UC PhD student turns love of research into powerful life lessons for Cincinnati's urban youth

kamonta heidleburg

Seeing is believing.

Cincinnati Public School (CPS) students participating in the University of Cincinnati (UC) Scholars Academy may never have thought about or even imagined life as a researcher, until they met Kamonta Heidelburg, an African-American doctoral student in UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services.  

Heidelburg, a graduate of Clark Montessori High School, grew up with a dream and traversed the bumps and challenges that came his way so he could turn that dream into reality — going to college.

A lot of kids I grew up with are getting out of jail right now, and here I am getting my Ph.D.

Kamonta Heidelburg

Heidelburg wanted to find a better way for himself. “I was driven to be different, and there were plenty of outcomes I didn’t want. I had a strong mindset to be different.”

UC’s strategic direction, Next Lives Here, calls for programming and partnerships to facilitate a robust, system-wide ecosystem of support for Cincinnati youth like Heidelburg and members of the UC Scholars Academy. Through increased exploration, readiness, and access, the university can accelerate student success and graduate work-ready leaders.

Following high school Heidelburg attended a historically black university, which presented him with a new perspective he didn’t see growing up.

“I learned there can be a big crowd of black people having fun and not fighting. That earlier mindset hindered me from exploring the world,” but Heidelburg says that early experience was still valuable because it instilled a desire to be a voice of change and to lead by example.

Kamonta Heidelburg

Now, as a UC doctoral student, he’s working with Hughes STEM High School to research the socio-emotional development of seventh-and eighth-grade black males. Heidelburg also leads support groups for 9th – 12th graders at Hughes, and coordinates a district wide CPS program for young African American men titled “Me, Organized, Respectful and Educated.”

Sitting at the front of a room within UC’s Teachers College building, Heidelburg is leading by example, sharing his passion for UC, higher education, and the UC Scholars Academy.

The UC Scholars Academy was founded in January 2015, with the mission of empowering high school students who have potential and drive but lack opportunity and access to a college education. The initiative currently partners with Hughes STEM High School to recruit students to UC. The partnership includes all 13 UC colleges.

When I was in high school, there was nothing like UC Scholars. You all are doing really well. We want more people to get their PhDs. Only eight percent of the population has a PhD. When you break it down by our race, it’s even smaller.

Kamonta Heidelburg, speaking to high school students

Through his personal story, Heidelburg is able to connect with the students. His passion for learning permeates the room and inspires the young people listening. The UC Scholars are able to see someone like them. Someone who turned their dream into reality — a role model they can relate to.

And the dialogue begins.

The scholars start asking questions about college, self-care, careers and even research.

Heidelburg divides the students into small groups to brainstorm their own potential research topics. Ideas that surface include:

  • Different pay for different engineers
  • The impact of drugs on race
  • Correlations between minorities and the American dream
  • How injuries impact mindset and the ability to recover

Reflecting on the conversations, Heidelburg asks the students what advice they would like to share with others.

The day’s lesson and Heidelberg’s impact on the UC scholars can be gleaned from the words of CPS student and UC Scholar Zoe Miller.

“Don’t lose sight of where you want to go. Keep pushing forward.”

Learn more about UC's strategic direction, Next Lives Here, and UC's efforts to increase the number of graduates from Cincinnati Public Schools.

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