An Arizona-based non-profit organization donated $2 million to USF in February, creating a scholarship fund for low-income and minority students.
The Helios Education Foundation’s donation is eligible for state matching, which would bring the gift’s value to $4 million. The donation will be disbursed among the Latino Scholarship Program and two new programs geared toward minority students pursuing degrees in sciences and students from under-represented backgrounds.
The largest portion of the donation, $1.25 million, will go to the Latino Scholarship Program, which not only supports students financially but also provides them with guidance throughout their educational careers.
Each donor giving money to the scholarship fund is matched with a student and voluntarily spends time with him or her to ensure a healthy and successful relationship. Senior Juan Villao, majoring in political science and economics, said the donor-student connection is an important key to success.
“I think my donors have been very crucial to my success because I know that I have a lot of people relying on me and wanting me to do well,” Villao said. “It has motivated me a lot.”
To help as many students participate as possible, Director Patsy Feliciano is allocating $100,000 each year to provide new scholarships and renew scholarships for students continuing in the program.
Of the students who participate in the program, 90 percent keep their scholarships. The program comprises 114 students, and offers 40 new scholarships a year. Between 25 and 30 students who receive the scholarship at USF graduate each year, though Feliciano said the success of those involved cannot be achieved solely with financial aid.
“There is more to educational success than simply providing someone with the money to go to school,” Feliciano said. “Our program is successful because we care about the students. We nurture them one-on-one and provide mentorship through the community and guidance.”
Senior Juana Aleman, majoring in interdisciplinary social sciences, was raised in a migrant household and recalls moving frequently and not knowing about scholarships.
“During my senior year of high school, I attended three different schools alone and wasn’t aware of all the resources available to help me,” she said. “My idea of college was a dream because I didn’t have thousands of dollars to attend school.”
Aleman is graduating with honors in May and hopes to go into social work.
“Growing up, I remember the social workers as the people helping supply me with school supplies, free lunch and medical insurance,” she said. “I want to help educate others, especially those in the migrant community, that education after high school is possible because (they) still have no clue of the opportunities available.”
Jose Hernandez, director of the office of Equal Opportunity Affairs and Diversity, said the Latino Scholarship Program is important because it allows students who never thought going to college was possible to attend college and graduate successfully.
“Latino students are in great need for financial help; many are first generation college students on low incomes. The Latino population is a big part of the state, and out of 100 students, only 10 graduate college. We need to increase graduation rates, and I believe the financial aid from this program will help the situation,” Hernandez said.
Because of a growing need for diversity in scientific, engineering and technical field, $500,000 will go toward the STEM Scholarship program. The goal of the program is to create incentives for students who choose a science, technical, engineering or mathematics career path.
“There are specific needs in our community, state and nation for people to work in these careers. We really wanted to impact students across the board and give them the opportunity to make the most of the gift they’ve been given,” Feliciano said.
While the Helios Education Foundation made a large donation to the University, Feliciano said the foundation’s willingness to acknowledge the hard work being done at USF is a gift in and of itself.
“It’s a great accomplishment for the University to be recognized for the Latino Scholarship fund as well as a school that cares about community engagement,” she said. “I’m thrilled for the community because this is recognition for a job well done, and it’s a great feeling to know that our hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed.”
The donation comes after the Helios Education Foundation opened a location in Tampa in September.
Students at USF and other Florida universities have had the ability to receive the scholarships since their creation in 1992, but the opening of a Helios location in Tampa makes USF’s Latino Scholarship Program more prestigious, supporters said.
“We were operating in Florida for a couple of years prior to opening our Tampa location,” Ian Smith, senior vice president for Helios, said. “Tampa is the best location geographically within the state because it represented what we were looking for economically.”