Key Connections helps guide underrepresented students to graduation


Projections Key Connections made for the graduating class of 2021 based off the increased successes graduating class of 2019.

Chris Bright reporter

Since receiving a $1 million grant from Key Bank in 2017, the Key Connections program has worked to ensure the success of minority students on Kent State’s campus.  

“I think Kent State proved to serve as a really good case to say ‘if we can put some resources behind our underrepresented students we would be able to close the graduation gap,’” said Melanie Jones, director of Academic Diversity Outreach. 

Key Connections operates with the primary goal of ensuring that marginalized students successfully navigate through their four years of college.

“We help you make graduation happen,” Jones said. “That’s really what the goal is to put it plain and simple. We do everything we can in the space of your academic need, in the space of your financial need, in the space of your personal and professional needs. We try to stand in the gap and help you fill in the gap to get to completion.” 

Students in the program complete success plans to help them determine who they can reach out to for help with their own personal goals they’d like to reach. These plans ensure that in students’ toughest moments they have a plan in place to fall back on. 

Key Connections also offers students in the program financial assistance for their academic needs. Specifically because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many students face new financial challenges.

“You find students whose struggles might be a little bit deeper,” Jones said. “Because not only am I trying to acclimate to online classes, but I have to figure out how I’m going to pay my rent, and I don’t have my books. So that where Key Connections steps in to try to assist students in removing some of those financial barriers.”

Senior Margie Tamblyn joined the Key Connections program her sophomore year. Tamblyn soon graduates from Kent State and recalls the impact Key Connections had on her during her college career. 

“I feel like I’m more confident and connected to things on campus,” Tamblyn said. “I know where I need to go, and to speak up and ask for resources. Even to reach out to people around me, because there are people around you if you’re looking for them and you have someone to support you in this.”

As of this spring, Key Connections will have successfully helped close to 300 students earn a bachelor’s degree. Whether by assisting with financial or educational needs, Key Connections will continue to leave a lasting impact on Kent’s underrepresented students. 

“We don’t do it for you,” Jones said. “It truly is about helping students discover their untapped potential and putting the resources in front of them and saying that you already dream big, here’s a roadmap to do that, here’s folks to help you make that happen. Now we want to see you cross the finish line.”

Chris Bright covers diversity. Contact him at [email protected].