American Graduate Professional Lunch Series

student and mentorWFSU hosts a professional lunch series at the Success Academy at Ghazvini Learning Center, an alternative school in Leon County. The school serves middle to high school students that have fallen behind academically or have behavior issues. These students are most at-risk for dropping out. Many of these students feel disconnected from academics and have little exposure to career information. Through the American Graduate project, WFSU engage these students around career topics to help provide some direction in academic and life choices.

In Leon County according to the Federal Graduation rate for 2010-2011, only 68% of our students graduated from high school. In today’s economy finding work without a high school diploma is challenging. Students who drop out represent lost wages and taxes plus increased social costs due to crime and healthcare that impact our community. Research shows that we can help keep students on the path to college and careers through a variety of strategies:

  • Focus on early reading
  • Focus on middle grades
  • Harness the power of nonprofits to provide expanded student supports
  • Build early intervention systems
  • Create a multi-sector and community-based effort
  • Elicit perspectives of students, educators, and parents


The American Graduate Professional Lunch invites 32 students, once a month to attend and learn about various career pathways and speak directly with community leaders and professionals from various career fields. Students are selected based on their attendance, behavior, academic record and interest. Started in January 2012, the program is entering its third academic year. To date Over 300 students have participated and over 95 members of the community have engaged with the students.

The lunch series have been funded through the American Graduate Project, an initiative of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). For the 2013-2014 school year we are seeking additional partners to underwrite the cost of the lunch – approximately $250 per lunch.

performance at the lunch series

Some of our professional guests have included:

  • John Marks, Mayor of Tallahassee
  • Alan Williams, FL State Representative
  • Matt Liebenhaut, Attorney Leon County
  • Sheriff’s Department, Sergeant Grady Jordan
  • Jeanette DeDiemar, FSU VP for Community Relations and Director of Communications
  • Dr. Janelle Baker from FAMU School of Nursing
  • Champ, DJ from Blazin’ 102.3
  • Royce Lovett, Musician
  • WFSU Public Media for North Florida
  • Gloria and Dean Pugh, Co-owners of AMWAT Movers
  • Gerard LaMothe, owner of Superior Painting


Invited professionals sit at one of the seven tables and students can select which table to sit at based on their interests. Lunch is provided by WFSU. Student surveys indicate that these lunches are not only popular but impactful as well. Data collected by the school indicate a reduction of in school suspensions and greater attendance on the days of the lunches. Some of the student comments reflect lessons learned:

students with sheriff

  • “Work hard for what you want in life and never give up.”
  • “Regardless of what I decide to be if it doesn’t work out, I need to fall back on my education.”
  • “I can do anything in life by putting my mind to it but first I have to finish high school.”
  • “To push on towards your goal even when there are obstacles.”
  • “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything, take pride in yourself.”
  • “I liked when Mayor Marks talked about the difference between a dream and a vision.”

Leah Dienger, a teacher who participated in the project noted, “The American Graduate lunch series has been an excellent way to connect students to their community and to a myriad of professions that they might never have known existed. Watching high school students light up when they hear a professional speak and share their passion in a particular career indicated that students have connected to the idea that having a profession is “cool” and it something to be attained at all costs.”

Upcoming 2014 lunches will take place on

  • January 29,
  • February 26,
  • March 26,
  • April 30.

WFSU welcomes community support for the professional lunch series. If you would like to spend an hour talking with students regarding your work or profession, please contact Kim Kelling Engstrom Director of Community Engagement at WFSU: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Hungry Howies provides meals for the The American Graduate Professional Lunch Series

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