Former Student Body President Cait Zona and Vice President Jarell Jones have dealt with a hectic last few months in office, but that will not discourage them from continuing their roles in community service and improving education in America.
Zona and Jones took office in March 2015, but before graduating from UCF, Zona and Jones passed the gavel to incoming President Christopher Clemente and Vice President Rachel Altfield on April 14.
Zona, who graduates in May with a bachelor’s degree in political science, plans to serve 11 months in AmeriCorps, a domestic version of the more well-known Peace Corps. AmeriCorps allows volunteers to work in underprivileged communities with nonprofits, schools and public agencies.
Although he originally wanted to work in a leadership role of a nonprofit company, Jones, who graduates in December with a bachelor’s degree in business management, will start applying to graduate programs that he hopes to start in August 2017. His top choice is Florida State University because he figures attending a school in the state capitol would work well with his goal to get involved in educational policy.
Zona, on the other hand, plans to spend the summer with her family in New Smyrna Beach until August, when she’ll make her way to Great Oaks Charter School in Newark, New Jersey, to tutor kids in basic math and science and get them college ready.
“Basically, I really wanted to give back, and I’m very interested in our education system and making sure that students know, especially those from underserved communities, that there are colleges out there like UCF that focus on access and quality,” Zona said. “One in 10 students right now in Newark actually graduate high school and go to college, so I really want to target that audience because I think education is the key to changing our world.”
Zona’s desire to work with individuals living in underprivileged communities reflects her long-term goals to get a master’s in sociology at Columbia University and possibly work with humanitarian nonprofit organizations on the ground in a third-world country developing new programs, or working to implement and lobby for policies in the U.S. State Department.
Jones hopes to get involved in lobbying as well by helping college students lobby for the resources they need for their institution. However, he prefers to work in the state of Florida “because there [are] so many resources that, not only UCF is lacking, but the other public universities in Florida [are lacking].”
Jones decided in August 2015 that he wanted to go into higher education policy because he “loves getting students involved and engaged” and, after serving as SGA vice president alongside Zona, attending Florida Student Association meetings and talking to students from other campuses, he “started to see that some of the problems and issues we have here [are] almost universal.”
Zona’s inspiration stems more from her visits to Haiti during her senior year of high school and freshman year of college. She visited Haiti after the Haitian Earthquake of 2011 and said the time she spent there was one of the most life-changing experiences she ever had. She even hopes to one day adopt kids from Haiti.
“I absolutely love the kids I got to work with, and we worked in schools over there a lot and seeing how privileged students were to go to school there … it was the biggest luxury of their life just to get an education,” Zona said. “When you have students who run into those schools and just want to sit there all day, and then you look at middle schools and high schools here, and they’re just skipping school and they hate school … and I understand everyone’s different, but it just really took me aback because we take things for granted here a lot of the time.”
Zona also went on a Volunteer UCF alternative break program in Chicago for spring break this semester to work in a few schools located in underprivileged communities. Observing the lives of individuals in different areas “who don’t have the luxuries of what [she] had growing up has really steered [her] passion.”
Although Zona mainly aims to get involved with social work and Jones hopes to benefit the lives of students through educational policy, the inspiration that drives their career pursuits are quite similar. Jones, too, intends to motivate students who might have had a rough start in life.
“I just want to help students reach their potential, because there’s a lot of students who go through life and they don’t have the motivation to go to college, or they do have that motivation, but they don’t know how to go about doing it, so they end up getting stuck in that cycle,” Jones said.
When asked what he has learned about life and society in general after serving as SGA vice president, Jones shared this tidbit of wisdom.
“You should let your passion lead every decision that you make. Know what you want and don’t let anyone try to change your mind or deter you from that,” he said. “It’s easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing, or what they’re thinking and how they feel. [...] And that's what I learned, just to stay strong and stick to who I am and what I want to do, and everything, pretty much, falls into place.”
Gabby Baquero is the Entertainment Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @Gabby_Baquero or email her at MariaB@centralfloridafuture.com.