Leading the Way

Students in Baylor's inaugural Trailblazer Scholars cohort reflect on a year of growth and connection

March 30, 2023

Clearing a path, paving the way, being the first to come through — it all takes grit, heart and a sense of purpose. And that’s exactly what the Baylor staff members supporting the University’s new Trailblazer Scholars Program were looking for when they selected the innaugural group of 25 scholars for the 2021-22 academic year.

The scholarship program is designed to recognize the importance of fostering diversity and mutual respect at Baylor. Trailblazer Scholars take part in leadership and service opportunities through the Multicultural Affairs Department and through other groups and programs on campus.

To apply to the program, students must be nominated by a teacher, counselor or principal, and the applicant must write an essay on their concept of racial equality and diversity in higher education. Those chosen to become Trailblazer Scholars receive a maximum of $5,000 in scholarship funds each year, which is renewable for up to three additional years.

Hailing from eight different states and with 20 different majors (48 percent of which were in Arts & Sciences), the diverse inaugural group of Trailblazers was composed of an almost even split of upper- and underclassmen. But what each of the chosen scholars had in common was a commitment to personal excellence and to fostering diversity, unity and mutual respect within their own spheres of influence as well as the wider Baylor community.

“These are young people who stand apart because they’re not only thinking, ‘What can I do for myself?’ They’re thinking, ‘What can I do for others?’”

Pearl Beverly, Director of Multicultural Affairs 

“We had 25 people coming into the program who were already committed to improving our campus through diversity and equity,” said Pearl Beverly, director of the Department of Multicultural Affairs, where the Trailblazer program is housed. “They arrived saying ‘I believe in this. I see a need for this in the world.’ So when they got to campus, they were already committed to being role models.”

And whether they enter the program as new-to-campus freshman or seniors in their final year, the hope is that the students who become Trailblazer Scholars will continue to fill that role and grow in leadership throughout the rest of their time at Baylor. That’s why — unlike some scholarship programs where funding may be offered on a year-by-year, case-by-case basis — the Trailblazer scholarship is designed to be a renewable resource for every recipient who maintains at least a 2.5 GPA and remains actively committed to conversations and initiatives advancing racial conciliation on Baylor’s campus and throughout the nation.

“These are young people who stand apart because they’re not only thinking, ‘What can I do for myself?’ They’re thinking ‘What can I do for others?’” Beverly said. “Everyone who is chosen for the program has demonstrated how they’ve done something for somebody else.”

It’s indeed a group of committed servant-leaders. But even natural leaders need a place to belong and the support of a community. And for many of the new scholars, the camaraderie and support of their fellow Trailblazers was crucial to meeting a need that may have been more deeply felt than even they themselves initially realized. 

Fall 2022 Eric Jaramillo
Eric Jaramillo

A place to belong

Eric Jaramillo, now a junior biology major who was selected as a Trailblazer as an incoming freshman, describes much of his first year at Baylor as lonely and isolating.

“Coming from my community to Baylor was a culture shock for me in more ways than one,” said Jaramillo, a Corpus Christi native. “I immediately felt alienated from an ethnic standpoint, and then just in general, it was hard to find friends. Everyone already had their own cliques.”

The rigor of a heavy course load in the sciences only added to Jaramillo’s feelings of isolation. And while he connected with his professors early-on and was excited about the possibilities in his field of study, that sense of continually being out of place left Jaramillo wondering if he should transfer to another school only part-way through his freshman year.

But Jaramillo remained at Baylor — and it was the empathy and understanding of his fellow Trailblazers and the kindness and encouragement of the program’s staff that made the difference.

“From the first Trailblazer reception, I saw other students from different races who were underrepresented on campus and were in the same boat as me and feeling some of the same things that I was,” Jaramillo said. “We not only started attending Trailblazer events together, but we would text in between, too. We  have become amazing friends. If I’m struggling with something, they’re always there to help me.”

In her 33 years of serving students at Baylor, Beverly has observed that a real sense of belonging is foundational to students’ success.

“Sometimes, in the business of the day-to-day, it’s easy to forget that we all need love and the kind of attention that communicates ‘you matter.’ We forget how crucial that experience is to our well-being no matter if we’re in a work, school or a community setting,” Beverly said. “But when you go into a space where you’re welcome and wanted enough times, you begin to believe ‘This really is for me.’”

Sophomore Morghan Golloher, who, like Jaramillo, became a Trailblazer Scholar as an incoming freshman, described joining the cohort as gaining family members away from home.

Fall 2022 Morghan Golloher
Morghan Golloher

“Coming into Baylor and not knowing anyone, the Trailblazers were there with open arms,” said Golloher, who hails from Kansas City. “We were able to discuss hard-hitting topics together, but we were also just able to get to know each other better. With this program, you’re being equipped with a cohort of people who are striving to create more equity and diversity on campus, but you’re also being equipped with a family.”

Majoring in professional writing and rhetoric, Golloher already had an appreciation for the impact clear and thoughtful communication can make, but her first year with the Trailblazers — learning from her fellow scholars and guest speakers at both program and campus events — empowered and inspired Golloher to share her own story and life experiences with others more freely.

“Seeing people from so many different backgrounds and hearing their stories boosted my confidence, and I was able to find it within myself to go out and share my story with others.”

