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JU helps students’ dreams come true through Jacksonville Commitment scholarship program

Nekea Sanders
Michelle Gaza
Brianna Williams














By Chelsea Wiggs

JU Communications Major

Jacksonville University continues to turn eligible Duval County public school seniors’ college dreams into reality through The Jacksonville Commitment program, including three standout Spring 2013 graduates.

The partnership among the city of Jacksonville, JU, Edward Waters College, the University of North Florida and Florida State College at Jacksonville offers scholarships to qualifying students who have aspirations but lack the resources to further their educations. The four participating colleges raise private support to complement the city’s efforts.

JU has been involved with The Jacksonville Commitment scholarship program since it began in 2008. The University provides the cost of a four-year degree, including tuition, books and room and board, to eligible students.

In addition to financial support, the program relies on the personal support of college advisors, admissions representatives and parents or guardians to maintain the students’ focus throughout their college experience by keeping them engaged in their long-term goals and holding them accountable for their academic performance.

As an additional effort to encourage Duval County youths to continue their education after high school, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Maurice Jones-Drew serves as a spokesman for the scholarship program.

“The Jacksonville Commitment program is a great way for JU to partner with the community in helping dedicated, bright young students in our area further their educations when otherwise they might not,” said Derek Hall, JU’s Vice President for University Relations and Interim Vice President for Student Life. “JU benefits, too, by being enriched by the talent, ideas and skills these students bring to campus.”

Nekea Sanders, Michelle Gaza and Brianna Williams are three May 2013 JU graduates who have benefited from The Jacksonville Commitment program and have used their education to its full advantage, far beyond their days as Dolphins.

Sanders said she always wanted to go to college for biology, and with The Jacksonville Commitment scholarship she was able to do that and more. She credits the program as well as JU for providing her the opportunity to reach her full potential.

“It’s great because if I didn’t have the scholarship, I couldn’t even imagine being able to go to JU,” she said. “It means a lot to me, and it’s something I’m really grateful for.”

In addition to majoring in biochemistry and minoring in sociology, Sanders was in the Beta Beta Beta National Biological Honor Society, the Game Sigma Epsilon Chemistry Honor Society, served as the president of the Chemistry Society and was in the JU Band as the Feature Twirler.

Sanders also had the opportunity to present her research, “The Formation of the Trimetallic Carbonyl Cluster, Li[FeCo3(CO)12],” at the Jacksonville University Faculty and Student Symposium during the 2013 spring semester.

She was recently accepted to graduate school at the University of North Florida, where she plans to earn her master’s degree in criminal justice and pursue her passion of working with delinquent children.

“I want to work in juvenile prevention, possibly work for the system but then create my own alternative program,” she said.

While Sanders is continuing her education and determined to reach her ultimate career goal, she says she will always be thankful for The Jacksonville Commitment scholarship and hopes every eligible student will take advantage of what the program offers.

“It means everything to me,” she said.

Meanwhile, during Gaza’s time at JU, she was a community advisor with Residential Life and a community leader for the female dorm complexes.

Gaza, who graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and minor of psychology, said both her on-campus positions gave her the opportunity to grow in to a leader. Her experience also helped her land an internship at Brooks Rehabilitation’s Neurological Recovery Center, where she was given hands-on experience with devices and equipment as well as with assisting patients, and was eventually offered a job as a therapy aide.

Now that she has earned her degree from JU, Gaza works at Brooks Rehabilitation as an exercise physiologist and plans to apply for 2014 entrance to a physical therapy program to continue her education.

Williams earned her bachelor’s degree in film/directing and minored in sociology and screenwriting. During her time at JU, she served as a community advisor for the Health and Wellness Hall, and was involved with the Inter-Varsity Campus Ministry and Alpha Psi Omega National Theatre Honor Society. She also completed an internship with The Jacksonville Film and Television Office.

Williams created a 45-minute documentary for her senior thesis film project titled “The Core of Us,” a film that explores the nature of African-American culture through modern lenses. During the development of the project, Williams networked with prominent Jacksonville leaders such as Sen. Tony Hill and Edward Waters College President Nat Glover.

Williams is working on the set of CW-17 Bounce TV with a new show, “Music4U.” In addition to gaining more experience in television production through her current job, she’s been accepted to UNF for grad school and hopes to get her master’s degree in mass communications. Williams says her career goal is to be a program director for an educational television station such as PBS.

For this coming school year, JU has accepted three new Jacksonville Commitment Scholars. The students meet the eligibility by attending a Duval County public high school, qualifying for the federal free or reduced-lunch program and by being accepted to the University.