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Riley Institute hosts seventh annual Advantage Scholars program

Advantage Scholars students celebrate after a salsa- and guacamole-making contest. Photo by Nathan Gray, Furman University

Last updated July 8, 2024

By Madison Powers, Contributor

Nearly 50 incoming first-year Furman University students joined The Riley Institute over two, three-day sessions in June to explore social issues in the Greenville community, create connections with fellow students and grow leadership skills through workshops and discussion. This 2028 class of Advantage Scholars, composed of students who received Furman’s most prestigious scholarships, has 60 students in their cohort with around 260 students in the four classes at Furman right now.

The students were divided into groups based on their interests: community health and healthcare, housing and homelessness, criminal justice and re-entry, public education and sustainability. In these small groups, students met with mentors and community partners, such as New Horizon Family Health Services and Soteria, a nonprofit organization that provides for men leaving the South Carolina prison system through counseling, housing and transitional employment.

Jacob Mijalli ’28, from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, participated in the criminal justice and re-entry group. He plans to study biology as a pre-med student but said criminal justice ties into his interests and experiences. “As the son of Egyptian immigrants, I understand the racial prejudices underlying [the criminal justice system] and I am interested in that.”

Mijalli said it was eye-opening to discuss polarizing topics with his small group. “I don’t agree with everything that everybody says,” Mijalli said. “But still getting to hear these other opinions really opens your mind. There is truth in a lot of opposing viewpoints. And it’s worth listening to them.”

Evelyn Campbell ’28, from Lakewood, Colorado, participated in the community health and awareness group. Campbell, who’s planning to study politics and international affairs and sociology or philosophy, said she is interested in public policy and politics, which relate to public health.

“Community health affects all of us and it’s such a big part of all of our lives,” Campbell said. “It would be crazy to ignore that simply because of how much it affects everybody.”

Both Campbell and Mijalli took the Seeking Abraham tour, an initiative by the Task Force on Slavery & Justice, and found it moving. Brandon Inabinet, professor of communication studies and chair of the task force, led the tour on and around Furman’s campus, explaining the racial history and significance of buildings.

“It’s important to acknowledge that (history) so we can move forward,” Mijalli said.

Campbell said the tour was one of the most powerful moments of the program. “Accountability is incredibly important,” she said of the initiative. “What do we do to really help atone for that while keeping the history there so it’s not ignored?”

She said during her college search, she sought out small liberal arts schools outside of Colorado, and Furman felt perfect for its sense of community and location on the East coast, closer to Washington D.C. and New York. “I’m incredibly grateful to be here. I wanted exactly this,” Campbell said. Though she was nervous before the program, she said the support system she’s experienced has been comforting.

Mijalli, who attended Scholar’s Academy in Conway, South Carolina and had only 30 students in his graduating class, said he looked for a school with a similar tight-knit feel.

He said the Advantage Scholars program was the ultimate factor in his college decision and that the program has pushed him to make connections. “They have made us step out of our comfort zones, but that’s healthy,” Mijalli said. “And that is necessary if you want to become a leader and grow as a person.”

As part of a workshop, the cohort imagined what it would be like to live as a single mother working minimum wage in Greenville County. They attended a fun session with Bon Appetit, the Dining Hall vendor, and learned how to make guacamole. And, they crafted individual leadership statements.

Mijalli said his statement centers on building up the people he meets. “My ultimate aspiration as a leader is to positively change the lives of everyone I interact with directly or indirectly and remind them of the value they bring to the world,” he said.

Campbell said throughout her time at Furman, she will reference her statement and ask herself, “Does this fit with who I want to be? Does this fit with where I’m going and with what I want to do with my life? Am I staying true to myself?”

Campbell recommends the program – which is open to recipients of Duke, Townes, Hollingsworth, Vaughn, Mickel, or Lay scholarships – for students who are “here to take advantage of every single opportunity they are given, and every single moment of time they are allotted.”

Mijalli said the program is perfect for future leaders. “If you want to feel a sense of community with like-minded people who are hardworking, resilient, but also very understanding, it’s the place for you.”

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