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Cheyney University Comes Out to Cheer Professor Hazel Spears on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" TV Show

April 30, 2014

Dr. Hazel Spears, Cheyney University psychology professor, competes on ABC's

Dr. Hazel Spears, Cheyney University psychology professor, competes on ABC's "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" show (l) while addressing the viewing audience at CU from the podium (r) during commercial breaks

When it comes to their students, college professors hope that they make a difference, but they're not always sure. Cheyney University students, faculty and staff came together Wednesday, April 30 in Duckrey Social Sciences Auditorium to cheer on Dr. Hazel Spears and let her know that she, indeed, makes a difference. The beloved Assistant Professor of Psychology competed on the ABC show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire on April 29 and 30.

Dr. Spears, who taped the shows in October, made the viewing party a fun affair, even handing out fake money and chocolate coins to those in the audience. In the end, some of those fake bills were exchanged for real money which the educator doled out to those with winning marked counterfeit cash. During the commercial breaks she talked about the experience and introduced people who supported her along the way.  

As the coach of CU's varsity Honda Campus All-Star Challenge (HCASC) team which recently returned from the national "brain games" competition in California, Spears is used to trivia games.  But playing leisurely vs. up against the pressure of a nationally televised audience, are, as Spears said, two entirely different things. "It's totally different," she said. "Your mind can't think clearly.  Everything looks right. It's a whole lot of pressure."

CU alumnus Sharon Coleman, a 2008 Cheyney graduate and former varsity HCASC team member, urged Dr. Spears to audition for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire when the show came to New York looking for game show contestants.

"Sharon is a Cheyney Honda Campus All-Star Champ who went to Orlando to compete with our team. It's a highlight of her life," Spears shared. "Knowing I continued to coach the Cheyney team, she sent me all the details of when and where to audition in New York. I finally took Sharon up on it last summer. I wanted to put myself through the same pressure our Honda Campus All-Star Champs go through in their grueling competitions."

Spears actually got the call to be on the show during a Honda practice session last fall. When she went for the taping, another Honda former All-Star was waiting to go on and he actually went on to win money, too.  "Just goes to show you how so many things are connected in this world. We all just love finding out about things in the world, and Honda and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire turn that love into a winning enterprise for so many lovers of knowledge."

Spears says doing the show wasn't at all about the money. "It's about believing in yourself enough to take a chance on winning big, on a game show, or in life. You can't win if you don't play," she insists. "I'm on (the show) because of Cheyney students and the opportunities Cheyney provides for people to expand themselves and what they do."

The effervescent Spears was thrown some tough questions and progressed fairly well through several rounds. She didn't stand in silence, figuring out the answers. Instead, she gesticulated a good bit and talked out loud-- reasoning and weeding out answers. Cedric the Entertainer, host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, enjoyed ribbing Spears about the people talking in her head, asking her if her psychology students understood which person in her head they were talking to, sending the audience into ripples of laughter. The Cheyney students who attended were quite disappointed when she had to use a lifeline to answer a question about deceased rapper Biggie Smalls which they easily knew. While students shouted the correct answer to the projection screen, they watched Spears give up and finally resort to polling the audience.  Holland Culbreath, a veteran HCASC team member, hung his head while jokingly teasing her about it.  Then, he threw his arms around her, told her how proud he was of her, and gave her a big hug.

Always the good sport, in the end, Dr. Spears won $15,300 and, as promised, gave Coleman and Cheyney each 5% of her winnings.  "Being on Millionaire was a dream that turned into a reality for me because I wanted to be a better Honda coach for Cheyney's team. It's just amazing to me that often in trying to help our students dream big dreams and reach more of their potential, we end up learning to do that ourselves."

Cheering her on from Duke University was CU junior Travonya Kenly who is wrapping up a scholarship-funded semester studying in the North Carolina school's marine biology laboratory.  Dr. Spears coached Kenly on last year's HCASC team and for her recent appearance on the television show The Black College Quiz Bowl, where the 20-year-old ecology major came in 2nd place, winning $3500.

"She is a great supporter and she gives a lot of encouragement," Kenly says. "She is a very intellectual woman and I'm very proud that, after coaching us in all of our scholastic competitions, she went on to compete in the big one!"

Spears will receive her winning check in one month and may use some of it to remodel a bathroom in her home. The memory of the experience, however, that will last for a lifetime.