Roland Gainer keeps the images of two important letters on his phone and pulls them up whenever he needs a reminder of where he has been and what he has accomplished.
One is his acceptance letter from the University of Michigan. The other is the denial letter he received a few months earlier.
Gainer is not the typical Michigan undergrad. He is from Marcy Projects, a public housing complex in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood that was also the childhood home of Jay Z. And while he was a bright kid, he never took school very seriously.
His path changed when he was selected to participate in an intensive mentoring program created by his high school’s faculty members. Gainer credits the program with giving him a new outlook on his future and guiding him toward college.
After high school, he enrolled at a university in Rhode Island to study business. He said he’s not sure why he chose the school except that it was close to home and a friend was also attending.
“I had this sense that I didn’t really belong there,” Gainer said.
He reached out to his high school teacher – the same one who had started the mentoring program a few years before – and asked for advice. The teacher was living in Detroit and shared information about Michigan-Pursuing Our Dreams (M-POD), a program created by the U-M Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives that allows students to attend nearby Washtenaw Community College for two years and then be considered for admission at Michigan if they meet specific requirements.
So Gainer left Rhode Island, moved to Michigan, and enrolled at WCC.
Gainer’s first application to the University of Michigan was rejected. It was a setback, but only a momentary one.
He applied again and was shocked when, at an M-POD open house at U-M, he was offered admission on the spot.
“I almost started crying – I was ecstatic,” said Gainer, who began attending U-M as a psychology major and entrepreneurial studies minor in the winter 2016 semester.
“I just called my family and said I was in. I did it.”