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.
This community model of positive encouragement and support is exactly what its founders, Boca Raton philanthropists Aubrey and Sally Strul had hoped for. Aubrey was the first in his family to attend college and distinctly remembers the financial and academic challenges he faced.
He passionately champions the need to provide equal and fair access to education for all students.
“There are so many talented, gutsy students who could effect immense positive change in our community if just given the right education and tools to succeed,” shares Aubrey. “Together with President Kelly, we are working to level the playing field for first-generation students and help them address potential barriers, including financial ones, to academic success.”
Like Neasha and Angie, Ta’shyra Johnson knows life without the program would have been a struggle. The Kelly/Strul alumna is currently in FAU’s MBA program with dreams of becoming an NBA sports agent.
“As a first-generation student, I would have felt a tremendous burden on my shoulders,” Johnson said. “Because of the program’s financial and academic support, I had complete focus and determination to pursue my dreams. I want to show FAU and the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholar supporters that they made the right choice in giving me such an amazing gift.”
She credits her ability to secure top-notch internships with influential sports agencies on the networks she built through her professional mentors and Kelly/Strul advocates. While pursuing her post-graduate degree, Ta’Shyra recently founded Sports Business Network, a nonprofit that offers representation to budding athletes who cannot afford costly sports agencies. She also gives back to the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars program by serving as a first-generation retention specialist.
Neasha, Angie and Ta’Shyra are now legends among the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program. They are rewriting the narrative for first-generation Black women and wasting little time making their mark on the community.
They changed the odds.
“The program started with the vision of two influential leaders and four girls with a dream,” Neasha said. “We are actively changing the trajectories of our families and our legacies, and those of the scholars that will come after us.”
Applications for the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Class of 2026 opens Nov. 1. For questions regarding, contact Program Director Keven Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program, visit kellystrulscholars.fau.edu.