This year, 2024, is a momentous one for the University of Michigan's U.P. Scholars Program.

The first nine U.P. Scholars to earn their bachelor's degrees were among thousands of graduates honored at U-M's spring commencement ceremony at Michigan Stadium on Saturday, May 4.

For the last four years, the U.P. Scholars Program has been a major draw for students from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, who might not otherwise have considered attending U-M because of its cost, location, or large size. The program has steadily grown in numbers, one graduating class at a time, launching in Fall 2020 with just eleven first-year students, to its current size of 50 students representing 12 counties and 20 different high schools in the U.P.

Tami Seavoy (A.B. 1984, J.D. 1987), a program donor, was the keynote speaker at a special dinner on May 2, where scholars, family, and supporters united to celebrate the graduates' accomplishments. She and her husband, Ken (M.B.A. 1989, J.D. 1989), a U.P. native, spearheaded efforts to establish the William Charles Reisdorf, Jr. Memorial Fund for U.P. Scholars, in honor of a dear friend and fellow Michigan alumnus from the U.P.

"The founders of the U.P. Scholars Program wanted to give Upper Peninsula high school graduates the opportunity to succeed in Ann Arbor, knowing how big this university can feel after coming from the U.P. They wanted you to have mentors, to have counselors, to be equipped for success," Seavoy told the graduates. "You have certainly heard how this degree that you earned from the University of Michigan will enable you to do anything. You stack up equally with graduates of any prestigious university you could name."

Tami and Ken Seavoy

Though she grew up down-state, Seavoy moved north with her Yooper husband in 1989, to work as an attorney in Marquette. She shared inspiring stories about some of her closest college friends from the U.P.'s Baraga High School—including her brother-in-law—and encouraged the graduates to also keep the U.P. in their hearts, reminding them that, "having the world open to you does not sever your connection to the Upper Peninsula. When you dream of your future, you don't have to stop dreaming of home. Whether you take a winding path to a career, or race to one like I did, remember that the U.P. is a choice that's always open to you. Spreading your wings doesn't mean you can't fly north if your dreams lead you there."

U.P. Scholars Enters New Phase with Monumental Gift

Another major cause for celebration this spring is the news that the program's private founding donors have established an additional, and truly transformative, $8 million gift to permanently endow the U.P. Scholars Program at the University of Michigan, ensuring its vitality for future generations. The program was introduced as a pilot in 2020 to encourage more high-achieving students from the Upper Peninsula to apply, attend, and succeed at the University of Michigan. 

The implications of the new gift are profound. Scholarship support, the cornerstone of accessibility for aspiring scholars, will be expanded to amplify the program’s reach and impact:  Additional scholarships for incoming first-year students will help the program sustain a larger yearly cohort size. For the 2024-25 academic year, the program plans to welcome at least 16 incoming first-year students. Transfer scholarships will broaden the program's scope to include students transferring from other universities and community colleges, including two awards for incoming transfer students in Fall 2024. And a pioneering new graduate scholarship pilot will support a U.P. Scholar pursuing a one-year master’s degree through the Ross School of Business.

The gift includes permanent funding to retain and hire U.P. Scholars staff as well, ensuring a consistent foundation upon which the program can flourish and students can be fully supported to thrive.

Tina and Joe Barsky

Tina Barsky (B.S. 1972, M.S. 1973) grew up in the U.P. and went on to earn two degrees from Michigan. She and her husband Joe Barsky (M.B.A. 1973) established a scholarship fund for U.P. Scholars in 2021; they were inspired by the program's equal commitment to supporting students’ emotional well-being and nurturing their academic success.

"Joe and I were honored and delighted to help celebrate the graduation of the first cohort of U.P.Scholars," said Tina after the graduation celebration. "We were impressed by the accomplishments of the graduates and moved by the close relationships the program has fostered between participants and program directors." 

