Leila Champion

Leila Champion

When Leila Champion went to a Harvard University summer school program last year, between her junior and senior years at Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School, she started thinking about minority students like herself who have the mindset that Ivy League schools are out of reach. What changed her perspective was actually being on campus, a feat in itself that escapes many minority students.

So in August 2018, Champion, along with some of her summer school peers from around the country, started The Champion Project, which is raising money to pay for a week-long trip for minority students in eighth through 11th grades to visit five Ivy League schools: Yale University, Princeton University, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. The goal is to raise $17,000 for the trip taking place March 31-April 4. Champion said that amount would send 25 students. The group has raised about $2,500 on its GoFundMe page.

While anyone could quickly find information on a school’s website, Champion said it’s especially important for minority students to get on these campuses and experience it firsthand.

“So they can expand their mindset and don’t limit themselves,” she said. “They can see people on these campuses who look like them. … Seeing is believing.”

Champion said the group has reached out to Black student unions so they can meet while on campus and share their experiences. Many minority students don’t think beyond state schools and historically Black colleges and universities, Champion said, because the cost and academic standards at Ivy League schools can be intimidating. Champion’s goal is to show those students the reality of what’s possible, and she’s trying to knock down as many obstacles as she can. The group estimates the trip will cost about $650 per student, not including meals, and it has looked for hotel deals wherever possible to keep the cost down.

Ivy League schools are already highly selective — Stanford accepted 4.3 percent of applicants in the class of 2022 — but minority enrollment in many Ivy League schools is actually going up. At Harvard, Yale and Princeton, for example, U.S. minority students in all classes grew by 17 percent between 2010 and 2015, outpacing overall enrollment growth.

Champion, who has applied to Harvard and is waiting to hear back, said the plan is to turn The Champion Project into a nonprofit when she turns 18 in August, allowing the group’s mission to continue.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.


The Champion Project is trying to raise $17,000 by March 15 to send minority students on Ivy League college tours.

Donate: champion-project.com

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