A $132 million fundraising total is a spectacular measure of the success of The Power of Transformation.
The University of North Florida's recently concluded capital campaign, the largest in UNF history, went public in the midst of the most crushing economic collapse of the past half century but still managed to eclipse its fundraising goal by more than $20 million. It's a tremendous success by any metric. But the real measure of the campaign's efficacy can be told in the stories of the students who will benefit from the scholarships endowed and supported during The Power of Transformation's run.
Deserving first-generation college students will gain the types of academic opportunities that no one in their family has ever received. The brightest and most driven scholars will be able to stay focused on their studies and immerse themselves in campus life, thanks to scholarships that allow them a sense of financial stability unknown to many college students. The Power of Transformation will be viewed as a watershed moment for student scholarship at the University of North Florida.
Most of the scholarship students at UNF, especially those who received merit scholarships, graduated top of their class from high school. However, the overall academic profile of the University has evolved to the point that every UNF student was a high school high-achiever. UNF has one of the most stringent admissions requirements in the State University System. Enrollment figures indicate that the average Fall 2012 UNF freshman boasted a 3.9 high school GPA, a 1212 SAT score and a 29 on the ACT, making this is the most academically gifted group in University history.
The University's academic profile has been on a consistent upward climb for the past half-decade, said John Yancey, interim assistant vice president of Enrollment Services.
"The students entering UNF today are some of the most driven and talented the University has ever seen," Yancey said. "UNF is right at the top when it comes to academic quality in the state, and more and more students are beginning to realize it. Coupled with our dedication to smaller class sizes and an accessible student/teacher ratio, UNF is positioned to offer students an environment for academic success."
Historically, some of the most successful students have been part of the Gray Scholars Program. Started by UNF graduate Ann Hicks and her husband, David, the Gray Scholars Program is named after the Rev. Neil Gray, an Episcopal priest and UNF adjunct instructor to whom Hicks grew close during multiple undergraduate courses.
Almost 300 students have benefited from their generosity. But Ann Hicks said she doesn't view her scholarships as entirely one-way streets. She greatly enjoys listening to the stories of Gray Scholars who've studied abroad and revels in hearing the future plans of all of her accomplished students.
"Being a UNF donor is one of the most gratifying things I've ever been involved in," Hicks said. "At this point, I've seen the University grow from a small college on the outskirts of town to a large, successful institution that is accessed by all sectors of the community. It's impossible to imagine Jacksonville without UNF now. It's been exciting to help contribute to that growth as a donor, and the most recent campaign shows that many others share my excitement in contributing to UNF."
Coming to Northeast Florida from Togo, a French-speaking country in West Africa, might seem like a stretch. But Lauriane Byll-Cataria said UNF was the most welcoming and supportive college of the many she and her siblings applied to when they were looking at institutions in the United States. Her father specified that he wanted Lauriane, her sister, Nabad, and brother, Sitou, to attend college in an English-speaking country. At the time, they were teens who had grown up with idealized images of the United States on TV and online, so they decided to attend college in America. Nabad was the first to leave, and Lauriane arrived in late 2003.
Despite a momentary dose of culture shock and some initial struggles with the language, Byll-Cataria quickly acclimated to the campus. Her instructors in the University's English Language Program helped her become mostly fluent within the year, and she dove into campus life. She was an avid club member for multiple campus groups and became involved in Student Government. Her brother, who arrived in 2006, followed her lead in Student Government and was even elected student body president in 2010.
She views that as a testament to how accommodating administrators and students were to her family once they arrived on campus.
"Once we came to UNF, we were treated as part of the family," she said. "I've received amazing support through scholarships and from the relationships I've gained with professors and students here. Classes are small and the staff might be easy to get in contact with, but I've never found there to be a lack of things to do. It's the best balance between too large and not large enough."
Byll-Cataria received a number of scholarships to help pay for her undergraduate tuition, allowing her to focus on her studies and graduate in 2008 with a double major in international business and transportation and logistics. She landed a job right out of school at Jacksonville's CEVA Logistics and recently re-enrolled in UNF's graduate school to further her career opportunities. Her tuition is being paid for in part by the Blanche and Luther Coggin Fellowship, which offers a $5,000 award to high-achieving business students. The Coggins have been avid UNF supporters, as evidenced by the dedication of the Coggin College of Business on campus.
Byll-Cataria is forever grateful for the financial support she's receive from UNF and its committed group of donors. She credits the University with being exceptionally accepting of international students.
"From my experiences, the people at UNF have done everything to involve the international community as much as possible on campus," she said. "Whether it's offering financial resources or making them feel involved in student life, I've always felt like a part of the University since the first time I came to campus. That's especially important for an international student learning the language, as there's only so much you can learn in the classroom. My hands-on learning experiences in groups and clubs taught me presentation skills, public speaking skills and really helped my language aptitude. I'm a much different person today than I was then."
