Checking in on the First Tee College Scholarship Class of 2020

Categories: Blog, Character Education, Scholarship

By Sara Wright, Guest Blogger
PGA TOUR Staff

Beyond First Tee’s core programming, which focuses on empowering kids and teens to build strength of character through active learning experiences, First Tee has designed a college scholarship program to provide further life skill development and mentorship for alumni throughout their collegiate career.

The First Tee College Scholarship Program was relaunched this year to support deserving students across the country as they pursue their dreams of higher education. This program not only provides financial assistance, but professional development workshops, access to post-graduate employment opportunities, and pairs the scholars with dedicated mentors in their field.

On the heels of the recent announcement highlighting TruGreen’s partnership with First Tee and the expansion of the First Tee College Scholarship Program, we took the opportunity to check-in with this year’s nine scholarship recipients. Through the program, the scholars have attended a pre-college retreat and have been paired with their mentors who will help guide them through the next four years of their college experience. We wanted to hear what it’s been like for them navigating their freshmen year during a pandemic and how the lessons learned in First Tee have set them up for success.

“For me, the greatest skills and lessons from First Tee have all been surrounding perseverance,” said Sara Rintoul, First Tee — Central Florida alumna and University of Florida freshman. “Between COVID, moving to a new city, and actually beginning college classes, I have certainly encountered many learning curves. But often, when I face a challenge or just feel unsure about myself, I remember the countless First Tee classes I attended in which coaches and even my peers would encourage perseverance. I was prepared to face difficulties with a positive and tactical mindset. This mindset is what has made my college experience thus far successful – or at least manageable at times when it was trying.”

Luke Boldt from First Tee — Coastal Carolinas agrees with Sara regarding the power of perseverance. Boldt is attending East Carolina University where he is majoring in Public Health.

“Starting out in college has been tough and I have used perseverance to push through the hardships of classes and maintain academic proficiency, while also managing a social life,” Boldt said. “Perseverance is no doubt one of the most important traits I have learned from being involved with First Tee. I don’t know where I’d be without this program and all it has given me.”

Denise Wei of First Tee – San Francisco is currently studying Business Administration at the University of California, Irvine. She has also found a ton of value in First Tee’s perseverance lessons, as she’s currently taking all of her classes remotely, from home, and says that even though she took virtual classes during her last year of high school, online classes at the university level feel completely different.

“Each class is filled with more than 200 students and it’s hard to get that one-on-one interaction with my classmates as well as the professor,” Wei said. “Also, since classes are virtual, I have to rely on myself to get things done and keep track of the assignments that are due. Perseverance has been extremely important, as I have been flooded with homework the first two weeks of school and with perseverance, I was able to get through it. I realized that college isn’t as easy as I thought it was, but I will continue to work hard to achieve my goals.”

Kelly Low from First Tee — Fort Worth has had a good experience taking online classes through the University of Texas at Dallas, but says every week holds a new challenge.

“In the past, I struggled a lot, whether that was with my grades or playing golf,” she admits. “But First Tee taught me how to navigate through challenges, embracing that struggle, and most importantly to have confidence in myself and what I can accomplish.”

Ricky Lam started school this fall at Harvard University. He is also in a virtual learning environment, studying linear algebra, microeconomics and classical Chinese philosophy, while living in student housing in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“My college experience has been amazing,” Lam said. “Because of the pandemic, much of the rush for socializing has slowed down and become more inclusive, helping me feel less overwhelmed with the transition to college. I have been able to use First Tee’s focus on open-ended questions to become more vulnerable, caring, and curious to meet those around me, facilitating deeper and more enjoyable conversations.”

Lam, an alumnus of First Tee — Tri-Valley, went on to tell about how important it was to meet his mentor, James, who was able to give him practical insights into what his future in finance, private equity and financial advising could look like.

“We had such a fulfilling first conversation,” Lam added. “His story, his ups-and-downs and his immense perseverance throughout his career in finance was truly inspiring to me. I am so grateful to First Tee for this experience.”

First Tee — Miami alumna Nicole Monsalve is planning on majoring in economics at Duke University, and despite the COVID regulations that have been implemented on campus, she also has been able to get to see new faces (the top half at least) and make friends that have made this transition a little less challenging and a lot more fun.

“Courtesy is a big value that I am focusing on here in college,” Monsalve said. “I have made sure to learn the names of the cleaning crew in my building, the ladies and gentlemen in the cafeteria, the guys at the smoothie bar I go to, and those that oversee the gym, so that every time I see them I am able to give them a proper greeting and call them by their name. It may seem small, but you can see how happy they are when you go out of your way to recognize them. In doing this, the school feels more like a community and I feel more at home.”

Remi Shendell of First Tee – Metropolitan New York has been able to live on campus and take a couple of classes in person while studying Human Health and Biology at Emory University.

“Although it is different than what I imagined college would be like, I am enjoying the people, surroundings, and the new independence that I have,” Shendell said. “One of the most important skills I learned from First Tee was introducing myself and reaching out to people. Living at college in a pandemic can be isolating because there are a lot of new people and not that many scheduled opportunities to meet them in person. First Tee gave me confidence in my social skills, whether it be introducing myself to a fellow classmate or talking to a professor.”

Now, of course, not every scholar was able to attend their intended school this fall. Blake Brantley from First Tee — Triad was set to attend Yale University, but due to COVID limitations, decided to take a gap year instead. Brantley did still attend First Tee’s pre-college retreat and really appreciated all the speakers and information that was provided to keep him on track.

“One of my biggest takeaways came from the time-management portion,” said Brantley of the retreat. “Here we talked about building plans and schedules to help keep us on track every day which has helped me keep moving toward my goals. Everyone within the First Tee organization is very eager to help us all succeed and are happy to provide us with any tools we might need to reach our full potential.”

Jessica Jiao, who participated at First Tee —Metropolitan New York , is currently attending Georgetown University. She also felt the tremendous support from First Tee during the pre-college retreat.

“I had so many people supporting me and as the program goes on, I will always have a team of “go-to people” whom I can rely on for help during my college journey. Through communicating with my First Tee peers, working with my coaches and counselors, I’ve become comfortable with reaching out to others. May it be for help, guidance or support, communication has been one of the most important skills in my life and I’m thankful I was given the chance to collaborate with others through First Tee.”

Applications for next year’s First Tee College Scholarship Program will open to First Tee students in early 2021. For more information, visit firsttee.org.

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