MLK Scholars: Service and Leadership Collide

NYU’s Martin Luther King Jr.’s scholars program offers students scholarships to students who demonstrate outstanding leadership skills and have a passion for social justice and equality. Patricia Carey, who founded the program, sat down with WSN staff to discuss the MLK scholarship and future plans.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left behind a long-lasting legacy of service and leadership, and at NYU, one program is dedicated to furthering that legacy. The Martin Luther King Jr. Scholars program, called one of the most prestigious honors programs at NYU on its website, offers scholarships to students who demonstrate outstanding leadership skills and a commitment to bringing social justice and equality to their communities through service.

The goal of the program is to further the legacy of King by engaging in travel, research, community service, seminars and cultural and educational events in order to learn about and promote social change. Steinhardt’s Associate Dean for Student Affairs and NYU Associate Vice Provost for Diversity Programs Patricia Carey helped found the program in 1987. Carey noted the busy year scholars have ahead of them, including programming spanning from teach-ins at local middle schools to an educational travel colloquium in Washington, D.C.

Alongside these activities, first-year scholars enroll in a year-long seminar focused on a theme drawn from King’s writings.

“Discussions, readings, research, outside speakers, field trips, even a play scholars may construct or activity that they may organize will help them make meaning of the year’s theme for the present day,” Carey said. “This year’s theme is ‘Only in the darkness can you see the stars.’”

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There is no application to become an MLK Scholar: all 142 students currently enrolled were handpicked. The Scholars Selection Committee chooses students based on their Common Application personal statement, extracurricular activities and supplemental essays. However, students will only be considered for the program if they complete the College Scholarship Service Profile and Free Application for Financial Student Aid.

According to Carey, prospective students are informed about the MLK Scholars Program and other scholars programs when they apply to NYU. However, most prospective students are still unaware of the multitude of scholarship programs available to them. For both Stern alum Devon McLeod, who graduated in 2017, and Steinhardt senior Christopher Hearn, being selected for the MLK Scholars Program was an absolute surprise.

“I had no idea about the [program] prior to being accepted into it,” Hearn said. “I’m sure you can imagine how intense it was for me to find out about an opportunity at the exact time that it changed my life.”

Life-changing is exactly how McLeod would describe MLK Scholars as well.

“I would not have been able to afford NYU without my MLK Scholarship,” McLeod said. “[The program] finds people who aren’t necessarily the valedictorian, but who are passionate, driven and open and helps mold us into thought leaders.”

The scholars programming and support provides students with the skills needed to make social change in the future.

“They challenge us, test us and create an environment for us to try and fail without major consequence,” McLeod said.

For Hearn, a Music Business major, the program provided unique opportunities that have helped shaped his self-development while in college.

“I will never forget working on rebuilding a house destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, or winding down the river on a dinner boat in Paris,” Hearn said.

In addition to these opportunities, MLK Scholars provides students a supportive community. Even after graduating, McLeod is still close with her MLK family.

“I still have an incredible network of human beings who I know support me,” McLeod said.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 10 print edition. Email Natalie Chinn at [email protected]

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