First Generation students
Other donors who contributed to The Power of Transformation campaign focused on providing scholarships to students who dreamt of doing something no one in their families had done before - graduate from college. The University of North Florida participates in Florida's First Generation Matching Grant Program, which effectively doubles donor contributions thanks to an appropriation from the Florida Legislature. The program was a particular target for campaign fundraising, and dozens of benefactors earmarked their gifts for first-generation scholarships.
Two companies with strong roots in the Jacksonville community, EverBank and THE PLAYERS Championship, donated $250,000 each for the First Generation Scholarship Program. Considering the state match, these gifts will inject $1 million into the program over the five-year commitment for contributions - a major financial source that will fund the education of dozens of deserving students. The First Generation Scholarship Program has provided assistance to more than 750 students.
Some of the students fought through periods of adversity and kept pushing when college might have seemed like a remote possibility. However, many of the most successful first-generation students have overcome tremendous obstacles in their formative years and used their UNF degrees to boost them to dynamic careers.
Michael Hines counts himself lucky to have been one of the many UNF students to receive a First Generation Scholarship. At the time he was offered the scholarship, he was pondering how he would finish his college education without acquiring major student loan debt. He attended Florida State College at Jacksonville's radiography program and took all the required courses for an associate's degree. But after taking a year and a half off from school to assess his future upon receiving his A.A., Hines said he was having trouble finding a financial avenue through which he could re-enroll. That's when he got the call from UNF.
"I filled out some financial aid paperwork and got a call a few weeks later asking me if I was interested in pursuing a First Generation Scholarship," Hines said. "They asked a few questions about my family history. My mother raised me as a single parent and there wasn't anyone in my household with a college degree, so I qualified for the program. When they told me it was mine, I couldn't believe it. All the worries I had about finances and long-term debt just disappeared."
Hines was free to pursue his passion in wellness education and advocacy and enrolled in UNF's community health program in the Brooks College of Health. His tuition was fully funded through his scholarship, allowing him to focus on his studies and the practical experiences that come from internships and extracurricular activities.
"I had a job during my time in school, but there was never the question of how I'd be able to pay my bills while still paying my tuition," he said. "School always came first, and I'm really lucky to be able to say that."
Hines graduated in April 2012 and landed a job with the Department of Health Promotion on campus - the place where he started his wellness services career as an intern. He's on the road to accomplishing his professional goals as a health advocate for at-risk populations. It's a calling inspired in large part by some of the health disparities that have plagued his family - obesity and diabetes, in particular. He said he's eternally grateful for the First Generation Scholarship Program giving him the option to pursue his degree without mortgaging his future.
"I was able to get my bachelor's degree debt free," he said. "That was a huge jumpstart for me. When you're just getting into the workforce, that debt payment can be a huge anchor. Thankfully, I'm able to focus on my work and not my bills. It's another way UNF has helped me along the way."
Campus engagement and student retention
The impact of the contributions made to The Power of Transformation campaign reaches far beyond just the financial. Each and every donor-funded scholarship program allows students the opportunity to establish a presence in the UNF campus community. That's easier now than ever, thanks to a robust assortment of campus activities, a state-of-the-art new Student Wellness Complex and a slate of amenity-laden residence halls. The University is bustling with life at all times - especially this scholastic year - with the inception of mandatory first-year housing for freshmen. Dr. Jeffrey Coker, dean of Undergraduate Studies, said there's been a concerted, campus-wide effort to engage first-year students academically and socially. Research shows that students who live on campus and become active members of the University community do better in class and are more likely to graduate with their degrees instead of leaving campus after a few years. And with a steadily growing list of scholarships to help fund the educational experience, students don't have to spend their college careers worrying about how they'll be able to afford their degrees.
José Sanchez, a 2007 transportation and logistics graduate and Stein Scholarship recipient, said he considers choosing UNF one of his wisest decisions. He discovered a second home at the University after living on campus and engaging in the vibrant community surrounding him.
"I met some of my best friends at UNF," Sanchez said. "My roommate freshman year is still one of my best friends to this day. It was a great all-around experience to be on campus. I might have been living at home if it weren't for my scholarships, and I likely wouldn't have been as involved on campus between commuting and working. It would've been a much more stressful and less fulfilling experience, and I credit the Stein Scholarship for making my undergraduate career at UNF such an amazing time in my life."
The scholarship Sanchez received is named after Jacksonville philanthropist David Stein. He established the undergraduate scholarship fund with the gift of a $1 million endowment in 1999. Scholarship candidates must have graduated from high schools in Duval, Clay, Nassau, St. Johns or Putnam counties, shown commitment to community service or been involved in leadership activities and demonstrated financial need. Stein's generosity has funded the education of nearly 100 students, so it's no wonder that many scholars refer to themselves as "Steiners" and often stay in close contact with their benefactor. Sanchez said he was pleasantly surprised by the amount of financial support offered by the Stein Scholarship, which paid for his tuition, room and board and other assorted costs.
"My jaw just about dropped when I was told I qualified for a Stein Scholarship and that it would pay for my tuition and other expenses," he said. "I couldn't believe there was someone out there I'd never met who wanted to help put me through school."
Sanchez, an international business graduate, said he considers himself a Steiner for life, and he views David Stein as a surrogate parent for providing such an unprecedented amount of financial support.
