The Coca-Cola Foundation has given the University of Houston $200,000 to fund a Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship Program.
The scholarship is the latest addition to the resources that the Urban Experience Program offers to students on campus, said Raven Jones, director of the UEP.
This is the largest donation Coca-Cola has made to UH and is twice as large as its previous top donation. There is a chance that the school will receive more funds in the future, Jones said.
The scholarship will run for two years and give $1,125 per semester to 40 full-time students to help them become the first in their families to graduate from college.
At the end of the two years, Coca-Cola and the UEP will meet to discuss extending and expanding the scholarship, Jones said.
The scholarship is available only to first generation students that are enrolled in the UEP. Though the program typically helps minorities, students who aged out of foster care or first generation students, any student can apply by filling out the application, available here.
The UEP has been running for 19 years and focuses on giving students resources like financial counseling, personal mentoring and professional workshops.
Jones said that 46.7 percent of UH students are first generation students, one of the highest first-generation enrollment rates for a major metropolitan school, and that number has been trending upward.
“I think the major thing with a first gen student is that they may not have that family-support member that understands what they are going through,” Jones said. “If your father or mother have not gone to college, when you are struggling in class or you have to work extra hours, they may not understand those problems. There is a certain level of knowledge that is not there.”
The program offers mentorship to younger students from other senior first-generation students and alumni.
When Jones first joined the UEP in August 2014, she said the program served 50 to 80 students. The program now serves more than 300 students and is closing in on 400. The staff has grown likewise from the director and one graduate assistant to a staff of 11: the director, two counselors, two graduate assistants and six student leaders.
Some of the program’s students come from partner programs, like the Foster Care to Success program and the Youth Empowerment Alliance, which helps foster youth and undocumented students.
Though President Donald Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program Sept. 5, Jones said that the end of DACA will not disrupt UEP’s mission.
“It’s not going to change what we offer,” Jones said. “Our students on campus need to have tools and resources and allocated staff that are very knowledgeable about DACA and undocumented issues, and I think that our office, no matter what politically is happening, will continue to do our best to serve out students.”
The program has a 97 percent retention rate and members average about a 3.0 GPA, Jones said. She is optimistic about the program’s continued success.
The program is fee-funded, making it free to all UH students. UEP holds events every month to help students, and details can be found at their website: www.uh.edu/uep.
“Our numbers are there — they speak for themselves,” Jones said. “But the success of the students is what we are really excited about — when they all reach their goals and graduate and go on to big things.”