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Landmark College Student Excels in Education

Sam Mayo smiles for the camera, sitting on a park bench. He is wearing a light blue shirt, a patterned blue tie, and navy pants. He has short blond hair.

This article was originally published in the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s 2023 annual report about Landmark College, a grantee partner of the foundation. Click here to read more content from the annual report.

Sam Mayo, a person with autism, had a significant speech impediment as a young boy. As he got older, school became more of a challenge. By junior high, he had been labeled a troublemaker. 

“His communication skills made it difficult for people to understand him,” his mother Stephanie Mayo said. “He would zone out but then come back, and Sam didn’t want to raise his ideas or questions. One teacher thought he was an incredible kid, but everyone else came down on him. That was heartbreaking.” 

Stephanie knew her son’s education was at stake, so she enrolled him in a homeschool resource center in their hometown of Lexington, South Carolina. When it was time to think about Sam’s future, Stephanie had to face a new challenge. She learned about Landmark College’s dual enrollment program from her sister, who taught science at the homeschool center. 

In 2022, the Mayos visited Landmark College to learn about the online dual enrollment program, which JSF helps fund through a matching grant. Located in Putney, Vermont, the college provides highly accessible learning approaches to individuals who learn differently. 

“I looked all over. Many schools had a department for kids who learn differently—but these kids don’t have a neon sign,” said Stephanie, explaining that not every student learns the same way. “As soon as we got on campus, I knew what Landmark was about. It was an easy decision.” 

“He was excited and also a bit apprehensive about dual enrollment, college-level education,” she wrote in an email. “[Landmark went] out of their way to make him feel heard, accepted, and understood.” 

Just two weeks after Sam started taking classes, his attitude toward schoolwork changed. That fall, Stephanie learned about the Johnson Scholarship. 

“We knew the tuition cost—we were looking at the yearly tab thinking, ‘Oh, help!’” she recalled. “The scholarship covered nearly all of the costs, and gave Sam the opportunity to get to know Landmark’s style and prepare for an actual college experience.” 

“As soon as we got on campus, I knew what Landmark was about. It was an easy decision.”

Sam is currently a freshman* at Landmark, where he says he’s glad to be near other students with autism. Sending a child to college is a big change for any parent. Still, Stephanie says she feels safe knowing her son is at Landmark. 

“For the first time in his life, [Sam] is interested in his own education and pushing himself,” she said. “We are so proud of him, and I tell him that all the time.”

 

 

Sam Mayo was a freshman at the time this article was written.

Regalia of Resilience: PBA Grad Reflects on the Power of Education

Palm Beach Atlantic grad Niang Thang smiles for the camera. She has dark long hair and is wearing an ivory blouse.This article was originally published by our grantee partner, Palm Beach Atlantic University. It is shared here with permission.

Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) graduate and Fulbright recipient Niang Thang ‘24 knows a thing or two about the importance of education—though she didn’t always believe in it. Over the past seven years, she’s seen how higher education, mentorship, and the transformative power of belief can help someone move from feeling stuck to living out their dreams.

Niang Thang lives with her parents, who are immigrants from Myanmar, in West Palm Beach. One day during her sophomore year at Somerset Academy Canyons, she dropped out.

“I was going through mental health issues, and I didn’t get my high school diploma or GED,” she said.

Thang’s parents went into panic mode, unsure of how to respond to their only child’s decision to leave school. Their solution? Pray.

“They loved and cared for me; they wanted to do what was best,” she shared. “They turned to God—they said, ‘We don’t know what to do, so the only thing we can do is trust [Him] and His will.’”

Finding Academic Renewal at PBA

A couple of years later, Niang Thang was ready for something more.

“Something sparked in me,” she reflected. “I didn’t want to continue living like that. I wanted to build a future for myself. When I turned 18, I wanted to go to school again.”

She heard about PBA from her friend’s sister, who attended the university. Though Niang Thang was reluctant to apply because of her academic standing, her friend encouraged her.

A month later, Thang received her acceptance letter.

“I was shocked, to say the least,” she recalled with a laugh. “I told my parents and they said, ‘This is God’s miracle. Despite not having a GED or diploma, you were meant to be at PBA.’”

