Trina Durham is no stranger to adversity. Growing up, her family struggled to make ends meet. Her mom lived with mental illness and, her dad, the primary wage earner, was diagnosed with cancer when Trina was a freshman in high school. Even as responsibilities mounted, Trina worked hard in school. Education was her ladder out of poverty.
Today, the University of Missouri senior, majoring in business administration, has one less thing to worry about while pursuing a career in financial services. A scholarship through the Jackie Robinson Foundation, funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation, pays her tuition. As the first in her family to attend college, Trina qualified for The Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship by demonstrating high academic achievement and financial need.
Introduced by The Coca-Cola Foundation in 1993, The Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship (CCFGS) program has supported students who are the first in their immediate family to attend college. To date, the program has paid more than $37.5 million in scholarships to more than 3,200 students at more than 520 campuses around the country. Currently, 35 colleges, universities and scholarship funds are distributing scholarships through the program, supporting students at more than 110 campuses.
“The scholarship means I don’t have to worry about my education because it provides a great support system,” says Trina. “Through the program, I also have mentors who offer advice. It’s like having a double support system.”
Education has been a cornerstone of The Coca-Cola Foundation’s philanthropy since it was established in 1984 by then Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Roberto Goizueta.
“We know that education creates opportunities and changes lives,” says Helen Smith Price, Executive Director of The Coca-Cola Foundation. “It’s one of the ways in which we make a unique difference in the community.”
With a commitment to donate 1 percent of the company’s prior year’s operating income each year, $117 million was donated in 2015, including $20 million to directly support education programs and initiatives. Among these initiatives is the Foundation’s First Generation Scholarship Program, which helps students like Trina through its support of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, as well as other foundations and scholarship programs throughout the country aimed at helping first-generation students succeed in school.
The beneficiaries of these efforts include students like Angel Hogg, the recipient of a Foundation-supported First Generation Scholarship at the University of Georgia (UGA).
Angel is from the small, coastal community of Guyton, Georgia. Even though her parents did not graduate from high school, they encouraged their children to do well in school. Now, Angel is an animal health major in the pre-veterinarian program at the University of Georgia. She also works as a veterinary technician at the Oconee Veterinary Hospital, with hopes of someday having her own clinic.
“I’ve always loved learning, and going to school,” Angel recounts. “I’ve wanted to be a vet since I was five years old.”
Graduating from high school with a 4.0 grade point average, she caught the attention of UGA recruiters who recommended she apply for the First Generation scholarship as a way to help pay tuition. Started in 2006, the UGA program is specifically designed to meet the unique needs of First Generation scholars, and uses a network of programs and personnel to encourage student success.
The Coca-Cola Foundation First Generation Scholarship Program has helped more than 3,200 first-generation students attend college.
According to UGA President Jere W. Morehead, “This program bolsters the University of Georgia’s efforts to cultivate a diverse and supportive learning environment composed of academically talented students from a variety of backgrounds.”
Meaghan Nappo, program coordinator for the UGA program, finds first generation students to be smart, motivated and engaged, lacking only the means to pay for college.
“If they didn’t receive funding, many of them could not have attended to UGA,” offers Nappo. In return, many contribute to the local community. “They want to give back as a result of the opportunity afforded them by Coca-Cola.”
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, you could end up at a college like UGA, meeting the people I’ve met,” says Angel. “You never know what blessings can come just from trying your hardest.”
Her younger brother has taken note, and plans to join her at UGA after graduating high school.
The support of the CCFGS program has even transformed the lives of students such as Dominique Grasty, for whom college would otherwise have been an impossibility because of the many challenges in her young life.
When Dominique was 10 years old, her dad, a retired Marine, was admitted to the hospital with a heart condition, one of many such occasions. This time, he didn’t make it back home. Discharged prematurely, he passed out in the bathroom and died before he could leave the hospital.
“In addition to the trauma of losing my father,” Dominique recounts, “we also had to go through a lawsuit that lasted almost 10 years with the hospital.” Her mom did the best she could on her own, running a day care center from their home.
Dominique remembers her father being a tremendous influence on her passion for academics, pushing her to give school her best effort. He still motivates her. “I’m trying to do my best to live out my father’s legacy,” she says.
Dominique graduated from high school with honors as the class salutatorian. In researching scholarship options, she discovered the Jackie Robinson Foundation and Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarships. It allowed her to attend Spelman and, now, Dominique’s example has prompted her younger sister to apply to her alma mater.
Coca-Cola First Generation Scholar Dominique Grasty (right) graduated from Spelman College and is now earning her master’s degree at the Morehouse School of Medicine. Image credit: The Coca-Cola Foundation.
After graduating from Spelman College in 2013, Dominique joined AmeriCorps, where she managed a tutoring program for children in Atlanta Public Schools. The Philadelphia native is now enrolled in a Master of Science and Medical Science program and has just been accepted to the Morehouse School of Medicine.
In addition to funding for tuition, many of the programs supported by the CCFGS program also work to provide first-generation students with all of the resources they need to thrive.
For example, some versions of the CCFGS program focus on support for the junior and senior years of college, in a special initiative called the “Last Mile.”
At Central Washington University (CWU), 10 students, including Jose Gonzalez, benefit from the CCFGS Last Mile Scholarships. Jose is majoring in Information Technology & Administrative Management. “Thanks to the support of my education through the Coca-Cola First Generation Last Mile Scholarship at CWU, I am able to complete my degree with minimal debt,” says Jose. “The scholarship is helping my dreams come true.”
Coca-Cola First Generation Scholar Jose Gonzalez is majoring in information technology at Central Washington University. Image credit: The Coca-Cola Foundation.
Without the burden of crushing student debt, many first generation students helped by CCFGS are able to reach even further and think about pursuing graduate studies. For others, the support has meant making life easier to bear financially. For Trina Durham, the funds have helped her keep her home, even though her mother suffers from a debilitating illness and her father is now deceased. She’s on track to finish her Bachelor in Business Administration next year, with an MBA on the horizon.
Through its support of educational opportunities for all students – and first-generation students in particular – the Foundation is working to fulfill its mission of strengthening both families and communities nationwide. Through our First Generation Scholarship Program, we hope to have offered Trina, Dominique, Angel, Jose, and thousands of others, not just the promise of a better education but the promise of a better life.
Lori Billingsley is Vice President of Community Relations, Coca-Cola North America, and Jacquee Minor is a writer based in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Coca-Cola Foundation
Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship Program