The path to being an advanced manufacturing engineer began with an education choice scholarship

The faces looking back at Da’Shaun Holmes appeared familiar. They looked like Da’Shaun. Well, a younger version of Da’Shaun.

They were students at Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg, Da’Shaun’s alma mater, and they were eager to hear what he had to say. Da’Shaun was ready for the challenge.

“I was there to inspire,” he said.

On an early spring day, Da’Shaun, 23, visited his old school and told the students about his burgeoning career as an advanced manufacturing engineer for Honeywell Aerospace in Clearwater, where he works on electrical components for space and military craft.

He explained that he once sat where they sat and how a few weeks at a science camp at Eckerd College during the summer after fifth grade altered his life. That’s where he was introduced to STEM, coding, environmental science, and chemistry. That’s when Da’Shaun first had the idea of becoming an engineer.

“My roots and foundations came from Academy Prep, and I told them how it translated to me now as an adult, as an engineer,” Da’Shaun said. “And I wanted to express to the kids, ‘Hey, this is where I came from. This is where you are. You can take the same routes and steps as me. This is where you could be.’ ”

Like most of the students at Academy Prep, Da’Shaun attended the private, grades 5-8 school on a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) that is supported by corporate donations to Step Up For Students.

The FTC also enabled Da’Shaun to attend high school at Canterbury School of Florida in St. Petersburg.

From there, he attended Florida Atlantic University. He graduated in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

“I think (the FTC scholarship) is a beautiful thing, because without it, I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “I wouldn’t have had the foundation to become the man that I am today.”


Truth be told, young Da’Shaun didn’t want to attend Academy Prep. The long school days – 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. – and summer classes didn’t appeal to him. Neither did the idea of leaving his friend from his district school behind.

But his mom, Tansheka Riggens, didn’t feel Da’Shaun was being academically challenged at his district school. A friend told her about Academy Prep, which is a 20-minute ride from their St. Petersburg home. She and Da’Shaun toured the school.

“It aligned with what I wanted for him,” Tansheka said.

Da’Shaun and his mom, Tansheka Riggens, both graduated from college in December 2023.

In addition to the core subjects, Da’Shaun learned how to cook. He learned to critique movies after joining the movie club. He learned how to play chess. He bought the book, “The Chess Player’s Bible.” He still reads it today.

“My mom wanted me to have the best chance in the world as I could,” he said. “I guess Mom knows best.”

During the eighth grade, he was inducted into the International Rotary Interact Club.

At Canterbury, Da’Shaun was a member of Mu Alpha Theta, Science National Honors Society (SNHS) and the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS).

He received the P. Michael Davis Award (“For outstanding honor, integrity, respect, trustworthiness, character scholarship and leadership by a member of the Junior Class”) and the John F. Kenyon Male Award (“For unfailing perseverance, encouragement of others and quiet leadership”) as a senior.

Da’Shaun also received the DAV Jesse Brown Youth Volunteer Scholarship for his volunteer work with disabled American veterans.

At FAU, Da’Shaun and his team earned both the People’s Choice Award and the Judge’s Choice Award for a design project during his senior year.

He received the job offer from Honeywell after interning with the company the summer before his final semester.

“I will say, and it might sound crazy, but I’m honestly not surprised with what Da’Shaun has accomplished,” Tansheka said. “Because there’s one thing for your parents to instill things in you. There’s another thing for you, the child, to be receptive, retain it, and then act on it. And Da’Shaun has always been very studious. And he’s very disciplined. I am in awe of how disciplined he is.”

Da’Shaun competing in the Savage Race 24 obstacle race in Dade City.

Education is important to Tansheka. She began working on her associate degree after graduating high school in 2002.

“It took forever and a day,” she said.

Life came at her fast. First, she was a single mother raising Da’Shaun. Along the way, she adopted a niece and a nephew. Then she began caring for her father, whose poor health had resulted in numerous hospital stays.

Motivated by Da’Shaun’s academic success, Tansheka persevered. With the help of the Complete Tampa Bay Program, she earned her associate degree in liberal arts in December 2023, graduating from St. Petersburg College the same month her son graduated from FAU. Her next goal is to become certified as a licensed practical nurse and then return to St. Petersburg College for her bachelor’s degree in health services administration. She currently works for an agency that helps people with disabilities.

“Da’Shaun has been a great source of encouragement,” she said. “He reminds me that your progress might not be as quick as you wanted it to be, but slow progress means there is some progress and not regression.”


The graduate support department at Academy Prep keeps track of the school’s alumni. It wasn’t unusual to see someone from Academy Prep at one of Da’Shaun’s football or baseball games at Canterbury. Or at an award ceremony where Da’Shaun was being honored.

They stayed in touch with Da’Shaun when he was at FAU, often inviting him to have breakfast with the students whenever he was in town. Given all that Da’Shaun accomplished, it’s easy to see why he’s asked to tell his story in front of the current student body.

“That door is open to all our graduates, and Da’Shaun is one who has run through it,” said Lacey Nash Miller, Academy Prep’s executive director of advancement. “This is a place where he can make a real difference. He can really motivate these kids. So, I think it’s a perfect fit.”

It’s important, Nash Miller said, for the Academy Prep students to see someone who looks like them, has the same background as them, and has taken advantage of the same opportunity they have to be successful.

“When I was in school, to see someone go through the process that I’ve been through, and then come back and talk to me, tell me these things, that would make such a huge difference,” Da’Shaun said. “So, I want to be that change now in the community.”



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BY Roger Mooney

Roger Mooney is the marketing communications manager for Step Up For Students. He joined the organization after a career as a sports and features writer for several Florida newspapers, including the Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times.

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