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UC Grad Beats National Odds – Graduates in Three Years with Two Degrees

After spending nearly nine years in foster care, Mariah Maxwell got on track for college because of an educational UC partnership to support children in the foster care system.

Date: 4/22/2013 7:30:00 AM
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Dottie Stover
Mariah Maxwell will be graduating from two colleges during the University of Cincinnati Commencement Ceremonies at 2 p.m., Saturday, April 27.
Mariah Maxwell
Mariah Maxwell

The first-generation college student will be earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services (CECH), and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences (A&S). Plus, she’s not finished yet with her education. She has applied for admission into UC’s criminal justice master’s degree program and then wants to eventually earn her doctorate from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

Maxwell’s achievements – earning two baccalaureate degrees over a three-year period – are of particular significance because she’s among a demographic of young people that holds a high dropout rate in high school. She entered the Hamilton County foster care system when she was 10 years old. She lived with 11 different foster families. It was during her senior year in high school that her case worker told her about the Higher Education Mentor Initiative (HEMI), which got under way in 2009. She’s the first college graduate out of the HEMI partnership.

HEMI is an award-winning partnership represented by UC’s Partnership for Achieving School Success (PASS), Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Great Oaks Institute of Technology and Career Development, Hamilton County Job and Family Services and the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners. The partnership creates programming and recruits and trains mentors to prepare Hamilton County foster youth for educational opportunities beyond high school, after they age out of the foster care system.

Maxwell was a senior at Walnut Hills High School when she met her HEMI mentor, Kate Livingston, who was working as a UC graduate assistant in 2009 and earning her master’s degree in women’s studies.

“We got right down to business because when I met her, I wasn’t planning to go to college. I met her in October of 2009, had not applied to any college for the following fall, and hadn’t even taken my ACT or SAT,” Maxwell says.

“We jumped right in and we were meeting two or three times a week, two-or-three hours at a time, because applications were due that December, and I had to get registered for the ACT and SAT. Kate ended up taking me to take the tests because I didn’t have transportation, and she helped me apply for scholarships.”

A 2004 report from the Pew Commission estimated that every year, approximately 24,000 children around the nation age out of foster care. Twenty-five percent of them are incarcerated within the first two years of leaving the program, 20 percent become homeless and only 58 percent complete high school, compared with 87 percent of the general student population that complete high school. The HEMI partnership reports that in 2008, only three of 150 Hamilton County foster youth enrolled in high school moved on to pursue a higher education.

Currently, the HEMI partnership has 60 mentors who serve 60 youth – 22 are either high school juniors or seniors; 38 have graduated from high school (which is 100 percent of the HEMI-mentored students who were eligible to graduate high school). Seventy percent of the HEMI high school graduates are pursuing a higher education at several institutions.


Through the support of the program, Maxwell was able to find out how to fund her education through UC’s Cincinnati Pride Grant, which, in conjunction with federal, state and institutional aid, covers the cost of tuition for graduates of the Cincinnati Public Schools District who meet certain eligibility requirements. She was also awarded a scholarship from the HEMI Student Scholarship Fund and financial support from the UC Diversity Council.

“I got here and thought it was so different from high school. I loved college,” Maxwell says. “HEMI is the reason I’m in college. If I hadn’t met my mentor, Kate, I never would have been motivated to go through the application process.”

There were still some challenges along her pathway to graduation. Maxwell became a single mom to her son, Mosiah. Despite the added responsibilities of balancing parenthood with work and her studies, she says she consecutively made the Dean’s List. Mosiah was born prematurely last spring, and Maxwell arranged to complete her educational requirements last spring from his bedside at the hospital. He turns a year old in May.

Maxwell, now 21, adds that she chose her career pathway in criminal psychology because of her fascination with the TV show with the famous “donk-donk” open: ‘Law & Order.’ “I wanted to be just like the character, Dr. George Huang, on ‘Law & Order: SVU.’ I thought that was so fascinating. Also, after going through foster care, I wanted to know why criminals do what they do, especially when they know the consequences. Agent Huang always would talk with them to find out why they committed the crime.”

Maxwell adds that it was her interest in criminal psychology that made her choose UC. She started out in the psychology program with the criminal justice track, but ended up becoming a dual-degree student in psychology and criminal justice.

Mentors make a six-year commitment to guide their HEMI match. As a result, Maxwell remains in contact with her mentor, Livingston, who is now pursuing a doctoral degree in women’s gender and sexuality studies from The Ohio State University.

“People seem to throw around the word, ‘proud’ – like you’re proud of someone – but I don’t think I ever understood what that meant until I met Mariah,” Livingston says. “The fullness that I feel in watching her success is something I have never experienced before. Mariah had a lot of support for this milestone, but in what she has been able to achieve, well, that was all her. At her core, she is an incredibly capable and promising person, and she has gone above and beyond anything we first imagined for our HEMI students,” says Livingston.

As the partnership continues to build on more success stories like Maxwell’s, the HEMI program will be recruiting an additional 15 mentors this summer to match with high school juniors in Hamilton County foster care.

The partnership was recently awarded a three-year grant totaling $35,000 from the United Way, as part of the United Way’s investment in its Agenda for Community Impact. In 2012, the HEMI partnership was honored with the College Board/CollegeKeys Compact Innovation Award. The award recognizes institutions for innovations in preparing, supporting and increasing the percentage of at-risk students on their pathway to education beyond high school.

In early 2011, HEMI was invited to become a member of the Mentoring Works Strive Partnership/United Way Collaborative and as a direct result of that membership, was awarded $16,258 from the Procter and Gamble Fund to support HEMI programming and activities, mentor recruitment and training and critical support for HEMI mentors and mentees.

The HEMI partnership reports these additional HEMI financial supporters:
  • Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation
  • Greg Hartmann, president of the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners
  • Hamilton County Job & Family Services
  • Insured Success
  • United Way of Greater Cincinnati
  • Richard A. Weiland, community leader
  • UC Diversity Council
  • UC Foundation
  • UC PASS Center
The Higher Education Mentoring Initiative

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Cincinnati Pride Grant

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