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Tribal Nations & The United States: An Introduction

Johnson Scholarship Foundation founder Ted Johnson Sr. believed strongly in supporting Indigenous people. Since 1992 Johnson Scholarship Foundation has been supporting scholarships and programs at tribal colleges and other Native-serving institutions. The goal is to catalyze economic development for Indigenous peoples by investing in entrepreneurship and business education and investing in capacity building for business and entrepreneurship in Indigenous communities.

Native American Heritage Month is a fitting occasion to share some information about tribal nations in America. The National Congress of American Indians published an update in February, 2020, to its publication, “Tribal Nations & the United States: An Introduction.  It provides an overview of historical and current information on Native Americans, including a section on economic development.

Here is some data from the report:

  • The need for sustained economic growth is critically acute in most Native communities across the country. On reservations, 39 percent of Native people live in poverty – the highest poverty rate in America.  On-reservation employment is highest in education, health care, and social services, followed closely by public administration.
  • Agriculture is a major economic, employment and nutrition sector in Indian Country, including 60,083 farming operations accounting for $3.33 billion in total sales.
  • Native-owned small businesses have grown over the last 30 years and are significant contributors to the growing tribal economy. Much of the growth is due to the Small Business Administration’s Business Development Program.
  • There were 272,919 American Indian and Alaska Native-owned businesses in 2012, a 15 percent increase from 2007.

Read the entire report at the National Congress of American Indians’ website here.


Angie Francalancia is a communications specialist with Johnson Scholarship Foundation

Bucking the Trends and Building a Bridge to Success

As the Great Resignation continues to make headlines, let’s take a moment to celebrate a young man committed to a job he has held since finishing high school. Traveon B. of Dallas has worked with Aramark Uniform Services for over four years. Traveon’s Aramark tenure is especially impressive when you consider that young adults hold on average five to six different jobs between the ages of 18 and 24, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Traveon

When Traveon was 20 and a student at Multiple Skills Magnet Center, a Dallas vocational school where he took classes to learn how to work in a commercial laundry, he enrolled in the Bridges program, which helps young adults with disabilities prepare for and connect to competitive jobs aligned with their interests and abilities. Program staff from the Bridges program knew that Traveon would be an ideal candidate for a job at Aramark Uniform Services, where he would work as part of a large team that loads, sorts, washes, dries, and presses tons of laundry processed at the facility every day.

Dallas Bridges Director Rob Mollard says, “Traveon is one of the best workers Aramark Uniform Services has ever seen. He uses DART public transit for his daily commutes to the Aramark facility near Love Field, and he never misses a day of work. He has accumulated so much paid time off that his supervisor recently made him take a vacation.”

Now 25, Traveon is a seasoned Aramark team member, working full-time with benefits and earning a competitive salary that represents a significant contribution to his family’s overall household income. Traveon even helps train and orient new Aramark employees, showing them how to navigate the large warehouse facility that processes truckloads of laundry from area hospitals, universities, and cafeterias. “Traveon is such an asset that Aramark has recently hired another participant from the Bridges program,” says Mollard.


Allen Brown is a grant writer and communications lead with Bridges From School to Work, a grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

 

Helping Tovino Get One Step Closer to Dream Job

The following article is one of a series on Ability Partners from MDI, a grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation, It is shared with permission.

During National Disability Employment Awareness Month, MDI is saluting people who’ve stepped ahead, above and beyond in the name of equitable opportunity and employment for people with disabilities.

Meet Dave, CEO, Arrowhead Medical

I’m an entrepreneur, and Arrowhead is a small business with just 11 employees—but it’s a complex company that competes against billion-dollar organizations. And we come out on top—even during the pandemic. Our advantage is that we have people who get it done, whatever the job is—and then our growth comes about naturally. We’re able to be honest with our customers, and put heart into creating an ethical path in doing business.

I’ve learned a lot running my own companies. I know now that with perseverance, you can get through anything. And that the small stuff in a business is really critical to success. You can’t ever overlook anything that could be done better. I’ve learned to have empathy for both my employees and my customers. When a leader doesn’t have empathy, that’s a bad path for your business. And also how important it is to hire people with heart, who want to learn and get it done—that’s critical for growth.

I was there when my goddaughter was born. I’ve watched her mature over her life, dealing with life with a disability, and now she’s 34, works independently, lives in assisted living, joined the Y. It’s made me look at people very differently than most, because I can see who they are as an individual. I always look for the heart in them.

