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Behind JSF’s Mandate of Service: The Individuals Who Serve

She was too choked up to talk. I couldn’t see her face because I was sitting behind her on the stage. I really wasn’t sure if she would stand at the podium in silence, fighting to catch her breath or ramble for ten minutes. Either way it wouldn’t matter. She had the undivided attention of everyone. It was not for the promise of an inspiring message, nor the VIP status bestowed on her at the event. Neither the highest-ranking public official nor the gifted keynote speaker would come close to garnering the focus of the students in the audience as she would. She commanded the grateful reverence of those in attendance because of the genuine relationships she had built with them over the years, and you could see it on their faces.

a woman standing at a lectern with a man in the background behind her

Wanda Kirby, who is retiring from the Palm Beach County School District, receives a hand with lowering her microphone from colleague Gbolade George during the Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children graduation ceremony earlier this month in suburban West Palm Beach, Florida. Photos by Coastal Click Photography.

Wanda Kirby had served these disadvantaged high school students through the Palm Beach County School District’s Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children Program, and many of them had reached this graduation milestone because of her work. Tonight, she was retiring.

Foundation work can sometimes feel removed from the people we serve. The stewardship of our organization through committee service, letters of inquiry, applications and reports does not directly connect us to the individuals we serve … but the Wandas do.

It’s a common denominator we find in many of our grantee partners – individuals whose personal investment is almost immeasurable, except in terms of graduations, college acceptances, job offers, and personal growth of the young people they’ve assisted.

I think of Dr. Leslie Pendleton, who leads University of Florida’s first-generation student success program. She knew that first-generation students needed guidance not for their academics but for life outside the classroom.

Paul J. Adams III, executive chairman and founder of Providence St. Mel School, says “It’s not rocket science” about the success of the 42-year-old school on Chicago’s west side. Maybe not rocket science, but an undying commitment to high expectations, accountability, strong curriculum and good instruction.

J. Curtis Warner, Jr., was the founder and architect of the Berklee College of Music City Music Program. The program brings inner-city middle and high school students from Boston to Berklee for a collegiate experience and mentoring. The program is now being replicated around the country.

Our partnerships with grantees link us to the people we serve. Our work is most effective and fulfilling when we view it through the lens of that service to people.

The work of Wanda Kirby, Leslie Pendleton, Paul J. Adams III, J. Curtis Warner, Jr. and so many others reflects JSF’s mandate of serving disadvantaged people at its best. In the JSF family, we have all had the experience of seeing first-hand the fruit of that service.


Bobby Krause is CEO of Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

Valedictorian: Grateful for the Experience of Having Failed

Hana Ali is a Johnson Take Stock Program participant graduating this spring as Valedictorian of Lake Worth Community High School. On her way to attending the University of Florida, she’s picked up numerous scholarships, including awards from the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties, the Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Teamwork USA, and the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars. She wrote this personal statement as part of the Johnson Take Stock Program.

I slid down so far that my legs were not even on the chair anymore. My heart pounded wildly. The minute hand moved at the pace of a snail. I was in science class, and I was in shock. I had just failed my assessment. I could barely comprehend the idea of failing because I had always done well in school. Growing up in my Caribbean household, academic success was a necessity so I could go to college, which is something my parents had not been able to do. At first, I felt that failure was a catastrophe that would hurt my parents and meant I was not cut-out for a career as a physician. I was going to throw it all away.

My parents always instilled in me and my siblings that although we did not have a lot, there were always others going through worse than us. Giving back was necessary to balance our blessings. When I was young, my mother took me to volunteer at local food drives. I loved the feeling of helping people and knew I wanted to continue doing it as I grew up. I wanted to go to medical school to be a physician, but this failure started to make me question my capability. My self-confidence plummeted and I began to reassess my career path. I kept thinking that failure was like an eternal red light, but it was actually just a stop sign, a momentary setback that would ultimately push me to try harder and gain confidence in myself.

