By Karter Nancy
James Agan has always been interested in being the first member of his family to attend college. However, he recognized the financial pressure that often comes with university life. Agan was committed to a part-time job in high school but knew his savings alone wouldn’t cover the costs.
Thankfully, Agan’s concerns about going to college were alleviated when he qualified for a full-ride scholarship to the University of Florida (UF) through the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program. It was then he knew becoming a Gator was the perfect fit. Plus, he was intrigued by how UF’s distinguished Warrington College of Business would challenge him academically.
The Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars (MFOS) program awards a full-ride grant and scholarship package to undergraduate first-generation (first-gen) students from low-income backgrounds. The term first-gen often refers to students who are the first of their families to pursue a bachelor’s degree. MFOS was created to holistically support these students while they work toward their degrees.
Now, the second-year scholar is proud to be studying international development and humanitarian assistance. He is thankful that MFOS made his dream of attending a prestigious university his reality. Even better, being a part of MFOS allows him to expand his passion for service. Agan strives to give back since he believes it’s a privilege to be a part of MFOS and its tight-knit community of first-gen scholars.
“When you give back to your community and fully embrace your service and passion, you break down all those social boundaries,” Agan said. “Community service means coming together to work toward a collective mission to help each other. It’s something I love doing.”
Agan wasn’t fully aware of all the benefits when he joined MFOS. In addition to earning a full-ride scholarship, Agan gets to attend professional workshops, develop genuine relationships with MFOS staff members, meet with life coaches and befriend like-minded peers.
He currently offers guidance to younger MFOS students through its Peer Mentor Program. Agan also speaks at MFOS panels to connect with his first-gen community.
“The most rewarding part of being a peer mentor is being able to invest in new scholars,” Agan said. “When I see new scholars join the program, it’s a reflective moment for me knowing I was just there a year ago. I want to give them the same welcoming experience I had.”
The David and Wanda Brown Center for Leadership & Service (BCLS) provides other ways for Agan to give back to his community. As a program manager for BCLS’s Florida Alternative Breaks, Agan organizes community service projects. Additionally, he is involved in Changemakers’ Dialogue, where he gets to share and listen to personal stories that shaped individuals. He said that being a part of these programs makes him think more about how social identities impact daily life. It also shows him how someone’s background can impact them professionally.
Agan not only openly shares his experiences with others, but wants to make sure future first-gen students can rely on him for help with college admissions. Agan is a leader in UF’s Bridges Multicultural Outreach program. Through this program, he assists high school students from marginalized backgrounds with putting together competitive applications for UF’s admissions process. The outreach happens through comprehensive webinars, mentorship and a large-scale visitation program where each young scholar can experience “a day in the life” of a UF student.
Outside the university, Agan works with Take Stock in Children. The non-profit organization travels to middle and high schools throughout Florida to help low-income youth escape poverty through education.
Agan often uses his time to serve others, but every leader needs a safe space to turn to for guidance. When Agan needs assistance, he knows the MFOS staff is on his side and ready to connect him with the proper resources. In addition, the MFOS office works closely with other departments on campus so that students can get any assistance, advice or experiential learning opportunities they need.
“Overall, MFOS has shaped my college career,” Agan said. “The more involved I got, I realized that it’s much more than a scholarship. It’s a well-rounded movement supporting first-gen students, helping them grow and develop themselves.”