Tovino, center, with Dave at right, and a fellow coworker at Arrowhead Medical

So because of my relationships with my goddaughter and friends with kids with disabilities, I realized I could use my business to do some good and hire people who were truly seeking an opportunity to work—and for reasons bigger than a paycheck. If you can become more open in how you can help individuals who just need a smidge more patience or support, your business can benefit greatly, and in ways you wouldn’t expect.

Hiring people with disabilities requires thinking ahead a bit. You look at an individual and see where their talents are. You sort out how to help them develop the skillsets that will fit their duties. And after that, they can develop into roles that lead to more responsibility, setting goals for when they’re looking for more. It benefits everyone at my business, helping all of us feel like we’re growing in everything we do—not just building the bottom line but doing something more.

 

When I met Tovino, I thought, he’s got a big man’s body, and a big heart that goes with it. When you think about your own career and your path from a first job, we all had a little help from a wonderful manager. And that’s what I wanted for Tovino: someone who works together with him, helps him hone in on his duties and get better at those—and I think it’s worked out really well.

His ability to grow and develop has certainly been seen in his time at Arrowhead. Now when I put Tovino on a project, it’s not just that I want him to be successful as an employee. I want him to be a successful man, and have the abilities he develops help him move forward with his life.

Meet Tovino, Operations 1, Arrowhead Medical

Tovino, working at Arrowhead Medical

My choices have lead me to where I am today. I learned about a company called MDI through school. I heard they employed people with disabilities. So, I applied for a job at MDI – and got hired! I gained experience folding boxes and keeping things organized. After a while I was ready for a new challenge. MDI helped me get a job at Arrowhead Medical. When I started working at Arrowhead, I was excited to start something new, but I was worried people would look down on me, or not be good enough for the job. But Arrowhead’s the best.

I [at Arrowhead] put stuff together, I deliver to customers, and I get to meet new people. I’m learning a lot about tools, which is exciting because down the road, I want to go to college and be a mechanic—that’s my goal. I don’t have a favorite thing about working there or a favorite person—everything is my favorite. Thanks to these opportunities, I now have hope and the support to make my dreams happen.

Read the entire series on Ability Partners at this link.


MDI is a non-profit social enterprise manufacturer that provides inclusive employment to individuals with diverse abilities.

A Deaf Student Follows the Call of the Ocean

Nicholas Hohrman is a junior from Minnesota majoring in Biology at Gallaudet University, a core grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation. He did an in-person internship at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) in Juno Beach, Florida, where he worked with sea turtles. He hopes to pursue a master’s degree in Oceanography. Because of the pandemic, he decided to seize the opportunity to intern and take online courses from Gallaudet simultaneously for six months. He shared this report about his experience.

 I did my internship at Loggerhead Marinelife Center for the past seven months during the pandemic while doing my online courses. I was able to do this because the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s support meant I could move to Juno Beach, Florida. These past seven months have been a great experience for me and I have learned a lot about sea turtles.

Also not only the sea turtles but I was able to learn what research was like. My supervisor was Deaf too, and working with her was a great experience because I never had that opportunity before. Working with the team was great because they were motivated to learn sign language while working with me and my supervisor.

While working at LMC I was able to learn and help out with data entering on the beach. We had to be on the beach very early in the morning; therefore, I had to be there at 5:45 a.m. to get everything ready before we could go on the beach. I would get the GPS, the turtle nest stakes, saddle bags, and make sure the ATVs had gas.

When arriving at the beach we would write down the time and start looking for the crawls on the beach. Crawls are the marks that sea turtles make when they come on the beach to nest. Some will nest, but some are false crawls, meaning that they didn’t nest. We sometimes got over 200 crawls on the beach so we would be on the beach until late afternoon, and it was a great experience because when we felt super-hot and needed to cool down we would go and jump in the ocean to cool down. It was fun to do that! Sometimes there would be down-pouring rain, therefore we had to keep going to make sure we were not missing any of the crawls.

After I had been working a few months at LMC on the beach, hatchlings were getting ready to hatch and head into the ocean. Then we would check for any tracks of hatchlings from the nest. How did we know where the nests were? We had to mark some of the nests. We do not mark every nest because if we did it would cover pretty much the entire beach, and people wouldn’t be able to sit. We have numbers that we follow that count down so that we would mark every 34th nest.

