ATLANTA — This has been an especially exciting graduation season because families and friends have been able to celebrate in person. For Charese Morrisette-Eason, a project leader with Ford's global supply chain innovation district, this was the moment to finally meet her Spelman mentee, Alyssa Cabezas.
Morrisette-Eason was partnered with Cabezas as part of Ford Fund's First Gen program which pairs female Ford leaders with first-generation college students at the historically black college, Spelman College. The relationship between Ford employees and first-generation students provides an opportunity for students who are the first in their families to enroll in college to have access to mentorship and an expanded network of opportunities and resources.
Cabezas graduated this year as class president and addressed her classmates in an inspiring address just moments before Stacy Abrams took the stage to give the keynote. Morrisette-Eason was able to join her in Atlanta to celebrate the moment together.
A Bond Built Through Mentorship
Research shows that first-generation students experience much higher dropout rates due to challenges such as financial instability, lack of self-esteem, and lack of adequate guidance since they are the first in their families to navigate college admissions, student life and financial aid.
"Everyone needs that good friend or that safe place–someone who can relate," Morrisette-Eason said. "I myself prefer to have guidance from someone who has more experience and wisdom than me–like a good coach. I like to be coached so I can be put in the game."
"I definitely wouldn't have made it to graduation without Charese and the First Gen program–I was so out of depth," Cabezas said. "I don't know that it even felt real on graduation day. To think that I was on stage and giving a speech at the No. 1 HBCU, it's unbelievable. My family said to me, ‘You used to talk about it and now you're doing it and you're paving the way for your brothers.'"
Ford First Gen at Spelman
In 2018, Ford Motor Company Fund and Spelman College in Atlanta launched Ford First Gen at Spelman. The intent behind the pilot was to create a program that incorporated mentorship, monthly learning sessions and experiences, internships, and funding to support first-generation students at Spelman.
In that time, the program has seen program participants thrive, not only graduating but also serving as class president or becoming the valedictorian of their graduating class. This year is particularly special as the Spelman College class of 2022 includes the freshman who began the program back in 2018. Graduates are now going on to work for Fortune 500 companies or pursuing advanced degrees with plans to become lawyers, doctors or serve in public office.
Due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback from students, Ford Fund and Spelman are continuing the program, and Ford Fund is exploring new partnerships with other HBCUs to bring the program to their campuses.