My drive to be a physician was enough to motivate me to do everything I could to recover my grade in science and find ways to prevent such a failure in the future. Over the next three years, I became a sponge and absorbed as much information during class as I could. Instead of counting the seconds until class would be over, I paid attention, took notes, and stayed engaged. I began to see my work pay off and did dramatically better. I regained my confidence and motivation, and with my renewed drive, started seeking more opportunities: I started volunteering at a local hospital.

On my first day, I delivered a dozen bubblegum pink Minnie Mouse balloons to a little girl in the pediatric ward who was having surgery that afternoon. As I entered the girl’s room, her eyes instantly lit up. She was so excited by the balloons that her surgery felt less significant to her. I imagined how much more rewarding it would be to be her doctor and build a rapport with her while also helping to keep her healthy. During this volunteering experience, I discovered I wanted to specialize in pediatrics and was so grateful I did not give up on my aspiration because of one failure.

Her smile solidified all that I had been working towards after that first failed assessment. It gave me flashbacks to my childhood, giving out food with my mom and the happiness I felt helping others. I realized the failure was just a bump in the road and that I could become a physician if I did not allow failures to discourage me. Without having failed and recovered, I would not have the kind of resilience and self-efficacy I have today, and I would never get to be the great and caring physician I know I will become. My new outlook will give me the confidence to overcome life’s obstacles, so looking back, I am grateful for the experience of having failed.


 

High Need, High Achievement and Core Values are Keys to Developing Change-Makers

The Elevation Scholars program mines Central Florida’s Title I high schools for students exhibiting the non-profit’s core values of kindness, service, leadership, and discipline. It sets them on a course to become change-makers.

When the organization was in its foundational stages of turning concepts into an education-focused program, it couldn’t have found a better model for the kind of student it wanted to help than its first scholar – Revel Lubin.

Elevation Scholars’ founder learned about him from a news story on the Thanksgiving food drive he and other student government leaders had put together for homeless families of students at his school.

The backstory was the attention-grabber, though. Lubin and three of his siblings were being raised by their sister following their mother’s passing from an aneurysm seven years earlier. He had quit sports to get a job to help his sister pay the bills after their electricity had been cut off. He also happened to be student government president.

Kindness. Service. Leadership. Discipline.

“He had everything we were looking for,” said Scott Lee, Elevation Foundation President. “The only question we didn’t know was did he have the academics.”

He had the grades too, but he lacked the test scores and required classes that colleges typically look for.  Helping students develop a “college-going” culture would become a core tenant of Elevation Scholars’ program. The best investment would be money up front – a program that would begin when students are in 9th grade– with high-quality counseling and “intrusive advising and support.”

“We would spend a little money up front, like a down payment, and the colleges would come along and pay them many thousands in scholarships,” Lee says. “If we pick the right kid, this stuff will happen every single time. Those were our early realizations.”

Since its founding in 2013, Elevation Scholars has expanded to working with four Title I high schools where 92 percent of the students are considered low-income. Outreach to students begins with Elevation Club when students are in 9th grade. The monthly club meetings introduce them to everything they’ll need to compete for spots at some of the nation’s most selective universities.  Their goal is not just a college education but an education at one of the nation’s top 100 universities – an arena sorely lacking in college applicants who are the first in their families to attend, so-called first-generation college students.

The Elevation Scholar Award  is given to select students in their junior year – a five-year investment in the students not only to help them get to college but to guide them while they attend.

“The research is pretty clear,” Lee says. “It’s not the academics that cause first-gen kids not to succeed. It’s the idea of imposter syndrome – they feel like they don’t belong, along with limits on family financial support due to the implications of generational poverty. Little problems are impossible to overcome without outside support.”

The Elevation Scholars Award includes some earmarks not typically found in scholarship awards, like winter clothing – for a Florida kid who might get a full ride to Wake Forrest in North Carolina like the program’s second award winner – or professional clothing for joining professional organizations, travel money to ensure they have the ability to get back home for the holidays, and even gear they’ll need for dorm life. In summers, students will participate in paid internships at businesses and organizations in partnership with Elevation Scholars.

