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Belmont Welcomes 50 Bell Tower Scholars, Largest Cohort Yet

Incoming Belmont freshman Alejandra Mercado plans to major in business administration and social work this fall, because “I want to give back to the community,” she said and help people know about the resources available to them. 

Mercado is one of 50 new Bell Tower scholars who received a full scholarship through the Bridges to Belmont program. The scholars come from 10 Metro Nashville Public Schools with priority for scholarships given to low-income or first-generation college students with the aim of transforming lives through education. The new scholars and their family members gathered recently for lunch and a program to hear more about what to expect as Belmont students later this year. 

“It’s a really surreal experience,” Mercado’s father Fernando said in Spanish with his daughter translating. “College for him wasn’t an option or wasn’t presented to him,” she said. “It’s an unexplainable feeling for him.” Mercado’s siblings – Monica, 16, and Fernando, 13 –  wanted to weigh in too. “I feel very happy for my sister,” said the younger Fernando. “Because she gets an opportunity not everyone has.”  

Mercado currently attends Stratford High School, the alma mater of Milton Johnson who with his wife Denice created a $10 million endowment to support the Bridges to Belmont initiative in 2015. Johnson grew up with a single mother and attended Nashville State Community College before transferring to Belmont on a scholarship. He later served as CEO/Chairman of HCA Healthcare and currently serves as Chair of the Belmont Board of Trustees. 

Rev. Susan Pendleton Jones, who addressed the Bell Tower scholars on Sunday, noted that she was a first-generation college graduate as well. “We are over the moon excited to have all of you here today. You’re our first class,” she said.  

“One of the first things we did after arriving here at Belmont is to work with Dr. Gage and others to expand the number of Bell Tower scholars from 34 to 50,” Dr. Greg Jones added. “We’ve got a whole community of people who will be here to help support you,” he said and help students navigate their experience “with a sense of confidence, purpose and joy.” 

Indeed, as incoming freshman Diana Hernandez waited for the program to begin, current freshman architecture major, Terrance Carey, stopped by to introduce himself to her.  

“It’s nice to have someone who already walked that road,” he said. Hernandez said she first experienced Belmont on a field trip during her 8th grade year. She plans to study fashion design. “It’s always something I’ve been passionate about since I was a kid, and I never really expressed it.” She says she appreciated how Belmont felt like a welcoming place. “I like how they expressed themselves about the unity here.”  

Carshonda Martin, assistant provost of Student Success and Flourishing, said she is excited to start the journey with all the new scholars. “This will be our first class of 50 students,” she said, “and meeting them with their families was very uplifting.” 

To be considered as a Bell Tower scholar, the committee reviews the academic performance, leadership opportunities, and financial need of each candidate. While at Belmont, scholars are expected to maintain full-time enrollment, a 2.5 GPA and 48 hours of community service each semester. Throughout their higher education experience, students have access to academic support, peer mentors, leadership and study abroad opportunities..  

To learn more about Bridges to Belmont Bell Tower scholars, visit or email 

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