North Central Florida TRIO Talent Search celebrates 30 years and over 4,000 graduates

Press release from Santa Fe College

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Grace Huguley from Hawthorne High School always knew she wanted to go to college. She just didn’t know how or where.

Or if she could afford it.

Coming from a low-income background and with no one in her family having gone to college, Grace simply didn’t know the ins and outs of college and the application process. It was this need that prompted Grace to join Talent Search in 9th grade. Through the program, Grace received advice on what classes to take in high school, help to prepare for the ACT, college and career exploration sessions, and hands-on assistance applying for college, financial aid, and scholarships. Talent Search helped Grace with her “how.” She is now attending Notre Dame University on a full 4-year scholarship.

Stories like Grace’s are not uncommon. Schools are filled with students who have the desire to attend college but lack the “how.” North Central Florida TRIO Talent Search (NCFETS) has been meeting this need since 1994, providing guidance to 9th-12th-grade students to navigate high school and enroll in the college or university of their choice. Like Grace, the majority of these students are low-income and will be the first in their families to graduate college.

“Talent Search is aimed at those low-income, first-generation households where you don’t know what you are doing and they’re guiding you,” said Jesus Dominguez, ETS graduate. “So having that guide, having the resources, having people that are there to support you and guide you with everything, that’s the biggest thing that they do and it builds a person, it builds them up for success.”

Talent Search is a federal grant, consortium project of the College of Central Florida, Florida Gateway College, and Santa Fe College. Over the past 30 years, Talent Search has helped over 4,000 seniors plan for life after high school, with 64% of students enrolling in college. These are students who will be the first in their family to graduate from college.

The success of the program is a testament to the support of community partners, the dedication of the students, and the commitment of its coaches. The program is fortunate to have the expertise of coaches Theresa Cothren (Baker County, Dixie County, Fort White, and Union High Schools), Jacki Garcia (Dunnellon, Lake Weir, North Marion, and West Port High Schools) and Lindsey Ragsdale (Bradford County and Hawthorne High Schools). 

“Our coaches are the heart of Talent Search,” said Jodi Doher, Talent Search Director. “Our coaches have the benefit of working with students for four years and really getting to know the students and develop a relationship. Not everyone’s path is the same so individualized guidance is key. There are so many decisions facing our teens and questions about what to do with their future. Having a trustworthy professional, someone to help make high school decisions, plan for the future after graduation, identify pathways to get there, and provide support and resources to achieve those goals, is imperative. Our coaches change lives, and this program, Talent Search, is changing our community.”

North Central Florida TRIO Talent Search is a federal grant, consortium project of the College of Central Florida, Florida Gateway College, and Santa Fe College. If you have a student at one of our target schools that could benefit from the project, apply online by clicking here.