ALUMNI: A Young Professional Up Close: Mohamad Merilan
by Sofia Arriaga, Journalism 2020
We often use the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child,” to describe upbringing. However, one local man built his own village by uniting those around him and creating a community everywhere he went.
Mohamad Merilan went from attending D-ranked public schools without the promise of higher education to graduating from the University of Florida with a job offer to work on Wall Street. Throughout his life thus far, Merilan embodies success, service and the American Dream.
Growing up in Orlando, Fla. as the only child of two Haitian immigrant parents, Merilan’s father left the picture when he was 12 years old. As the sole English speaker among his family, he had to learn to write checks, manage his mother’s car insurance and handle her mortgage.
Merilan was not introduced to the idea of college until 6th grade when his social studies teacher at Carver Middle School, Cynthia Davis, advocated for all her students to pursue a college education.
“At 12, 13 years old, you don’t even know what she is talking about. We’ve never even been in a campus setting before. We can’t even fathom what this [notion of] college was,” Merilan said. “It was like a foreign object.”
At 16, Merilan’s high school awarded him the opportunity to participate in the Alliance Program, a now-suspended scholarship and outreach program run by the University of Florida that brought the top 40 students from nine high-poverty high schools to tour the university for two days.
“This is like a completely different world, it’s like a utopia,” Merilan described his first impression of the university.
“Growing up you didn’t even know something like this existed. The entire experience was just mind blowing.”
Merilan said UF was the first school he fell in love with and instantly knew he needed to attend.
“Guidance counselors and the alliance program would tell us, ‘You need to apply for FAFSA and school waivers and take the SAT and ACT,’ and I just knew nothing about it.”
While most students attending universities have their parents handle the FAFSA form, and some even hire professionals, Merilan had to teach himself how to complete it.
“None of us knew how to do it, we just sat around and had to figure it out ourselves to get funding for school. It was either that, or we didn’t go to college,” Merilan said.
“Anything I had to do, I just had to learn on the spot.”
In regard to hunting down scholarships and funds to make the idea of college a reality, Merilan said the lack of college counseling from his high school counselors put him at a disadvantage. However, the University of Florida administration selected him for the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship, a distinguished award for accepted UF students from Florida who are first generation college students and whose family income is below $40,000. The scholarship paid for his first four years at UF. To give back, he served as a peer mentor during the 2016-2017 school year guiding first-generation students from low income backgrounds.
Since his arrival at UF, Merilan has been enacting change like a rock sending ripples through a lake. He served as president of the National Society of Black Engineers and the UF Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, arguably one of the most distinguished black fraternities in the nation. Under Merilan’s leadership, UF’s Alpha Phi Alpha won chapter of the year across the Global Network. Additionally, in spring 2017, Merilan was tapped into Florida Blue Key, the oldest and most prestigious leadership honorary in Florida.
“He’s a superstar,” said Management Leadership for Tomorrow Senior Career Prep Coach, Rishal Stanciel. The career prep program, often called MLT, consists of 18 months of rigorous development for African American, Latino and Native American students. Throughout the program, fellows learn how to carry a professional conversation, deliver successful pitches and gain more confidence in their abilities and personal stories.
Stanciel has overseen thousands of students through the MLT program, including MIT and Microsoft engineers, and has personally taught over 900 fellows.
Merilan became a Career Prep Fellow for MLT as a junior at UF. Stanciel said that Merilan is one of the top five students that she has seen in the MLT program. She described Merilan as one of the most charismatic leaders she has overseen and believes with full confidence that he will become a CEO or CIO in his lifetime.
“We give them all the intangibles that can’t be taught in a classroom,” said Stanciel. She explained that most fellows get to know about 10-15 of their peers, but Merilan knew nearly everyone in his class of over 300.
Merilan continues to endorse MLT’s career prep program by giving presentations at UF on his experience, reaching out to students he knows and helping them complete their applications. In 2017, Merilan became the No. 1 recruiter of the entire program.
“People like Mohamad Merilan are super critical for our vision and mission at MLT,” said Stanciel. “I believe that wherever you are, you need to bloom, and he has done that at the University of Florida, and he’s done that at MLT.”
Aside from his work with the program, Merilan has been able to combine his philanthropic nature with his passion for golf by working at the UF Mark Bostick Golf Course. There, with golf director Scott Hampton’s permission, Merilan has held semester golf clinics to other minority engineering students. These lessons give students the opportunity to strike a conversation about golf with recruiters as well as bond with superiors and co-workers.
Merilan, who expects to graduate in May 2018 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Telecommunications with a concentration in engineering, has been offered the opportunity to join Credit Suisse in New York City as a technology analyst.
“The thing I realize is that I’m great at networking and connecting people. So, my biggest career goal is to be able to bridge the gap between different departments of different fields, bring them together, find that intersection and see if there’s something that can sprout from innovation.”
SOFIA ARRIAGA is a sophomore at the University of Florida studying journalism, English and business. Her passions include film and literature. In her free time, she can be found exploring local music and independent bookstores.
Reprinted with permission from the March 2018 edition of Business in Greater Gainesville magazine.