Elle Collins, who started working at the University of Florida in 2016, took over as director for the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program in October.
Her favorite part of this new position, she said, is the various capacities in which she gets to interact with students, following them throughout their undergraduate experiences.
“Just seeing that life cycle — what they’re like on day one versus year four,” Collins said. “It’s really rewarding to watch someone’s life transform right in front of your eyes.”
The Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program (MFOS) is a financial resource available to historically low-income first-generation college students interested in attending UF. Members receive a full financial need scholarship that goes toward their bachelor’s degree
As a first-generation college student herself, Collins is well aware of the life-changing impact a full ride can have on students who otherwise may not be able to afford college. But just as significant, she said, is the social support MFOS offers — a community of peers and mentors who can help with the everyday difficulties of navigating university.
“Both of those things working hand-in-hand together is what makes the program successful,” Collins said.
Collins grew up in Buffalo, New York, where she earned her master’s degree in higher education and higher education administration while also working within the community.
While attending the State University of New York at Buffalo, Collins became assistant director for college success initiatives at Say Yes Buffalo. The organization works to remove educational and employment barriers for students and local public and charter schools. There, she helped open “college success centers” in about 21 high schools.
Preparation for this project included meeting with school administration and counselors to discuss areas where support was needed and ensure those volunteering at each school represented the student body.
“Seeing what success could look like from someone who looks like them or is from the same neighborhoods as them proved to be an effective strategy,” Collins said.
Collins carried this same student-first spirit into her roles at UF, starting off as the resident director for Continuum Apartments — a housing complex for graduate students — and later becoming the area coordinator for Yulee Hall.
Through these positions, Collins prioritized a transformational approach to leadership, constantly keeping her ear to student voices.
“I’m always thinking, ‘Are we actually speaking with students to identify what it is that they need?’” she said. “That’s something I’ve kept with me.”
Now, Collins said, she’s focused on making sure the MFOS legacy lives on — a feat that relies on the continued support of donors and staff. To do this, she emphasizes storytelling, sharing the experiences and successes of scholars as they move through the program.
But ultimately, Collins is looking forward to forming more connections.
“I want to go on this journey with our students,” she said. “That’s something that most excites me.”
Writer: Veronica Nocera, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Elle Collins, email@example.com