Vivian Castro wants to make her parents proud. Fredricka Jourdain wants to do the same.
Both have a chance to do so by becoming the first in their families to get a bachelor’s degree. And both will have an opportunity to do so thanks to the Golden Scholars program, a summer bridge program designed to help students coming out of high school make the transition to FIU.
Castro and Jourdain join 41 other freshmen in the second class of the Golden Scholars program, launched in the summer of 2012. The students were welcomed by program leader Courtenay McClain on June 24, the first day of Summer B classes and the first day of the group’s FIU journey.
“You are the perfect student for us,” McClain said to the incoming class. “You’re hungry, you want to learn and succeed. And you want to make sure you grow and excel in life.”
The latest wave of students to enter the program is just as ambitions and driven as the one that came before it. And like those that came before them, many of the new students are first-generation college students coming from low-income families who thought a college education was out of reach.
Thanks to the program, that’s no longer the case.
“This program can help me get ready for my future and I can become more independent and find out exactly what I want to do,” said Castro, who will be majoring in criminal justice.
Jourdain, whose parents came from Haiti, added, “Being a first generation college student, I want to make my parents proud. I know that getting my degree and seeing their face will be a very happy moment for me.”
Bruno Phanord, who graduated from FIU in 2011, is part of the program as a peer mentor. He helps students navigate the transition and he urged the new group to leave the past behind them and strive toward what lies ahead.
“The fact that you’re at FIU means that you’ve already won,” he said. “You made it to a place where a lot of people haven’t made it to. You’ve already been established in a place of victory, you’re job now is to maintain that victory.”
Shaquilla Thomas and Darius Allenye were part of the 39 students who made up the first class of Golden Scholars last year. They took summer classes as they prepared for the Fall Semester and exceeded all expectations. At the end of the summer, 36 of the students were in good academic standing with 14 of them achieving a cumulative GPA of 3.0 and above.
Allenye received the MLK scholarship and was winner of the MLK Essay Contest, receiving $2,000 toward tuition to FIU. Now a recreation and sports management major, he’s glad the Golden Scholars program was there to help provide direction for his education and his future.
“The program and the people involved helped me find myself and see that school was really for me,” Allenye said. “It just took everything to a whole new level.”
Thomas, who wants to pursue a career in recreational therapy and is part of the Academy of Leaders program, is hoping to eventually get her doctorate and open her own practice. The program has helped give her a springboard from which to launch her dreams.
“Having the connections and the networking makes it a lot easier than just going out into the world by myself,” Thomas said.
McClain – an admissions coordinator, who is also responsible for multicultural recruitment and diversity programs –wasn’t sure at first if the program would be successful.
With time and resources being in short supply, McClain’s battle to get the program off the ground was a difficult one. But a year later, the program still stands and she can set her sights on the program’s future. And, much like the students she has recruited to take part in the program, those sights are full of optimism and ambition.
Her vision for the future of the program includes options for out-of-state students and perhaps even an international component that transcends borders. She also hopes for an option for students to take fall classes under the program if they are unable to take classes in the summer immediately following graduation.
“I see this program becoming the best summer bridge program in Florida, and one of the best in the nation,” McClain said. “We have something really special going here.”