After 80 days when the hatchlings hatch, we would count how many eggs hatched or didn’t hatch. That is how they were able to get a percentage of how many hatched. Interesting fact is that if the sand is hot, that means that there will be more female sea turtles and if the sand is colder, then that means more male sea turtles. So that is why global and climate change is a big thing for the sea turtles and other mammals.

Also while I was there I was able to volunteer at the conservation center at LMC, which included working with sorting trash and entering data into their database. It was very interesting to learn how much trash washed up on the beach. We would find trash from different countries.

The past seven months was a great experience with LMC and working with my supervisor who is Deaf. I would totally recommend to the future students to take this opportunity with LMC and get the experience.


Nicholas Hohrman is a junior majoring in Biology at Gallaudet University.

A LEAP Ahead for Hearing-Impaired Students

One of the challenges teenagers who are deaf and hard of hearing frequently face is connecting and interacting with other teens with hearing loss. If not addressed, that challenge can lead to isolation and a lack of self-confidence. A new program of The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) called LEAP (Leadership Experiences and Adventure Program), established with the support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, helps high school students who use Listening and Spoken Language connect virtually with peers just like them. The program is led by adults who are deaf and are achieving their potential. LEAP helps teens become more self-aware while acquiring capacity in leadership, self-advocacy, technology, work and life skills. Students who participate in LEAP learn more about themselves and their personal strengths and are excited to see how they can use their strengths to develop and achieve their future goals.

AG Bell has hosted three LEAP sessions so far this year in May, July, and September. To date, 87 students registered for LEAP from 21 different states and 6 different countries. Each session offered 5 ½ hours of engaging and informative interaction led by Catharine McNally, AG Bell’s past president, as well as six additional facilitators who are graduates of the long-standing LOFT (Leadership Opportunities for Teens) program, which strengthens leadership potential in students with hearing loss. Participants worked with facilitators in small group sessions where they connected with each other on a more personal level, and more easily engaged in self-exploration and discussion.

Guest speaker Ceil Weatherman, a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, used the students’
“homework” of completing the Clifton Strengths Assessment to highlight the strengths of each student and the value that each brings to social, education and work environments. LEAP teens learned that people in their “strength zones” experience positive energy, are more likely to achieve their goals, are more confident, perform better at work, experience less stress and have more positive moments. Keeping their strengths in mind, the teens explored how their personal strengths can help them use technology more effectively, advocate more efficiently and plan for the future.

At the end of the two-day, virtual session, students were asked to share what they learned. Here is what a few of the students shared:

 “I learned when a person uses his Clifton Strengths, he is more successful at work and/or school.” (Anonymous)

 “One thing I plan to do differently now that I have done LEAP is advocate for myself more.” (Rachel, age 16)

 “[The Mentors] were amazing and showed us how we can be successful in the future.” (Anonymous)

 “I just wanted to thank AG Bell for choosing me for this LEAP program because it made me a better person and gave me a confidence to embrace my hearing loss.” (Leah, age 17)

“I learned that I am not alone in my hearing loss journey and that to get the best experiences I apply my values and strengths in everything I do in life.” (Anonymous)

“How to advocate for myself.” (Paul, age 17)

“I plan to use my hearing equipment in different and more creative ways.” (Anonymous)

“Use our strengths to discover our interests.” (Kiana, age 15)

“[I’m] inspired to pursue my future career by using my strengths.” (Nathan, age 15)

Through the generosity of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and other supporters, LEAP is offered free of charge to high school students. Six sessions will be scheduled throughout 2022, offered every other month. AG Bell offers placement of up to 50 students per session with a goal of 350 total participants. For more information and to apply to attend LEAP, please visit www.AGBellLEAP.com or email us at LEAP@agbell.org.


Julie Schulte is the Teen Programs Coordinator for the AG Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Racing to Your Life Calling

One of my fondest memories as a child was career day in elementary school. On that day, everyone dressed up like the person they wanted to be like when they grew up. I remember one year I wanted to be a NASCAR driver. My mother dressed me up in a race suit and a cardboard box that she managed to make look like a race car. We then had the opportunity to go out to the bus parking lot to meet the people we wanted to be later in life.

When I arrived at Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) as a transfer student, I had come a long way from wanting to be a NASCAR driver. I had my sights on becoming a youth pastor. However, I had no idea that was about to change, thanks to some people with a special heart for helping others.

Johnson Scholarship Foundation creators Theodore R. Johnson and his wife, Vivian Chesley Macleod Johnson, recognized the importance of helping people who were less fortunate, and so did PBA’s founders. One of PBA’s longest running traditions is Workship. This term was created by Doris Moody, the wife of PBA’s founding President Dr. Jess Moody. The Moodys believed that students who have been called to PBA were also called to be servant leaders in their community. Doris had combined the words “work” and “worship” because she saw the volunteer work in our community as a form of worship to the Lord. As a faith-based institution, PBA believes that one of God’s commandments is to serve and love others. Students learn how to respond to the needs in the community. Today, as the director of Workship, I have an opportunity to help students use their volunteerism as a way to discover their life-callings.

Johnson Scholar Judson Crawford, Assistant Pastor of The Tabernacle Church Kevin Jones and Workship Director Nathan Chau in 2019.

Johnson Scholar Judson Crawford was one student I had the pleasure of mentoring through the Workship program. He came to West Palm Beach from rural Georgia to study psychology, and the Johnson Scholarship helped make his PBA education possible. He quickly became involved with the Rosemary Village Afterschool Program in partnership with The Tabernacle Church. Through this program, Judson worked with inner-city youth. He helped them with homework and taught them important life lessons. The children who participated looked up to Judson as an older brother. He was the strong and positive male figure that so many of the children were missing in their lives. Judson saw the positive impact that he had with the children. 

As an educational institution, PBA shares the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s conviction that education is the best means to empower people. Judson’s PBA education in psychology empowered him to empower the families served by the Rosemary Village Afterschool Program. Because of his education, Judson understood why the children acted the way they did, and he communicated more effectively with them and their parents. In 2018, the Newman Civic Fellowship recognized Judson for his work with the Rosemary program, naming him a member of the 2018-2019 cohort. Judson’s volunteer work and psychology studies eventually led him to a career in law enforcement. Graduating in 2019, Judson landed a spot with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.

It is stories like Judson’s that inspire me in my work. When I arrived at PBA in 2011, I thought I would be on a church staff after graduation. Instead, I discovered that student ministry could be done as a teacher, mentor, or even working alongside volunteers. I fell in love with PBA and did not want to leave when I graduated in 2013. When the opportunity arose to work with the Workship community service program, I took it! Here I am, over eight years later, loving every moment of what I get to do for the students and my community.

When students step foot on campus, we want them to dream and explore their interests. Our hope is that they discover their life-calling through their experiences and are recognized for their hard work. Judson was one of many Johnson Scholars at PBA who discovered his dream career through his community service.


Nathan Chau is director of Workship at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He graduated from Palm Beach Atlantic with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication in 2013 and a Master of Science degree in Leadership in 2016.

Medical Mentorship: Creating Space at Dalhousie

The following article first appeared on Dalhousie University’s blog site of the Global Health Office and is shared with permission.

Kwe’! My name is Mercedes Stemm, and I’m a Mi’kmaq woman born and raised in Natoaganeg (Eel Ground) First Nation, New Brunswick. I’m in my last year of my Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Indigenous Studies. Since 2019, I have been the Program Assistant for the Indigenous Health in Medicine (IHIM) Program within the Global Health Office. In my position, I am part of many different projects, events, committees, and initiatives. In addition, I had the wonderful opportunity to create my own program. Upon arriving at the Global Health Office, the Director asked me what I believe Indigenous students interested in medicine need to succeed at Dalhousie. I was tasked to explore ideas about potential new supports and programs. After discussions with colleagues and friends, a proposal was developed to create a mentorship program. The program proposed to connect Indigenous medical and health professional students with Indigenous undergraduate students aspiring to become health professionals. After a year of planning, we were able to pilot this program in September 2020 with the Bachelor of Medical Sciences program and in collaboration with PLANS (Promoting Leadership in health for African Nova Scotians).

This pilot mentorship program is part of a larger collaboration between Dalhousie University and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF). The Foundation is based in Florida but has many ties to Nova Scotia. Last year it partnered with Dalhousie on a matching gifts program to help Indigenous and Black Nova Scotian students pursue studies in health care through pathways programs. It committed to match up to $1 million in donations to Dalhousie over five years. This collaboration has allowed Dalhousie University to advance our commitment to ensuring Indigenous and African Nova Scotian students participate in education and careers in the health professions.

