Jovonne Pullen wears many hats. She is a poet, a singer, a hard-working college student, a mentor, and a member of New Haven Promise’s second cohort. At 19 years old, Jovonne has already decided on a plan for her future: she aspires to make a difference in her hometown by creating opportunities for young people in New Haven.
Jovonne just completed her first year at the University of Connecticut. She is pursuing a double major in sociology and human development, describing herself as “a natural sociologist, because I challenge everything.” She is a 2012 graduate of Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, and says the Advanced Placement courses she took at Co-op, along with her participation in UConn’s six-week Student Support Services (SSS) program before freshman year, helped bolster her academic skills and prepare her for college-level work. Thanks to that experience, Jovonne hit the ground running when she arrived at UConn, and she earned a spot on the Dean’s List in her first semester.
Despite that initial success, Jovonne learned that each semester brings a new set of challenges. In the spring term, she enrolled in more challenging classes and found herself falling behind. She did not seek out help until late in the semester, and the grades she received did not meet the high expectations she has for herself. Jovonne’s struggle last semester helped teach her valuable lessons about what it is going to take for her to do better moving forward. She is refocusing on academics and is planning to better utilize resources on campus to help her succeed, like regularly meeting with her advisor and visiting the school’s writing center. By staying on top of her grades and asking for help when she needs it, she is determined to get back on the Dean’s List soon.
Jovonne certainly has supports in place both at home and on campus to help her reach that goal. An outgoing and confident young woman, she credits her parents with teaching her the value of a strong work ethic. As a first generation college student, she benefitted from meeting several other mentors on campus who could speak from experience about collegiate life. She describes Dr. Willena Kimpson Price, Director of UConn’s African American Cultural Center where Jovonne works during the school year, as “a second mom.” She also formed close relationships with upperclassmen in UConn’s gospel choir and poetry club who were able to give her advice from the perspective of someone who had been in her shoes.
One year in, Jovonne is now finding herself in the role of advisor to her younger sister Chinise, a 2013 Promise Scholar who will be following in Jovonne’s footsteps to UConn this fall. As Chinise completes UConn’s SSS program this summer, Jovonne is using what she’s learned to coach and support her sister through the process.
But mentoring young women is not new to Jovonne. She has been involved with the Youth Day Project in New Haven for several years, and was recently elected Director of Public Relations for the program. Through her participation in Youth Day, Jovonne developed a program for middle school girls that focuses on singing, academic enrichment, and physical fitness. She believes that helping girls find better role models who encourage them to go to college and pursue rewarding careers will benefit the entire community in the long run.
Not surprisingly, Jovonne has big plans for her future. She aspires to attend graduate school to continue studying sociology (ideally at UConn), and she is determined to start her own business here in New Haven focused on youth development. Looking forward, Jovonne’s goal is to “bring back (an) old-school community center” similar to the former Dixwell Community “Q” House. Jovonne’s program would focus on the arts and provide neighborhood kids with a safe place to go after school. She says it’s something she would have liked as a kid.
“I try to get very involved in New Haven because it’s my home,” Jovonne explained. Given her drive to succeed and desire to give back to her community, she is sure to make a positive impact on the city in future years.