
Smith, whose mother came to the U.S. from Mexico, said she often felt misunderstood and faced bullying in her childhood.
"When I got to high school, I wanted to make sure other students felt welcome and included," she said. "I wanted to speak out about issues that affect students like me. I am always telling my classmates to get registered to vote and to get active in politics."
A home in Troutman
Being a MAC Scholar is more than just a way to pay for school. Dyese Matthews, who came to CMU in 2014 as a MAC Scholar, says it's also a path to an instant network and support system.
"When I got to campus, the majority of the existing MAC Scholars were very welcoming," said Matthews, a senior from Chicago majoring in
fashion merchandising and design with an
entrepreneurship minor. "They encouraged me to get involved with student organizations and to get connected with faculty and staff on campus as quickly as possible. They also offered academic advice when college seemed like too much to handle."
Students who receive any multicultural advancement scholarship automatically enroll in CMU's Cultural and Global Studies program, which emphasizes cultural competency, diversity and inclusion. For their first two years on campus, these scholarship recipients live on campus — for at least the first year in the Multicultural Advancement Residential College in Troutman Hall.
"Troutman quickly became a safe and relatable space on campus," Matthews said. "My cohort and I were able to build a strong community that is still thriving to this day as we approach graduation in a few short weeks."
"That moment felt amazing. In high school I worked very hard to get a full ride to college, and that was the moment I knew I'd achieved it." — Samory Buford, high school senior
Meet two other MAC Scholars who recently learned of their awards through special visits:
For several years, Buford participated in CMU's
Upward Bound student support program at Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School at Northwestern, and many of the Upward Bound office staff came to be a part of Buford's scholarship surprise.
"That moment felt amazing. In high school I worked very hard to get a full ride to college, and that was the moment I knew I'd achieved it," Buford said.
Buford's academic record and extracurricular activities made him an outstanding candidate for the scholarship, Young said.
Moving around frequently during his childhood, Buford saw inequalities in the schools he attended.
"At the predominantly African-American schools, the education that students were getting just wasn't as good," he said. "I feel as though everyone should be equipped with the same tools to achieve their goals."
Chaudhry was not having a great week: The Glenbard South High School senior from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, was stuck at home with a high fever and miserable symptoms.
And then, on Thursday, her mom showed her a video recorded the day before.
Teachers and friends cheer for new MAC Scholar Alina Chaudhry, who was sick at home and got the news by video.
The CMU admissions team had met up Wednesday with Chaudhry's friends, parents, teachers and her elementary and high school principals at her high school to deliver a special message.
As her friends waved the CMU flag and cheered, Young announced the award, saying "We're excited to have you on campus and joining the CMU family. Congratulations!"