January 2020

Message from Program Director Dr. John Waller

It’s genuinely wonderful to be back directing the Scholars Program and teaching our fabulous students. The last few months have been a particular pleasure. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing the papers which will make up the fourth book of Scholars Research approach completion, and we’re excited to launch this new volume at the end of March. The quality of these research projects is genuinely outstanding. It’s also been a delight to work with two new colleagues: Dr. Heather McCauley and Dr. Brendan Mullen, both of whom have fully embraced the Program and consistently gone beyond the call of duty on behalf of the Scholars. I am very grateful to them and happy to report that they will be continuing their involvement. This newsletter covers several quite different topics: the launch of a new Scholars club; spotlights on two former Scholars, Michael Marchiori and Qi Huang; the recollections of the members of our Alumni Board; the superb success of several of our students in the annual Diversity Research Showcase; a new fundraising commitment for the Scholars Program; a short account of Scholars soccer; and a few exciting life updates from graduated Scholars. Enjoy – and please get in touch if you’d like to be involved!


Scholars sweep the Honors College Diversity Research Awards

The Scholars Program had a spectacular showing at the Honors College Diversity Research Showcase. This annual event draws student participants from across the university who are conducting research related to understanding the experiences of minority populations and promoting greater diversity and inclusion. 

Scholars have done consistently well at these awards. Tristyn Walton (class of 2018) won first place in the oral presentation category in the inaugural year of the showcase. Last year, Qi Huang (class of 2019) won first place in the poster category. 

This year, the Scholars absolutely excelled. Wisdom Henry was awarded first place for a poster based on her Scholars research, supervised by Dr. Noah Durst, on disinvestment and gentrification in modern Chicago. Using census data, Wisdom has charted the often-dramatic changes in the average income of different areas of Chicago between 2010 and 2017 in order to understand the sorts of neighbourhood likely to undergo gentrification and the challenges facing the original residents when rentals costs steeply rise. 

Erykah Benson (class of 2021) won third place for her oral presentation on another brilliant Scholars research project. She has analysed the images and text from America’s most popular high school history textbook to find out how it represents minority Americans (usually inadequately) and how effectively it teaches the reasons for enduring disparities in income and educational opportunities (ditto). Erykah will be continuing this project over the coming year and will submit her final paper to a professional journal. 

Finally, Jasmine Jordan (class of 2021) won first place in the oral presentation category for a fascinating talk on her Scholars project which looks at the distribution of non-white MSU students in the dorms. Using hard-to-come-by university data, Jasmine has shown that, due to a phenomenon known as self-segregation, African American students are heavily concentrated in just a few dorms. Jasmine’s chapter in the forthcoming Scholars Book offers a series of wise and evidence-based suggestions for what MSU might do to increase the sense of belonging of minority students. 

Congratulations to Jasmine, Wisdom and Erykah, and to all of the other MSU students who made the Diversity Research Showcase an enormous success.


Alumni Spotlight: How one Scholar is making change by Giving Pack

Michael Marchiori graduated from MSU and the Social Science Scholars Program in May of 2019. By that time, he was already the CEO of a nonprofit organization he had started during his college career, called Giving Pack. 

“Throughout high school, I was always really active with school organizations and developed a real appreciation for community service and intended on continuing these efforts throughout college and my professional adult life. But when I got to MSU, I was overwhelmed by the number of student organizations available and had a hard time deciding on which ones I was going to join,” Michael explained. 

“I had always planned on starting a nonprofit organization after college but decided that instead of joining a dozen new organizations, I might as well get a head start and create my own organization that would allow me to pursue all of my community service interests. This led me to create Giving Pack, an organization that provides relief packs to various communities in need. Since establishment in 2016, we have created projects that have allowed us to promote education, health and wellness, and environmental sustainability.”

The organization was Michael’s idea, but creating much more than a one-person job. “Although I had come up with this idea for Giving Pack, I knew that I could not do it all on my own and recruited like-minded friends to join the team and get things rolling,” Michael noted. “Together, we learned how to file for nonprofit status and establish a 501c3 organization, created a website and logo, wrote our mission statement, and started a GoFundMe. We raised our first $3000 in just a couple weeks and the rest is history!”

Juggling classes and running a nonprofit organization was not an easy task - but with impeccable time management skills and a reliable team of helpers, Michael was able to pull it off. “It was definitely a learning experience for the first couple months, but I’ve always found it easier to excel in my studies when I’m doing a lot outside of class,” he said. “Between organizing the pack projects and throwing fundraisers, I always had something to work on when I needed a break from writing papers or studying for exams. And with the help of the rest of the team, it all came together.”

Being a Scholar also helped prepare Michael for his endeavors as a CEO and steer his organization in the right direction. Tackling a range of issues covered in class, Giving Pack impacts diverse causes. “The Scholars Program showed me how to integrate my thoughts in new ways by helping me acquire a number of different scopes for social issues. Through my Scholars research endeavors in mental health and our class discussions on topics ranging from climate change to the history of Detroit, I became motivated to pursue efforts in promoting education, health and wellness, and environmental sustainability throughout the Metro Detroit area.” These endeavors are all the more fitting given that Michael will be starting medical school at Oakland University in the fall. We wish him the very best of luck and know that he will make a wonderful physician.

Learn more about or get involved with Giving Pack.


Liz Schondelmayer: When the mentee becomes the mentor

When I look back at the person I was when I was a freshman in college, I can’t help but laugh. She had so much to learn, she didn’t even know what she didn’t know. Luckily, the Scholars Program threw me a major lifeline by pairing me with an incredible community mentor, Lisa Mulcrone. 

Lisa is the editor of MSUToday,and besides being a truly gifted writer and communicator, is an extremely caring and passionate person. Right away, Lisa hit the ground running with me, helping me navigate my classes, arranging networking opportunities for me, and even hiring me as an intern for University Communications when I reached junior status. She exemplified what it meant to be encouraging, supportive, and positive. 

I can honestly say, I wouldn’t be sitting at the desk from which I’m currently writing this if it were not for Lisa. So, when Dr. Waller and Jenn approached me to be a community mentor for one of the current freshman Scholars, I was ecstatic - a chance to lend a hand to a freshman Scholar? Yes, please! But the responsibility of being a mentor wasn’t something I took lightly, either… This is an opportunity to really help positively shape a freshman Scholar’s experience - I can’t mess that up!

My mentee Scholar, Sophie, is beyond awesome. Smart, witty, and self-confident, she came to campus so much more prepared for college than I did. Her independence, while commendable, presented a challenge to me at first. What was the best way to help someone who, for the most part, has

things figured out?

I thought back to my experience with Lisa, and I came to a helpful realization: Lisa was so helpful to me because she was able to reach me where I was. And that is the best way I can serve as a mentor to Sophie. She doesn’t need the same kind of support I did, because we are two totally different people. I need to tailor my approach based on her needs, not what I required when I was in her shoes. 

I also need to have patience with myself and understand that this is a learning experience for me, too. I haven’t ever held the official title of a “mentor,” so if I expect to come in and know all that I need to know, I’ll only set myself and Sophie up for a big disappointment. 

So far, this has been working well. I’ve learned to go with the flow and let Sophie set the pace for the relationship, while chiming in with advice and suggestions where appropriate and staying as approachable and available as possible. It’s surreal to have gone full-circle from a mentee to a mentor, but I’m excited to apply what I learned from Lisa to become a better resource for Sophie. 



To the delight of the Scholars Program, 5 of our alumni have announced engagements in the past year! We would like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to the following Scholars and their fiances:

  • Annie Brandicourt announced her engagement to her fiancee, Molly, in January 2020. Annie was part of the 2015 cohort, graduated from MSU in 2018, and is currently earning her MSW at MSU.
  • Elias Kokaly announced his engagement to his fiancee, Lina, in December 2019. Elias was a member of the inaugural cohort and graduated from MSU in 2018. Elias is currently working as a Compliance Analyst at Bittrex, Inc in Washington, D.C. 
  • Emily Schietz announced her engagement to her fiance, Matthew, in December 2018. Emily was part of the inaugural cohort and graduated from MSU in 2017, and has just graduated with her MSW from the University of Michigan. 
  • Grace Hough announced her engagement to her fiance, Evan, in December 2019. Grace was a member of the inaugural cohort and graduated from MSU in 2018. She is currently earning her Master’s in Economics at Duke University. 
  • Mark Zuccaro announced his engagement to his fiancee, Kate, in November 2019. Mark was part of the inaugural cohort and graduated from MSU in 2018. He is currently earning his Law degree at MSU.


