A life-changing surprise: Two South Side high school seniors earn early admission, scholarships to UChicago

mia and zenin

For a lot of people, Zoom calls are nothing more than a necessary evil in the age of COVID-19. On November 4, two Chicago high school seniors participated in surprise Zoom calls that turned out to be a genuine thrill: Mia Rodgers of South Chicago and Zenin Miller of Hyde Park learned they’ve been admitted to the University of Chicago College Class of 2025 and will have their tuition fully paid.

Both submitted early decision applications to the University through a new UChicago Promise program aimed at supporting Chicago students. MOVE UP (Moving Online, Virtually Empowered, Unlimited Potential) expands UChicago Promise’s work to support public and charter school students and families as they navigate the college search, application, admissions, and financial aid processes virtually during the pandemic.

MOVE UP focuses its free college advising and preparation on high school students at Chicago Public Schools, nearly 90% of whom are students of color. Students can get help choosing colleges, writing application essays, and filling out financial aid forms; additionally, they can connect with free academic support such as tutoring and mentoring. The program is part of the University’s Stand Together initiative, which aims to increase educational access and career success for underrepresented students.

Campus already feels like home

Rodgers, who’s at the top of her University of Chicago Charter School (UCCS) Woodlawn class, was scheduled to Zoom with Will Torres, her school’s chief college officer, to talk about college applications — but when other school leaders and members of her family began to pop onto the call, she knew something was up. After Torres and UChicago Admissions staff surprised Rodgers with the news of her admission, she needed a few minutes to process through happy tears.

Rodgers already knows her way around the University. She served as the youth liaison for the UChicago Consortium on School Research Equitable Learning and Development Project, an investigation of social-emotional learning. As a student in the Office of Civic Engagement’s Collegiate Scholars Program, she took courses on campus taught by UChicago faculty. And her sister Trinity is a member of the Class of 2024.

mia rodgers

By her second summer in the Collegiate Scholars Program, Rodgers knew the University was right for her: “Coming back. I felt like a UChicago student — I felt very comfortable and at home, and I really got to see how the professors interact with students and the way they tailor the curriculum.” Her other activities include apprenticing in the After School Matters Green Star Movement, which creates public art in urban neighborhoods, and serving as a delegate to the Model United Nations.

Rodgers was awarded the full-tuition, four-year UChicago Charter School Scholarship, given to an outstanding UCCS Woodlawn student who demonstrates great potential for contributing to the academic, extracurricular, and community life of the College.

A neuroscientist in the making

Miller, a student at Walter Payton College Prep, also knows the University well: He lives in Hyde Park (you may remember him as the six-year-old author of It’s Me, Zenin! President Barack Obama’s Kid Neighbor) and his mother is a nurse at the UChicago Medical Center. Miller has participated in UChicago’s Maroon Tutor Match, UChicago neuroscience research projects and expects to major in neuroscience; a state champion swimmer, he’s also been a lifeguard and swim instructor for University swimming programs.

“I've used UChicago resources to get me where I am today. They have helped me so much. And now that I'm going there, I can help the next generation of students,” said Miller. “Knowing this early I’m going to UChicago, it's a weight off my shoulders. Now I can focus on my classes, my tutoring, and these kids that I'm helping in swimming.”

Community service is a touchstone for Miller. He founded LaundroMath, a tutoring program for South and West side students, and also founded Minorities in Medicine to promote health care knowledge in low-income neighborhoods. A combination of his mother’s UChicago employee benefits and merit-based scholarships will cover his full tuition at the University.

zenin miller

Rodgers and Miller both got a head start on their UChicago journeys by applying through MOVE UP’s new rolling early-decision option, said Veronica Hauad, deputy director of admissions. “Students who commit to UChicago can apply under a new binding early-decision agreement, and they’ll receive their decision from us on a rolling basis. That gives them more time than usual to prepare before classes begin in September of next year.”

In addition to MOVE UP, UChicago Stand Together’s comprehensive programs also include support for more than a hundred community-based organizations around the country that work to boost college access; scholarships for student leaders and scholars who serve groups underrepresented in higher education; initiatives that connect UChicago students, employers and the University; and programs that pave the way for veterans to enroll at UChicago.

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