Arnika Jackson leads UNCF initiatives to provide resources for HBCU students

Partnership between UNCF and Panda Express helps HBCUS

Panda Cares, a unique partnership between UNCF and Panda Express, is a program dedicated to preparing students for professional development. The conference allows students to meet and network with leaders in their desired field of interest and participate in an experiential learning environment. The director of UNCF’s student professional development programs, Arnika Jackson, is the force behind successfully implementing these programs.

Jackson received a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Florida A&M University and her master’s in integrated marketing and management communication from Florida State. During spring break 2023, Panda Cares brought over 250 college seniors to Disneyworld for an all-expense-paid trip including workshops, on-site field training, and a career fair with top companies such as Wells Fargo, The Walt Disney Company, and AT&T.

How does the organization contribute to those entering the workforce as leaders?
The first element that we work on is scholarship. The second phase is for first-year students getting ready for college that need a little financial bump, so we try to figure it out. How do we put all of those things together? If you want to have a severe impact on students, you need to be able to see them, touch them, feel them, and understand their environment. We do this as an act of care. We had the opportunity to show the students how to do grant writing. Ten teams presented a grant for something they wanted to do within education. These opportunities are phenomenal and cater to their professional development as leaders.
What else has UNCF done to fulfill the needs of HBCUs?
We start them early. We have UNCF empowerment, where we take them to an HBCU and your experience and learn more about our 37 member institutions. We have programs like our STEM initiative, where we pull students interested in the hard sciences, engineering, and mathematics. We take them to Silicon Valley, or now in Boston … where they’re working for hands on with the different biology and life sciences. So those are some of the things that we’re also doing.
How does a student become a part of Panda Cares or any other initiative for UNCF?
You’ll find out about the three programs I mentioned on our website for the Panda Cares Scholars program. We’re looking for students to have 48 hours of community service, and that’s the minimum. So I always tell students. You know the minimum is excellent, but you always want to go above and beyond right, especially if it’s a competitive program. I also want to make sure you can talk about the organizations you’ve done community service. We’d like to know your five-year plan and that you know college does not end your career, and it’s the trajectory for your next job step.
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