Kennesaw State students find continued success in Coca-Cola Scholarship program

KENNESAW, Ga. | Apr 23, 2021

Kamille Suarez-Paulino
Kamille Suarez-Paulino

Prior to enrolling at Kennesaw State University, first-generation student Kamille Suarez-Paulino said there were few people who could offer guidance for her college career.

Now a third-year student in The Coca-Cola First Generation and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Scholars program, the economics major wears her first-generation status as a badge of pride.

“I feel like I’m breaking barriers,” she said. “I feel very empowered by the resources available to me because of The Coca-Cola Foundation program. Without them, I’m not sure I would have gone to college.”

Suarez-Paulino is one of 35 students who have benefited from the program made possible by a $1.25 million donation from The Coca-Cola Foundation. Launched in August 2018, the grant provides scholarships to students who identify as first generation, or those who are first in their immediate families to seek college degrees. Beyond the scholarships, the four-year program offers additional academic and social support designed to meet the needs of the students in the target populations. Support comes in the form of graduation coaches, mentoring receptions and regular workshops.

As someone new to the college experience, Suarez-Paulino said the graduation coaching has been one of the most advantageous aspects of the program. On the advice of her coach, she attended several workshops and seminars, leading her to become an active member of the Undergraduate Research Club and the Student Managed Investment Fund.

Keoni McKeever
Keoni McKeever
“Since the beginning, my greatest resource has been the graduation coaching I receive on a regular basis,” she said. “Any time I have a problem, one of my first stops is with my graduation coach because they have a deep understanding of how the University works and are quick to provide the advice I need.”

Like Suarez-Paulino, civil engineering student Keoni McKeever said he was able to find a community on campus through The Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship Program. As a freshman, he became active in the American Society of Civil Engineers student chapter which, in turn, led him to an internship at Civilogistix.

“The internships has provided a lot of insight about the real world and how my classes apply to what I’ll be doing once I graduate,” said McKeever, who will spend this summer as a civil design intern at Eberly & Associates. “It really solidified that I wanted to stay in civil engineering. I’m gaining a lot of experience that I might not have otherwise, and I’m so thankful for that.”

Emily Johnston
Emily Johnston
If not for the program, business management student Emily Johnston said she likely wouldn’t have been able to afford college. Each recipient of The Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship receives a $5,000 award, which can be coupled with the HOPE Scholarship annually to cover all costs associated with tuition, fees and books.

Johnston said she has used opportunities within the program to work on her resume writing and interview skills, and has built her network by connecting with Coca-Cola professionals. During a recent mentoring dinner, she was paired with Kathy Schwaig, KSU provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

“It was super cool because it was such a personal thing,” Johnston said. “I told her I wanted to work for the Braves, and she was telling me everyone she knows in that organization and how she could help me. It was just so neat to be able to meet her and get those connections.”

Tierra Morrow
Tierra Morrow
Tierra Morrow, an elementary education student, said she would not have traveled internationally if it weren’t for the program, which provides funding for students to engage in research and study abroad opportunities. In 2019, she visited Peru with her first generation learning community.

“I gained so much insight from the study abroad experience,” she said. “I even picked up a minor in Latin American studies solely because of study abroad. Being thrown into another culture like that was an experience that I would have never gained any other way.”

Like Suarez-Paulino, Morrow admits that she had some angst about being the first in her family to seek a college degree. However, equipped with the experience through The Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship program, she has adopted it as part of her identity.

“When I introduce myself, I say that I’m a first-generation college student because it really does say a lot about you,” she said. “I know that I’m raising the bar for future generations in my family.”

– Travis Highfield

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit