Money and Mentorship: Benefactors of the University of South Florida Latino Scholarship Program Support Students in More Ways Than One

By Lim, Victor | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, October 16, 2008 | Go to article overview

Money and Mentorship: Benefactors of the University of South Florida Latino Scholarship Program Support Students in More Ways Than One


Lim, Victor, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


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Tampa, Fla., restaurateur Richard Gonzmart says his donation to the University of South Florida Latino Scholarship Program (LSP) honors his parents and grandparents who placed a high value on education. But Gonzmart didn't realize just how significant his gift was until a scholarship recipient paid him a visit three years after graduating from USF and becoming an electrical engineer.

"He said, 'Thank you so much for the opportunity. When I was a senior in high school, I was wondering what field I'd pick tomatoes and fruit from,'" Gonzmart recalls. "That had the biggest impact on me. Seeing a bright young man given an opportunity, and he took advantage of it and made something of himself."

Gonzmart met his charge through the LSP, now in its 17th year. It was started by the Hispanic Advisory Committee to the USF president to attract Hispanic students to the school. The committee didn't want to just provide financial assistance; it also wanted benefactors to mentor scholarship recipients.

"With that goal, the student would benefit from the money and guidance from professionals and have contact with sponsors in their area of interest that they wanted to pursue" says Patsy Feliciano, who took the reins as the scholarship program director in 2001. "To have someone serve as their mentor and share with them the things they'd gone through helps students through the (academic) process."

Gonzmart, an early program donor and owner of the historic Columbia Restaurant that provided $100,000 this year, says that while he appreciates the ability to be financially generous, he's most fulfilled by the personal rapport he's able to develop with scholarship recipients.

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"One student went to study biology and was getting intimidated. Another one was focusing on accounting and didn't like it, so he thought he was a failure," Gonzmart says. "I told them there will be challenges, and they may fail, but that opportunity is theirs. That's how you learn--from failure."

In addition to Columbia Restaurant's donation this year for the LSP's "Centenario Endowment Scholarship" which is eligible for a 50 percent state match, the Helios Education Foundation, the largest education nonprofit organization in Arizona and Florida, awarded the program $1.25 million.

Corporate donors include OSI Restaurant Partners, LLC, Wachovia Bank and Univision. Since the program's inception in 1991, $1.6 million has been awarded to students. The program has a 90 percent retention and graduation rate, boasting 245 alumni.

Motivating Factors

The money and mentorship afforded through the LSP helped Javier Rosado fulfill his dream of pursuing an academic career that he believed was out of reach. The 27-year-old is currently a resident at Florida State University's Health Center in Immokalee, Fla. He just graduated from FSU with a doctorate in counseling psychology and human systems.

Private donors--a retired couple from Tampa--funded Rosado's education at USE

"We had lunch dates throughout every semester" he says. "I loved it. They really inspired me; they encouraged me. The best thing they did for me was believe in me and tell me that I could do it."

The encouragement extended beyond academics. Rosado had always wanted to travel to Africa to volunteer for a cause. His sponsors had visited Africa for work and shared their experiences with him. Rosado signed up with a charitable organization that organized community assistance projects in Africa and spent a summer teaching sex education and HIV awareness to high school students there.

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"Honestly, I think the biggest obstacle was me. The mentality of thinking that it wasn't possible for me to go," Rosado says. "Once I knew (the sponsor) had done work there as well ... that made it seem a little more possible. …

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