Over the next four years, Elevation Scholars, a new grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation, expects to expand into four additional schools and award 92 additional Elevation Scholar Awards by 2025.

Revel Lubin

To win an Elevation Scholar Award, it’s more than a matter of high achieving and high need, Lee says. The students selected also must exhibit Elevation Scholars’ core values – kindness, service, leadership, and discipline. “These kids have a unique set of strengths, and already are demonstrating positive community impact, and that’s really what we’re investing in,” Lee says. “The idea is ultimately to see our investment increase their capacity to impact their community.”

Since the program’s founding, seven cohorts of scholars have attended prestigious universities across the country.  And that first scholar, Revel Lubin, continues the journey he plotted under the guidance of Elevation Scholars. He’s a finalist for Central Floridian of the Year, and he attends Yale Divinity School.

“It’s amazing how many high-achieving leaders there are at our Title I schools,” Lee says.



Angie Francalancia is a communications specialist with Johnson Scholarship Foundation

 

The First Steps to Success – Commitment

The following is an essay from a student in the Johnson Take Stock Program. He shares his thoughts of commitment to college.

College ‒ a goal my family had set for me long before I knew how to read. College used to be something I never thought I’d reach. As a child I never thought I would be stepping out into the world without my parents’ complete guidance and assistance. Frankly the thought of transitioning into adulthood is still frightening. My name is Steven Portillo, and this is the story of my life, my aspirations, and a declaration of my future success.

College means the world to me, now more than ever. My goal since I was young was to eventually start a family, to be able to provide for my family, and to be able to put a smile on as many faces as possible. As a young boy this dream seemed nearly impossible, but yet, so many people have managed to put themselves in the position I dreamed of. How? At a young age I started listening to motivational speeches and reading novels on financial success. If I am to become those who I idolize, I must first understand what they did, and follow in their footsteps. Mankind has never achieved anything great without the information and assistance of others. Knowledge was meant to be shared for the prosperity of all. This leads to a fundamental part to my future success, and that’s the support systems I’ve been blessed with.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a JTSP scholar. Without these amazing people, I would have struggled much more with constructing a plan to go to college and to further myself in life. Support from my family, friends, and even strangers has allowed me to conquer obstacles I never believed existed. I believe it is my duty to share my support and knowledge with others. Prosperity should be something that everyone can obtain. I believe in the “Pursuit of happiness.” Success to me is so much more than money. Success is to be able to not only provide for yourself but to be able to support others through their struggles.

I am declaring now, I WILL be successful. I will work my hardest, even when others say it’s foolish.  I am determined to become my best self, and in the future I will continue to make goals, because I never want to stop growing. Motivation always starts with yourself. I remember the first time I attempted to work out. Oh my, what an experience! This was an attempt at a long term goal that required dedication and determination. I will never forget the first time I was able to lift 200 lbs. When I first started I could only lift 100. This was when I knew that these types of results could be applied to other parts of my life. Work while others are resting. Work now so that later you can enjoy the spoils of life. Your future is what you make of it. If you’re determined to make it to your destination, you’ll get there. You just have to believe in the process.

I am Steven Portillo, and this is the story of who I am, who I want to be, and the success I am sure to obtain in my future.


Steven Portillo is a senior at William T. Dwyer High School and a Johnson Take Stock Scholar.

 

Forever Grateful for My Support System – Family, Friends, and Johnson Take Stock

The following is an essay from a student in the Johnson Take Stock Program. She shares her story and path to college as 2020 comes to a close.

First of all, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Shelly, and I will hopefully be the first to go to college in the United States in my family because they did their education in Cuba. I came when I was 7 years old, and at that time I was in second grade. Then I went to middle school and now I am a junior at Forest Hill High School. I have many colleges that I would love to go to, such as UM, UCF, FIU, and many more. I would love to go to a college near home so I could see my grandparents as much as possible. My goal is to make myself and them proud of everything I hope to achieve.

Additionally, going to college would mean so much to me and my family. I have always worked hard and tried my best in school by always doing well in my classes and being involved in school activities. Getting a good education is the best opportunity ever given to me. I can use this to have a good career that I enjoy and that will never make me stress about not having enough money to pay the bills. Growing up in a not the wealthiest family brings many life lessons that open your eyes and encourage you to take your education seriously so that you don’t have to go through the same thing your family did since you were given a better chance. This is why going to college would mean so much to me. I will have a stable future that I hope will allow me to give back to those who gave to me. These life challenges and many others help me shape my values and open my eyes to appreciate everything I have around me because not everyone has the same opportunity or conditions.

Furthermore, my goal is to find as much financial help to pay for college, so that neither my family nor I will need to stress about paying for my education, and that’s why I am so grateful to be part of the Johnson Take Stock family. They have supported me in many ways. I am grateful for all the activities, workshops, community service opportunities, events, etc. that Johnson Take Stock lets me be a part of. They always teach me something new, and I enjoy going to them since I have a fun time. I joined Johnson Take Stock back in my freshman year, and I have met so many kind people who just want to genuinely help you. Thanks to Johnson Take Stock, I know that if I keep following my side of the contract they will help me pay for my first years of college, and this is the biggest support I could ever receive from them. My other support systems are my family and friends. They help me make decisions, and this is a big help because I am so indecisive. They motivate me to keep working hard because it is all worth it at the end of the day. They also support me by congratulating my achievements which makes me feel good. Another support system I have are my teachers and guidance counselors because I know they are there for me if I ever need to talk to someone, and they just want the best for their students.

In conclusion, going to college would mean a lot to me and my family, and that is why I will always keep working hard to reach my goals. I am forever grateful for my support systems which are my family, friends, Johnson Take Stock family, and the staff at my school. All of the challenges I face will always just make me stronger so I am grateful for those, as well.


Shelly Cruz is a junior at Forest Hill High School. She has been a participant in the Johnson Take Stock  Program since her freshman year in high school.

 

 

Staying the Course – Mentoring First-Generation College Students During High School

The President’s Challenge Scholarship (PCS) Program at SUNY Ulster assists first-generation local students with overcoming socio-economic barriers associated with attending college. Selected in eighth grade, students receive counseling and mentoring throughout high school.

The PCS College Mentor team, comprised of SUNY Ulster’s Enrollment and Success Center Counselors, is charged with supporting nearly 100 scholarship recipients from nine school districts across Ulster County. Their primary goal as mentors is to be a consistent resource for students – keeping them motivated and on the college-bound track.

The PCS college mentors visit with students on SUNY Ulster’s campus and several times throughout the year at their high schools. Mentors have found the most success in creating small discussion groups where they are able to assess student needs and offer individual attention. During their in-person sessions, mentors were able to use a career assessment tool called FOCUS2 to get students thinking about future career options based on their interests and strengths.

Rebecca Mercado with some of her students at Ellenville High School in early 2019.

“The PCS students have consistently surprised me with their enthusiasm and varied interests,” said Rebecca Mercado, PCS College Mentor for Ellenville and Rondout Valley high schools. “The College will be lucky to have such amazing young people as a part of our community!”

Students also have an online component to complement what they are exploring in their in-person mentor sessions. These sessions will offer them remote access to college readiness material, discussion with other scholarship recipients, and guidance from their mentor in between in-person visits. Online content will further expand each year the student is in the program as they move toward graduation from high school and entry to SUNY Ulster. Due to COVID-19, this summer’s College Mentor engagement session now includes an online connection with mentors and SUNY Ulster student leaders to challenge scholarship recipients to reflect on their experience over the past few months and encourage them to try something new before their next session.

In addition to providing a support network and getting students acclimated to online learning, mentors are also a resource for college planning. Through SUNY Ulster’s Collegian Program, students are able to complete college-level courses right at their high school. These courses not only give students a jumpstart on their college experience by offering them transferable college credits, they also are funded through the student’s scholarship. Mentors advise students on course options, including how courses will fit into their college degree programs.

While most of the PCS recipients are still in high school, this fall, four of the original group of six students from the 2016 Rondout Valley Central School District pilot program will attend SUNY Ulster full-time. One of the students from this cohort is entering her second year at SUNY Ulster, as she entered a year early. Mercado, the students’ college mentor, offered support with the admissions and financial aid process as well as with course registration. While two students chose to attend college elsewhere, Mercado was happy she was able to advocate for them on their road to college.

Dr. Alan P. Roberts

The lives of the students who attend the PCS program will be forever changed, noted Dr. Alan Roberts, SUNY Ulster President.

“PCS recipients not only accept our challenge when they enter this program, but they also make a PCS promise and sign our pledge book by committing to being responsible students who are active in and out of the classroom by choosing and acting with kindness, having an open mind and being ready to learn new perspectives, setting a good example for others, and making every effort to participate in PCS activities. In turn, we promise to build relationships through mentorship experiences and donor engagement opportunities during their time in high school, continuing to motivate them to act on their future educational plans in real-time.

“The students entering universities in the fall are stellar success stories who have become the ultimate beneficiaries of the support and guidance received from four years of mentorship in the program,” Roberts added. “I am proud to serve as a champion for the success of PCS students through their educational pathways and entry to SUNY Ulster.”

To learn more about the PCS Program and how you can support these first-generation college-bound students, visit our website: www.sunyulster.edu/presidentschallenge.

Nancy S. Clarke is Administrative Program Coordinator for the President’s Challenge Scholarship Program at SUNY Ulster. Fourteen of the President Challenge Scholarship students have been sponsored by the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

Early Intervention – Creating Belief in the Eighth Grade

In 2015, the sixth and newest president of SUNY Ulster, Dr. Alan P. Roberts, arrived at SUNY Ulster with an inspirational plan to reach eighth-grade students and to engage them in college during grades nine to 12. Embarking on a bold plan of early intervention to reach all nine school districts in Ulster County, President Roberts engaged the Ulster College Foundation, Inc. in rolling out the pilot plan for the President’s Challenge Scholarship in 2016.

Dr. Alan P. Roberts and a President’s Challenge Scholarship recipient

Dr. Roberts felt that the important aspects behind the creation of the President’s Challenge Scholarship were that students need to be engaged academically at an early age, but also that they are engaged in the big picture aspects of college preparation as early as eighth grade. A broad scope of engagement was envisioned and incorporated as core components of the scholarship with the idea of building a belief in each student in their successful futures. The program started with the goal of changing lives by helping first-generation economically disadvantaged students with overcoming socio-economic barriers associated with attending college. Six students were identified as inaugural recipients who would most benefit from a mentorship program during high school to guarantee their success and make higher education a reality as first-in-family to (potentially) graduate college. Key donors met the challenge to sponsor and support them on this journey. By the 2019-20 school year, 49 eighth graders from all nine school districts in Ulster County were added to the scholarship classes. Today a scholarship contingent that is approximately 100 strong is growing by 50 new eighth-graders from all of the nine school districts to form a formidable group of diversified and dedicated students who have committed to “Taking the President’s Challenge.” The scholarship provides the solution to our students’ first obstacle – how their education will be funded! Imagine the impact of this overture of belief! Empowering first-generation college students on the path to and through college is the impetus for this challenge, and we see that impact firsthand in the faces of the recipients – and in the pride they feel when arriving on campus. SUNY Ulster assigns college mentors to PCS recipients and provides counseling and support for these students at their high school, at events on the SUNY Ulster campus, and online. Imagine a ninth-grade student meeting their mentor at a campus-based event. Imagine 10th- and 11th-grade students receiving program content and college enrollment guidance while on SUNY Ulster’s college campus. Students take campus tours, meet faculty, obtain college I.D. badges, and have lunch with the President. We wrap up the days on campus with college notebooks, hats, drink containers, and other college identified items to help our students bring home with them a small part of their newly developed opportunity.

At the school districts, college staff meets with PCS students four to six times per year and collaborates with school administration to schedule visits, monitor students’ academic progress as it relates to scholarship requirements, and identify possible support needs as they relate to student success.

Engagement opportunities for PCS students are also created at the high schools on various topics including academic planning, financial literacy, career exploration, college lingo, progress reports, portal engagement, and leadership. They also discuss college readiness topics such as time/stress management, networking, conflict resolution, civic engagement, and emotional intelligence.

This year has been a challenge for all of us given COVID-19 precautions, and so in 2020-2021, support for virtual/remote learning opportunities will be added to the programming for PCS, as well as online student group discussions. PCS college mentors will also support new PCS students as they become familiar with SUNY Ulster technology including email and online learning.

Through the college mentors, students are advised on Early College (on-campus) and the Collegian Program, which allows students to earn credits towards an Associate’s Degree in their high schools. They also learn about admissions, financial aid, and SUNY Ulster campus resources.

Belief might begin with the notice of acceptance into the President’s Challenge Scholarship program and the knowledge that someone is dedicated to their education. But ownership of one’s future is what is born once a student is engaged in the program, and for that, we find ourselves eternally indebted to those who funded this opportunity and those who continue to do so. Exposure to opportunity might have a quantified value, the cost of an education for this year, for example; but belief in oneself is a gift that stays within a student forever. It informs them in a manner that permits them to take risks and to be bold and to speak up for themselves – this is a gift that has no price tag – it is character-forming and life-changing, and that is what comes from belief.

Lorraine Salmon is Executive Director of Institutional Advancement and External Relations for SUNY Ulster and the Ulster Community College Foundation, Inc. Fourteen of the President Challenge Scholarship students have been sponsored by the Johnson Scholarship Foundation in West Palm Beach, Florida.

We All Contribute to Mentoring and Caring for Students

This article first appeared on the website of the Center for First-Generation Student Success, an initiative of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and the Suder Foundation.

 

Working with students who are first in their families to attend college is a privilege. I have been one of these fortunate individuals for nearly 14 years at the University of Florida. I believe every college and university should have full-time professionals, in student affairs or elsewhere, dedicated to advancing access and success for this underserved population.

Beyond those of us with formal student affairs training, there are a myriad of campus professionals who can and do support first-generation students. I had the honor of sitting down with two such professionals at UF, one a custodial associate director and the other, an assistant professor. I doubt the two would ever have crossed professional paths had it not been for this conversation. Something special happened during that hour over coffee. They revealed important insight about the linkage of passion and action. I offer edited excerpts from our conversation to encourage you to expand your view of what it means to maximize employee talent to achieve what we’re all ultimately here to do – mentor and care for students.

Tanya Hughes, Associate Director, Building Services: There’s not a check-box on my job description that says I need to mentor students. But so much of my job is mentoring students. Nobody wants to do the hard work that we do: clean toilets, scrub floors, wash windows. But our work is student success. Clean spaces promote learning and achievement. I also empower my team to bond with students. They know how to refer to resources when we sense students are struggling. Parents trust us to keep an eye on their kids and we take that responsibility seriously. Yes, we’re here to clean, but we’re also here to connect and care for students. Not everyone on campus understands the vital role we play in student success, but I do and my team does. We are humble; we don’t boast. But I feel pretty sure that my custodial team has saved student lives. I definitely know we’ve impacted them. That’s what matters.

Dr. Jaime Ruiz, Assistant Professor, Computer & Information Science & Engineering: I agree with Tanya; I love mentoring students. I also feel fortunate that my department supports me in this endeavor. In higher education, “doing diversity work” is talked about as important, but sometimes it’s all lip service, and action rarely or never happens. In my department, diversity work isn’t merely lip service; we take action.