This academic year, the program has evolved considerably under the stewardship of its new program manager, Megan Roberts. With a concentrated focus on belonging and leadership development, she is working to cultivate a vibrant ecosystem that offers even more support and empowerment for students from the region. "That looks like tailored resources and an uplifting community to make sure all of our students are thriving on their path to graduation. Really, the whole reason the U.P. Scholars Program exists is to help our students lift each other up and thrive here on campus," she said.

New avenues for growth, collaboration, and empowerment include Peer Mentoring, which pairs first-year students who are just beginning their college journey with upper-level students; and the new eight-member Student Advisory Board (SAB), with two members from each graduating class. Student Advisory Board members provide feedback and input to help shape and guide the program to ensure that events and initiatives are truly student-centered and respond to student needs. This year's inaugural board represents various U-M schools and colleges, including LSA, Ross, Kinesiology, and the School of Information. 

Emi Reith

"Peer mentoring really made a difference in my first semester. My mentor and I met frequently and she was always able to lend a hand whenever I needed it," said Kingsford native Emi Reith (LSA '27), who serves on the Student Advisory Board. "I joined the SAB because of how much appreciation and admiration I have for the U.P. Scholars Program. This position has enabled me to apply myself in a deeper way to the program, benefitting, aiding, and taking initiative in whatever way is necessary."

Left: Peer Mentors; Right: Members of the Student Advisory Board, with program manager Megan Roberts (center)

Uniquely Yooper

Alex Mamonov

"Aside from the life-changing amount of potential scholarship aid, I also loved the community I knew U.P. Scholars would bring," said Alex Mamonov (LSA '27), a first-year student who grew up in Menominee, a 19th century lumber town situated on the Michigan-Wisconsin border. "We are from a very rural, niche part of the state and country, and I realized that I would be connected with people who share a fundamental geological and cultural identity."

One of the hallmarks of the U.P. Scholars Program is its ability to deliver on the promise of thoughtful and individualized support by creating meaningful connections between home and college. It combines an awareness of the value and strength of students' U.P. backgrounds with opportunities for academic and intellectual growth. 

"The program's monthly Superior Seminars are a focal point," said Adan Hussain, director of cohort-based scholarship programs in the College of LSA. "The purpose of the seminars is learning the unwritten curriculum of college. In other words, how to student—and the practices of students who are able to maximize utilization of the resources available to them while they are here."

These seminars focus on common challenges faced by undergraduates, viewed through the unique lens of a U.P. upbringing. The seminars tackle a range of higher education topics, from time management to mastering the art of respectful discourse and discussion. First-and second-year students participate in goal-setting and visioning and a wellness session aimed at early college experiences, while third- and fourth-years are treated to purpose- and authenticity-driven career planning and leadership development.

"The Superior Seminars enable us to introduce discussions about DEI, too," noted Roberts. "The Exploring Social Identities and Rural Strengths session encouraged participants to reflect on how growing up in the U.P. shaped their values, strengths and beliefs, how their background affects how they experience campus, and what they contribute uniquely to the campus community."

Reith said her favorite Superior Seminar was one "related to imposter syndrome and the benefits of coming from a rural area, as it helped create a sense of belonging for me here at Michigan."

Owen Jenness (middle), with fellow U.P. Scholars at a fall team-building retreat

Fellow first-year student Owen Jenness (LSA '27) added, "My favorite Superior Seminar was for sure the one on culture—it was interesting to see the different cultures people come from, and everyone's views on living in Ann Arbor."

Other cohort engagement initiatives, like community service opportunities, and casual gatherings during final exam periods that featured visiting therapy dogs, mindfulness activities, and a smoothie bar, have yielded tangible results in building camaraderie and easing U.P. Scholars' transition to college.

Maddie Wood (left) with her peer mentor Madi Austin (right)

"The ability to meet and get to know the U.P. Scholars community over the year, as well as having the opportunity to volunteer [at local food pantry Food Gatherers] and give back to the community together, was a great way to incorporate fun and meaningful activities into my schedule," said Maddie Wood (LSA '27), a first-year student from Marquette. "Being a U.P. Scholar means getting to share ideas, opportunities, and time with others who come from a similar background, and being able to learn from those who share their experiences, knowledge, and advice with you. It is so valuable to be part of a community that is welcoming, helpful, and supportive while beginning your journey at U of M."

