More than three dozen first-year students from throughout Michigan and across the country have embarked on a new journey as the newest cohort of the Kessler Presidential Scholars Program. The students are among the first in their families to go to college through the Kessler Presidential Scholars Program, a comprehensive program for first-generation students that is using research and real-time student feedback to transform the first-generation experience.

The scholarship was established 10 years ago by Fred Wilpon, real estate developer and owner of the New York Mets, and his wife, Judy Kessler Wilpon. This fall will mark the second year of a two-year pilot program that combines financial support for tuition and other expenses, guidance from professional staff, support from peer mentors, and a strong community of fellow first-generation students.

“We know the challenges first-generation students face, and they go beyond financial costs. For these students and their families, college is a completely new experience. It is not enough to give them a scholarship and wish them good luck. They need support from an academic, social, and professional standpoint as well,” said Elizabeth R. Cole, interim dean of the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. “By combining scholarship funding, academic guidance, and a supportive community, we are helping students thrive here at the University of Michigan. We’re committed to our Kessler Scholars from the moment they walk on campus, and I’m very excited to welcome them to LSA.”

Now in its tenth year, the Kessler Scholars Program underwent a significant overhaul in the 2017-2018 academic year, adopting an innovative, research-based approach for first-generation student support at LSA. Part of the revamp included a new partnership with the Science Learning Center for tutoring access, a seminar to help first-year students adjust to college, career workshops, and the Peer Mentor Program, which connects first-year Kessler Scholars with upper-level Kessler Scholars to help foster their academic, social, and professional growth. The Kessler Scholars Program also closely tracks student outcomes to evaluate the impact of its interventions.

And the successes are clear. The four- and six-year graduation rate for Kessler Scholars are 82 percent and 96 percent respectively, higher than their first-generation peers at U-M and comparable institutions across the United States.

“We are excited to welcome the incoming students and to see all the great things they will contribute to LSA and the University of Michigan,” said Gail Gibson, director of the Kessler Presidential Scholars Program. “The program is driven by academic research, which shows that community-building and support is just as important as funding. By providing access to critical resources and working directly with Kessler Scholars, we are able to help students succeed at Michigan and after graduation.”

The new cohort consists of 36 first-generation students from across the country, all of whom have demonstrated academic excellence and a personal passion for giving back to their community.

“The Kessler Scholars Program has not only provided me financial support through my studies at the University of Michigan, but it has also provided me with a community and support system. Being a Kessler Scholar means having unwavering support from everyone who is a part of the Kessler Scholars Program,” said rising senior and Kessler Scholar Salma Ali. “From meetings with faculty and staff, events put on throughout the year, and various Kessler alumni giving back to the program, I can’t imagine my years at U-M without the program. I am grateful to be a part of the Kessler Scholars Program because of kind, supportive people who truly care about and value each of us.”

The 2018–2019 Kessler Scholars (hometowns and intended areas of study) are as follows:

  • Abigail Houde, Greenwood, MI, Medicine
  • Agnes Asamoth, Bronx, NY, Musical Theatre
  • Ahmad Ali, Detroit, MI, Computer Science
  • Alana Burke, Detroit, MI, Women’s and Gender Studies
  • Allyson Dobrowalski, Boyne City, MI, Neuroscience
  • Amber Brewer, Greenbush, MI, Neuroscience
  • Andy Ye, Macomb, MI, Neuroscience
  • Angela Maher, Pinckney, MI, Biology
  • Anthony Torres, Commack, NY, Medicine/Politics
  • Bianca Cobian-Campos, Melvindale, MI, Nursing
  • Cameron Russell, Crowley, LA, Biochemistry
  • Cheyenne Dunham, Grand Rapids, MI, Medical Science
  • Darica Brazier, Kansas City, MO, Psychology
  • Emmanuel Servin, Detroit, MI, Engineering/Medicine
  • Ethan Jensen, Portland, MI, Biology
  • Juan Roacho, Chicago, IL, Biology/Pre-Med
  • Kane Sweet, Lapeer, MI, Sociology
  • Keith Hudson, Southfield, MI, Biology
  • Kelly Meyer, Eden Prairie, MN, Undecided
  • Kenneth Washpon, New York, NY, Economics
  • Kierra Davis, Muskegon, MI, Astrophysics
  • Kyle Palka, Davison, MI, Sciences/Medicine
  • Lance Schwiderson, Omer, MI, Biology
  • Madaline McPherson, Ann Arbor, MI, Cellular and Molecular Biology
  • Madeline Tripp, Livonia, MI, Biology and Psychology
  • Marwa Hassan, Dearborn Heights, MI, Undecided
  • Michael Mireles Jr., Lansing, MI, Architecture
  • Mustapha Elghoul, Dearborn, MI, Computer Science/Computer Engineering
  • Natalia Navarro, Chicago, IL, Cyber Security/Computer Science
  • Nicole Mor, Irvine, CA, Astrophysics/Astronomy
  • Payten Woodard-Day, Battle Creek, MI, Biochemistry
  • Raj Gautam, Wixom, MI, Environmental Sciences/Public Health
  • Raymond Shavers, Brown City, MI, Neuroscience
  • Rebecca Goodman, Dorr, MI, Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Reem Aburukba, Dearborn, MI, Undecided
  • Shanmin Sultana, Warren, MI, Biology, Health, and Society

To learn more about the Kessler Scholars Program, visit 

This story was originally published by the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts.  

Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography