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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

 

 

Construction Internships Lead to Stronger Workforce and More Homes

The South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition (SDNHC) established the Construction Internship Program  with a two-fold goal of expanding the capacity of Native-owned contractors and strengthening the employment-ready workforce.

The creative partnership was formed in 2017 and designed to provide training in the construction field for students. Fulfilling this goal works in tandem with helping the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition fulfill the ultimate goal of increasing the housing stock on South Dakota’s Native American Indian reservations.

Since many Native construction companies are small operations without significant margins, the SDNHC Construction Internship Program removed some of the risk for the companies to take on new hires. It enabled the contractors to hire new employment-ready interns who would have the chance to prove themselves over the course of the summer internship.

Despite logistical setbacks brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the partnership has met or exceeded most of its goals.

We set out to enroll 50 college students in the SDNHC Construction Internship Program to participate during the summer of 2019. During the last two summers, we had 88 interns enroll in the program. They were disbursed across four sites – Cheyenne River, Sisseton, Rosebud and Pine Ridge.

Brent Tallman, one of the interns participating in the program, was offered a full-time position mid-way through his internship. Above, participants at Sisseton test the integrity of a harness during a safety training.

Over the course of the two-year program, we worked with 25 contractors for placement of the interns. But in addition, the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition Contractor Workshop has become a must-attend event for local Native contractors from all across the state. Held annually in Rapid City in February, the workshop provides contractors with information useful to their industry, including topics such as workman’s compensation insurance, performance bonding, and the HUD 184 validation process. We use the event to recognize and celebrate the contractors, interns and supporters of this intensive work.

In 2019, 82 percent of the interns completed the program, well-exceeding the 75 percent goal. In 2020, we’re thrilled to have a 62 percent retention rate – given the challenges presented by COVID-19. Although none of our interns participating this year tested positive for COVID to our knowledge, many were placed on quarantine due to exposure, which interrupted their participation.

Another success was the Financial Literacy component, in which 100 percent of the interns participated. Classes were held bi-weekly to correspond with paydays, and all the interns learned the value of automated banking when the Lakota Funds staff was under quarantine. We were able to pay the interns safely, and without risk of exposure utilizing ACH payments.

The program has resulted in permanent employment for many of the interns, completing the fulfillment of increased capacity among the Native-owned contractors.

Many partners came together to make this project possible. In addition to participating colleges and the Lakota Funds, other participants were the Cheyenne River Housing Authority, the Enterprise Community Partners, Johnson Scholarship Foundation, Native Connections, Oglala Sioux Lakota Housing, Sicangu Nation Education and Training Program, Sisseton Wahpeton 477 Program, Sisseton Wahpeton Housing Authority and Sicangu Wicoti Awanyakapi Corporation.


The South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition is a collaborative group of key agencies dedicated to increasing homeownership opportunities for Native Americans in the state of South Dakota.

 

 

Palm Beach Atlantic Journalism Student Interns at South Florida’s NPR Station

Amber Amortegui is a Johnson Scholar attending Palm Beach Atlantic University, a core grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation. This article is shared with permission.

Amber Amortegui

As an intern for WLRN, Amber Amortegui regularly reports for the top-ranked public ration station in the state.

The senior journalism major and incoming editor-in-chief of The Beacon Today persistently pursued the internship for more than a year by building up her resume and connecting with the station’s news staff. Amortegui, of Davie, Florida, landed one of two paid internships at the station in a highly-competitive environment.

She has covered a protest in Fort Lauderdale, the reopening of a local bowling alley following the COVID-19 shutdown and a virtual meeting of the Florida Board of Governors, which governs the state’s 12 public universities.

Amortegui impressed WLRN Editorial Director Alicia Zuckerman with her willingness to jump in. She is not shy about pitching ideas during daily news meetings, Zuckerman said, and she quickly forged a working relationship with her fellow intern. The two are collaborating on an upcoming piece about how Gen Z uses social media for activism.

“She had a lot of ideas of her own. She asked a lot of good questions,” Zuckerman said of Amortegui. “I’ve been really impressed with how proactive she’s been. She’s also been really open to learning in the process.”

Before starting the internship, Amortegui possessed digital editing skills from the podcast she records and produces for The Beacon Today, Zuckerman said. In the social media piece, for example, she incorporated the sounds of various social media alerts.

Amortegui credits PBA journalism professors Israel Balderas and Danilda Martinez for preparing students to create print, audio and video packages. She was familiar with some of WLRN’s audio recorders because PBA owns the same equipment.

At the same time, the internship has given her opportunities to work through challenges that she hasn’t faced in the classroom. At the bowling alley, for example, music blared overhead as she interviewed a couple playing in a senior league. At the protest, someone dribbled a basketball nearby as she recorded one of the chants.

“I’m really glad I was able to get this type of internship, because it is what I want to do,” said Amortegui, whose end goal is to work for a National Public Radio station or a syndicated podcast.

Amortegui has helped WLRN reach a broader audience by paying close attention to how her peers get their news – which is typically not through national media – and relaying what she learns to editors and reporters, Zuckerman said.

Amortegui said she’s learned both journalism and leadership skills from observing the team at WLRN, specifically Zuckerman and News Director Terence Shepherd.

“It’s a lot of teamwork. They don’t act like there’s a hierarchy,” Amortegui said. “They’re always open to hearing reporters’ ideas. They encourage us to take risks in our storytelling.”

She said she enjoys providing a valuable public service – helping listeners make sense of the news in a time of chaos and confusion.

“We’re called to do our job, inform the public and state facts accurately,” Amortegui said.

Sarah Peters serves as Multimedia Writer/Editor for University Relations and Marketing at Palm Beach Atlantic University. PBA is a core grantee partner of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

Creating Career Pathways at Mount Allison University

Life had thrown him another curve ball! He had always bounced back, had worked through them and make it out the other side. This time it was different. The circumstances seemed to be beyond his control. He was tired and ready to give up. By the time he came to my office, he was not going to write his last exam that would qualify him for graduation. He had studied for five years, had contributed to university athletics, had given of his time to help first-year students. But he was done! This setback was more than he could imagine overcoming. He was ready to throw it all away. He didn’t care anymore and didn’t have the energy to go on.

Two women at a desk looking at a laptop screen

Then came along a professor who believed in him and she had an opportunity to help: a unique internship with an organization where she knew he could shine and be valued. But she needed funding to make it happen. When we dug into every pot of funding we had left, we came up short. The professor persevered; she wasn’t going to give up on him and neither were we.

Our fundraising office had an idea. Find a philanthropist who would be interested in funding an internship for a student with a disability. The philanthropist loved the idea and those few dollars were life-changing. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF) Pathways Program was developed to have three components: pre-orientation programing, pre-graduation programing, and professional development and experiential learning opportunities in between, in the form of internships designated for Meighen Centre students.

Teacher speaking with a student in an office

My student completed his degree requirements and was awarded his bachelor’s degree. He is now onto his second job and doing something he would never have imagined doing three or four years ago. His sights are set on graduate school where he can further his skills. That’s the power of philanthropy and the JSF Pathways Program at Mount Allison University.

Anne Comfort is the Director of Accessibility and Student Wellness at Mount Allison University. She is also the co-chair of the CACUSS (Canadian Association of College and University Student Services) Community of Practice on Inclusion and Accessibility.