From Study Buddies to Forever Family: FSU Higher Education’s “Cocoa Scholars”

Jennie Kroeger

Students have formed study groups for about as long as formalized education has been around. Having fellow students in the same proverbial boat as you can serve as a powerful network of support not only academically, but also personally. Some groups can create friendships that last long after graduation, but on rare occasions, some can even become family.

This is the case of a group of recent FSU higher education program graduates of color known as the Cocoa Scholars. This team of eight includes Jhenai Chandler (Ph.D. ‘20), Jesse Ford (Ph.D. ‘20), Miguel Hernández (Ed.D. ’20), Sandra Martindale (Ed.S. ’20), Dawn Matthews (Ph.D. ‘20), LaFarin Meriwether (Ph.D. ‘20), Chandra Myrick (Ph.D. ’20) and Sophia Rahming (Ph.D. ’19).

“Cocoa Scholars emerged out of several separate groups,” says Rahming, the driving force behind the group. “We tried out a few names, but in time we decided that Cocoa Scholars described us perfectly. At first, we only studied together, but then we started sharing more and more of our personal lives. One day we woke up, and without intending it, we were a family.”

Rahming won the higher education program’s 2015 – 2016 Sherrill W. Ragan’s Leadership & Service Award for her “other mother” role in the group. “I would check on everyone’s progress, clarify assignments, prod, poke, encourage and praise (these became shouts) everyone toward the finish line,” says Rahming. “In short, they let me get in their business.”

The group often looked to faculty in the program for guidance and direction—particularly Dr. Tamara Bertrand Jones, associate professor of higher education. “Dr. Bertrand Jones was our de facto advisor and mentor,” says Rahming. “We went to her for every concern, every triumph, every doubt, and when we needed guidance about what road to take.”

Bertrand Jones took on this responsibility willingly. “As a faculty member, my role in the academy is to create a supportive environment for all students,” she says. “My personal commitment is to provide a safe place for students and to help them navigate higher education. As a Black faculty member, my commitment extends to helping students of color thrive personally and professionally.”

We spoke to the scholars to learn more about what their experience in the group meant to them. Check out the full interview below:

“I am extremely proud of each of the Cocoa Scholars,” says Bertrand Jones. “They were determined to complete their degrees and did so despite personal trials and the challenges inherent to doctoral education. It especially warms my heart to see them thrive during their time with us and beyond.”

Though the Cocoa Scholars have all graduated, they’re continuing the important work they began as students in the higher education program. “I am most excited about the impact that these scholars will have on their environments through their research and practice,” says Bertrand Jones, “They all conducted timely, relevant, and rigorous research, and engage in responsive practice that I know is changing higher education to be more diverse, inclusive and just. They inspire me to continue doing my own work!”

It’s clear that the Cocoa Scholars exemplify the three pillars of FSU’s higher education program—student success, leadership and social justice—and will continue to do so for years to come.

To learn more about FSU’s higher education program, visit