Morghan Golloher, Trailblazer Scholar 

“When you come into college, you have so many ideas about what you want to change, what you want to do and what you want your legacy to be after you graduate,” Golloher said. “But when you don’t know anybody, it can be very difficult. Seeing people from so many different backgrounds and hearing their stories boosted my confidence, and I was able to find it within myself to go out and share my story with other people as well.”

That kind of growth — individuals being stretched and strengthened within, and, in turn, being equipped to provide leadership in stretching and strengthening the wider Baylor community — is what the Trailblazer Scholars Program is all about.

A time for growth

Throughout each school year, Trailblazer Scholars are required to attend a campus organization event, training or service opportunity from each of six areas of engagement — relationships, academic and financial education, intercultural learning, leadership development, and social responsibility.

According to Beverly, in most cases, the scholars checked off the six categories on their list earlier than required, and then went back for more.

Fall 2022 Lauren Young
Lauren Young

Lauren Young, a senior biology and French double-major from Atlanta, was one of those students. Becoming a Trailblazer Scholar as a junior, Young, who was already involved in several campus organizations, was surprised by the level of enrichment she found in participating in events recommended or required by the Trailblazer program.

“We had so many phenomenal speakers come and talk to us, plus amazing experiences and service opportunities together, that most of us Trailblazers ended up exceeding the program requirements without even realizing it.” Young said. “In the future, I hope more Baylor students outside of the program can participate in these opportunities on campus where you’re learning from other cultural perspectives, so that all students — not just students of color — can be more aware of Baylor’s demographics and what we can do to support each other.”

“We had so many phenomenal speakers come and talk to us, plus amazing experiences and service opportunities together, that most of us Trailblazers ended up exceeding the program requirements.”

Lauren Young, Trailblazer Scholar 

One of the most memorable experiences of Golloher’s freshman year was getting to hear from and spend time with family members of Baylor’s first two black graduates, Rev. Robert Gilbert (BA ’67) and Barbara Walker (BA ’67). Gollher’s cohort of Trailblazers, called the Gilbert-Walker Cohort, will be the only class of scholars with the honor of bearing the names of these individuals who courageously led the way for people of color seeking to receive an education at Baylor, a distinction that Golloher doesn’t take lightly.

“Being able to show our appreciation for Rev. Gilbert and Mrs. Walker’s legacies to their families was something that will stick with me until the day that I die,” Golloher said.

Learning more about Rev. Gilbert’s story as Baylor’s first Black graduate was also profoundly moving and inspiring for Jaramillo, who recalls hearing it the first time at Trailblazer orientation.

“When I learned what Robert Gilbert went through as student, what he endured to pave the path for people behind him to come to Baylor — that made me realize that ›
I can’t expect change to happen around me if I’m afraid to pursue it myself,” Jaramillo said. “My experiences with the Trailblazers helped me to realize not only what Baylor has to offer me, but what I have to offer Baylor. I want to be an example to people who are in the same boat I was in, and hopefully I can serve as a guide to help them know they’re not alone.”

Giving back begins now

Jaramillo won’t have to wait for the opportunity to tangibly fulfill his desire to pay forward the encouragement and support he was given in his first year as a Trailblazer. Part of the agreement each student makes upon entry to the program is a commitment to mentor future Trailblazer Scholars. And according to Beverly, mentorship is already beginning this year as the second cohort of Trailblazer Scholars joins the first, doubling the group’s size.

The goal is 25 new Scholars to be selected each year until the program reaches its cap of maintaining 80-100 Trailblazer Scholars on campus at a time.

Fall 2022 Dalshawn Jones
Dalshawn Jones

Dalshawn Jones (BA ’22), who became a Trailblazer scholar during his senior year at Baylor, has high expectations of what his former cohort will accomplish even in the next few years. Having served as a Baylor Community Leader and a student representative of the Cultural Humility committee in Campus Living and Learning, Jones spent a significant amount of his time at Baylor counseling students who were struggling.

“I saw a lot of areas where minority students felt misplaced by attending this university,” Jones said. “But with this program, I know that’s going to change because my cohort that is still there on campus is just incredible.”

“This experience with the Trailblazers opened up something in me that I’m going to be able to carry with me for the rest of my life.”

Dalshawn Jones, Trailblazer Scholar

Jones, a first-generation college graduate who is now headed to graduate school, not only plans to do his part to mentor future Baylor Trailblazers, but also plans to make his career in working to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education.

“This experience with the Trailblazers opened up something in me that I’m going to be able to carry with me for the rest of my life,” Jones said.

And what does Jones cite as the most formative part of his year as a Trailblazer? Learning from and working with the Baylor Multicultural Affairs staff.

“Being able to get advice from these amazing individuals who were down the road in their careers — I was just taking it all in,” Jones said. “They challenged my perspectives, gave good information, and helped me evolve. Honestly, they were some of my number one supporters my entire last year at Baylor.”

As much as the Multicultural Affairs staff sought to serve and support that first group of scholars, Beverly feels that the students themselves were the key guides in the successful launch of the program.

“This first group of students was just amazing,” Beverly said. “They were teaching us even as we worked to roll out the program. They showed us, in real time, what will work best for the next group.”

Leading while learning. Seems only fitting for students who have been tasked with — and feel called to — blazing the trail for an even better Baylor ahead.

Learn more about the Trailblazer Scholars Program