Rising Scholars Makes a Difference for Local Students across the Regional Campus System

Heading into the 2023-2024 academic year, all involved with the Rising Scholars program on the Kent State Regional Campuses had their sights set on high-impact and high-energy activities for scholars in every grade.

The Rising Scholars Program, one on each Kent State campus, combines mentoring with assistance from local communities and businesses to provide support for young adults beginning in seventh grade. The program allows them to maximize their all-important high school years and focus on making well-informed career choices after graduation.

“Rising Scholars is a great program for our local youth,” said Paul Dykshoorn, academic program director for Rising Scholars at Kent State Tuscarawas. “We mentor each student throughout their middle school and high school years. We teach them life lessons as well as help with issues going on at school.”

Kent State students who have similar experiences regarding family life or socioeconomic challenges serve as mentors to guide these promising middle and high school students through difficult personal and academic situations. When student participants commit to the program, a free college education awaits them at a Kent State regional campus. They will also become the next generation of mentors who “pay back” their community for this generous support.

Program coordinators, mentors and scholars stayed busy this summer with workshops, field trips and encounters that helped bridge the break from the last school year to the new academic year.

Support from individual donors and grants help to sustain the program and allow each campus to offer learning opportunities and mentorship to students throughout the year.

“We are so grateful for the financial support we receive, all of which makes this program possible,” noted Jessica Paull, Ph.D., academic program coordinator for the Rising Scholars program at Kent State East Liverpool and Kent State Salem.

Columbiana County 

Columbiana County Rising Scholars students

The Rising Scholars program continues to have an impact on students from Columbiana County, with 137 participants this academic year representing 11 school districts in grades seven through 12.

Recruitment for mentors continues. At the beginning of the new academic year, the program had nine mentors, a graduate assistant and a fulltime master mentor to work with the scholars. Two of the newest mentors are graduates of the Rising Scholars program who are now Kent State students.

The scholars and mentors stayed busy over the summer with a series of workshops on campus and through trips to various sites across the area. Each grade’s program had a theme, including habitats; risky business; makers and mechanisms; history and location; and the college experience. For example, grade 11 scholars participated in the much-anticipated bootcamp during which they spent a week on the Kent State Campus – living in dorms and gaining an understanding of the college experience. They took several classes, including algebra, creative writing and sociology, and visited the May 4 Visitors Center.

Paull plans another full slate of activities for scholars throughout this academic year. These include participating for the second year with the NASA HUNCH program and offering workshops on study skills, water sustainability and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for students entering college.


Trumbull Rising Scholars students

The Trumbull County Rising Scholars program focuses on high school juniors and seniors, but also provides programming for students in grade three through 12. This Rising Scholars program is unique because it partners with Inspiring Minds of Warren rather than specific local school districts. Scholars represent Warren G. Harding High School, Jefferson Pre-K through eighth grade, Pre-K through eighth grade, McGuffey Pre-K through eighth grade and Willard Pre-K through eighth grade.

More than 300 Inspiring Minds students in grades 3 through 8 spent a day on the Kent State Trumbull Campus for College Expo Day where they participated in hands-on activities and introductory college workshops, including personal branding, college preview and a visit to the Police Academy.

The Summer Bridge Program provided an opportunity for graduating high school seniors to take a three-credit college course and participate in first-year college workshops that included information on self-exploration, goal setting, financial literacy and financing college.

This academic year, the program will include college/career workshops at the Inspiring Minds facility covering topics such as resume writing, goal setting, college/career planning and giving and receiving critical feedback. The scholars will also participate in Black History Month events.


Stark Rising Scholars students

The Kent State Stark Rising Scholars program includes 94 scholars in grades nine through 12. They represent McKinley, Canton South, Alliance, GlenOak and Fairless high schools in Stark County.

Program Coordinator Lester Sanders stayed busy this summer coordinating and leading the Rising Scholars Summer Institute, with a series of workshops designed for each high school class of students.

Students explored careers in education, health care, science, math and music, and they learned about the importance of communication and gratitude in interacting with others. Students in the Class of 2024 focused on life after high school, including college scholarship applications, finances, maximizing college resources and the basics of scheduling college classes. They will be the first graduating class of Rising Scholars from the Stark Campus program.

Students in the classes of 2025 and 2026 participated in group activities exploring careers in education, health care, science, math and learned about the importance of effective communication – especially across cultures. The highlight of the week was a trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, during which they learned what employers are looking for in employees and potential careers in football and sports.  


The Rising Scholars program at Kent State Tuscarawas includes nearly 40 students in grades 7 through 11, representing three local school districts: New Philadelphia, Conotton Valley and Indian Valley city schools.

Over the summer, scholars participated in Manufacturing Camp at the Buckeye Career Center where they learned about local manufacturing companies and the job opportunities they provide. Scholars also enjoyed hands-on activities during the Summer Fun workshops in Kent. The highlight was a visit to the Engineering Department for a robotics workshop, during which the scholars made their own robotic grippers and were able to use the FANUC robot.

Academic Program Director Paul Dykshoorn and his three mentors plan to meet with the scholars each week at their respective schools and to host them on campus for group activities throughout the year.

Geauga and Twinsburg Academic Center

The Geauga and Twinsburg Academic Center Rising Scholars program currently includes 38 scholars in grades seventh through 11, from five local school districts. These include Berkshire Local, Cardinal Local, Kenston Local, Nordonia Hills City and Twinsburg City schools. 

Throughout the academic year, leaders will meet monthly with scholars from each district to develop socioemotional standards and engage in career exploration activities.


The Ashtabula Rising Scholars program serves students in grades seven through 11 from the Ashtabula Area City Schools. There are 30 scholars (six from each grade) and five mentors.        

Natalie Huya is the program director for the Ashtabula Rising Scholars. She led a four-week virtual summer camp based on five categories: investigate, imagine, explore, create and inspire. Throughout the school year, weekly one-on-one scholar/mentor sessions will be held at the schools.

Changing Lives and Preparing for the Future

Sanders said that he is already preparing the next recruitment cycle at Kent State Stark and continuing to develop the core content of the program.

“Our goal is to leave no stone unturned to support, inform, empower and prepare our students for college, career and life in the ‘real world,’” he explained.

Along with mentorship and college and career readiness, the Rising Scholars program at Kent State Trumbull places a strong emphasis on diversity exploration and racial identity development.

Tiffany Tyree, assistant director of Enrollment Management and Student Services at Kent State Trumbull, explained that any student who completes the Rising Scholars program and decides to attend the Trumbull Campus will have the chance to join the Building Black Leaders (BBL) program.

“This is a student-focused program that enriches and empowers Black, biracial and multiracial students to become leaders in the classroom, community and in the lives of others,” she said. “This program is open to all students, and it also helps Rising Scholars graduates transition into Kent State Trumbull more easily while continuing to receive the same level of support they did while in high school.”

While each Rising Scholar program is unique to its service area, all programs share the same mission of working to change lives and prepare students for their futures.

“Our goal is that each one of our Rising Scholars is enlisted, enrolled or employed by the time they graduate high school,” Dykshoorn said. “The program continues to grow, and we cannot wait to see what each of our Rising Scholars do in the future.”

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POSTED: Tuesday, October 17, 2023 08:55 AM
Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023 08:51 AM
Tina Smith, Columbiana Campuses