Igniting a global spark in students

“I want to take away any number of fears that may prevent a student — who grew up like me — from studying abroad,” explained Michael-Bryant Hicks ’96.

Michael-Bryant Hicks with his son Marleigh
Michael-Bryant Hicks created a scholarship to support first-generation students of color; it’s named for his son, Marleigh.

Hicks is doing just that through the Marleigh Desmond Hicks Study Abroad Scholarship Fund, which has provided stipends for seven undergraduates. The scholarship supports first-generation students of color as they participate in a University study abroad program.

Hicks, a corporate lawyer and former Fulbright Scholar, explained that the most rewarding aspect of establishing the scholarship is spending time with students.

“It’s important to be visible to those students like me — especially minority students coming from rural North Carolina who may be thinking that their challenges in accessing a college education are unique,” said Hicks, who has been a member since 2007 of the Chancellor’s Global Leadership Council, which is charged with expanding and deepening the University’s reach to people and institutions around the world. Hicks cherishes the University and continues to challenge Carolina to become an even more inclusive environment for students of color.

During a dinner with his scholarship recipients in fall 2018, he identified with a lot of the sentiments they shared —“no one in my family has ever left the country” and “no one in my family has a passport,” he said.

Coming from rural Forsyth County just outside of Winston-Salem, N.C., Hicks was the first in his family to graduate college. While at UNC, he benefited from mentors who encouraged his participation in campus life. He became involved with several student organizations: the NC Fellows Program, the Black Student Movement’s Gospel Choir and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. A psychology major, he served as a research assistant for Donald H. Baucom, the Richard Lee Simpson Distinguished Professor of Psychology.

While Hicks didn’t study abroad until he got to Yale Law School, he does credit his time at Carolina with exposing him to the importance of a global mindset.

“There were always global speakers and lectures on campus,” he said. “Carolina is a microcosm of the world, and it is important for students to seek out and access as many different backgrounds and cultures as they can.”

Scholarship recipient Savannah Baker ’20 of Kenansville, N.C., was motivated to do just that. Baker, who is majoring in political science and philosophy and minoring in social and economic justice, participated in Honors Carolina’s semester-long study abroad program in London. It was the first time she had traveled internationally. “I felt like a little fish in a big pond at times,” she said. “However, by successfully navigating this experience I was able to learn valuable networking skills and meet a new community of people who still continue to support me.”

Savannah Baker in London
Scholarship recipient Savannah Baker participated in an Honors Carolina semester in London.

Baker added that she now feels more confident in stepping outside of her comfort zone.

“At an event last semester, I reached out to a speaker who I was interested in working with over the summer,” she said. “That five-minute interaction turned into a three-month fellowship at the Carolina Justice Policy Center. I do not think I would have been confident enough to network in that way without my experience in London.”

Besides fostering a global mindset, Hicks hopes that the Marleigh Desmond Hicks Study Abroad Scholarship Fund is “helping to ignite a spark in students — a spark that helps get them on their way to pursuing experiences that may change the course of their lives,” he said.

Hicks’ passion for international experiences is something that he is now passing on to his son, Marleigh, for whom the scholarship is named. Marleigh is in sixth grade and fluent in Mandarin and Spanish.

“My son is growing up much differently than I did,” Hicks said. “He’s had summers abroad in China and Ecuador, and I see how valuable it is for him. I want all students who come from backgrounds like mine to have exposure to opportunities like these.”


By Meredith Tunney