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Outstanding Nursing Graduate Centers Career on Service

Karla Cantero-Garcia smiles with her grandmother. She is wearing a grey top and her grandma is wearing a yellow top.

Cantero-Garcia smiles for a photo with her grandmother.

Recent Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) graduate and Johnson Scholar Karla Cantero-Garcia believes she was made to serve others. After finishing high school and earning her associate’s degree through dual enrollment, she began attending PBA in 2020.

In addition to the nursing program, the Brooksville, Fla. native was drawn to PBA’s community. It was the only university that allowed her to pursue nursing while playing beach volleyball.

“Nursing is so important,” she reflected. “I think about the second commandment—to love others as you love yourself.” 

But the decision to pursue a career in nursing came from hardship. In 2019, Cantero-Garcia’s sister lost her baby during labor.

“It was really hard to go through as a family,” she said. “I have never seen someone bounce back like my sister. I knew at that moment that I wanted to be an obstetrics nurse.”

Cantero-Garcia learned about the Johnson Scholarship last year while seeking financial aid.

“I asked for help, and it fell into my lap,” she said. “College is not cheap. You already have the stresses of nursing school, so to have the finances [taken care of] reminds me how faithful the Lord is. For JSF to do that financially—while I couldnt do it on my own—means the world to me.” 

Earlier this year, Cantero-Garcia received a phone call from one of her professors, who shared more good news.

“The phone call came at a perfect time,” she said. “I was going through the loss of my grandma. We’d always talked about my graduation. She was my number-one supporter.”

During the call, Cantero-Garcia learned that she’d been elected as the 2023 outstanding graduate in the School of Nursing. 

“My heart was filled with joy—I couldnt stop smiling,” she said. “When Dr. Jane Wilson said that the faculty [chose] me by name, it was great to know my hard work was paying off.”

Cantero-Garcia credits her faith and family for her success.

My parents have always been proud of me,” she shared. “Coming from a Hispanic household, the drive was to always ‘do’. My mom would always say in Spanish, ‘Do everything as if it were for the glory of God.’ It was ingrained into my being.”

And ‘do’ she does. Cantero-Garcia has already started the master of science in nursing program at PBA. She said she’s looking forward to getting her foot in the door at a nearby hospital—or going back to school for her doctorate in nursing someday.

“Looking back, I didnt feel as if those tears or headaches from staring at a computer screen for so long would amount to something—and it did.”

Breaking Barriers: Reflections from a First-Gen College Graduate

Johnson Scholar and University of Florida grad Jaciah Rashid shares this introspective on her college journey, the road to get there, and what it means to be a first-gen college student

This article was written by Johnson Scholar and University of Florida graduate Jaciah Rashid. It is shared here with permission.

Ever since I was a child, I dreamed of changing the world. I quickly realized that obtaining a higher education was the key to unlocking my dreams, so I set my sights on college with only a vague understanding of what a difficult undertaking it would be. There was only one major obstacle standing before me: finances.

I knew that the only way I would be able to afford a higher education was through scholarships. Thus, when high school commenced, I began on a horse race to try and acquire the funds necessary to finance my education. After many sleepless nights studying the night away, I was finally able to get the scholarships I needed to go to college, among which included Take Stock in Children/Johnson Scholars (TSIC/JS) and Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship (MFOS). I also graduated as valedictorian of my high school as collateral. 

Soon after came the treacherous journey of traversing college as a first-generation college student. As soon as I stepped foot on campus, I was bombarded with collegiate buzzwords that I had never heard of, including “fraternities,” “certificates,” “tracks,” and more. At orientation, I asked the presenter if it was bad not to be “pre-med” in hopes of figuring out what this oft-heard term meant, to which I received blank stares from no less than one hundred of my peers in the room.

I could not afford the fee to bring my parents along with me. I was alone and so utterly confused. However, from then on, step by step, day by day, I conquered the uphill battle of making sense of the otherwise untrekked territory that was college. I learned about research, double majors, graduating with honors, and more. Now, here I stand at the end of my journey, on top of the mountain that is college, looking back at my journey and the trials and tribulations that I triumphed. 

I am honored to be a first-generation success story, adding my tale to a garment weaved by an ever-growing community of strong individuals who beat the odds. Within my undergraduate studies, I created a computational brain cancer model to bolster the success rate of therapies undergoing clinical trials, and I published my paper with the National Institute of Health. I was able to touch lives through a variety of volunteer work, serving as a teacher, a mentor, and a conversation partner to underprivileged elementary school students, incoming freshmen, and international students struggling to adapt to American culture respectively.

I also blossomed from a meek, anxious 18-year-old into a confident, independent young adult with a deep understanding of who I am and what I stand for. All of my experiences culminated into a successful graduation: this past May, I graduated from the University of Florida’s Honors Program with a B.S. in Biochemistry and a B.S. in Computer Science. I also graduated from the University Research Scholars Program (URSP), an opportunity offered only to the top 5% of students. I now work as a full-time software engineer in the defense industry and hope to continue my education as a part-time graduate student in the near future.

I could not have completed this journey on my own. I am forever grateful for the friends, family members, and mentors that served as an emotional crutch for me throughout the ups and downs of college. I am also indebted to scholarship organizations like TSIC/JS and MFOS that enabled me to embark on this journey to begin with. Without the support of others, I would not have been able to succeed in college.

Still, it is difficult to process how far I have come. I can recall a childhood of hiding behind the family couch, eating spoonfuls of sugar to stave off the hunger that came with chronic food insecurity at home. Now, with a newfound sense of financial stability, I have the power to provide for myself as well as those in need. As I gain my foothold at my new job, I hope to enable another dreamer, just like me, to see their aspirations come to fruition.

Before I ever realized, I find myself at a checkpoint in life. The launch of my engineering career marks my departure from the world of helplessness that marked my childhood toward a glowing future I can look forward to, and I have never been so content. As I ponder the past, I remember a little girl who cared deeply and dreamed big, and although I can never know for sure, it brings me great joy to envision that a younger me would have been proud to know what she will grow up to be.

JSF Welcomes New Chief Financial Officer to Staff

Tommy Pence smiles for the camera. He is wearing a brown tweed jacket, white shirt and blue tie.The Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF) is pleased to welcome Thomas A. Pence, Jr. to its team of staff members. Pence joined JSF in June 2023 and serves as the Chief Financial Officer. His primary responsibilities will include managing and overseeing all accounting functions of the organization.

Before joining the Foundation, Pence was a managing director in the tax department of Eisner Advisory Group (previously known as Caler, Donten, Levine, Cohen, Porter & Veil, P.A., prior to the merger) where he worked for nearly 27 years.

He is a Palm Beach County, Florida, native, and a graduate of Palm Beach Atlantic University, one of JSF’s core grantee partners. At PBA, he received his Bachelor of Business Administration. He also graduated from the University of Florida with his master’s degree in Accountancy. Tommy and his wife are the proud parents of two young children.