Sixth Annual Infinite Scholar Fair held at E. Pat Larkins Community Center a resounding success
By K. Chandler
Well over 400 high school seniors from Florida and out of state took part in the Sixth Annual Infinite Scholar Fair held Nov. 15, 2013 at the E. Pat Larkins Community Center in Pompano Beach, Fla.
The event, which was considered a resounding success by both planners and participants, drew over 30 colleges and universities, including a number of HBCUs and the Army ROTC.
John Battle, a Hallandale High School senior, active in football and track, with a 3.5 GPA, secured a $12,000 scholarship to Florida A&M University (FAMU). His goal is to get into broadcasting.
“This scholarship is a burden off my back,” he said, adding, “It means a lot to me to get this scholarship.”
The concept of a scholarship fair originated with retired St. Louis, MO history teacher, Thomas Ousley (CEO/Infinite Scholars), who was concerned by the sheer volume of academic scholarships that went unclaimed. He set out on a mission to find out what happened to these unused scholarships.
Consequently, he began to pull colleges and universities together. What resulted was the first scholarship fair held in St. Louis in 2003.
Bringing Ousley’s concept of a scholarship fair to South Florida, Sherry Reece founded the Infinite Scholar Program in Miami, Fla. in 2008, expanding it to Broward County in 2009.
“Our college and university partners have given away over $50 million since 2008,” stated Reece who is the executive director of the program. “This has resulted in an enormous expansion of students being able to take advantage of these educational opportunities.”
Reece commended Keiser University in particular for having enough faith in her to support her dream of a first year College Boot Camp which will take place this upcoming January at Keiser University’s Fort Lauderdale campus.
“All of the kids awarded scholarships are invited to this boot camp along with their pa-rents,” noted Reece. “The idea is that it’s not enough just to get kids in, but to make sure they stay in from the time they get their scholarships until the time they walk across that stage to graduate.”
To that end, the College Boot Camp assists students applying for financial aid; enlists speakers to share college experiences with the audience, and answers questions and concerns that students and parents may have.
Reece also applauded the efforts of other partners who have worked with her tirelessly over the past several years, including the Billy Raven Foundation, Mentoring Valuable Proteges Inc. (MVP), and the US Army ROTC, which is among their biggest supporters.
According to Ingrid Gilliam-Alexander, co-founder of MVP along with her husband Jason, the youth development program founded in 2010 and based in Miami Gardens, has worked with over 3,000 kids ages five-18, helping them develop life skills.
“We use athletics as ‘the carrot’ to entice youth into the program after which they’re ex-posed to career development opportunities, leadership skills, health and wellness concepts as well as an understanding of their academic responsibility,” said Gilliam-Alexander.
“The reason we place a great deal of emphasis on getting them young is because we’re trying to create a mindset for higher learning and to prevent them from going astray.”
One young man who hasn’t gone astray is Christopher Clark-Melton, a Blanche Ely High School Senior who heard about the Infinite Scholar Fair through his guidance counsel-or.
“I’m pretty happy I got this. It’ll help me with my radiology career,” said Clark-Milton, who received a $6,250 scholarship to Keiser University, which he plans to attend in 2014.
William Perkins, representing St. Louis University, a Catholic Jesuit University in Missouri, said he was notably impressed with the turnout and quality of students attending. “We’re seeing much greater school and student engagement with schools bringing the students who they feel will benefit the most,” he said.
Anthony E. Davis, a S.E. Florida Regional Alumni Recruiter volunteer, said that although he was pleased with the turnout, he wished more HBCUs had been represented, and that more college alumni were involved with the program.
“For those alumni who aren’t able to write out a check at this time to their university, this is an excellent opportunity for them to get involved and push young people toward higher learning.”
O’Hara G. Hannah, a recruiter for FAMU, said the fact that “colleges and universities come together in a cluster like this, gives students a lot of time and allows them to compare colleges; their programs, along with the costs associated without having to travel out of state to visit colleges.”
Aimee Perkins, admissions counselor and recruitment event coordinator for Kentucky State University, which awarded the largest number of full-ride scholarships, said they did “very well” at the scholarship fair due to the fact there were so many ‘qualified students’ attending.” She urged kids to start early, however.
“A lot of my students wait until their senior year to begin looking at colleges. By then there’s not a lot of flexibility in terms of GPA and test scores. You don’t have that ‘turnaround time’ to improve academically to get into universities or receive higher education scholarships.”
Perkins also urged students and parents to call or email back if they don’t hear from a particular school. “We follow up with a letter in a week to 10 days, but if no letter arrives, follow up. Definitely go after what you want.”
Four Lake Worth High School seniors who did very well at the Infinite Scholar Fair racking up tens of thousands in scholarship awards were: Amani Campbell, Natasha Dorcent, Lisa Norzea, and Bibi Patel.
Amani Campbell, who was ranked second out of 431 Lake Worth High seniors with a 3.8 GPA, will be heading for Kentucky State University where she plans to take up chemistry with the intent of one day becoming a pediatric surgeon. “This [$10,000 scholarship] means a lot to me. It’s a lot of money but I feel I’ve worked very hard to get here,” she stated confidently.
Natasha Dorcent, who received a $7,000 scholarship to Kentucky State, plans to pursue Criminal Justice, ultimately becoming a criminal defense attorney. She is looking forward to “new beginnings in a new state,” and says the scholarship is what will enable her to experience a new chapter in her life.
Lisa Norzea, who has a 3.5 GPA, also received a $7,000 scholarship from Kentucky State and is planning on taking up Sports Medicine with the goal of becoming a physical therapist. “This scholarship is very important to me. I was very dedicated. I tried to manage my time wisely,” she said, adding that the scholarship was something that was “very recognizable” and directly correlated with “the hard work” she put in.
Bibi Patel, also a Lake Worth High senior with a 3.9 GPA, said that all the years of studying hard and taking tests have finally paid off in the form of a full Presidential Scholarship, potentially worth $100,000 over four years from Kentucky State University. Patel plans to study Biology with the intent of becoming a pediatric pulmonologist.
Statement from Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel
Extending his sincere congratulations to the seniors who received academic scholarships Friday, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who unfortunately could not attend the event, pointed out that “young kids were his passion,” and nothing makes him happier than to see these types of success stories.
“In my judgment, there is nothing more important than getting involved with the education of our youth. It costs $50,000 a year to keep a person incarcerated but only $4,800 a year to keep kids in school. Anything we can do to further the education of our youth and keep them out of jail is something I’m all for.”
To that end, Sheriff Israel said that he has made a significant change to the Civil Citation Program as it relates to Broward County.
Per Florida State Statute 985.12, a law enforcement officer has the discretion to either arrest a first-time juvenile misdemeanor offender or enroll them into the Civil Citation Program, an intervention program based on an assessment of the youth’s needs be that family counseling, anger management, substance abuse, and/or mental health treatment .
However, in Broward County officers no longer have the discretion to arrest first-time juvenile misdemeanor offenders or place them into the Civil Citation Program, Sheriff Israel noted.
“Now deputies are directed by policy to place first-time juvenile misdemeanor offenders into the Civil Citation Program. Arresting them is no longer an option,” he said, adding that youth are still held accountable for their actions, but given a second chance to clean up their act.
“We measure our success by the kids we keep out of jail, not in jail,” stated Sheriff Israel.