‘A Gift to Elon’: First Doherty Odyssey Scholar graduates

As the first Doherty Odyssey Scholar to graduate from Elon, Jubitza Figueroa ’21 is ready to make her mark on the world. Ed and Joan Doherty P’07 endowed eight Odyssey Program scholarships as part of the Elon LEADS Campaign to make an Elon education possible for top students with high financial need.

In 2016, Elon parents Ed and Joan Doherty P’07 endowed eight Odyssey Program scholarships because they wanted to make a life-changing Elon education possible for students with significant financial need who would be forces for good in the world.

Students like Jubitza Figueroa ’21. On May 21, the Charlotte, North Carolina, resident became the first Edward W. Doherty and Joan K. Doherty Odyssey Scholar to graduate from Elon. It was a powerful moment for Figueroa, who shared the impact the Dohertys have had on her life.

“When I first came to Elon, I didn’t understand that there were people who cared so much and who would go out of their way to help complete strangers,” she said. “But when I had the chance to meet the Dohertys, it showed me that there are people who were dedicated to helping others. It was the first step in me having faith in other people and faith that I could help others.”

Figueroa earned her Elon degree in political science with a minor in women’s, gender and sexualities studies. Ultimately, she plans to pursue law school to become a women’s rights attorney and serve minority women. She credits her faculty and staff mentors and the Doherty Scholarship for inspiring her career path and giving her the confidence to pursue her dreams.

“I am proud of myself and the things I accomplished,” Figueroa said. “I don’t think I would have had that feeling without the community and mentorship at Elon. If I need anything, I feel I can come back to the people at Elon.”

A Life Transformed

Figueroa is one of three children born to Jubitza and Rigoberto Figueroa, who emigrated from Central America. Jubitza is the second person in her family to graduate from college, following older sister, Glaubirsel, who attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“I’m super excited,” Figueroa said. “It’s a lot of pressure, though, because I feel like I’m a role model for the rest of my family.”

Already, she has made a big impression on her younger brother, Lorenzo, a rising senior at Elon and the recipient of The Elon Commitment Scholarship in the Odyssey Program.

“Knowing that he’s here at Elon and in the same program that we both love is reassuring and keeps me at peace,” Figueroa said.

From the moment she arrived on campus in fall 2017, Figueroa made the most of her Elon experience. She served twice as a mentor to incoming Odyssey students during the program’s summer orientation sessions and volunteered with the Village Project, which serves children in the community who are struggling to read. Odyssey and the Village Project are among the initiatives in Elon’s Center for Access and Success.

Figueroa’s leadership was also felt in Elon’s Gender and LGBTQIA Center (GLC), where she was a passionate voice for advancing training and education in the campus community, including ally training. She’s proud of the work she and others did in the GLC to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for LGBTQIA students. Similarly, her work in El Centro helped strengthen the university’s Latinx/Hispanic community.

In 2019, Elon recognized Figueroa as the LGBTQIA Breakout Student of the Year for her ability to bring diverse communities together. In April, she received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for excellence of character and service to humanity during Elon’s annual Omicron Delta Kappa leadership awards ceremony.

“People are able to be themselves fully in more spaces at Elon, and it was really nice to be part of that,” Figueroa said. “It was a tough environment to navigate with the identities as gay and Latina that I have, but at the end of the day, Elon pushes you to become empowered. You come out of it a stronger person.

People are able to be themselves fully in more spaces at Elon, and it was really nice to be part of that.

— Jubitza Figueroa ’21

“The GLC and El Centro foster a sense of community, and I was able to find like-minded people who were interested in uplifting each other and being each other’s mentors and role models. I found my closest friends in these circles.”

Figueroa’s academic experience was equally powerful.

“I had amazing professors like Jessica Carew and Liza Taylor in political science who presented well-rounded and in-depth information that helped me see the world differently,” she said. “It restored my faith in institutions and government.”

Her minor in women’s, gender and sexualities studies was equally powerful.

“I had a class with Professor Ann Cahill that was absolutely revolutionary,” Figueroa said. “It liberated me of my rigid views of how I should go about the world. I found I had more power than I thought.”

The Odyssey Family

Established in 2007, the Odyssey Program includes some of Elon’s largest endowed scholarships created by more than 25 generous families. These scholarships include financial assistance that meets a student’s full need, along with a stipend for books and supplies, and a one-time $4,000 global study grant to be used for an approved study abroad or Study USA program

Housed in Elon’s Center for Access and Success, Odyssey is a highly selective, four-year program that has become a national model for serving students with substantial financial need who are often underrepresented on college and university campuses. Many of these students are the first in their families to attend college and have achieved academically while overcoming adversity.

Students move through the program as a cohort and receive valuable mentoring by faculty and staff, along with academic support and professional development to promote personal growth and set them up to succeed. Odyssey has a nearly 100 percent retention rate and 90 percent graduation rate among scholars who become leaders in medicine, healthcare, law, business, education and engineering among other fields. Odyssey scholars are consistently among the top-performing students on campus.

She’s one of those trailblazers who is brave and fearless about being her authentic self and inspires others to do the same. She’s a gift to the Elon community.

— Marcus Elliott, director of the Odyssey Program

“We are a family in the Odyssey Program, and I found lifelong friends there,” Figueroa said. “This is the most accomplished group of individuals that I’ve known, and I can always look to this group as my role models.”

Marcus Elliott, director of the Odyssey Program, said Figueroa was an invaluable mentor for new Odyssey scholars and first-time mentors.

“She was a calming spirit for those new mentors who may have been fearful of the unknown or how to handle different situations, and she guided them through the program beautifully,” Elliott said. “She’s one of those trailblazers who is brave and fearless about being her authentic self and inspires others to do the same. She’s a gift to the Elon community.”

“Our mentors are the people who set the tone for what we expect of our students in the program, which is to be accountable to each other,” said Catherine Parsons, assistant director of the Odyssey Program. “Jubitza was so good at making information palatable for our students. She also empowered and encouraged them to learn and think deeply and also not be afraid to have fun and be silly.”

Figueroa is indebted to the staff in the GLC and Odyssey Program for helping her realize she has plenty to offer the world.

“I was able to find a way to give myself credit for the things I’ve done, because there was always a feeling I wasn’t doing enough and wasn’t involved enough,” she said. “They showed me my presence was enough. I feel more prepared and confident and trusting in my ability to succeed.”

The Power of Philanthropy

Ed P’07 and Joan Doherty P’07

Ed and Joan Doherty, of Saddle River, New Jersey, were inspired to make their Odyssey Scholarship gift as part of the Elon LEADS Campaign because of the outstanding experience their daughter, Kerry Doherty Gatlin ’07, had at Elon. Their gift supports eight scholarships, or two students per class each year. Deepening scholarship funding is the top priority of Elon LEADS.

The Dohertys grew up in New York — Ed on Long Island and Joan in Queens — and both were among the first members of their families to attend college. “Giving a family a chance for their child to attend a university like Elon is a very special opportunity,” Joan said when the couple made their gift. “We want those students to be able to follow their dreams.”

“Education creates opportunity,” Ed said. “We’re a country of immigrants, and every generation wants the next generation to achieve greater success. We feel it is important to give back, and there’s no place better than Elon to create the right experiences for these first-generation college students.”

“We have seen through Jubitza’s journey the power of these scholarships to transform lives and prepare the next generation of courageous leaders,” said Jean Rattigan-Rohr, Elon’s vice president for access and success. “We are indebted to Ed and Joan Doherty for continuing to invest in Elon students.”

Ed Doherty has been a member of Elon’s Board of Trustees since 2006 and served as board chair from 2018 to 2020. He and Joan are members of the Elon LEADS Campaign Steering Committee and previously served together on Parents Council.

The Dohertys are among Elon’s most loyal and generous benefactors, and the impact of their philanthropy can be felt across the university. In addition to the Odyssey Scholarships, the couple has made gifts to endow The Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business and the Doherty Emerging Professor of Entrepreneurship. In addition, for nearly 10 years, the Dohertys hosted the annual Evening for Elon event in New York, which attracts 1,000 alumni, parents and friends. The couple’s steadfast support of the event has played a major role in growing the alumni network in one of Elon’s largest and most important markets.

Ed Doherty is chair and co-CEO of Doherty Enterprises, Inc., which he and Joan founded in 1985. The company is one of the nation’s leading franchisee operators of quality family restaurants, including Applebee’s, Chevys Fresh Mex and Panera Bread, along with Shannon Rose Irish Pub and Spuntino Wine Bar and Italian Tapas. The company operates more than 150 restaurants in four states.

About the Elon LEADS Campaign

With a $250 million goal, Elon LEADS is the largest fundraising campaign in the university’s history and will support four main funding priorities: scholarships for graduates the world needs, increased access to engaged learning opportunities such as global study, internships and research, support for faculty and staff mentors who matter and Elon’s iconic campus. As of June 1, donors had contributed $212 million toward the goal.

Every gift to the university—including annual, endowment, capital, estate and other planned gifts—for any designation counts as a gift to the campaign, which will support students and strengthen Elon for generations to come. To learn more about how you can make an impact, visit www.elonleads.com.