Thang entered PBA as a freshman in fall 2020 and earned her GED a few months later, all while navigating college life during the COVID-19 pandemic. The second-generation college student says her past experiences of learning how to manage her mental health helped her thrive during the pandemic.

Thang also credits her success to PBA’s supportive community. She was particularly moved by the genuine care that faculty and staff demonstrated—especially as she entered PBA with an undeclared major.

“When I was trying to choose, I met with my career mentor, Jennifer Fonseca,” she said. “She guided me and helped me figure out my major. She had a willingness to help me.”

After diligently researching and identifying programs that best mirrored her passions and goals, Thang chose to study psychology and pursue a chemistry minor. She was also accepted into the Frederick M. Supper Honors Program.

Now, she’s the Class of 2024 Outstanding Graduate of the psychology department.

“I came into PBA as one person, now I’m graduating as another,” Thang said. “PBA had a big role in transforming me. I started with nothing—not even a high school diploma or GED—but I felt like I had such potential and big dreams.”

Thang added that she could focus on her academic and career goals thanks to the scholarships she received, including the 2024 Women of Distinction Scholarship, which gives funds to female students who excel in academics, service, and leadership, and the Johnson Scholarshipwhich is distributed to PBA students with demonstrated financial need.

“They made it easier [for me] to go to school,” she said. “My peers are worried about how to pay for school, or they’re in debt. I don’t have to feel burdened because I don’t have to work and sacrifice my grades. The scholarships saved me and my parents from that financial burden. I am honored to have been chosen.”

In addition to easing the financial pressures, the scholarships enabled Thang to get back into a full-time academic routine—which, in turn, helped spark conversations with her parents about her hopes and dreams.

“We started talking about my future and my passions,” she shared. “They were very open-minded. I would have thought that they wanted me to go into pre-med! But I was comfortable talking with them.”

Looking Ahead: Fulbright and Future Goal

This summer, Thang will embark on a year-long English teaching assistantship to Taiwan under the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Though she wasn’t initially planning to apply, a professor urged her to consider it, and she took a leap of faith. Guided by Dr. Carl Miller, associate professor of English and PBA faculty coordinator for the Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships, Thang prepared her application last semester while also applying to graduate programs.

Last month, she learned that she received the Fulbright.

“Tears started flowing; I was in utter shock. I couldn’t believe it,” Thang said, adding that these moments remind her to believe in herself. “I had dropped out, I had these mental health struggles. People would think I was a failure with no future—but there was something in me that said I knew better.”

After her teaching assistantship, Thang wants to continue her education and become a clinical psychologist.

“No matter what, I can do and achieve much more,” she reflected. “PBA is something special—I’ve never encountered people like this. These professors are investing in our lives, and their belief in me [reminded me] that I can thrive. I don’t think I would have done as well as I did if I attended another school.”

 

Palm Beach Atlantic University is a core grantee partner of JSF. At the bequest of its founders, the
Foundation distributes $1.2 million to PBA each year. The funds provide scholarships to qualified students who wish to pursue higher education but cannot otherwise afford to do so.

Lisa Loomis Joins JSF as Executive Coordinator

Julia Duresky/CAPEHART

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF) is pleased to welcome Lisa H. Loomis to its team of staff members.

Loomis joined the Johnson Scholarship Foundation in May 2024 and serves as the Executive Coordinator. In this role, she assists the CEO and serves as a key liaison between the CEO and the Foundation’s grantees and board.

Loomis previously worked at Palm Beach Atlantic University on the development team to secure funds for student scholarships through the highly respected Women of Distinction luncheon that honors local female philanthropists and annually awards scholarships to deserving female students at PBA. She also led the work of their Alumni Association Golf Tournament, which raised needed funds and distributed scholarships to over 40 students annually. She was the Executive Director of The Palm Beach Police & Fire Foundation, where she administered all the development and administrative activities of the foundation.

Loomis has called West Palm Beach home since 1994, when she joined her husband in his hometown after they both graduated from Stetson University. She and her husband are the proud parents of two daughters.