More than 1,300 middle school boys from 13 area schools visited the campus of The Ohio State University at Mansfield and North Central State College over five days in May to learn more about careers, higher education and their community.
The event, titled LeaderRichland, is coordinated by the colleges and the Richland County Development Group.
Originally created by County Commissioner Marilyn John, then mayor of Shelby, for 7th and 8th grade girls in Shelby, the event began with just one school and 175 students.
“I really wanted to see what we could do for education attainment, to increase it,” John said. “It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s a longtime goal.”
The goal of LeaderRichland is to show middle school students that a higher education is attainable, John says.
“Higher education opens a lot of doors. It gives you experiences that you wouldn’t otherwise have,” John said. “It opens your mind, and I want that opportunity for students.”
In its fourth year, the event alternates between hosting boys and girls. The event was sponsored by Richland Bank, United Way of Richland County, and Cleveland Financial Services. About 25 county leaders participated in the discussion cohorts.
“I’m very grateful to all the leaders of the county and the area that come and speak,” John said. “They take an entire day out of their schedule and come out to speak, and some wonderful things have happened with students.”
Ashley Benson, director of TRIO Student Support Services, will be a returning speaker for LeaderRichland this year.
“I think Leader Richland provides leadership, engagement, and networking opportunities to students they normally would not have,” Benson said. “Most important, they are able to build a bond with new friends that has the potential to last a long time.”
This will be Benson’s second year speaking at LeaderRichland. Her topic is bullying.
“I shared my story with students and encouraged them to be more aware and stop bullying,” Benson. “My journey shed light on the experiences of many in the room.”
John says LeaderRichland is a great way to showcase higher education and the collaboration between the schools and the colleges.
“We’re really fortunate that we have the campus that we do right here in our own backyard,” John said. “Kids can live at home, save money, and go to college and get an education. That’s not available to everybody.”