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By Alexis Sobel

“I’ve become my own champion.”

That’s how Neasha Prince described her time at Florida Atlantic University as a first-generation college graduate. As a freshman, she co-founded First & Proud, an organization for first-generation students that now boasts 1,100 members.

“College allowed me to explore new parts of who I was,” she stated, who graduated with degrees in sociology and psychology last summer. “I am more than just a Black woman. I am a proud, young, Black Haitian American woman who wants to make a difference in this world.”

In the fall, Neasha began law school at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Unfortunately, her academic success is uncommon for most first-generation students. According to a recent EAB study, a consulting group for schools and colleges, 90 percent of low-income first-generation collegiate hopefuls do not graduate on time. Worse yet, they are more than twice as likely to leave school without a degree.

The Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program at Florida Atlantic University is attempting to change those odds.

The program, now in its sixth year, combines a full financial aid package with wraparound services such as on campus housing, tutoring, advising, mentoring and career coaching. This all-encompassing approach to education provides support to first-generation students who otherwise lack family members who can guide them through college life.

To date, the program boasts eight graduates and 60 students working towards their career goals.

Sitting next to Neasha is fellow graduate Angie Joseph. After graduation, Angie earned a role as a fellow for the Global Leaders Program, which empowers cultural changemakers to grow organizations that impact communities. She dreams of launching her own nonprofit for children, teaching art and offering a creative outlet for young creatives.

“These are people that understand exactly what you are going through,” Angie shares. “Having the other scholars around just to understand and support each other was something that I can’t even put into words. Being a Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholar meant I had a family of first-generation students who were just like me.”

While on campus the scholars are encouraged to help one another, both academically and socially. Kelly/Strul students live together in the same residence hall and participate in monthly program meet ups. Seasoned scholars are matched with incoming freshman and act as a mentor, offering reassurance and a friendly guide while navigating college life.

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