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FIU program provides ‘upward’ boost for Seminole students

Jada Holdiness, center, and Deven Osceola, right, are joined by CSSS student success coach Kajir “Kai” Harriott at Florida International University’s Upward Bound awards banquet July 19 in Miami. (Kevin Johnson photo)

MIAMI — Jada Holdiness and Deven Osceola know what they want to do for careers. Holdiness has her sights set on hospitality management and perhaps working for Hard Rock; Osceola wants to follow his passion for music into audio engineering and producing.

Both are high school seniors, but they are proving that even at age 17, it’s not too early to get a head start on their college and career paths.

Thanks to a partnership between the Tribe’s Center for Student Success and Services and Florida International University, Holdiness and Osceola spent seven weeks this summer in a dual enrollment program on the Miami campus. They earned six credits each by participating in the Upward Bound program with fellow high school students, most of whom are from Miami. Holdiness, from Immokalee, and Osceola, from Mount Dora, about 30 miles north of Orlando, are from small towns, but they quickly became acclimated and comfortable attending classes in a big city and on a sprawling campus.

“Coming in here I didn’t expect to make so many friends and meet so many people,” Holdiness said. “I’m not from this area, so I thought everyone was just going to stay to themselves, but I met a lot of great people here.”

Proof of their popularity with their summer classmates was evident during the program’s awards banquet. Already sporting a lively, upbeat atmosphere, the banquet became even more boisterous when students were introduced and brought up on stage. Yells and cheers came from the audience when Holdiness and Osceola were called up.

After spending nearly two months essentially simulating college life by living in dorms with roommates they had never previously met, attending classes titled Strategies for Success and Music Literature and Appreciation, and participating in off-campus community service work, the Tribal students emerged with plenty of positive experiences that will accompany them as they head toward the transition from high school student to college student.

“Coming in and meeting your roommates, that’s what I was most anxious about because these are new people and you don’t know who they are and you’re new to the area,” said Osceola, whose hesitations soon evaporated as he made friends and delved into the program. “My expectations were definitely exceeded for this program. I loved the amount of involvement that they wanted to be within your academic success.”

Holdiness wasn’t shy about applying to get into the program through CSSS. She saw it as an opportunity to spend a summer getting a taste of college life while earning credit before she embarks on her senior year of high school, which she will spend attending classes at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers.

“I feel like so many people in the Tribe need a good example, especially the younger generation … There are so many careers out there and so many better things you can do with yourself,” she said.

Holdiness earned honors at the banquet for being part of a team that won a group project award on the dangers of texting while driving. While she appreciated the award, it was the experience of working on a project with classmates that she will remember.

“I prefer working individually, but it really got me to open up with others and work as a team,” she said.

The program ran Mondays through Fridays. Students returned home for the weekends. Holdiness and Osceola said the life lessons they learned through the program will greatly benefit them.

“Some of the lessons they taught us are wake up calls. It’s going to be hard out there once you are out there and on your own, but I’m glad they prepared us,” said Osceola, who attends Mount Dora Christian Academy. “At my school, we don’t have like a financial class, so I never really knew how to write a check or apply for a card, but I’m glad they taught us how to do that here so I’m able to see how to do that.”

As for academics, Osceola plans to pursue audio engineering in college.

“I want to be an audio engineer so I don’t have to take the time to go to an audio engineer to make my music,” he said. “Right now I produce music and I’m very passionate about it and I feel I’m very good at it.”

Students from the Tribe have participated in other FIU programs, but this was the first time Tribal students enrolled in Upward Bound. Holdiness encourages more Tribal students to follow in the footsteps of herself and Osceola by taking the program.

“Two is not enough,” Holdiness said. “With all the kids in the Tribe, there should be more here.”

With glowing reviews from its two participants, CSSS plans to continue the program next year.

“We’re going to try to duplicate this next year and try to expand it and recruit a little bit earlier,” said Kajir “Kai” Harriott, CSSS student success coach.

Deven Osceola receives a medal during the program. (Kevin Johnson photo)
Jada Holdiness, second from left, joins her summer classmates from Florida International University’s Upward Bound program during an awards banquet July 19 at the FIU campus in Miami. (Kevin Johnson photo)
Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at

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