U.P. Scholars Program helps make U-M degree a reality


In the time it took to savor a cappuccino at Campfire Coffee, a flash blizzard coated the Upper Peninsula town of Negaunee, where Shaylee Menhennick grew up just 10 miles southwest of Marquette.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, known for epic snowfalls, mining towns, natural beauty and a slower pace, felt far away to Menhennick when she started attending the University of Michigan in 2020.

“I think the biggest thing was the culture shock. The U.P. is so rural,” said Menhennick, whose Negaunee High School had a graduating class of 97. Many students go right into trades — welding is a popular choice in Irontown USA. But for Menhennick, U-M was always her dream school.

A photo of U-M graduates at commencement
Shaylee Menhennick, right, cheers at U-M’s Spring Commencement on May 5. She was part of the first group of students to graduate as part of the U.P. Scholars Program. (Photo by Jeremy Marble, Michigan News)

Adjusting to Ann Arbor was easier with help from the U.P. Scholars Program, which provides limited-income students with need-based scholarships of up to $15,000 per year for four years. The program also provides social, academic and professional support.

“Learning to navigate a city where everything doesn’t close at 8 p.m., and also learning different cultures and different diversities, was a shock at first,” Menhennick said, as she touched the silver U.P. necklace she wore.

Scholars come from 12 of the U.P.’s 15 counties and 20 of its high schools. Students are studying in a range of academic disciplines across the university — LSA, the College of Engineering, the School of Nursing, the School of Kinesiology, the Marsal Family School of Education and the School of Information.

A photo of a woman working with another wearing a wrist brace
Shaylee Menhennick works with a patient at the School of Kinesiology. (Photo by Jeremy Marble, Michigan News)

Menhennick, a first-generation college student, along with eight other students from the Upper Peninsula are the first U.P. Scholars cohort to graduate from U-M this year. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in movement science with a minor in sociology of health and medicine.

The U.P Scholas Program is a partnership among LSA, the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the Office of Financial Aid. Funded by private donors, it supports students with:

  • One-on-one coaching with professional staff.
  • Social events to build friendships and community.
  • Leadership development opportunities.
  • Workshops tailored to the unique perspectives of U.P. students.
  • Shared community service activities.
  • Connections to personalized academic and professional resources.

The program has awarded more than $950,000 to 52 students since its inception, said Megan Roberts, program manager.

“These students have impressed me so deeply with their academic and professional accomplishments,” Roberts said at their graduation ceremony. “The opportunity to get to know each of you on a personal level, to learn about your goals and dreams, and to witness your growth and achievements this past year has truly been an honor.”

The program’s private founding donors have established an additional $8 million gift to permanently endow the U.P. Scholars Program at U-M, Roberts said.

Tim McKay, associate dean for undergraduate education at LSA, said that U-M was set up from the beginning of its existence to serve the state of Michigan as a public university and a global university.

“Students from the U.P. have significant and distinctive experiences, insights and a shared regional cultural identity,” McKay said. “It’s a fact that growing up above the (Mackinac) bridge is a thing that matters, a thing that you will continue to identify with your whole life, something you will always share.”

For Menhennick, finding out that she got the U.P. Scholar Scholarship was huge, given the financial burdens of attending college, and it solidified her decision to attend U-M.

“I’ve been here almost four years now, and I’ve had truly the most amazing experience. U.P. Scholars has really been the foundation of my experience here,” she said. “It’s definitely helped me in navigating this experience, given the fact that I’m from such a small area and I’m also a first-gen student.”

A photo of a sign in Negaunee, Michigan
Shaylee Menhennick grew up in Negaunee, a central Upper Peninsula town with fewer than 5,000 residents. (Photo by Jeremy Marble, Michigan News)

Menhennick said people tend not to leave her close-knit community in Negaunee, instead going into the trades or attending Northern Michigan University. She went home every summer to reconnect with her family, friends, the outdoors and the places where she created so many memories like the football stadium, Miner’s Park and Teal Lake.

She plans to take a gap year at home to work at a local podiatrist’s office, volunteer as a coach for her high school softball team and shadow the athletic trainer of the Northern Michigan University Hockey Team before starting graduate school to become an athletic trainer.

But she’ll treasure her memories downstate around Ann Arbor, U-M and Big House football games.

“Even though you’re away from home, you already have a built-in community of fellow Yoopers here in Ann Arbor,” Menhennick said. “Be proud of where you are from, step out of your comfort zone, and Go Blue!”

— Kristen Loszewski of LSA contributed to this article.


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