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Schuler Scholar Kiyah Harris is a leader in school and in nature

By Justin Breen

Like any great leader, Kiyah Harris doesn’t mind jumping out of her comfort zone.

That was the case recently when the rising junior at Milwaukee’s Golda Meir High School was the only student at her school to opt-in to a 10-day wilderness camp in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, where she spent several days canoeing to campsites – even though Harris can’t swim.

“My mindset was to go ahead and take the initiative, and if I’m able to do that, others will follow my lead,” the 16-year-old Harris said.

Harris is part of the first group of Schuler Scholars at Golda Meir. The Schuler Scholar Program over the last 20 years has invested more than $100 million to help more than 1,500 students throughout the Chicago area earn full scholarships and graduate from the top liberal arts colleges in the United States. The program equips high-achieving and underrepresented students to gain access to and succeed at highly selective colleges and beyond. Schuler Scholars are typically first-generation college-bound, are students of color, or come from low-income families.

The program expanded into Milwaukee in 2019 with Golda Meir serving as its first school, and the school selected its first class of Schuler Scholars in Spring 2020.

Last school year, the Schuler Scholars at Golda Meir went through the program virtually, and Harris – a rising junior – said she’s excited to see how the program operates during in-person school starting in August.

“It feels great to have a whole group of people help you in this stressful thing called school and also help you understand how things work in life,” Harris said. “[Schuler] offers so much knowledge and mentoring, and it has so many resources. It was especially helpful last school year when we were staring at a computer screen all year.”

Mandy Balek-Stephens, the School Director at Golda Meir for Schuler, said Harris is “a very driven young woman.”

“She’s always the first to volunteer to talk to younger students at our school and the first to lead when we need someone to lead us,” Balek-Stephens said. “[Schuler] has provided many support systems for her and the other Scholars, and we are helping her keep her options open and helping her along that path as she continues to excel.”

The 10-day wilderness adventure took place as part of Camp Manitowish’s Leadership Program in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin. Harris said it was “great to be outside and in nature.”

“Now I feel I can be outside and not have my phone and be one with nature,” she said. “I’m comfortable in an area that I had not been comfortable with before. It was definitely an experience.”

Harris is just starting to think about college but noted Howard University’s architecture program could be a great fit as she loves being creative with art and mixing that with a zest for business acumen.

“I’m not worried about what my purpose in life is because I know it will come,” Harris said. “I don’t want to minimize myself to one thing because I know I can do anything I want to. And I want to help people and give people advice for those who are going through similar things like me – who have lived in certain situations like me – that it’s OK to live out their dreams. I want to be a role model for them.”


Kiyah's story featured on WISN Channel 12 on August 15, 2021


Kiyah Harris at Camp Manito-wish
Kiyah with group at camp