"Without the generosity of my scholarship, I don't know how I would have gotten through school and been as successful as I was," he said. "I probably would have dedicated a lot more time to outside work, and there's the possibility I might still be in school at this point."
Sanchez landed a job straight out of school, as a logistics dispatcher at Spectrum Logistics in Jacksonville. He said the path he is on personally and professionally is due in large part to the assistance he received from the Stein Scholarship. It's a fact that has inspired him to keep striving for success in the hopes that he can one day endow a similarly beneficial scholarship.
"I owe a big part of my life to them," he said. "To this day, that phone call I received offering me the scholarship is probably the biggest, most impactful moment of my life. It changed everything for the better."
Hands-on learning, TLOs and student/teacher interaction
Monique May's initial college plans didn't include UNF. She was fixated on attending a historically black college or university and settled on Hampton University in Virginia - before she saw the bill.
"My financial aid didn't really come through," May said. "I was looking at a mountain of debt if I wanted to attend college there. I was thinking this all through when I got a call telling me about the Coggin Pathways to Success Scholarship from UNF."
Another example of the incredible generosity of the Coggins, the Pathways Scholarship provided May with enough to pay for tuition and other assorted fees. Instead of acquiring a ton of student loan debt or being forced to pull long hours at off-campus jobs to afford her degree, she'd be able to focus on her studies and learn about the ethics of business principles intended for Coggin scholarship recipients. With her college financial situation sorted out, May was free to pledge a sorority and gain a group of life-long friends while building her professional resume with internships.
"I really consider this something like divine intervention," she said. "I was so dead-set on leaving Florida, but this scholarship allowed me to stay in-state and start shaping my legacy here at UNF. I was able to enjoy the college experience and wasn't constantly stressed about having to pay tuition. I instead focused on internships and hands-on learning experiences at Brunet-Garcia Advertising and Jacksonville's Downtown Vision."
She said UNF's connection with the local business community runs so deep that she had no problem snaring an internship in the area. Her resume-boosting internships gave her the professional skills needed to land a job after her 2011 graduation. She now works at Wyndham Vacation Ownership in Orlando as a vacation planning counselor, and she credits the Coggin Pathways to Success Scholarship with giving her the support and the motivation to succeed.
"When it comes down to it, having the scholarship helped me graduate on time and kept me accountable because I had to keep my GPA up to still qualify," she said. "It was like having a support system built in to my college experience. Not many students can say their school did that for them."
And while some scholarships help students get into UNF, some others help while they are actually here to take advantage of incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. The concept of the Transformational Learning Opportunity, or TLO, was introduced in 2006. Life-changing and informative academic experiences were to become the norm, not the exception, in all UNF degree programs. The concept inspired the title of The Power of Transformation campaign and drove co-chair Rad Lovett, who spent half of his 10th grade year in Montevideo, Uruguay, to make it a major focus of his fundraising efforts.
Scores of students have embarked on educational adventures outside of the classroom since the TLO program's inception. During the most recent round of TLO funding, art and photography students stood in awe of some of the most cherished historical sites in Florence and Pompei, honors students immersed themselves in Greek culture while spending five weeks abroad at a college in Athens and education students engaged in teaching assignments with bilingual youths in Honduras.
The academic possibilities presented by the TLO program are limitless, and Henna Bakshi, a junior communication major, said her TLO experience has also positioned her for success once she enters the workforce. She and a group of journalism, electronic media, public relations and political science students covered the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa for the Washington Post. Supervised by communication professor Dr. Paula Horvath-Neimyer, they tweeted, blogged and performed the kind of shoe-leather reporting practiced by the world's most seasoned political reporters. A TLO grant allowed the students and Neimeyer to rent a four-bedroom house in Ybor City in Tampa for more than a week during the Convention.
Bakshi, a student with an electronic media concentration that made her the group's unofficial broadcast representative, spent a lot of her time at the Convention shooting video and doing video spots from in and around the Tampa Bay Times Forum. She said there's no way to replicate the on-the-job training she received while covering the Convention. It's a résumé topper for her until she lands a professional position in front of the camera. She credits UNF with preparing her for the rigors of day-to-day life in the broadcast field through strong classroom instruction and access to tremendous practical experience.
"These kinds of hands-on learning opportunities are unique to UNF," Bakshi said. "Other students at larger schools might get lost in the shuffle and not be able to do some of the things I've done. But at UNF, I've had the support to dream big and go out and pursue my dreams. It's really been transformational for me."
After all, transformational experiences were the focus of the University's recently concluded capital campaign, which has made an indelible impact on the University as it continues to grow and evolve into an even more nationally prestigious institution.
The gracious benefactors who contributed to the campaign know that not every student is the same, and educational experiences should naturally be tailored to the individual scholar. With the funds generated by the campaign, UNF will ensure that every student who is dedicated to enriching the lives of others will be offered the opportunity to build their own futures through a well-rounded education. That is UNF's promise to its students and the community - a promise that has been generously supported by each and every donor to The Power of Transformation.
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