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Reflections of a Recent First-Gen College Grad

I recently said in a graduation speech, “transitions are hard, especially when navigating terrain no one before you had the tools to map out.” This one sentence encapsulates my entire first-gen experience. Growing up, I was taught to see value in my education, to view it as an opportunity to be better than my circumstances—an “out.” For a long time, I did not have the language to describe myself as first-gen. All I knew was that my mom never went to college, and while I understood how this fact impacted my everyday life, it didn’t mean much to me outside of that. I wasn’t introduced to the world of first-gen until my first year of high school after being approached by a guidance counselor attempting to recruit me into our Johnson Scholarship Program (now Take Stock in Children/Johnson Scholars Program). So this is a full-circle moment for me. That chance encounter changed my life, and I am beyond grateful for it.

When it finally became time for me to apply to college, I suddenly realized how little I knew about the process. Everything I “lacked” was put on display, and I found myself having to be vulnerable in ways I didn’t expect, and at times it was discouraging and overwhelming. Fortunately, I had a program like Take Stock providing me with resources and guidance during the application process. In the end, I only applied to four colleges, the University of Florida being one of them. UF was my first choice. I had never visited, but I knew that it was the place for me, and clearly, UF felt the same because I was accepted and soon after received a full-ride scholarship (thanks, MFOS!).

Although I was excited about this new opportunity, my transition into college was far from easy. I remember constantly telling myself to “embrace change.” That was easier said than done. By the end of my first semester of college, I had changed my major from zoology to English and had already dropped two classes. For a while, I felt like I had given up on myself, on my childhood dream. I labeled myself a quitter whose “failures” were a genuine reflection of my capabilities. Obviously, this wasn’t true, but the unfamiliarity of my environment was getting to me, and I fell into the trap of only seeing myself as a diversity quota. It’s easy when not many people look like you.

I had forgotten about my accomplishments despite my adversity. I had forgotten about my perseverance and strength. My experiences with imposter syndrome, anxiety, and fear were fueled by systems I continue to fight against, and the harsh labels society puts on you when you grow up living and looking like me. When you are “othered,” you hear many things about yourself; you are called many names, stereotyped, and forced into boxes, so you are easier to digest—all attempts to make you feel unworthy and not good enough. However, my mother has always told me that I do not have to answer to the names other people call me because I define who I am. Not my circumstances, not other peoples’ projections, me. This sentiment helped me remind myself that I can do anything I set my mind to.

I often wonder if 18-year-old Yasmine would be proud of who she has become because I had a lot of dreams that did not come to fruition. However, standing on the opposite end of four very long years, I could not be happier and more sure of myself. During my time in college, I have had the opportunity to mentor first-generation college students, give tours to prospective students and their families, write for UF’s first Black student-run magazine, pick up minors in anthropology and African American studies, conduct and present research, start a podcast, make life-long friends, and more importantly, learn the importance of living and being present for the things that matter to me.

Yet, none of this would be possible without my support system. I would not be the woman I am today without the people who have sacrificed for me, mentored me, poured into me, encouraged me, showed me compassion and love, and have seen me before I could even see myself. They are my reminders that the space I take up matters, that the things I do for others matter. I stand on the shoulders of giants, and I am proud to be a reflection of them. They have made the biggest difference in this journey.


Yasmine Adams, a Machen Florida Opportunities Scholar, is a recent graduate of the University of Florida.

Nothing is Ever Truly Out of Reach

The Florida Alternative Breaks program at the University of Florida brought students to Palm Beach County during spring break where the college students mentored students in the Take Stock in Children/Johnson Scholars Program. Amy Albandoz, a Machen Florida Opportunity Scholar, another Johnson Scholarship Foundation grantee partner program, wrote this piece for JSF about her experience. 

When I was young, I was surrounded by the phrase “Follow your dreams.” It was everywhere in my childhood. We were encouraged to pursue our passions from day one, were told that the only thing limiting us was ourselves, and that “The sky’s the limit!” But for some reason I never truly felt included in these celebrations. I felt like I did have limitations, that I could not be who I wanted to be, all because of where I came from.

I came from a single immigrant mother who had two kids and was doing her best to make ends meet. My brother was older than me and was helping make sure that we were taken care of, but when he passed everything changed. At the age of 13, I was thrust into a position I felt like I could not handle. I had to make sure my mom was okay, that she was not overworking herself, all the while making sure that I was doing well in school so that I could get a good job when I graduated and take over.

Dreaming was not really an option for me. Of course, there was a part of me that wished, but reality always won.

However, my bleak outlook changed when I heard about Take Stock in Children. All of a sudden, the wishing became a part of reality – my dreams were no longer fantasy but were within reach. I became surrounded by people who were like me, others who felt excluded from being able to follow their dreams. Take Stock in Children offered me a life safety rope, and I took it.

Take Stock in Children is so much more than just a scholarship. It is a resource and a community of people who do not just tell you that you can achieve anything, but actually show you that you can, and will help you get there. My college success coach and mentor were instrumental in helping me apply for college, and they did not let me stop there. They encouraged me to push further, and keep applying for scholarships, one of which was Leaders for Life. Before becoming a part of the Take Stock family, I would never have thought of applying for it, much less actually doing so. That type of scholarship was simply not for people like me. However, Take Stock showed me that I could dream that big and that I should take a leap of faith.

That leap of faith is what landed me here, as a volunteer in Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars’ Florida Alternative Breaks trip. That leap of faith is what took me back to settings that remind me of home, surrounded by people who remind myself of me. I chose to volunteer because it represented an opportunity to give a portion of myself back to the community that raised me. It was a chance to inspire someone in a way that I wished I had been inspired as a young adult. It took me a while to realize exactly how far I could go, and if I could help even one person realize this now, then I would be happy.

Our group of volunteers worked closely with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and the Take Stock in Children of Palm Beach County to visit schools and work directly with students. Our goal was to help them realize their potential and answer any questions they might have had. We shared our stories and connected with everyone through a series of games that got us moving and enjoying ourselves. We were able to engage with students, while also making sure that they are aware of exactly how far they can go with the support of the TSIC/Johnson Scholars programs.

We also provided some great tidbits of advice: Make use of the resources that are offered to you. Understand exactly what something entails and take full advantage of the opportunities. These resources are here specifically for you, to help you get to where you want to be. Make sure to utilize them.

Also, find a mentor. A mentor can help you in so many ways from navigating something new, to finding jobs, and learning about new interests. You can find a mentor in anyone and having a safety net is extremely helpful. But also know that forming this type of bond takes time and dedication. Putting yourself out there is a start, but make sure to take an interest in what your mentor is doing as well. Everyone needs encouragement. In the same way that I volunteered to help students I also volunteered to help myself. You are as much of a mentor as you are a mentee.

But inspiring and helping others is not the only reason I decided to volunteer. I also wanted to learn from the students we were working with. Each of these groups was filled with individuals with similar stories to mine, and I wanted to hear about what kept them going, and about what they dreamed to achieve. I learned something from every group we worked with. I learned about compassion, dedication, ambition, and about growth. Even though the time we shared with the students was short, I felt inspired by every personality there. I am very glad to have had the chance to connect with everyone, and I am excited to see what the future will bring for them.

My biggest takeaway from the trip is that while it may feel like something is not meant for you, nothing is ever truly out of reach. If you apply yourself, look for the opportunities, and give it your all, you could very well end up in the place you were dreaming about. All it takes is a leap of faith and a dream.


Amy Albandoz is a University of Florida Machen Florida Opportunity Scholar.

 

Embracing My Truth as a First-Gen College Student

The Florida Alternative Breaks program at the University of Florida brought students to Palm Beach County during spring break where the college students mentored students in the Take Stock in Children/Johnson Scholars Program. James Agan, a Machen Florida Opportunity Scholar, another Johnson Scholarship Foundation grantee partner program, wrote this piece for JSF about his experience. 

As I wake up at 8 in the morning already stressed about the meetings I have to plan and homework I have to do, I ask myself, Why am I doing this?  However, I quickly dismissed my doubts as this is my moment — my magnum opus. The summation of all my struggles and strenuous work into one singular moment. I am finally at college.

My name is James Agan but that isn’t me, I am…
• The Executive Board Member of Tau Kappa Epsilon
• The Ambassador of Chomp The Vote
• The Data Analyst at the engineering lab

I live my precarious life through my positions because it gives meaning to my daily life. If I’m not working on something, then what am I doing with my life?

When I got an invitation to the Florida Alternative Breaks (FAB) trip to go and serve the local community in South Florida, details were sparse, but nothing compared to a free opportunity to play another role, so I immediately said yes.

When we first started the trip I was initially disappointed. I envisioned painting buildings or pulling weeds and instead, I got a trip to the beach and the movies? That uneasiness set in.

But I figured it out, this was a networking opportunity! If I make connections with these people I could get more involved on campus and get more positions. So I went above and beyond on this trip making sure I left a lasting impression on these people. I made myself into the perfect mold of what I thought I should be as a FAB participant, and I crafted my plans down to the letter.

Nothing could have prepared me for that classroom.

As I walked in I felt my nerves kick in. It had been so long since I last taught a new group of students. I pushed them aside though as I was James the YMCA Camp Counselor. I had plenty of experience with these situations: the teaching skills, the speaking skills, and the personable nature.

That didn’t matter.

I directed my fellow peers to go chat with the students. It was incredible! The students were so energetic to speak to my fellow participants on the trip! But, then we switched over to my overcomplicated master plan. We had a specially designed questionnaire that tied into a panel portion. The energy plummeted instantly. I was so confused, I planned this out so thoroughly and had the necessary skills. It should have worked. Why wasn’t it working?

So we stopped doing the panel and let the students start answering the questions. They spoke of their ambition through their work effort all in an attempt to go to college. They spoke of their passion that has motivated them to be where they are today.

Through their responses I got my answer: Being First-Gen is a label, not a role. There are no operational guidelines. There are no requirements or expectations. There’s just passion and ambition. The passion to thrive and the ambition to succeed.

I could never teach them how to be successful because they all have their own unique paths they will carve for future generations to follow. I could only speak to them from our common traits: passion and ambition.

That night I had one question on my mind that I knew I needed to answer before I could continue this trip: What motivates me?

We went to another school the next day and I scrapped the whole master plan for something different — something real. We would instead start the meeting by having all of the FAB participants tell their stories to the students so we could speak to them on a personal level. We were here trying to be role models for them after all. We needed to get real with them.

Yet, I didn’t know where to begin. My story is a disconnected blob of titles. How could I tell a story from that?

Then I heard my peers talking about their personal lives. Sharing that scared me. But it was what my story was — not the make-believe roles I play for different organizations but who I was and what I stood for.

As each person spoke it got closer and closer to my turn. Every fiber of my being was telling me to turn back. Every possibility and doubt ran through my head. However, as I stood there I realized that belief is a truth mightier than any reality.

That is my story.

You see, when you come from nothing, everyone wants to call you something. That was the constant pressure as a first-generation student. So I was the kid who challenged anything and everything he could to prove he was worth something. I believed in myself when no one else would, and I believed in them too.

When I spoke to the students, I taught them that being first-generation is an advantage, not a disadvantage. There are no predetermined paths of what they should do. Only they get to decide that.

Most importantly, I reminded them that they are human beings — not human doings. I admitted my greatest flaw was trying to always prove myself and that I lived through my roles. The only thing people remember you for is who you are, not what you did.

That one reminder was meant for them and me. In the following days, I began focusing more on my story to help them find confidence as first-generation students.

Now in my daily life, I try to lead a path forward for other students like me, and I’m carving a path for future generations.


A student posing in front of a mural.

James Agan is a University of Florida Machen Florida Opportunity Scholar.

Career Launch: The Missing Piece in My Job Search Puzzle

Career Launch alum Anthony Melena shares how the program helped him get his job search on track. Perkins School for the Blind is a grantee partner of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, and this blog post was shared from Perkins with permission.

I used to think that getting a job was easy. Graduate high school, go to college and voilà, a job would be granted, simply because I’d sat through four-plus years of sleep-deprived lectures and never-ending assignments. Boy did I have a lot to learn.

In 2019, I graduated from UCLA with my BA in sociology. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of employment, but I was sorely disappointed when I still found myself unemployed nearly two years later. The job applications had become fruitless exercises that I forced myself to complete weekly, and the rare interview that I did manage to get seemed like nothing more than a tease by the time the Zoom call was ending.

Of course, the Covid pandemic was a huge reason that everything came to a standstill for part of that time, but as the country began to reopen, there was nothing more frustrating than to hear things like, “There are so many jobs, and nobody wants to work.” Well I did, and whatever I was doing to achieve that goal needed to change, because my stubborn determination was slowly but surely turning into a bitter disconnect in the process.

Ever heard the saying “It’s not what you know but who you know?” It’s quite true.

I had dismally failed when it came to tapping into the only thing that keeps us from ending up on these self-made islands of hopelessness: the people around us. It was the missing piece to this dreary puzzle.

On a whim, I began looking for opportunities to talk to anyone about my situation. And why not? I had wasted so much time trying it on my own that, at this point, I was willing to put messages in bottles just to have conversations with someone other than myself!

That’s when I came across Career Launch and the Perkins School for the Blind.

The Career Launch program promised to teach blind and visually impaired adults the skills and the training for employment in the spectrum of customer service. This included industries such as retail, human resources, health and technology, and even the medical field.

More important to me, however, was the notion that someone that answered my call, and was offering to walk with me through the process of finding the meaningful employment that I had been searching for since graduating from UCLA.

It was better than I could have ever imagined. During the intensive eight-week program, I learned everything from Google Suite and lessons on the fundamentals in business, to improv lessons and job simulations to help me be as prepared as humanly possible, and know how to proceed when the right opportunity came along.

It had been a long time since I had felt that kind of support outside of my home. Every step of the way, every lesson felt like music to my soul, and just what I needed to find the confidence that had been eluding me.

Now, I am happy to report that I have found a job that I love. I learned a lot about myself these last two years – undoubtedly the most important being that we can’t do everything alone.

Career Launch is offered through a residential program and a virtual program. The next session of the virtual program will begin this fall. There’s also a Business tech bootcamp. The next Business tech bootcamp takes place this summer. Learn more about all the Career Launch options by visiting the website or contacting Perkins.


Anthony Melina is a graduate of Perkins School for the Blind’s Career Launch.

Access Academy Raises Success Rate for Students With Disabilities at UNF

Access Academy is a learning strategies program for students with disabilities offered by the Student Accessibility Services (SAS) Center at the University of North Florida. Access Academy offers “Boost” sessions based on tenets of the Strategic Instruction Model (SIM) created by the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. Boost sessions focus on learning strategies in writing, memory, and test taking, as well as notetaking and studying. Boost sessions for life skills include time management, stress management, and self-advocacy. Along with these areas, two career strategies sessions focus on resumes and interviewing, disability-related employment law, and workplace accommodations. Boost sessions are three weeks long with an hour of in-person class time each week.

Access Academy originated in 2011 serving just a handful of students in its first year. Thanks to the support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, the program has grown greatly in scope and scale. Over the last three years, students have successfully completed 833 Boost sessions in the content areas mentioned above. Access Academy is offered to students at all levels from freshmen to doctoral. Emphasis is placed on engaging incoming freshmen with disabilities to start their college career with the supports they need to be successful.

Continual program evaluation is vital to the success of Access Academy. Quantitative and qualitative data are analyzed each semester to continually improve Boost sessions to best fit the needs and goals of SAS students. Over the last three years, students who participated in at least three semesters of Boost sessions had a GPA of 3.31, compared to a GPA of 3.08 for SAS students who did not participate. During this same time period, Access Academy participants graduated from UNF with a 3.32 GPA, compared to a GPA of 3.17 for SAS students who did not participate, and a GPA of 3.21 for all UNF undergraduates.

These comparisons are correlational but show a trend of Access Academy participants maintaining higher GPAs than their comparison groups. Every Access Academy participant is required to complete an end of course survey to provide anonymous feedback about their experiences in their Boost sessions. Students’ feedback is reviewed each semester to guide content revision and instructional strategies that best fit the students’ needs and goals.

Covid-19 impacted all of us greatly. The Access Academy staff believed that the program was too vital to cease during UNF’s mandatory remote time. Students needed programmatic supports more than ever. The program staff worked diligently to convert all the previously in-person Boost sessions to an online instructional model using UNF’s Canvas Learning Management System. In retrospect, building online versions of the courses was paramount to sustain the program during remote times, but also has offered the possibility of creating new ways to make Boost sessions more accessible to students and create pathways for new teaching methodologies.

We are looking now to the future of Access Academy. Our instructional model is currently getting a facelift to ensure that every minute is valuable learning time for our students. We are incorporating a flipped classroom model to begin in August 2022. A flipped classroom is a model of blended learning that combines online and in-person learning environments. In this model, students will study the learning materials using our Access Academy Canvas modules before their scheduled in-person sessions. During the in-person sessions, the Access Academy facilitators will work with students in one-to-one and small group settings to apply knowledge obtained from the online modules to real world applications. As an example, a student will learn about time management strategies in the online modules. The student will then attend their in-person Boost sessions to receive coaching to implement their preferred time management strategy, so it is personally meaningful for their goals. We believe that this will make learning more efficient and dynamic by reinforcing the material learned in ways that can be tailored to the individual student’s needs. With the continued support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, we are excited about the future of Access Academy and the students who will benefit from this program during their time at UNF and beyond.


Dr. Rusty Dubberly is Director of UNF Student Accessibility Services.

‘Last Dollar Aid’ Helps Students Cross the Graduation Finish Line

Nativity Prep’s Last Dollar Aid Program has continued to be made possible by the generosity of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. The Last Dollar Aid program provides tuition assistance to alumni in college who face gaps in scholarships and expected family contributions. Since its inception, Last Dollar Aid has an incredible impact with a 94 percent graduation rate, far higher than the national average for similar demographics.

Each year the Graduate Support team works extensively with alumni who are seniors in high school and in college to support them in a variety of ways. Alumni who are entering into and enrolled in college can apply to the Last Dollar Aid Program. If accepted, they must maintain a set GPA, be in regular contact with our Graduate Support team, and attend at least two Nativity events per year.

Here are some highlights of two Last Dollar Aid recipients:

Allen is a current senior at the University of Massachusetts Boston who has taken advantage of much of what UMass has to offer. He shared that Last Dollar Aid helped make it possible for him to take part in an amazing opportunity – Recalc Academy’s Finance Accelerator program, a 7-week program for students from diverse backgrounds to receive expert training on skills needed for banking, consulting, and private equity. Allen is exploring his options in the finance world and recently landed a job offer at UBS.

Isaiah is a recent graduate of Framingham State University where he studied finance. Isaiah returned to work with the Advancement Team at Nativity before landing a job at JLL, a real estate and investment management firm.  For Isaiah, the importance of Last Dollar Aid was not only financial but kept him in touch with Nativity for support to persist in college.

As we continue to empower and support boys from Boston in pursuing elite high school and college educations, we are grateful for the incredible support from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.


Brittany Yapp is Associate Director of Annual Fund and Communications at Nativity Preparatory School.

 

Customized Online Programs Bring College to Neurodiverse Students Everywhere

Almost a decade ago, Landmark College, which exclusively serves neurodiverse students, launched an online Dual Enrollment program, enabling neurodiverse high school and gap year students to obtain college credits without moving to the rural Vermont campus.

Leaders at Landmark knew it was a vital link for students with neurodiversity such as a language-based learning disability, ADHD, or autism. Then COVID-19 hit, and everyone learned the necessity of effective online learning.

Through a five-year, $1 million grant with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, Landmark College is expanding its program to reach more neurodiverse learners, particularly those with financial need who otherwise wouldn’t have access to Landmark College. The college’s goal is to quadruple the number of annual participants.

Originally, there was some doubt that neurodiverse students would succeed without face-to-face instruction. However, Peter Eden, Ph.D., and President of Landmark and long a champion of the dual enrollment initiative, saw it from a different perspective.

“Some would say, ‘I cannot travel 3,000 miles to a rural campus in Vermont.’ And some students were studying online at other colleges without the support that Landmark could provide,” he added.

“Like every college, we needed to provide courses that are web-based,” Eden said. “Because we are a college that focuses on students with neurodiversity, we needed to craft and engineer them in a certain way.” That means fewer students in each class, an instructor who understands neurodiversity, and extra support for the students.

When the program started in 2013, there were about 25 students enrolled. By the 2018-19 school year, that number had grown to 179. Last semester with the aid of scholarship dollars, there were 195 students participating from 23 different states, and the cohort included 4 international students as well. By the end of the school year, Landmark anticipates that number will be 323 students. In the next four years, Landmark College aims to increase the number to 1,000.

Today, Landmark’s dual enrollment program is one part of a full complement of online programs that enable neurodiverse students to begin their education with Landmark College while still in high school, and then support them online regardless of their physical location. COVID-19 did not cause their creation, but perhaps hastened it, Eden said.

“COVID aside, Dual Enrollment allowed us to grow some of our programs both upward and outward,” Eden said. “And of course, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation has been wonderful supporting our dual enrollment program.”

The other online programs, now grouped under the LC Online brand include:

  • College START, an online program that creates a foundation and a pathway for students to develop learning strategies and build the skills needed to grow strengths in and out of the classroom setting. After completing this one-year online experience, students can go on to earn an associate or a bachelor’s degree at Landmark College or another institution.
  • Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program – a key strategy to increase access to higher education for neurodiverse students who learn differently is having educators at all levels who are trained to recognize the needs of neurodiverse students. The post-baccalaureate certificate graduates can personalize education supports for neurodivergent students and connect them to programs like Landmark College’s Dual Enrollment program.
  • Webinars and online workshops for educators and parents with up-to-date information and research-based practices for supporting students with learning differences (LD) such as dyslexia, ADHD, or autism.
  • A 5-day Online Boot Camp during summer for recent high school graduates or current college students to gain a better understanding of their learning styles and shift the way they think about their learning strengths and challenges.

Learn more about Landmark College and its online programs at https://lconline.landmark.edu/


Angie Francalancia is a communications specialist with Johnson Scholarship Foundation

Important Tips to Landing an Internship: How to Outshine the Competition

You know you are unique. You know you are qualified. And, you also know you need an internship! But how can you set yourself apart from the thousands of other college students who are also applying for summer and fall internships? Below are some tips to help you as you prepare for interviewing.

Know Thyself
The first thing I suggest students do is think about three things they want to make sure the interviewer knows about them before the interview concludes. These might be personal traits, or perhaps an accomplishment. This could be something like they ran a marathon. While not related to a professional internship, running demonstrates transferable skills like dedication, commitment, and perseverance—all qualities employers are looking for, and not something many candidates have probably ever done. Identifying in advance what you want the interviewer to know about you not only helps you feel more in control of the interview, it also allows you to showcase what makes you distinct from other candidates.

Know The Company, The Position, The Interviewers
This is something many students forget to do, but it is vital to outshining the competition. With what is widely available on the internet there is no reason why a student can’t find valuable information to demonstrate their knowledge of the company and industry. I strongly recommend students not only familiarize themselves with the organization’s website (mission, culture, clients), but also source news articles, both in favor and opposition of the company. Additionally, find reviews by employees or even potential interview questions on sites like Indeed or Glassdoor. Lastly, Linkedin is a great site to look up information about both the company and employees who have LI profiles. One recent candidate learned through LI that one of her interviewers enjoyed dancing as a hobby, so she made sure to mention that in her interview. That may just have been the thing that got her to the second round!

Practice, Practice, Practice
The research actually suggests a minimum of five mock interviews to sufficiently prepare a candidate. The STAR Interview Method is what we use in our mock interview sessions. STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Skilled interviewers ask behavioral based questions which ask a candidate about past experiences to determine future performance. These types of questions generally begin with “Tell me about a time when,” or “Describe a time that you. . . .” The STAR Method helps students to brainstorm in advance the answers to these types of questions, while allowing them to provide succinct and specific examples that show tangible results. Using the marathon example, one could identify several behavioral based questions that the marathon could be an answer to, such as: “Tell me about a time you overcame an obstacle?” “What would you say are some of your strengths?” Or “Describe a time when you had to manage your time well.” Once the questions are identified, writing out one’s STAR answers will help them shine like a star in the interview.

While many individuals are nervous before and during an interview, following these three tips will help one to feel more confident and prepared. You may not be the only star in the room, you just need to shine more brightly than the others; these tips will help you do just that!

Bonus tips: If interviewing over video, create a nice backdrop/background. If the video interview is recorded make sure to smile and respond enthusiastically. Watching monotone recorded videos is sure to put the reviewer to sleep, so display controlled enthusiasm.


Jennifer Fonseca, M.Ed., is Assistant Director of Career Development at Palm Beach Atlantic University, a core grantee partner of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

 

Making Disability a part of the DEI Discussion

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is at the forefront of every talent management strategy. During 2020, companies found themselves facing significant challenges with respect to DEI and determined they needed to re-examine efforts on race, equity, justice and opportunity.

Yet one element of diversity is frequently left out of most DEI conversations – disability. Disability employee engagement is a gap companies are only just beginning to explore. A review of 10 years’ worth of data from companies around the globe showed stark differences between employee engagement of people with disabilities as compared to those without. But most significantly, it revealed how little data existed. While 90 percent of the companies said they have diversity initiatives, only 4 percent included disability in their diversity programs.

Global Disability Inclusion, in partnership with Mercer, the world’s largest human resources consulting firm, is launching a groundbreaking climate and culture survey focused on employees with disabilities and their workplace experiences.

The goal of the survey, known as Amplify, is to provide companies with valuable insights into the work experience of both people with disabilities and those without, allowing them to improve policies, programs and procedures to create greater equity in the workplace and ultimately improve climate and culture.

“Companies are unaware of the employment experiences of people with disabilities because disability is too often left out of the broader diversity conversation,” said Meg O’Connell, CEO and Founder, Global Disability Inclusion. “What we created is a new survey that asks disability-specific questions. It will incorporate questions for both the person with disabilities as well as people without disabilities so that the entire culture at a company can be measured.”

The survey will launch on Feb. 14, and there’s still time to register.

The survey includes everything from experiences on leadership, for example, “Senior leaders promote diversity and inclusion,” to achievement, such as “I have the opportunity for advancement in my company,” to identity and disability inclusion, which looks at whether people are comfortable disclosing their disability status and whether accommodations are provided.

“The majority of disabilities are invisible, whether it’s mental health, neurological, or a learning disability, and most people don’t disclose their disabilities if they have them,” O’Connell said. It may be surprising that likely 15-20 percent of the employee population could identify as having a disability, she added. “We want to help create a better culture of inclusion where people aren’t afraid to talk about their disability status or ask for an accommodation. The opportunity to impact what is likely 15-20 percent of the employee population is monumental.”

For more information about the survey or to have your company participate, contact O’Connell at info@globaldisabilityinclusion.com or visit Amplify | Global Disability In (globaldisabilityinclusion.com).


Meg O’Connell is Founder & CEO of Global Disability Inclusion, working with companies, foundations and non-profits to provide strategic direction, design and implementation of disability employment and inclusion programs.

 

The Girl That Lived Her Life with Two Personalities

Angie Pleitez is a student at Santaluces Community High School in Palm Beach County, Florida, and a member of the Take Stock in Children/Johnson Scholars Program. Below are excerpts of an article she wrote as part of the program. 

Hello. My name is Angie Pleitez and I would like to share my story, the story that made me realize to always be grateful for everything that happens to you, whether it’s good or bad. Ever since I was little, I was depicted as the person in my family that could be different from the rest. My parents always reassured me that I was going to be the one in the family to make a difference and rise to the top. They always told me that I had the opportunity that no one else in my family had, which was to get a full education and be someone important in the world. I am the daughter of two immigrant parents who risked everything to give a better future for their child. That’s a huge amount of pressure to put on someone, but I didn’t think much of it when I was younger. I just thought of myself as just another child that played outside and hung out with her friends. What I didn’t know when I was younger was all the actions happening behind the scenes.

To start, when I was little, I had to stay with a babysitter most of the time because my mother worked from the morning to the night and my father would work from the morning to past midnight. Sometimes they would barely get sleep because when they came home, they still had to take care of me. From the time and effort they put in their laborious jobs, they were able to afford my school supplies, my backpack, after-school care, all necessary components for me to have the best school experience. They always praised me for getting good grades, which gave me boosts in my confidence and self-esteem. I was on the honor roll and earned recognition for my intelligence. I was always very proud of my intelligence and perseverance at such an early age. It continued this way all the way up to 5th grade. It was getting to that point where my life was going to take a sharp turn, which was my teen years.

I was scared that I was taking a huge step in my life. I’ve never liked change ever since I moved away from where I grew up when I was 7. I didn’t want to accept the fact that I was going to be in a different environment and going to be experiencing something I’ve never experienced before. My parents tried to reassure me that everything was going to be okay; that it’s just another phase of my life that everyone goes through as well, but I already had the idea instilled in me that things would go downhill from here. My middle school years destroyed not only my academic achievements but my self-worth. I was at my lowest point, and I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone. I was especially hesitant to tell my parents because I didn’t want them to know their “star child” wasn’t shining as bright as before. As time passed by, I could feel that I was slowly starting to lose myself. I felt unhappy and unmotivated all the time, and I didn’t care for most things anymore. I felt numb and I felt like I wasn’t living a life anymore – at least, not the life I wanted to lead. I was willing to do anything to take the pain away which would have led to life-threatening consequences. I’m glad that I stuck around because I later on realized that the pain doesn’t last forever and that things get better, maybe not right away but they eventually do. This is when I found the Take Stock in Children/Johnson Scholars Program.

The program opened my eyes to see that I still had an opportunity to turn myself around. It felt like this program could be my chance of getting out of this dark place I was heading into. I found it as I was entering high school, and I can honestly say that it turned my life around for the better. I felt myself getting my academic achievements back and the joy of feeling proud of myself back. I felt like I had a purpose again, a purpose to keep going and continue to always do better than the day before. I started doing better in school and got recognized for all the great things I was doing. I felt my parents grow happier and their pride for me grew. I talk to them about my future and college and they can’t help but be so overwhelmed with happiness. Yes, there are many obstacles that try to knock me down to the position I was in before, but I grew out of that point in my life and I don’t ever want to go back. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, no matter the circumstances my family and I go through.

The Take Stock/Johnson Scholars Program, my family, and the friends who actually want the best for me have helped me realize that life is worth so much. I can create a great future for myself if I want to. I can go to a great college if I want to. I have a chance that not many people have, and that means so much to me.


Angie Pleitez is a Junior at Santaluces Community High School