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Talk About Timing! UC Scholarship Rescues Student in Crisis

Because of a University of Cincinnati scholarship she received just days before she would have been forced to return to her native Russia in the year 2000, then 18-year-old Daria “Dasha” Lezina has been able to pursue the life and studies of her dreams.

Date: 6/10/2005
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Lisa Ventre
UC ingot When she was only 18 years old, Daria “Dasha” Lezina faced down defeat – with a little help from her friends at UC. 

That’s when she had just finished high school here in Cincinnati – after having come to this country alone at the age of 15 – and with an expiring student visa and no school to go to, it seemed that she had no other choice but to return to her native Russia, to the provincial city of Vologda. 

At that time, in the year 2000, Lezina – an exceptionally talented art student – had been  accepted into the Maryland Institute-College of Art in Baltimore but with a serious catch.  They offered her only a partial scholarship, quite insufficient for further education.

Lezina was stunned.  She recalls, “I was pretty sure I would get into Maryland and get the money.”  So sure that she hadn’t applied anywhere else. 

“My student visa was to expire.  I was certain I would have to go back to Vologda, perhaps be a tutor in English.  I could exist on that, but it wasn’t what I sought.  I was so excited about my art, wanting to pursue that,” she explains, adding that an art school in Russia was out of the question since her mother didn’t have the connections to make art school possible nor the rubles to pay the bribes necessary to enter the best schools in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Then chance and staff at UC completely changed Lezina’s life, all within a cyclone two- week period.  Lezina’s high school art teacher – Don Stocker of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy – mentioned Lezina and her uncertain future to his wife, Gail, a program coordinator in UC’s McMicken College of Arts & Sciences.  In turn, Gail related the story to Joan Fisher, a co-worker who previously helped international students through the admissions process.  Meanwhile, the Stockers also dropped a note to Mitchel Livingston, vice president for student affairs, describing Lezina’s “bleak financial situation” and “exceptional” talents.

UC officials then saved weeks by obtaining the young woman’s SAT scores by phone, and Lezina carried her portfolio to UC’s top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning for a crucial review.  “I was not really hoping for much,” she says.  “I was afraid to.”  But in the end, “they loved it,” she recalls.

Next, a campus job was found, and – importantly – Lezina received the Vincent Scholarship, established as part of UC’s endowment in 1976, to cover her tuition and fees.  That scholarship, according to Connie Williams, director, Student Financial Aid, is generally used for humanitarian purposes.  “A few years ago, it went to a student who had been ill, a resident of the Ronald McDonald House.  We often use it for students in need because of unusual situations,” she explained.

One of Dasha's works-in-progress

That first year she received the scholarship, Lezina even had a home with Joan Fisher, an A&S records management officer.  Indeed, without checking with her husband or four daughters, Fisher invited Lezina to live with her family. 

Fisher laughs that her oldest daughter, then 22, was just moving out:  “So, we had to stock up again.  Couldn’t stand the peace and quiet with only three girls in the house.”

Lezina, now 22, states, “At first, I did not realize what had happened.  I didn’t understand at the time all that it would mean.  It’s changed my life in so many ways.”

Now, Lezina is about to graduate.  Her mother, Olga Lezina, is coming all the way from Russia to attend the morning commencement ceremonies at UC on June 10.  This visit will be the first time in two years that mother and daughter have seen each other.

And as she graduates, Dasha Lezina will have just one more assignment to complete at UC:   “I just want to say thank you to all those people.  How do I thank them all?...The Stockers, the Fishers, Mitchel Livingston, Deborah Morehead Frank of DAAP, Wayne Enstice, Terrance Corbin, John Stewart and Frank Hermann of the School of Art.  Because of them, I’ve found something I really love: art and the making of art.  Here, I’ve gone to college where college is life experience, not just education.  In Russia, I would have had to repress all that to just get a job.”

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