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University awards two Master in Public Policy Minority Fellowships

The Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute today announced that Dante Jennings and Rhianna Scyster have been selected recipients of the 2020 Master in Public Policy (MPP) Minority Fellowship.

“We established this program to identify and prepare exceptional African Americans who can become the future leaders of Northeast Florida,” said Charles Wodehouse, a long-time University advisory board member whose generosity and vision helped Jacksonville University establish the MPP Minority Fellowship in partnership with the City of Jacksonville in 2018.

The Public Policy Institute also announced that three other program finalists also received partial scholarship awards this year as the program has been supplemented by the MPP Minority Fellowship & Scholarship Fund.

“The Master in Public Policy Minority Fellowship at Jacksonville University expands access and opportunities for minority students looking for a career in public service,” said Mayor Lenny Curry. “Jacksonville is so fortunate to have these bright young minds contributing to the success of our city. It is an incredible sight to see education and philanthropy intersect to foster such opportunities for these aspiring leaders.”

This year’s Fellowship recipients are:

  • Dante Jennings is Regional Assistant Principal with Duval County Public Schools where he supervises 80 educators at three middle schools in the turnaround region. He was named a National Urban League Emerging Leader in 2020 and served as president of the Jacksonville Urban League Young Professionals. He holds a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Philosophy from Florida International University.
  • Rhianna Scyster is an Exceptional Student Education Support Specialist at Lake Shore Middle School and an Enrichment Specialist at The Sanctuary on 8th Street, which provides after school and summer camp programs to encourage and empower Jacksonville children and families who live in areas of concentrated poverty. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Exceptional Student Education from the University of North Florida.

“Dante Jennings and Rhianna Scyster already serve their community in meaningful and impactful ways,” said Fellowship Advisory Board Member Mark L. Griffin, pastor and Chief Executive Officer of Wayman Ministries. “The Master of Public Policy program will help equip them with even more tools they can use to inspire and lead others to service.”

This year’s two Fellowship recipients will receive full tuition scholarships to earn their MPP degrees at Jacksonville University, be provided internship opportunities by the City of Jacksonville, and be mentored by community leaders associated with the program. In return, Fellowship recipients agree to spend at least three years after graduation in Northeastern Florida.

The other three finalists and scholarship recipients are:

  • Briana Mitchell is a Reference Data Analyst at Deutche Bank who earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Economics and Business Analytics with a minor in Spanish from Jacksonville University.
  • Ashli Simmons is an Instructional Coach at Sabal Palm Elementary School who holds Master of Education and Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Houston and Religious Studies degrees from Rice University.
  • Nicole Villafane is a financial representative with Western Mutual in Jacksonville and holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in international business and marketing from the University of North Florida.

“The Minority Fellowship program has already diversified and enriched enrollment in the Public Policy Institute,” said Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute Director Rick Mullaney. “Hopefully, it can also serve as one example of how we can begin to ensure more diversity among the public policy makers who must tackle the myriad problems across all our neighborhoods in Northeast Florida.”

A nine-member advisory board of community leaders selected the finalists from among this year’s applicants and then interviewed each finalist before making the Fellowship awards. This year’s advisory board includes:

  • Cynthia B. Chomiak, ’83 – Founder and Chief Executive, Educated Decisions LLC; Vice Chair, Jacksonville University Board of Trustees
  • Dr. Barbara Darby – President, Florida State College of Jacksonville North Campus (Retired)
  • Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., ’17 – Chief Executive Officer, Jacksonville Transportation Authority
  • The Honorable Nathaniel Glover Jr. – President, Edward Waters College (Retired), former Jacksonville Sheriff
  • Mark L. Griffin – Pastor and Chief Executive Officer, Wayman Ministries
  • Matthew Kane, ’01 – Former Owner, Greenshades Software, Inc.; Jacksonville University Board of Trustees
  • Dawn Lockhart – Director of Strategic Partnerships, City of Jacksonville
  • Dr. Charles E. Moreland – Director of Community Affairs, City of Jacksonville
  • Charles Wodehouse – President, CSX Technology, Inc. (Retired); Senior Vice President, CSX Transportation (Retired); Member of the Public Policy Institute Board of Advisors; Former Jacksonville University Board of Trustees (18 years)

Applications for the 2021 Minority Fellowship will open in August. Those interested are encouraged to visit www.ju.edu/publicpolicy to learn more and apply.

Donations to the MPP Minority Fellowship & Scholarship Fund can be made by visiting https://www.ju.edu/publicpolicy/support/index.php