a closer look – johnson scholarship foundation

Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s mission is to assist disadvantaged people obtain an education. They recently issued a challenge grant that brought together a number of local colleges and UCF to fund scholarships.

Valencia, Brevard Community College, Seminole State College and Lake-Sumter State College all signed on for this unique fundraising effort.

At the heart is something that we know works, the DirectConnect to UCF program. One out of every four UCF graduates started at Valencia. Valencia graduates are UCF’s number one source of transfer students.

The DirectConnect to UCF partnership is designed to help students transition from partner colleges to UCF. The program guarantees admission to students who have earned their associate degrees from a partner college and meet academic requirements.

The chance to strengthen this partnership with 2+2 scholarships that will travel with the student as they journey from Valencia to UCF was a very worthwhile endeavor to Valencia.

Simply put, each partner college has to raise a certain amount. These funds will be used for scholarships. Johnson Scholarship Foundation will match these funds, and that money will be used to create an endowment. This partnership is projected to raise $4 million in scholarships.

Students were identified; Osceola campus students who plan to receive a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences from UCF. Students must demonstrate financial need and be enrolled in biology and chemistry courses.

Another unique aspect of this scholarship is that it will increase in amount over time. The amount of each award will increase each term as a student demonstrates academic success, growing from $500 to $1,500 in the fifth term.

Dr. Melissa Pedone, dean of math and science, offers her perspective on this unique partnership and its benefit to Valencia students. “The Johnson Scholarship is a very special opportunity to support students on the Osceola campus pursuing a STEM degree focused on biomedical sciences. It is unique in that it provides growing support as students make progress through the degree. STEM majors include many rigorous math and science classes that go beyond the standard math and science general education requirements. Sometimes STEM students run into problems when traditional forms of financial aid cannot accommodate the extra classes or time it takes to complete all of the requirements. The Johnson Scholarship takes this into consideration and provides the critical additional support necessary to help students reach their full STEM potential.”

The first of Valencia’s Johnson Scholars have been awarded, future doctors and researchers who will shape the landscape of tomorrow. In support of Dr. Pedone’s comments, each of these students is well on the way to their highest potential.

Duneishka Roman’s first patient was Mr. Cuddles, the teddy bear. She soon moved beyond the plastic stethoscope and is now in her first year at Valencia studying biology.

Valencia Johnson Scholar, Duneishka Roman

Valencia Johnson Scholar, Duneishka Roman


She started down an uncertain path in high school, influenced by the wrong people, but she soon got herself back on track, pushing her GPA up and taking part in scholastic clubs and doing volunteer work. Today, she maintains a 4.0 average by studying, handing in assignments on time and is sure to speak up if she doesn’t understand a concept in class.

She found out she was a Johnson Scholar mid-bite at a family meal. She pushed the food aside and thanked God for blessing her with this opportunity.

She hopes to one day be a pediatrician and says she wants to “give hope to those who find themselves weak and without hope, to be able to lift at least one person’s spirit.”

She hopes to take advantage of the education she has been given and use it wisely, “because I know for sure that all the building blocks I’m putting together now are to build my future tomorrow.”

She feels as long as she keeps her goals in mind, her dream will be realized and all of her passion and effort will pay off.

Mention of this scholarship kept finding its way into Ekaterina Karelova’s life so she thought she better take advantage of the opportunity. She heard about the scholarship in her chemistry class and then again, right after, in her biology class. On top of that, she received an email about the scholarship, and she decided to check it out.

Ekaterina grew up with her grandparents and they stressed the importance of learning English. “At the age of six they got me an English tutor and no matter what the financial situation was, we would always have money set aside for my English tutor.”

Ekaterina is from the Republic of Georgia and first came to the United States to study business. It was part of a foundation implemented by the then-president of her country, and she traveled with a group of seven kids for what was supposed to be one year, but ended up being much longer.

Curiosity brought her to biomedical science. She was doing research on what could be the underlying cause of an illness and “one day it just hit me. In order to see the big picture, first I have to understand the basics. That is when I enrolled at Valencia College.”

Today she juggles a full-time course load with a full-time job and admits sometimes she is not sure how everything gets done.

She said she felt a great feeling of accomplishment and relief when she found out she was a Johnson Scholar. She sums it up so well: “Education is not cheap. A lot of people with great potential might never attend a college or university because they cannot afford it. Scholarships give this amazing opportunity to everyone.”

Ekaterina brings an international perspective to what many of us may take for granted, access to education. “Schools in the United States have so many resources and opportunities to give students, to teach students and help them be who they choose to be, whether it is great lawyers, great teachers, great businessmen, great doctors.”

Daniel Salas doesn’t care about statistics; he firmly believes his mindset will carry him through any obstacle.

When Daniel’s grandfather passed away during an effort to find the right surgeon, he made a choice. “I chose to dedicate my life to make sure another member of my community would not have to go through that experience.”

He came to Valencia knowing his path, having shadowed medical professionals at both Osceola Regional Hospital and Good Samaritan Village and continuing his community service at Celebration Health.

Daniel chose Valencia because staff member Nelson Sepulveda made him feel “like an individual versus a number.” He was also swayed by the small class size. Unlike large, auditorium-seating classrooms, Valencia’s average class size is 23.6.

His roster of activity seems endless with active involvement in the Student Government Association and he is an active member of the Seneff Honors College, the Valencia Ambassadors Program and the American Medical Student Association at Valencia. He keeps his drive and determination by always asking himself a question when faced with a distraction, “Will attending that bring me any closer to my goals?”

A conversation with Dr. Kathleen Plinske, Osceola Campus president, made him aware of the Johnson Scholar opportunity. Daniel followed up with Dr. Pedone, who encouraged him to apply for the scholarship.

On the importance of scholarships, he says, “Personally, I believe that scholarships are much more than giving away money. They impact the lives of students by allowing us to focus more on our studies so that we can one day give back to those who believed in us.”

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