Jennifer’s Story 

First-generation Graduate Supports UF Education Students Needing a Hand Up

No jennifer-coxen-cropone in Jennifer Coxen’s family had ever graduated from college. And her chances didn’t seem promising either.

Her mother had not completed high school and at age 15 she was on her own. Her young parents divorced when Jennifer was 3 years old.

Yet her mother and father worked hard to put food on the table. Her mother was a waitress and cleaned houses, often bringing young Jennifer along to help, and her father labored at a landscape business. They stressed that education provided the best chance for her to have a different life.

Earns education degrees from UF

Taking the lessons to heart, Jennifer earned good grades and, after her mother remarried and they moved to Florida from New Jersey, she decided to pursue higher education to be a teacher herself. She won scholarships to the University of Florida, and graduated from UF’s College of Education in 2006 with a bachelor’s in education and a master’s in elementary education in 2007.

Today, she teaches talented and gifted fourth- and fifth-graders at a suburban Atlanta elementary school and has started her own business, with a skin-care company.

Grateful for the support she received on her journey, Jennifer began looking for a way to help other young people who dream of becoming teachers — students who need a hand up as she did.

“I was the first person in my family to go to college, and that didn’t happen without the generosity of a lot of different people.”

— Jennifer Coxen, BAE ’06/MED ’07

Jennifer Coxen, far right, teaches gifted and talented students at an elementary school in suburban Atlanta. Here she poses with her students and a classroom guest, Mike Mullett, an entrepreneur and pilot.

Learn about the many ways you can make a difference in the lives of future educators.

Establishes scholarship for UF education students

Her answer came in April 2016, when she and her husband, Stephen, established the Jennifer L. Coxen Scholarship. This non-endowed fund will support graduate students in the UF College of Education’s ProTeach elementary education program, with preference given to first-generation college students. At age 32, Jennifer is the youngest of the college’s alumni ever to establish a non-endowed scholarship fund.

“I was the first person in my family to go to college, and that didn’t happen without the generosity of a lot of different people,” Jennifer says.

“We are blessed to be able to support students who are the first-generation in their families to attend college. We want to pass it on to students who are making a change for their family, and shaping their own future by following their passion to teach children.”

Jennifer’s own passion for teaching children comes across in her classroom, where she helps 9- and 10-year-olds to build their analytical and critical-thinking skills through hands-on projects, including ones focused on financial management and entrepreneurship. Her students put these skills to use when they collaborate on a film project and start their own business to produce, market and finance a movie. The highlight is when they show the finished film to an audience of their parents, relatives and friends.

If it was Jennifer’s own life showing up on the screen, you might think it was too good to be true. But the truth is Jennifer’s movie is just getting started.

Jennifer Coxen

Writer: Charles Boisseau, News and Communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4449

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