The creation of this Pilot Mentorship Program is to establish and enhance connections for Black and Indigenous students with other Black and Indigenous students, faculty, and/or professionals by providing guidance through academic and professional development. Increased supports have been shown to improve completion rates of programs, decrease student stress levels, and increase self-efficacy.

The main purpose of this program is to reduce and eliminate barriers to underrepresented students exploring their full potential as learners. The Faculty of Medicine was responsible for organizing the mentorship match between the student/mentee and mentor. Student mentees who were matched with a mentor were then encouraged to take leadership in the relationship to ensure that they were able to get the most value from their experience.

The pilot program consists of five undergraduate Bachelor of Medical Sciences students in their first or second year of study. They were matched with mentors in their last year of their Medical Science degree, medical students, and graduate students. The structure of the program consists of relationship building, skill-building through workshops, and celebration through events. Workshops do not only focus on skills development, but also cultural knowledge and engagement. The program has space for online discussions and reflections, and students have one-on-one time, both with mentors and program coordinators, to discuss topics and ask questions.

The overall goal of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation Mentorship program is to increase representation of Indigenous students in medicine through recruitment, community collaboration, and partnership. This mentorship program will help achieve those goals. Our hope is that students will come out of the program with lifelong connections, knowledge, and supports.

Read more about Dalhousie’s Medical Mentorship programs at the following links:

Medical Mentorship Part 1: Ottawa Supports Indigenous Student Success

Medical Mentorship Part 2: Student Perspective

Medical Mentorship Part 4: Professional and Cultural Connections


Mercedes Stemm is Program Assistant for the Indigenous Health in Medicine Program at Dalhousie University

The Changing Face of Philanthropy

This past June I was watching a virtual conference session and heard someone say there is only one Native person on a private foundation board. Interesting I thought!  I knew it to be untrue because 1) I serve on a private foundation board with 11 other Native people – and 2) I know a number of other Native people who currently serve on private foundation boards.  This led me to do a very quick research project over the next week to find as many Native people on private foundation boards as I could.  I was moderating a panel at the RES 2021 Summit in July – the Changing Face of Philanthropy:  Native people and Native foundations, and it would be useful information.

In that study, which was not exhaustive in any sense, I found 28 Native people serving on 13 private foundation boards.  I also identified nine Native people serving on the boards of seven community foundations.  And five Native people currently serve as the CEO or Executive Director of either a private foundation or community foundation.  WOW!  Definitely more than one Native person!  I focused this effort on private and community foundations and on the boards to show that there are a growing number of Native people in these philanthropic leadership positions.  Are there enough?  Absolutely not.  Should there be more?  Absolutely. Is change happening fast enough?  Change never happens fast enough.

Johnson Scholarship Foundation Board of Directors and staff

I have 40 plus years of working in Indian Country and 35 years of working with philanthropy to look back on to see that change has occurred. When I went to my first Council on Foundations conference in the late 1980s – as a presenter – there was nary a person of color representing a foundation board and only a handful of staff.  That was the birth of Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) which sought to increase the number of Native people in the field and to bring attention to the amount of philanthropic funding going to Native causes and organizations.  I was asked to join my first private foundation board in 1993, the Hitachi Foundation, one of three I’ve served on over the past 28 years, including currently, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation since 2006, and the Native American Agriculture Fund, since it was launched in 2018 as the largest Native private foundation.

Where real change is occurring is in Native non-profits raising funds from foundations, corporations and other donors to re-grant to Native causes and organizations.  In my little research project I identified 11 Native funds, starting as far back as 1977 up to the present day.  I’m sure there are more of these as well.  This doesn’t include the “community foundations” or “funds” set up by tribes from enterprise funds or other sources of revenue, or the Alaska Native Corporation Scholarship Foundations funded by corporate revenues, or the Native scholarship organizations, or those set up specifically about philanthropy like NAP and Native Ways Federation.  Just think of the growing cadre of Native people serving on these boards and as staff who are adding significantly to expertise in Native philanthropy.

I’ve been in conversations recently with others about this being a “moment in time” for change.  From the social unrest of 2020 and growing attention to equity, diversity and inclusion in both the public and private sector, change is happening faster, opportunities and doors are opening in more places, and more resources are available for social justice.   Will this continue?  It should and it must.  It will continue to change the face of philanthropy.


Sherry Salway Black is Vice Chair of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation Board of Directors.

An Interview with Neasha Prince, Founder of FAU’s First and Proud Organization

Neasha Prince, a recent graduate of Florida Atlantic University, was a first-generation scholar who founded FAU’s First and Proud Organization in partnership with FAU’s Office of First Generation Student Success, a grantee partner of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. We talked with Neasha, now a first-year law student at St. Thomas University College of Law, about the First and Proud Organization and the Office of First Generation Student Success and how both were instrumental in shaping her college experience.

AF: Tell me how First and Proud came about.

NP: I went to FAU in the Fall of 2017. I was able to go to FAU because of the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars program. I was one of the first four to receive it. I said to myself, there’s definitely more than four first-generation students that need assistance. I had a friend I knew who was first-generation but she wasn’t a Kelly/Strul scholar. By the spring of my first year, we were having conversations about First and Proud.  It began in early 2019.

Neasha Prince with a First and Proud Club panel.

I spoke to Ron Oliver, (then-Director of the FAU First Generation Student Success Office) about this idea, and he said, ‘Just go for it.’ Next thing, I’m meeting with other first-gen students to be a part of the board. And within the first semester, we had about 1,000 members.

AF: What were some of the activities you put in place?

NP: The best thing we put in place was really just talking to our members. Every person has a different first-gen story. You might be first-gen but not first in your family or you might be first-gen from another country. With first-gen students, there’s no guidance at home. We never had a family member to help us go through what we’re going through.  At school, you figure at least I’ll get some guidance.

We had a lot of events, a lot of panels talking to our students. Also, we worked a lot to go back to our members to find out what they needed the most – how can we help you on a professional scale. Once we were able to establish some lists of needs, we worked to see if the university could match that for us. A lot of our first-gen students don’t have the ability to network, so we created a workshop where we had a lot of well-connected people who spoke to our members. And these were people that were also first-gen. Some were from FAU, but we also made connections that our director had at the time, so it exposed our members to these opportunities for networking. First and Proud is not like any other clubs at school. You’re actually partnering up with the University for an array of career opportunities for students. We’re giving them the opportunity to change the trajectory of their careers.

AF: Did First and Proud Change the trajectory of your career? 

NP: Very much so because of all the connections I made through it. During undergrad, I had two internships, one in social media marketing at BBC International in Boca Raton. Also through connections I made at the university I was able to gain an internship with Kellogg’s Information Technology Department in their Division of Project Management. My scholarship was able to cover my housing and lodging costs for going out of state for the internship as well. It was a wonderful experience. I got to meet a lot of interns from across the world. We had an opportunity to build an app for our client, the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. That really broadened my perspective and made me think of larger ways to accomplish my goal of helping my community.

AF: What advice do you give other first-gen students?

NP: The advice I would give, first and foremost is to not be afraid to put yourself out there. We can get very scared to put yourself out there and miss out on opportunities. The best advice I can give is, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and just be a sponge, soaking up as much as possible. I always said ‘Yes’ to opportunities. The only time I ever said ‘No’ was if something was going to conflict with a commitment I already had made. You never know when an opportunity can lead to another opportunity.

AF: The resume you’ve developed in just a short time seems like a testament to that.

NP: That’s true. After I graduated, I paired up with AmeriCorps and had an assignment in Connecticut at the Great Oaks Charter School as a STEM tutor for eighth graders. After that I moved back home and I had landed a job as a social worker for an after-care program at the Firewall Centers in Fort Lauderdale. My job was making sure every home of the kids in the program had the resources the kids needed.

AF: How did you decide to go to law school?

NP: During my final year at FAU, I was approached with the opportunity to go to Israel. It was the Maccabee Task Force Black Student Leaders Trip. During the trip, I met a lot of Black students who had gone to HBCU schools. When I went, I was at a crossroads as far as what I wanted to do. I was surrounded by a lot of individuals who were profound in who they were and where they were going. All I knew was that I wanted to help my community and be a voice for my community. I just didn’t know what that looked like. The trip taught me what it really means to make effective change in impoverished communities. Being a lawyer was the only career avenue that I felt could accomplish that for me for the rest of my life.

When I came back home that December, I spoke with my mentor and said, ‘Change of plans. Let’s figure out how to do this.’ So while I was in Connecticut I was working on my LSAT and my admission applications. That’s when I got admitted and accepted.

AF: You mentioned your mentor. Tell me more about the role of mentors for first-gen students.

NP: Well mentors are key. For myself, I wanted to be sure I was being guided by the right person. My mentors were absolutely inspirational from the fact that they understood who I was as a person, who I was growing to become. They understood that sometimes I get stuck in my head, wrestling with who I wanted to become. My senior year I had an amazing mentor. She was very relaxed but also nurturing. At First and Proud, we encourage mentors. We were in the process of developing a mentoring plan so our members understood how important a mentor is. We wanted to create a mentoring initiative. Mentors truly do make a difference in how we view our lives. You connect with that mentor on a different level – on a professional level.

AF: Anything else you want to add about First and Proud?

NP: Toward the end of my senior year – the pandemic year, I was approached with the idea of creating a foundation in association with the First and Proud organization. So we launched the First and Proud Foundation in May of 2020.  It’s a sister organization with a mission to raise funds for first-gen students. Oftentimes the first response you hear when trying to help first-gen students is the need for money. So that’s the goal. It’s my personal baby that I’m working on. We have launched, and we have been raising funds. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to allocate those dollars. Our focus with the foundation is trying to create a pipeline where we find as many first-gen students as we can and recruit them to FAU, but even if they don’t choose FAU, we want to provide them with a whole lot of resources prior to their entrance to college.


Angie Francalancia is a communications specialist with Johnson Scholarship Foundation

 

 

From Stroke Survivor to Scholar

The following article was written for UCF Today News and is shared with permission. Johnson Scholarship Foundation works in partnership with the Student Accessibility Services office at UCF and all the schools in the State University System of Florida to provide scholarships to students with disabilities. 

In her final semester at UCF, Alex Dixon was finally able to complete a task that most college students take for granted: reading a textbook on her own. For the graduating early childhood development and education major, walking across the stage for commencement with her peers this summer seemed like it would take a miracle a decade ago, instead of her consistent hard work.

When Dixon was 10 she caught pneumonia, which triggered a rare malfunction that caused her brain to start attacking her body. She recovered from the infection, but continued to battle pain, muscle spasms, contortions and loss of function for two years as she visited specialists around the country who could not figure out what was wrong. By the time she entered sixth grade she started to use a wheelchair. At 12, she underwent a deep brain stimulation procedure as a last hope to find a solution, but while she was anesthetized she had a stroke.

“It was incredibly frightening,” says Juli, Dixon’s mother and a professor of mathematics education at UCF since 2000. “The stroke damaged the part of her brain that was killing her, but there was quite a bit of collateral damage as well. As she was coming out of her coma, we were told she might be in a vegetative state. It’s been very slow progress over time, but she returned.”

Alex Dixon holds her graduation mortarboard bearing the words "teachers change the world" and "class of 2021."That collateral damage includes being partially paralyzed on her right side and legally blind — able to see only half of anything straight on. Before Dixon became ill, she was a happy, healthy child who took gifted classes, played piano, loved art and wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up. After her stroke, she had to relearn every aspect of her life, from normal bodily functions and academics to who she even was. It was in that relearning process that Dixon found an interest in teaching.

“I want to work in a preschool setting with students with and without disabilities and special needs, hopefully in an inclusive setting,” Dixon says. “The first few years of life are so valuable to build a base of the education and play so kids are excited about learning and develop the positive mindset toward it that will help them persevere later on.”

With the support of her family and her own determination to improve, she slowly regained functions such as walking, talking, and completing schoolwork. Throughout middle school and high school she had an aide help her get to and from classes and help her complete her assignments. When Dixon came to UCF in 2016, she no longer needed an aide, but throughout her time here she’s used Student Accessibility Services for support.

“They helped me be as independent as possible,” Dixon says. “I still had trouble reading in the beginning and even now sometimes, so they gave me different technology, like reading software on my computer. They helped me get a notetaker and smart pen to capture what my professors were saying, a reader for tests and extra time if I needed it. It gave me the opportunity to show what I knew because I had the resources.”

Read the rest of Alex Dixon’s story at UCF Today.


Nicole Dudenhoefer is a content producer for UCF Marketing and a 2017 journalism graduate of UCF.