Dr. Jaime Ruiz, third from left, with his research team
Dr. Jaime Ruiz, third from left, with his research team

I hire only first-generation students to work in my research lab. They are incredibly bright students who struggle at first with imposter syndrome (the feeling that they’re not as competent as others perceive them to be) but the more success they experience and the more rapport we build, they thrive. I enjoy modeling for them the importance of striking a balance in college between having a good time and focusing on their studies. I wish some of my colleagues were able to strike a balance for themselves. It’s sad to me that according to research and my own observations, job satisfaction diminishes after a faculty member earns tenure. Mentoring students is the most satisfying part of my job and as I actively work towards tenure myself, I model and remind myself of that important balance. I try to live what I teach.

Jaime: I learned about UF’s commitment to first-generation students when I attended New Faculty Orientation in 2016. When I decided I’d hire only first-generation students in my lab, not only was I overwhelmed by the number of students interested in the positions, I was also overwhelmed by how to decide among so many outstanding, high-quality students. I had the expectation that first-generation students would be strong students. However, the applications didn’t just represent strong students but some of the best students UF has to offer. Knowing I had only two positions, I immediately began sharing the applications with colleagues in hopes that I could place more students with research mentors.

Tanya Hughes with a staff member.
Tanya Hughes with a staff member.

As a faculty member, I realize some first-generation students may be intimidated initially but with our monthly social activities and the way I try to empower them [in my lab], I think they quickly come to see that I’m in their corner. I have provided first-generation students with research opportunities, and they have helped me advance my research.

Tanya: I have so much passion for custodial work, and it’s important to me that our halls are clean for students and their families. I sent my son to college and I fought the urge to scrub his room and bathroom. You either have a passion, or you don’t. As a supervisor for the past few decades, I seek to hire those that display a passion for this work.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Building a university culture of mentoring and supporting students should encourage all professionals, no matter their role, to infuse passion for students into their work. Maybe we need teams of professionals dedicated to talent management and student success who create engaging opportunities to build this campus-wide culture. Maybe we need to listen more deeply to students and consider their holistic experience as a student on our campus. Perhaps just talking to talented colleagues who “get it” like Tanya and Jaime are a start. When we come together, sometimes over coffee, it’s amazing how we’re reminded of the tremendous impact that we can achieve together. I’m proud to work in concert with both Tanya and Jaime, as well as many others at the University of Florida for whose university contributions and passion for students are one in the same. Go Gators!

To learn more about first-generation student initiatives at UF, visit: firstgeneration.ufsa.ufl.edu/.

Dr. Leslie Pendleton is the Senior Director of the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program in the Division of Student Affairs at the University of Florida. During her tenure at UF, Leslie has led the effort to champion first-generation, low-income college students and in 2009, was named the inaugural director of the now nationally-recognized MFOS program. 

Wine Industry Scholarship Program Provides Opportunities for First-Generation Students

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation and Sonoma State University (SSU) are partnering to support an innovative scholarship program focused on first-generation, low-income students whose families are connected to the wine industry. SSU is located in the heart of California’s premier wine region and serves approximately 9,300 students annually. Approximately 30 percent of SSU students are first-generation, low-income, or from underserved populations. Given the location of our campus, many of these students have family members employed by wineries.

Large group of students in front of the Wine Spectator Learning Center at Sonoma State University
Students in the Summer Bridge orientation program pose for a photo in front of the Wine Spectator Learning Center at Sonoma State University. SSU hosts Summer Bridge for first-generation low-income students in the summer prior to their first year on campus.

Given the wine industry’s interest in supporting the children of employees— as well as educating the future workforce —SSU’s Wine Business Institute started the Wine Industry Scholarship Program (WISP) in 2016. WISP is designed to attract financial support for first-generation, low-income students who have family ties to the wine industry. WISP scholarship recipients do not need to be pursing wine business as a major: they simply need to have a family member who is employed in the wine industry, for example a vineyard worker or cellar staff member.