Scholars program thanks the Berkey Hall Custodial staff

The holiday season is often a time to give thanks and recognize those who contribute to our wellbeing and communities. This past November, the Social Science Scholars program started an initiative to acknowledge all the hard work of the custodians of Berkey Hall. We are fortunate to have Brian Baker, Rosemary Olger, Arden Rall, Deon Warren, and Gusdiana Ybarra, and Morgan Ledesma to keep Berkey looking impeccable, but it is easy to take for granted what they do and how hard they work. So, in the few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, students and friends of the program, with the help of Berkey Hall faculty, staff, and administrators were successful in raising $420 which allowed us to give each custodian a gift card to show how much we value their dedication.


Success Across the Board

The Social Science Scholars Program would not be what it is today without its Alumni Advisory Board, which helps guide the program in the right direction for its students and alumni. These dedicated leaders work behind-the-scenes to ensure that the Scholars have the best experience possible and are provided the right opportunities to succeed both with their undergraduate career and after. The Board consists of:

  • Karen Schrock, class of 1974
    Retired CEO & President, Adult Well-Being Services
  • Donna Bracher, class of 1990
    Licensed Professional Counselor
  • Mary Tavarozzi, class of 1979
    Managing Director, Willis Towers Watson US LLC
  • Charles Dobis, class of 1971
    Retired Executive Director, Michigan Surgical Center
  • Ed Koryzno, class of 1979
    Retired Director,  Bureau of Local Government
    Michigan Department of Treasury
  • Patrick Grobbel, class of 1986
    Managing Director, FTI Consulting

Being alumni of the college makes these Scholars Program Advisors uniquely equipped to serve in their respective roles. 

“I always looked forward to spring term,” recalled Donna Bracher from her time at MSU. “The campus is so beautiful at that time of year, which made walking to classes enjoyable.  At the first sign of warmth, so many of us students took the opportunity to sit out on the lawns around campus to study or just enjoy the sunshine and time with friends.

Edward Korynzo noted of his undergraduate experience, “I have many fond memories of the years I spent at MSU. These include the many classes that shaped my critical thinking and eventually prepared me for a career of public service.” But his all-time favorite memory? “I met my wife at MSU.”

Each board member got involved with the Scholars Program in a different way, but they all share an uncommon will to make sure the Program and its students succeed.

“I'm currently a mentor to one of the Scholars,” said Mary Tavarozzi. “I've also participated in a Scholars class on writing cover letters and resumes for internships, as well as Social Science Week activities with Junior and Senior Scholars.  

For Patrick Grobbel, supporting the Scholars Program felt like a calling. “I had lost contact with MSU over the years and not involved at all on any level, with the exception of attending a few basketball and football games. However, once I had a chance to see for my own eyes in the classroom the great work being done by Dr. Waller and Jenn Arbogast, I was captured and really felt a sense of duty to give back to the program.”

The Board members have been impressed with the students of the Scholars program, and are excited to be a part of their academic and professional journey. 

My biggest takeaway from working with the students is how impressive they are - their enthusiasm, drive, ideas, and dedication.  It is a difficult program and I am continually impressed with how the students navigate and thrive through the challenges of it,” said Donna.

Patrick agreed with this sentiment. “My first impression was; I can’t believe how bright and motivated these students in the Scholars Program are in comparison to my days as a knuckle-headed MSU student. The maturity, intelligence and motivation of the students have both humbled me to be a part of the program and inspired me due to their unlimited potential and bright future.”

We are grateful for all the work that they do. 


Bridging the Gap 

Last semester, several Scholars of color joined together to form the ‘Bridge Scholars’ with the aim of ensuring that minority and international students feel fully welcome and comfortable within the Scholars Program. As Jasmine Jordan explains in her brilliant research paper (see volume 4 of the Scholars Research Book), ‘Black and LatinX students who choose to go to Predominately White Universities/Institutions routinely face challenges associated with their minority statues, particularly related to feelings of isolation and alienation’. Students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds can be nervous in interacting with one another and fearful of saying the wrong thing. They can also be naive about minority cultures and experiences in the US. But small cohort programs like ours provide rare and valuable opportunities for students of diverse backgrounds to connect, form lasting friendships, and jettison the kinds of stereotype that we often imbibe when growing up. (Speaking of the perpetuation of stereotypes, one of the Bridge Scholars, Erykah Benson, has carried out award-winning research on the vast gulf that separates the actual contents of high-school history textbooks and what one would actually need to learn in order to grasp the causes of racial disparities in modern America.) The Bridge Scholars will meet regularly as a group with guest speakers: last week they had lunch with the distinguished Honorable Wanda Stokes, a Circuit Court judge in Mason. They will also develop interactive workshops for class in order, as Erykah says, ‘to foster an environment that is conducive to discussing cultural/racial differences so that all of us get into the practice of discussing race.’ In addition to enhancing student wellbeing, these sessions will, Erykah adds, better ‘prepare all Scholars for professional life.’ We are thrilled by the Program’s students of color taking the initiative in this way and helping to make the Scholars experience enjoyable and rewarding for everyone.


Qi Huang 

My name is Qi Huang, and I graduated from Michigan State University and the Social Science Scholars Program this past May with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology. During the last year of my undergraduate program, I worked as the Student Advocacy and Outreach Intern at the Office for International Students and Scholars, or OISS. I worked with international students and their families who were experiencing difficult and urgent situations. Through this internship, I learned how to ensure students have access to the resources they need and I encouraged them to collaborate with faculty and staff to get through their academic or personal crises. It was very rewarding and motivating to see students who were able to get help and engage in a positive learning experience once again.

After graduation, OISS offered me an opportunity to continue my internship, and it turned into a full-time position at the end of November 2019. In my new role as an International Student Advocate, I continue to support international students with unusual crisis or who need extra assistance.

An internship is a great opportunity for us to identify our interests, passions, and values. I feel extremely grateful that I have been able to pursue my passion in supporting and empowering international students at OISS. For students who are looking for jobs or internships, my advice is to 1) Keep your ears open, take full advantage of campus resources such as student advising, career services, or mentorship programs. 2) Be open-minded about learning new skills and getting different experiences. 3) If you know where your interests are, make sure you get some professional work experiences in the field that you are interested in. 4) If you are not sure about your career directions, explore your options by participating in research, volunteering, studying abroad and other great programs at MSU.


Nicole Jedding: Kickin' it Scholars style

One of the awesome aspects of the Scholars Program is the opportunity to bond with other students outside of academic settings, with my personal favorite being the times we get to play sports together. Whether we’re playing pickup or on our intramural teams, the camaraderie that comes with being active and having a ton of fun as a group is such a wonderful bonding experience. We started by playing weekly pickup soccer and rapidly expanded into other sports like basketball and football and have organized IM soccer and softball teams through MSU’s Rec Sports. The IM teams especially have given me such wonderful memories of playing, mostly losing, and feeling the constant encouragement and support from the entire team. Some of the Scholars who volunteer to play don’t know much about the sport when we start, so it’s also been really cool to watch those individuals learn to love the game and have a blast.

Overall, Scholar Sports has been such an amazing chance for members of all cohorts to get together and have some light-hearted fun for an hour when you might not otherwise have spent much time together. This first time I made friends with anyone outside of my cohort was through pickup my freshman year, and it made me feel so much more welcome to have these connections beyond simply being in the same academic program and occasionally seeing each other in Berkey 307. Soccer especially brings back fond memories of playing pickup in the Lake District on our UK study abroad in fields often meant for sheep grazing. Pickup and IM sports have been a great facet to the program outside of purely academic endeavors.

Pictured right: Nicole (middle) poses with fellow Scholars, Allie and Alex, after winning the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum with her research on media coverage of drug addiction.



Gerson Mental Health Initiative

The Scholars Program is so thankful for Mark and Baraba Gerson’s generous gift, which has allowed for the creation of the Gerson Mental Health Initiative. As a part of this initiative, the MSU Psychological Clinic is hosting a series of workshops led by Dr. Natalie Moser called the “Science of Success,” which will offer an opportunity for interested scholars to learn skills to manage their emotional experiences, family and peer relationships, and more general difficulties coping with stressful situations. 

One student, who attended last semester's workshop series, reflected: “The small group workshops program helped me find the balance in my life I needed to be successful. The techniques I learned along with the underlying psychological process made me feel in control and guided me back on track when life was thrown at me. The small group setting of only m close companions meant that we all realized we wanted to improve the same things about ourselves, and that imperfection  among some of MSU’s elites isn’t just normal, it’s expected.”

Thank you Gerson family for your valuable contribution to the welfare of the Scholars.