An enterprising FAU graduate eyes a career of public service
Time and again, during our conversation with recent FAU graduate Neasha Prince, the 22-year-old scholar spoke of her desire to be “of service” to others—projecting a selflessness, and a civic engagement, that has long been embedded in her DNA.
Born in Fort Lauderdale to parents of Haitian origin, Prince ascended through South Florida’s public schools while being raised by a then-single mother who worked two to three jobs to support Prince and her older sister. In high school, she became vice president of DECA, an international organization that prepares bright students like her to be college-and-career-ready. And she twice won the student-body presidency, on a platform of “producing change for people that don’t have the access or the resources to do it themselves.” FAU’s marketing team likes to describe her as “the next Kamala Harris.”
“To this day, I see myself in that position, always being a helping hand to anyone that I can,” she says. “It doesn’t matter who it is. I always see myself being an act of service and change for a particular community.”
When Prince enrolled at FAU in 2017, she became the first in her family to attend college, double-majoring in sociology and psychology. She received a pivotal assist through the university’s Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program, which selected Prince for a full ride—one of only 15 recipients in her cohort.
“Neasha has a presence that is rather amazing,” says Aubrey Strul, cofounder of the scholarship program. “When you talk to her, there’s an amazing decency that shines through. She is one of the most marvelous human beings I have ever had the pleasure to meet.”
Prince started to shake things up at FAU a semester into her tenure, by cofounding First & Proud, a nascent program designed to assist first-generation students like her.
The university had wanted to establish a new office to help first-gen students scholastically, but Prince had broader ideas—to expand the program’s scope to other aspects of participants’ well-being.
“First-gen students are very resilient,” she says. “They’re always going to strive to be better academically. But how can we connect to first-gen students personally? What’s going on at home? What’s going on mentally? What’s going on emotionally? And the best way to combat those stigmas is to create a community of first-gen students that relates on the same level.”
Prince launched a series of meetups, initially on campus and then at the nearby Strikes bowling alley, where first-generation students, a majority of them people of color, mentor each other and discuss the joys and challenges of collegiate life. The group has ballooned to 1,400 members.
“It shocks me that a lot of universities don’t have a first-generation student success network, whether it’s an Ivy League or not,” she says. “We’re still at the beginning stages of this fight for first-generation students. It’s a matter of allowing universities to say yes, and it’s also a matter of students like myself, throughout the country, to put forth that change.”
First & Proud is the crown jewel of many accomplishments Prince achieved during her time at FAU. She spent the summer of 2019 at an internship at the Kellogg Company in Chicago, where she helped design an app to bring the community together; Strul says he paid for her lodging, which wasn’t covered in the internship, out of his pocket. She also led FAU’s Student Government Multicultural Programming Board, with a budget in excess of $125,000; and studied abroad in Israel in 2019 as part of a task force of Black student leaders that aims to eliminate anti-Semitism through global education.
Now that she’s graduated, Prince is spending a gap year volunteering in Connecticut with AmeriCorps, before moving on to law school.
“If the key to great leadership lies in serving others, Neasha has proven herself to be a great leader already,” Strul says. “Everything Neasha does sets an example for other students on campus.”
As for the Kamala Harris comparison? “It’s something I want to keep in the back of my mind,” she says. “I would not be surprised if I ended up falling into a position of some sort of higher office.”