“It gives me such a purpose and brings me chills to know that I have touched a student in a way that they now understand that their wealth is not in the bank, but their wealth is what they are able to give to others.”



Arnika Jackson talks with BSM Magazine about the recent 2023 UNCF and Panda Cares Foundation Leadership Conference (Scholarship program), her involvement with students whose background ranges from Engineering, Computer Science, and Public Health, and her reason for giving back.

Q: You are the Director of Panda Cares. Tell us about the organization and the programs available..

A: Panda Cares®, the philanthropic arm of Panda Express, has raised more than $329 million and dedicated countless volunteer hours in bettering the health and education of over 13 million youths, as well as supporting communities in need since 1999.

The Panda Cares Scholars Program, funded by the Panda Cares Foundation, is a unique scholarship and mentorship program for under-resourced students of color with unmet financial needs to empower them to earn a college degree. Powered by its global family of associates and guests, Panda supports students through their educational journey from elementary through college to thrive through leadership programs, academic achievement, and success. The program has grown into multiple options for students seeking financial assistance.

Q: This year’s leadership conference was recently held in Disney Springs, Orlando, Florida. How can people become involved next year?

A: This conference is a culmination build-up and celebration of the last three years. Our scholars started the program as sophomores and are now graduating seniors in college. So, in order to get back to this point, there are curriculums, programming, and developmental workshops the students will have to go through. To get involved with Panda Cares Scholars for next year, you will have to go to Pandacaresscholars.org to learn more about our programming and apply to become a Panda Cares Scholar, and then we will start the process all over again.

Q: How has the UNCF and Panda Cares Foundation helped lead students into their careers when work life has shifted in the last few years?

A: We started with the Panda Cares Scholars during the pandemic. We were supposed to be in San Francisco in August 2020, but, of course, the world shut down in March 2020. So, we actually started in the virtual environment with them, and we were learning together how to navigate this new world of professional development. This conference, in a sense, is playing the role of reintroduction to in-person engagement because, for the past three years, they have gained all the necessary tools and skillsets to be virtual, and now we are really working with them to show them how to be nimble and flexible. We wanted to hone in on getting the scholars to understand the importance of understanding the perception, which is why the leadership institute’s theme is Kaleidoscope. When you take a Kaleidoscope and turn it, not only do you see different colors, but the pattern also seems different when in actuality, it is still the same colors, but when you change the perception, you are able to see something greater. There are many things we’ve been talking to them about, including generational gaps, being able to be self-aware, and understanding that what you set your major as may not necessarily determine where your career path may be. So, not just talking about how you work but what you do for work.

Q: In What ways do you give back to yourself in the work that you do for others and their successes?

A: For me, when I’m giving back to others and helping others, it fuels me to keep going. My self-care is seeing others flourish and watching my students figure out who they are, and when that lightbulb comes on and (they) realize how important they are and that they have a mission and can be change makers is everything for me! It gives me such a purpose and brings me chills to know that I have touched a student in a way that they now understand that their wealth is not in the bank, but their wealth is what they are able to give to others.

Arnika Jackson

For more information about UNCF and Panda Cares Scholarship Programs, visit here.