SJR State fulfills minority scholarship promise
St. Johns River State College has launched its first in-district minority scholarship program, fulfilling the academic dreams of 12 local residents and a promise made to the community. College administrators worked diligently this summer to create the inaugural Collier-Blocker Scholarship following the Board of Trustees' decision in March to eliminate the basketball program. The program redirects funds previously allocated to recruit students from outside the College's service district to ultimately benefit residents of Clay, Putnam and St. Johns counties.
SJR State President Joe Pickens said the College has gained an innovative means to reach out to more minority students for the betterment of the communities it serves. "We are fulfilling a promise we made as a college," Pickens said. "We are reaching out to students who demonstrate potential and a desire to succeed without regard to athletic ability - local students who, without financial support, may not otherwise be able to attend college."
The program was introduced in time to welcome a new assembly of students for the fall semester. Pickens and Trustee John Nelson personally welcomed the recipients during a recent orientation, tasking them to arise as a new generation of scholars.
"We have a personal, vested interest in your individual lives and successes," Pickens told the students. "This scholarship and your future achievements carry a significant meaning for the community, the College and its history."
Pickens, after conducting a considerable amount of research, titled the scholarship in honor of Collier-Blocker Junior College, one of the first 12 African-American junior colleges established in Florida. The College was established in Palatka in 1960 and later merged with St. Johns River Junior College in 1964.
A scholarship committee selected the students based on financial need, a strong desire to attend SJR State and an essay.
Nelson said reviewing the essays was an eye-opening experience and revealed how profoundly the scholarships will impact their lives. "We witnessed some very compelling stories of students determined to overcome personal and financial obstacles, unlock their full potential and gather the courage to attempt a second chance at success," Nelson said.
Rian Giddings, 23, of Putnam County, said he has been dreaming of returning to college for four years. At the age of 18, Giddings said he struggled to balance the demands of college, football and an active student life. "College felt like a never-ending juggling act," he said. However, his decision to remove sports from his schedule would also make college unaffordable and out of reach. "This left me with only my life to live as a young, impressionable adult," he said. Giddings soon found a job, calling it "a stepping stone into adulthood."
Eventually realizing what he had walked away from, Giddings enrolled in college for the second time, but the financial strain was, again, too much. "I again felt the bitter mark of defeat," he said. "I worked two jobs to drown out the failures that had burdened my life. I worked so much that I literally desensitized myself to the dreams I once had."
Giddings said the reality of a second chance at an education, combined with the challenges he has faced, has given him a new perspective. "The past four years have culminated into reason and learned experiences. I've been through a lot - enough to realize what I want and do not want for my life," Giddings said. "Continuing my education at SJR State is a vision this scholarship would enable me to accomplish and with a new level of confidence and humility."
After earning his A.A. degree from SJR State, Giddings plans to earn a bachelor's degree and pursue a career in computer science and software development.
Jennifer DeDeo, 30, of St. Johns County, said that for the first time in her life, she realizes her destined career path. "I would feel good if I could help someone, if I could help those who think they have no hope," DeDeo said.
The single mother of two first enrolled at SJR State in 2010. "I just knew it was time for a change," she said, but it wasn't until she enrolled in a college success class and completed a career exploration assignment that she realized she wanted a career in social work. "You can do a lot with a bachelor's degree in social services, from working as a probation officer to working as a counselor," DeDeo said.
DeDeo said the scholarship will help make her dream of helping others a reality. "I want to inspire others to have a successful life. I want to teach them that regardless of age, financial status or other obstacles they may face, they can achieve success," she said. "I can tell them, 'I've been there.'" DeDeo added that her children are proud and supportive of her. "My attendance has also made my kids see the importance of continuing their own education."
The Collier-Blocker scholarship program was designed to accept new applicants each year as participants complete their program of study. Incorporated into the program to ensure students stay on track and complete their program successfully are mandatory skills workshops and a designated mentor assigned to assist each student.
For more information regarding the Collier-Blocker Scholarship, contact SJR State's office of Open Campus 312-4211.
St. Johns River State College Trustee John Nelson (far left) and President Joe Pickens (far right) welcome the first recipients of the Collier-Blocker in-district minority scholarship program. Front row, from left: Lakeera Clinkscale, Elizabeth Jimenez and Charlene Charles. Second row Alyssa Foster, Victor Lopez, Fay Dawkins and Jennifer DeDeo. Third row: Reymundo Hernandez, Rian Giddings and Lanika Robinson. Not pictured: Kory Williams.
Return to SJR State home page.
SJR State Director of Public Relations and Publications
5001 St. Johns Avenue
Palatka, FL 32177