A particular point of pride for the program are a handful of events designed to bring U-M’s entire U.P. community together. This year, the program extended an invitation to all 240 active undergrads from the U.P. to its annual 906 Day celebration, ice skating and bowling socials, a tour of the Big House, and a visit to a local apple orchard. These events serve as vibrant showcases of community spirit and connection that recognize and honor the richness of U.P. culture. More than 130 students attended the 906 Day party—named for the U.P.’s unique telephone area code and held annually on 9/06 (Sept. 6)—and bonded over yard games, euchre (naturally), and pasties from the Motor City Pasty Company. "It was really special to have pasties and Yooper Bars to celebrate U.P. culture, and have a little bit of home on campus," said Roberts. 

"I always enjoy the 906 Day event—I enjoy sharing the program and our events with others outside of the U.P. Scholars," said Andrew Fedrizzi (Ross '25). "I think the U.P. Scholars Program serves as a home base for all U.P. students at Michigan."

From the U.P. for the U.P.

The latest gift to endow U.P. Scholars is a testament to the unwavering support and dedication of its founding donors— whose funding for the program now exceeds $13 million—but the ripple effect extends beyond the founders' contributions. A matching gift program has helped LSA engage other donors to establish seven individually named scholarships under the U.P. Scholars umbrella, including the Seavoys' in memory of their friend, Reisdorf, Jr. The U.P. Scholars Program Matching Fund will continue to provide a match for new, endowed funds of at least $25,000 that are established in support of students with financial need from the U.P. 

Tina and Joe Barsky's Picel-Barsky U.P. Scholarship Fund is also one of seven scholarships under the U.P. Scholars umbrella; it was the first gift to qualify for the matching funds. "We believe the academic and social-emotional support provided by U.P. Scholars has been integral to the success of the participants," said Tina. "We are excited about continuing to offer our financial support to the program and look forward to attending future graduation celebrations."

"This program is so important for empowering students from the Upper Peninsula to see themselves first at the University of Michigan, and then out in the world making a difference," said Hussain. "And I cannot understate the significance of our partners' and donors' dedication to making this program a permanent part of our university. We know that for programs like these to be successful, we need the support of a lot of folks."

Andrew Fedrizzi

"Yooper culture is supportive, friendly, collaborative, and adventurous," said Fedrizzi, who is a member of the first U.P. Scholars cohort. Like most 2020 high school graduates, Fedrizzi’s senior year in Marquette was drastically impacted by Covid-19 and he was nervous about what his transition to college would be like.

"As one of the first U.P. Scholars, I have seen [those values echo through] the entirety of the program. My previous program manager [founding assistant director Cheyenne Marlin] was there to help walk me through hard decisions and the current program manager [Megan Roberts] has done the work to keep supporting me," Fedrizzi continued. "This is exactly what being a U.P. Scholar is: it's the community that is there for you to fall back on. I know that I will always have the program's support."

Tristin Smith hiking at Miners Falls near Pictured Rocks

Tristin Smith (LSA '26) is an LSA sophomore majoring in informational analysis and digital studies. "My favorite thing about being a U.P Scholar is getting to tell people about the program, I am so proud to be a part of this community and let others know back home about how great it is," she said.

"This scholarship was one of the reasons that I was able to attend the University of Michigan, and I am grateful every day for the opportunities and friendships that U.P Scholars has provided for me. I am proud to represent my home, and the small number of people from the Upper Peninsula who are in Ann Arbor."


Read about all nine of the 2024 U.P. Scholars graduates, and find out what's next for them.

Hear about graduate Shaylee Menhennick's journey from Negaunee to Ann Arbor in this Michigan News video and story.

Support U.P. Scholars

Two newly established annual funds, the Upper Peninsula LSA Student Scholars Program Fund and Upper Peninsula Student Scholarship Fund, welcome gifts of any size to help build and support the community of U.P. high school graduates at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.