Carnegie Mellon University
August 18, 2022

Driving Student Equity

By Elizabeth Speed

What can $15 dollars do? On a college campus, it can be the cost of an app required for a class. It's the fee to join a club of like-minded students or grab a meal with a new friend.

For some students, funding just one of these small expenses is a stretch, and going for all of them is out of the question. It's just one of little things that can add up and leave new students feeling conflicted, disconnected and discouraged. Launched in 2019, Carnegie Mellon University's Tartan Scholars program is a lens to look for — and mitigate — barriers to equity like these for the university's undergrads.

MarQia Allen Is Plugged In

"Where I come from, I was raised to be a go-getter," said MarQia Allen, a biological sciences and psychology major studying to work in medicine. She graduated from McKinley Technology High School in urban Washington, D.C., with a long list of accomplishments and leadership experiences. Going to college and succeeding in academics had never been in question, but as a first-generation college student, navigating college life meant facing unexpected challenges.

Allen moved in early — a Scholars' perk that held the most appeal for her — and on her very first day, Branden Ballard, Tartan Scholars program manager, flagged her down and offered a minifridge. In fact, Ballard had a car full of fridges and fans for incoming members of the cohort, most of whom didn't have these two convenience items. The fridge was helpful, but the man who brought it has been indispensable.

"Branden reminds me of home," Allen said. "That's such a dramatic statement, but it's true. He's the first face I saw on campus, and he's just been here since. I stop by his office to talk about a class or a professor or what's on my nerves. He's like family at CMU."

Read more about Allen's experience with Tartan Scholars and how the program uses individual connection to spur collective change.