The Wine Industry Scholarship Program has expanded to attract financial support for SSU’s academic and career services for first-generation, low-income students. The additional advisors and programs created by WISP now serve nearly 2,000 students each year, in addition to the students who receive WISP scholarships.

WISP began as a program offering students $2,500 scholarships that are renewable for up to four years ($10,000 total). Thanks to the generosity of SSU’s winery partners, SSU quickly secured commitments from some of the industry’s largest names, including Korbel, Rodney Strong, and Wine.com. SSU’s first cohort of WISP scholars in 2017 featured 15 students, with 27 WISP scholarships awarded in 2018 and an additional 27 in 2019. To date, SSU has awarded WISP scholarships to 69 students for a total of nearly $700,000 in scholarship support in just three years!

Sonoma State University Logo

The guidance and financial support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF) has inspired SSU to grow its ambitions for how the campus can assist first-generation, low-income students. SSU is currently laying the groundwork for a much larger fundraising effort that will create a WISP scholarship endowment and bring in significant additional funds to enhance our overall support for the students who need it most.

SSU is grateful to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation for its commitment to provide 10 WISP scholarship matching gifts in 2020 and 2021. JSF is also providing a match commitment for WISP endowment gifts in subsequent years. SSU anticipates another remarkable program transformation as a result of this new fundraising effort, on the scale of the one that has taken place in the last two years. SSU looks forward to securing scholarship funds and program support that will benefit SSU students for generations to come.

Khou Yang-Vigil is the Educational Opportunity Program Coordinator and Professional Academic Advisor at Sonoma State University.

In School and in Life, Graduating Senior Demonstrates Leadership

This post originally appeared in the Lake Worth High School Alumni Foundation newsletter.

It’s tough enough to excel academically in high school, and even tougher when you’re also a veteran on the football team. But tough situations don’t intimidate recent Lake Worth Community High School graduate Matthew Narcisse.

Narcisse earned a 4.18 HPA while playing on the Trojans football team all four years. He’s also been involved with the wrestling and weightlifting teams, Air Force JROTC, the Drafting and Design Academy and the Interact Club, among other activities. During a recent summer, he was chosen to attend a Rotary Youth Leadership Camp.

Unlike many of his classmates, however, he has responsibilities that continue beyond the school day. He is a caregiver for his mother, who survived a debilitating stroke in 2012.

“One thing I’ve learned is how to sacrifice and how to manage my time,” said Narcisse, who has four brothers and two sisters, plus an extended family in Haiti.

He also has endured his own health challenges. As a child, he suffered a broken femur in a car accident. The injury affects his running ability even today. As an athlete, “I always push myself,” he said.

Off the playing field, Narcisse aspires to be a civil engineer.  “What civil engineers do is they help build communities,” he said.

To achieve his goal, he’s spent the past four years in the Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County program. This college readiness program, which includes the opportunity to meet regularly with a mentor, offers participants a chance to graduate with a two-year college scholarship. The program is a collaboration between the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, Take Stock in Children and the School District of Palm Beach County.

His hard work and diligence have not gone unnoticed. Narcisse was his school’s nominee for Take Stock in Children’s 2019 Leaders for Life Fellowship, an honor awarded to only a handful of students in Florida (this year Glades Central Community High School graduate Marie Sintulaire was named a Leaders for Life Fellow). One of his teachers wrote a letter on his behalf that reads, in part, “It is rare that I meet a student with the drive, resiliency and verbal abilities to self-advocate as Matthew Narcisse.”

Matthew Narcisse on stage with a medal

He also was chosen to speak to his fellow graduates at the Johnson Scholars/Take Stock graduation event in May. In attendance for the event was Narcisse’s mentor, Pat Growney.

This fall, Narcisse will study civil engineering at the University of Florida. He has been chosen for the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars, a nationally recognized program for first-generation college students.

“My life situations have empowered me,” he said. “When I face adversity in the future, I will just persevere and stay faithful.”