UNCF hosts The Panda Cares Scholars Leadership Institute

Pinky Cole, Arnika Frazier-Jackson, and Melissa A. Mitchell at the Panda Cares Scholars Leadership Institute.
Photo courtesy of Arnika Frazier-Jackson

Over the past weekend, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) hosted a leadership institute for the seniors and recent graduates of the Panda Cares Scholars Program. Over 235 students attending 155 institutions were granted the opportunity to stay at a Disney resort between March 15 and March 18.

They attended educational sessions dedicated to professional growth and development. Among the weekend’s agenda was also a  career fair with companies such as The Walt Disney Company.

The Panda Cares Scholars program recruits students that adhere to certain criteria such as sophomore status, a GPA requirement, and 20 hours of community service. Upon maintaining a required GPA and completing tasks, scholars continue to receive a scholarship and developmental tools as they matriculate. The leadership institute was one of those developmental tools as the culmination of 4 years of hard work.

The professional sessions included multiple topics regarding financial planning, salary negotiation, and finding a work-life balance. Pinky Cole, Clark Atlanta University Alumna and owner of the Slutty Vegan franchise was a key speaker brought to speak about “maximizing your passions” and answer students’ questions.

UNCF’s Director of Student Professional Development Program is FAMU Alumna Arnika Frazier-Jackson, the main coordinator of the institute. She played a core role in organizing the event. Her goal was to provide an opportunity for scholars to connect with one another and be exposed to industry leaders.

“When I create programming for conferences, I think about the end first; what are the key learnings I want the attendees to gain, what type of experiences do I want the attendees to have, and what would be the best environment for the event,” Frazier-Jackson said. “Once I have the answers to those questions, I start identifying the team that can help turn the vision into a reality.”

FAMU Alumna Melissa A. Mitchell also played a role in this event coming to fruition. Mitchell is an artist that has worked with companies such as Foot Locker and Coach. She created the marketing materials for the weekend, such as the shirts, welcome signs, and bags. This set the tone for the scholars’ uniformity, created a cohesive look within the conference, and uplifted the overall energy.

“As an alumna of FAMU, it was my way of creatively and artistically giving back,” Mitchell said. “It was really for me to be representative of what could happen and what possibilities ahead.”

Mitchell’s creative vision and Frazier Jackson’s coordination played a huge role in making the weekend a success for the students. With a large amount of students from so many different institutions, events of this magnitude require care and diligence to help all students benefit.

Among the students that attended was Eljin Rhymes, a fourth-year Industrial Engineering student at Florida A&M University. Rhymes had the opportunity to attend seminars and meet his peers that he had never seen physically in the program.

“For the main takeaway, I took away the power of networking with other students in other majors because you never know who you might need moving forward,” Rhymes said. “It felt pretty nice since I got to put a name to a face. On top of that, how much black excellence was really in the room.”

Programs and events such as this one provide a lot of necessary experience that help students become more confident for post-grad life. On top of everything else, students visited Epcot and Magic Kingdom. The event proved to be a success and honored all the hard work scholars have done over the past few years.

The involvement of FAMU within this event proves excellence with caring to be true. It’s always rewarding when FAMU graduates can continue to make a difference in students’ lives and inspire the next generation.