Serving Country and Community


Coca-Cola Scholar back at KSU after deployment

KENNESAW, Ga. (Sep 9, 2019) — Johana Figueroa Morales felt honored to be named to Kennesaw State University’s first cohort of Coca-Cola Scholars, but shortly afterward she put the scholarship and her coursework on hold.

Figueroa Morales had a good reason for taking the spring 2019 semester off from KSU – she was on a deployment to Afghanistan and Kuwait as a combat medic with the Georgia Army National Guard. The 20-year-old sophomore recently returned home from the six-month assignment and has resumed her college classes this semester.

“I have traveled halfway across the world already, and I gained a great deal of knowledge and experience from it,” Figueroa Morales said. “It’s different from what everybody else does, but I’ll still have the traditional college student experience. I’m glad I’ll have both experiences.”

Johana Figueroa Morales

Figueroa Morales aspires to have a career in the medical field, and the WellStar School of Nursing’s strong reputation was one reason she decided to attend Kennesaw State. After just one semester of classes at KSU, Figueroa Morales was deployed.

The Coca-Cola Scholars program held Figueroa Morales’ scholarship for her while she worked as a medic at an aid station, with duties such as taking soldiers’ vital signs, drawing blood, giving shots and administering intravenous fluids. Figueroa Morales’ service in Afghanistan and Kuwait further convinced her to make health care her life’s work.

“A lot of what I did there was hands-on,” said Figueroa Morales. “It prepared me well for what I want to do. I plan to be a nurse or physician assistant, focusing on children.”

Figueroa Morales now returns to the Coca-Cola First Generation and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Scholars program, which came to Kennesaw State last fall. The program, made possible by a $1.25 million donation from The Coca-Cola Foundation, provides scholarships and support services to 35 KSU students who are the first in their immediate families to attend college.

The scholars all were chosen as incoming freshmen based on financial need, high school grade point average, academic major, community service and a scholarship essay. Each recipient receives a $5,000 award annually, which is coupled with the HOPE Scholarship to cover all costs associated with tuition, fees and books.

“I was very glad I received the scholarship,” Figueroa Morales said. “This is all new to me because I’m the first one in my family to go to college, so I’m glad to have the help and support of this program.”

Family is important to Figueroa Morales, the eldest of her parents’ three daughters. Along with the appeal of Kennesaw State’s nursing program, she wanted to attend college near her home and family in Marietta.

In her Coca-Cola Scholars application essay, Figueroa Morales wrote, “I understand the value of a higher education and want to be an example to the rest of my siblings and family members.” She accomplished that by maintaining a high grade point average, being active in several student service clubs and serving as a leader in the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC).

As a result, a second member of her family will join the Kennesaw State family. Figueroa Morales’ sister Kathia is following in her footsteps, as a freshman at KSU.

“It feels good for my parents to say that they’re proud of how far I’ve gone and that I’ve set the expectations high for my sisters and other family members,” Figueroa Morales said. “I have learned to be a better leader for my sisters who look up to me. I know now what to teach them about participating in the community to make it a better place and have a positive impact on others.”

– Paul Floeckher

Photos by Jason Getz


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit