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University Development and Alumni Engagement

Donor Stories

  • Almeta Monroe-Turner Commencement Regalia Endowment

    Our incredible UNF Foundation Board member Almeta Monroe-Turner has pledged an extraordinary gift to establish the Almeta Monroe-Turner Commencement Regalia Endowment, which will support the efforts of our No Grad Left Behind initiative!

    No Grad Left Behind seeks to support graduating seniors who are most in need of assistance and who are unable to attend their commencement ceremony due to financial constraints by alleviating the costs associated with graduation.

    The Almeta Monroe-Turner Commencement Regalia Endowment will help students culminate their years of hard work by uniting with their peers at the University of North Florida commencement ceremonies and join the ranks of over 100,000 UNF Osprey alumni as our newest members.

    This isn’t the first time Monroe-Turner has supported our University. In 2011, she started the Almeta Monroe-Turner First Generation Scholarship to honor both her mother and her husband who were both first-generation students.

    Monroe-Turner is based in Fleming Island. An entrepreneur focused on mobile technology, she is also a member of Insurance and Financial Advisors and the Executive Women's Golf Association. She is a former member of the executive boards of Operation New Hope, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Florida and Ready For Work.

  • Almeta Monroe-Turner First-Generation Scholarship

     “Education is the key to success … and hard work pays dividends.” The adage was one that Almeta Monroe-Turner heard time and time again growing up. It was among countless words of wisdom her mother shared often throughout her lifetime. 

    Monroe-Turner’s mother was the first in her family to finish high school. At age 50, she graduated from Biscayne College with a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, the same year Almeta’s brother was a freshman at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. Almeta entered UCF shortly after and recalls not only her mother’s commitment to education, but also the tremendous sacrifices her father made to support his wife and children during those college years. 

    The memories and sacrifices continue to inspire Monroe-Turner and motivated her to make the dream of a college education a reality for others. In 2011, she started the Almeta Monroe-Turner First Generation Scholarship at the University of North Florida. In addition to her mother, her husband, Jeff, was also a first-generation student. “I wanted to start the scholarship early in my life and career so I could meet, interact with and watch students grow,” said Monroe-Turner, a State Farm insurance agent. This year, she pledged a significant estate gift to add to her endowed UNF scholarship. She also established a scholarship for graduate students at FAMU, The Almeta Monroe-Turner Women In STEM Scholarship. 

    Since her first donation to UNF, two students have benefited from Monroe-Turner’s generosity, with one graduating in May – a proud moment for both her and the student, though an in-person commencement was not possible due to the pandemic. 

    She and Jeff have enjoyed interacting with the scholars over the years, particularly at UNF Foundation scholarship luncheons where they talk to the students about their experiences and plans for the future. In fact, that interaction is one of the reasons she picked UNF. 

    “I sought out UNF,” said Monroe-Turner. “I wanted to do this at a school where I could participate. The University responded wonderfully. UNF just became my school.” 

    Monroe-Turner, who serves on the UNF Foundation board, said instead of birthday or holiday gifts, she encourages friends to direct their well wishes to the scholarship fund or the Foundation, and also tells them how they can begin their own legacy of giving. “I never thought that I would have an opportunity to do this,” she said, “but I’m constantly telling people how easy it is.” 

    Almeta Monroe-Turner’s gift will change the lives of many students and their families – a fact that is a bit awe-inspiring to her. “It is such a wonderful way to impact someone’s life — to help someone go to school,” she said. “It is truly just the coolest, best thing I’ve ever done.

  • Bank of England Career Management Center

    Partnerships begin in different ways. For the University of North Florida and Bank of England Mortgage, the connection began with sports. Area Manager Quinton Harris, after hiring several UNF grads for his new Jacksonville office, brought his wife and young children to UNF to watch basketball. 

    The family time quickly turned into something special when they had the chance to meet the players and coaches. “Everyone was so kind to our family,” Harris said. “At the time, my children were maybe five and six, and to them these guys were NBA players, giants. It was great to see them interact with the kids.” That first experience at UNF prompted Harris to reflect on the University, the community and giving back. 

    That was seven years ago. Since then, the Bank of England Mortgage has partnered with UNF Athletics, providing funding for LED scoreboards in the UNF Arena and the softball and baseball fields. That initial connection now has developed into a relationship with the Coggin College of Business and a new name for its career center: The Bank of England Mortgage Career Management Center. 

    For Harris, working with the Center is a perfect fit. In 2011, he hired all entry-level positions from area universities. His plan was to train the employees and have them build a culture together to end the "employee revolving door" of the mortgage industry. His plan worked. Many hired are still with the company today. "The hiring process really turned into a phenomenal system, and we developed roots into the University that I couldn't have imagined," Harris said. At last count, about 70% of 52 team members are UNF grads.

    With the company’s gift, UNF will be able to totally renovate the Center. Director Derek Guffin said the goal is to create a professional-looking space. “When students walk in, we want them to realize that they’ve entered a place worthy of a nationally ranked business school, a place that offers expanded services so they can launch their careers.” The Center also will continue to host multiple employer events throughout the year to help in the hiring process.  

    “Making a connection with UNF has been transformative,” Harris said. The culture created by his team has led to the company being named by the Jacksonville Business Journal as “A Best Place to Work,” for the past six years. Since 2013, Harris’ office has ranked No. 1 of 172 lending locations nationwide. 

    The original Bank of England Mortgage opened in 1898 in England, Arkansas, thus the namesake. Depository branches remain in Arkansas with mortgage locations nationwide. Will Harris’ office stay in the No. 1 spot? With the winning attitude of his team, and his hiring connection with UNF, he has no doubt the Jacksonville office will stay at the top for 2020. “We are definitely hard to catch,” Harris said.

  • Barbara Sharp and Todd Sack | MOCA Gift

    Barbara Sharp and Todd Sack are fans of MOCA Jacksonville and the University of North Florida Foundation.

    The couple recently spent several weeks in Africa combining a number of passions: medicine, travel and the arts. The first part of the trip was to Tanzania where the two physicians volunteered six days a week for one month at a small hospital. “Tanzania was a remarkable experience. We were very busy,” Sack said. “This is not retirement; we are calling it ‘post private practice.’ ”

    The final two weeks of the adventure were spent traveling in nearby Zambia, including the Kafue National Park and the Lusaka National Museum. Through the various artworks, the Jacksonville couple could see how the local artists interpret life, history and politics. Sack believes great art is not simply decorative but is something that changes forever how one looks at the world.

    That’s one of the reasons the couple has had a strong affinity for MOCA for more than a decade. Sharp, who serves on UNF’s Student Affairs Community Council, spent 10 years on MOCA’s Board of Trustees, where she chaired the Exhibition and Collections Committee for many years. Sack has been a board member since 2014.

    Their support of the museum will continue for years to come as the couple has pledged a planned gift from their estate to fund future exhibitions and art conservation at MOCA. The museum’s collection is fairly young, but will age over time, Sack said. Pieces will need to be cleaned, sculptures will require repairs. He hopes the couple’s gift will inspire the creation of a permanent preservation program at MOCA.

    The museum has been a cultural institute of UNF since 2009, a partnership that Sack said has been “such a wonderful boost” for the downtown venue.“Now when you go to exhibition openings, there are students there. Having the students excited about the art and learning from it makes MOCA much more fun,” he said.

    Sharp and Sack hope that MOCA will continue to grow as a resource for Jacksonville, especially as a place where children can appreciate art and have it enrich their lives. The couple’s sons Jonathan, Peter and David learned a lot about art over the years with their parents.

    Although Sharp and Sack enjoy many types of art, they realized long ago they couldn’t collect everything. So, they focused on works by American Pop artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Christo. One of their favorites is “Double French Money,” created in 1965 by the late Larry Rivers as a limited edition of 125. They found theirs at auction in 2013, but first fell in love with the piece at MOCA, where others can enjoy it as well.

  • Chartrand STEM2 Hub

    Gary Chartrand isn’t one to sit idle. For more than a decade, he has been intensely focused on enhancing education in Florida, committing time, energy and resources to broaden learning opportunities for children. His impact has been profound, and his recent gifts to UNF’s College of Education and Human Services go even further to support that mission. 

    Chartrand, chairman of Acosta, a leading sales and marketing company, served for eight years on Florida’s State Board of Education including two years as chair. He was the founding chair of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, instrumental in bringing the KIPP nonprofit charter school to Jacksonville, and led the effort to establish Teach for America on the First Coast. 

    In 2015, Chartrand created the STEM2 Hub with area businesses to accelerate local learning in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. “Gary cares deeply about the youth in our community,” said Kathleen Schofield, executive director of the STEM2 Hub. “He values the role that teachers play, not only in being a caring and stable force in children’s lives, but also as the people who set them on the path toward their future.” 

    The family’s foundation, started in 2006, also has given generously to area public schools, particularly those in lower-income neighborhoods. This summer, Chartrand pledged significant support to the Urban Initiative Scholarship Fund at UNF, an effort to develop a diverse teaching force in urban public schools. “Our teacher pipeline is really important to make sure we have quality teachers in front of our students,” Chartrand said. “The single biggest component to student achievement  is the teacher, and to be effective, it is vital that we  have representation from everyone in our community.”  The Urban Initiative also aims to meet the critical shortage of teachers in Duval County. 

    “Gary knows the issues facing Northeast Florida,” said Diane Yendol-Hoppey, Dean of UNF’s College of Education and Human Services, commenting that nearly 80% of UNF’s education graduates stay in the area to teach. “He recognizes the critical role that our College plays in the future of local education,” she said. “We are grateful to have him as a partner.” 

    Chartrand believes the rapid pace of changes in technology and science requires immediate and far reaching changes in the classroom. He also has lent his support to help fund the associate director of research programs and services for UNF’s STEP Lab, where regional preK-12 students and teachers, University faculty and students, and community partners can gain hands-on experience in STEM learning. 

    “Our schools must prepare students for the 21st century with 21st century skills,” Chartrand said. “Exposure is critical.” 

    With so many of UNF’s education graduates staying local, Chartrand said he and his family are proud to lend support where he knows it will make a difference. “UNF has a robust College of Education that is critical to our community,” he said. “We are just doing what we can to support that.”

  • Bradbury Graduate Fellowships

    "It has meant more time with my family, valuable time. It means everything." -Brian Frampton

    Brian Frampton embraces each new day. He is grateful for his family, the opportunity to make a difference in people's lives and for all those who have enriched his own.

    The retired Navy petty officer turned registered nurse is scheduled to graduate from UNF in 2020 with a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree in nurse anesthesia. His journey, which includes both a heart and kidney transplant, has been a challenging one, but also one filled with optimism and joy. Many have impacted his life, from medical staff to individuals like Robin and Sharyn Bradbury, who funded a fellowship that provides support while he is in graduate school.

    Life took a dramatic turn for Frampton in 2004 when he became ill while deployed to Qatar and the Persian Gulf. A serious heart condition was identified, ending his Naval career. Three years later, he had a heart transplant. At that time, his daughters were six and three.

    Through it all, Frampton recalls nurses and others who made a profound difference in his life. One nurse, Ian, was a paraglider who engaged Frampton in long discussions on how to configure a two-way radio in his helmet. They discussed electrical work and fabrication - skills Frampton developed in the Navy. Later Frampton learned Ian already knew how to do what he was asking his patient to "teach" him. "He engaged me in something he knew would distract me," Frampton said. "Th is is the power of caring."

    Then, there was the nurse who cared for Frampton after his transplant. She held his hand while he wept for the family of the heart donor - a 17-year-old who had just gotten his license a month before being killed in a hit and-run accident.

    Drawn to healthcare as a young man, Frampton's powerful experiences with medical staff furthered his desire to change professions. "They ease the burden somewhat, even if it's only listening or showing with small gestures that you are not alone, and that they care," Frampton said. Robin and Sharyn Bradbury know this all too well. They also spent countless hours in hospitals with their son Drew, who passed away from complications due to cystic fibrosis. Sharyn recalls the extraordinary nurses who cared for their son. "It was their humanity," she said. "They were friends as much as caregivers."

    The Bradburys have endowed two unique graduate fellowships, both with a leadership component - one for a STEM field and one for nursing, currently awarded to Frampton. "The two current fellowship recipients are terrific," said Robin. "Brian is spectacular, and I couldn't imagine a better advocate in the nursing field."

    Frampton is grateful to the Bradburys for touching his life in such a meaningful way. "It has meant more time with my family, valuable time. It means everything."

  • UNF Center for Entrepreneurship

    “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw o the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover.”  —Mark Twain  

    Having a great idea is one thing. Turning that idea into a viable business is another. 

    In addition to a grand vision or an innovative product, budding entrepreneurs require capital, data knowledge and business skills to be successful. In Jacksonville, innovators will soon not only have a place to dream, but a place to vet their ideas and access critical resources and support.

    The University of North Florida’s new Center for Entrepreneurship opens in downtown Jacksonville in January 2019. An initiative of UNF’s Coggin College of Business, the Center aims to be a hub for innovation and creativity in the heart of the city.

     Akin to the format of the “Shark Tank” TV show, entrepreneurs will pitch their ideas to a panel of experts in hopes of being one of 10-15 selected to receive space and support in the Center. At no cost, those selected will be provided office space to work through their plans, assess market feasibility and develop their businesses.

    “The ultimate objective is to grow business for Jacksonville and build a strong and sustainable entrepreneurial climate — for the success of the community and our students,” said Mark Dawkins, dean of the Coggin College of Business. Dawkins added, as Jacksonville’s entrepreneurial environment has grown, it became clear that the University needed to be involved.

    Plans for the Center resulted from a task force formed in 2015 to study local entrepreneurism and successful models in other cities. The group looked at the top
50 entrepreneur centers in the country, said Dawkins, identifying best practices and components that were appropriate for Jacksonville. A lead gift from Luther and Blanche Coggin put the plans in motion.

    The Center will be a learning lab, providing students with opportunities to assist entrepreneurs with market analyses, financial statement creation, planning
and more. The Northeast Florida Small Business Development Center will have a presence as well to connect aspiring business owners with additional resources and advice.  

    The Center for Entrepreneurship will occupy two floors of the Barnett National Bank Building, a signature downtown building near the Laura Street Trio — a group of historic structures undergoing major renovations and a key part of downtown revitalization.

    The Coggin College of Business will hold graduate classes in the space for its popular Master of Science in Management and MBA programs, which together have grown 207 percent since 2015. 

  • Victor and Lynne Raiser Urban Education Endowment

    The yards of notes and investment logs have been a part of Dr. Lynne Raiser’s life for many years, and now that homemade scroll — pieced together with scrap paper over a lifetime — tells a new story.

    There is no doubt that her husband was thrifty and that he kept meticulous records of his investments. That frugality, Raiser said, made it possible for her to establish The Victor and Lynne Raiser Urban Education Endowment at UNF aimed at improving education for urban youth.

    “We were both in public service. Neither made much,but over a lifetime Vic saved to be sure there was enough for our possible healthcare needs,” she said, chuckling as she recalled the scrolls he maintained to track his investments, which she called his Monopoly money.

    After 50 years as a public school teacher and later, as a UNF education professor, Raiser knows that poverty is the root cause of struggling inner city schools. Fiercely dedicated to UNF where she taught for decades, and where both her children are alumni, she created the endowment to help maintain a focus on urban public schools. “I just hope my small contribution can make sure we don’t abandon these inner city kids,” she said. Currently supporting the Center for Urban Education and Policy, the endowment will continue to fund programs serving urban students.

    Raiser said her husband, who passed away in 2015, “spent nothing.” Living on her retirement in the same small house the couple bought 47 years ago, she knows he would be proud that his investments are helping to educate kids in need. Raiser also recently increased funding for UNF’s Ted Stephenson Endowed Baseball Scholarship she and her sister established in honor of their late father in 1993.

    The Raisers’ daughter, Dr. Darby Delane, is a Gainesville educator who shares her mother’s passion for teaching urban children. Their son, Geoffrey, a mineral sands mine consultant, formerly managed UNF’s science labs. After retiring from UNF, Raiser stayed on campus 11 years teaching in the Educator Preparation Institute and coordinating the Gladys Prior Awards. Her endowment was inspired by Gilchrist Berg, a local investor who created and funds the Gladys Prior Awards for Career Teaching Excellence and the Gladys Roddenberry Fellowships to honor his grade school teachers.

    Raiser hopes that her gift will inspire other UNF faculty, alumni and students to give, too.

  • DuBow Family Foundation Meals on Wings Gift

    Lawrence “Laurie” DuBow believes that the best thing you can do for a young person is to help them attend college. That philosophy has motivated him to provide scholarships to UNF students for the past 30 years through the DuBow Family Foundation. 

    His family’s continued generosity has supported numerous other UNF initiatives, most recently providing funding for Meals on Wings, a food recovery program in UNF’s Center for Nutrition and Food Security. Since it began two years ago, the program has delivered nearly 17,000 meals to homebound seniors who are on the waiting list for Duval County’s Meals on Wheels. Student volunteers recover unused food from six area hospitals, repackage it into healthy meals and deliver nutrition and smiles directly to seniors’ homes.

    Laurie and his son Michael said they chose to fund the project, in part, because it is innovative and fills an important need in the community. "We also felt the students' passion behind it, so we believe it will be successful," Michael said.

    The donation has allowed the program to purchase a refrigerated van to improve the operation’s efficiency and ensure food safety. “We felt this would be a lasting gift,” Michael said. “It will help the students coming through the program to see the impact they are making and then when they go on in their careers, they will be inclined to give back in other ways. It’s unique because it’s a community service program embedded in a college. You couldn’t find a greater impact program than this one.” 

    Dr. Lauri Wright, associate professor and director of UNF’s Doctorate in Clinical Nutrition program, is the founding director of the UNF Center for Nutrition and Food Security. In addition to the van, the donation has allowed Wright and the students to expand from assisting 25 to 100 seniors, with five meals a week. 

    “We’re so appreciative that we could help meet the needs that the pandemic put on this vulnerable population,” Wright said. “It’s also given the students so much opportunity to apply classroom work and really see it come to life. The DuBow Family Foundation donation helped us do all that.” 

    Yet Laurie DuBow would give his share of the credit to the student volunteers. While he will acknowledge that the donation was needed, he also will tell you that the money was the easy part. “The real work is being done by the students who are making a difference in these people’s lives,” Laurie said. “It’s the kind of education they can’t get in the classroom, and that’s important to me. They are the real heroes and should be getting all the credit. Without them, the money that we’ve given wouldn’t mean a thing.”

  • The Energy Authority Center for Portfolio Management

    Mike Zaccardi holds the distinction of participating twice — at the bachelor’s and master’s levels — in the Osprey Financial Group, a student-managed investment program within the Coggin College of Business. The real-world experience Zaccardi, ’11, ’16, gained made him a great hire for The Energy Authority, or TEA, whose core services are energy trading and risk management.

    He was not alone. TEA has hired 11 OFG students and given others internships. As further support of the program, TEA recently donated $100,000 over five years to upgrade UNF’s trading room, named The Energy Authority Center for Portfolio Management.

    Zaccardi credits the program with providing students practice “writing and speaking finance,” which now helps him communicate his financial ideas in the workplace. The program also provided networking opportunities with portfolio managers and analysts. “I honestly have a hard time envisioning my professional career had I not had that experience,” he said.

    According to Dr. Reinhold Lamb, the program’s designer, the yearlong course is structured to function as a real-world investment company. Students manage real money — initially $500,000 donated by Jody and Layton Smith in 2001 — for a real client — the UNF Foundation. Lamb, as the Jody and Layton Smith Professor of Accounting and Finance, oversees OFG, which over the years has grown the fund to $1.1 million.

    Susan Boggs, vice president of administration and chief people officer at TEA, is also an MBA grad from UNF. She believes that Lamb and other finance faculty do a great job identifying the right students for the program. “The competencies they are looking for when they interview for the OFG group are very similar to what we’re looking for as well,” Boggs said. 

    TEA’s donation also enhances the strong community partnership the company has with UNF, according to its CEO Joanie Teofilo. “Our partnership produces significant mutual value as we invest in the future of these students and together groom them into leaders in the industry,” Teofilo said. The company also has contributed to the Financial Investment Society at UNF and frequently sends its experts to campus to share their knowledge in the classroom.

    Lamb explained that the University plans to use the generous donation to modernize the trading room’s technology, databases and other resources, which are now nearly 15 years old. “With The Energy Authority gift we will have access to the latest resources,” Lamb said. “Everything our students do in the trading room is what the pros do, so the upgrades will help make our students that much more marketable when they graduate.”

  • Florida Blue Partnership

    Navigating through differences and promoting a stronger community is nothing new for Florida Blue's CEO Pat Geraghty.

    Years before he came to Jacksonville, Geraghty chaired the board of a National Conference for Community and Justice (formerly National Conference of Christians and Jews) chapter in New Jersey - during and after 9/11. It was a volatile time in a country full of pain, anger, distrust and uncertainty; and as Geraghty puts it, he was in the epicenter of it all. His NCCJ chapter quickly brought people together to seek common ground and understanding, while recognizing the need for time to heal. It was just one of many experiences that has shaped who he is today.

    Even as a child, Geraghty was immersed in his community, interacting with a wide variety of people from different backgrounds. His mother ran a nonprofit, and he and his siblings volunteered regularly ― it was just part of his life growing up. "My parents provided great examples of giving back," he said. "I believe it is in the fabric of who we are. No one is better than anyone else. We should leave our communities better."

    Today, his leadership at Florida Blue is paramount to the organization and to the Jacksonville region. The company partners on numerous initiatives to make the community stronger, including support for diversity and inclusion efforts through organizations like UNF's OneJax Institute, an interfaith organization dedicated to civility, understanding and respect.

    Last year, Florida Blue dedicated significant funding to support OneJax Youth Programs, elevating awareness and understanding of differences among area young people. "Florida Blue's support for OneJax has been transformative, allowing us to expand our programming to engage more young people in learning to address bullying, bias and racism," said Nancy Broner, executive director emerita of OneJax, adding that Geraghty has been a valuable advisor and mentor to her and many others.

    Florida Blue doesn't just look outside, according to its CEO, but is committed to ensuring diversity throughout the company. "We want to reflect the community we serve - whether that be military, diversity in gender, LGBTQ, minorities … we want to reflect our diversity at all levels," said Geraghty, adding that 75% of Florida Blue's Board is either female or a minority.

    Honoring his efforts to bring people together and promote inclusion, OneJax named Geraghty its Humanitarian Award Winner in 2019. This year, he and his wife Inger chaired the virtual event. "Inger has been a great partner in all of our community involvement, whether that is something where I am the point or an organization where she is the point, like See the Girl, American Heart Association or Making Strides Against Breast Cancer," Geraghty said.

    Florida Blue's partnership with UNF extends back to the 1980s and far beyond its involvement with OneJax. Past support has funded scholarships, community-health programs, the Florida Blue Center for Ethics at UNF, an Education Gallery at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Florida Blue Archives in the UNF library, and more. Geraghty said the relationship with UNF is important to Florida Blue. "It is one we cherish and hold close."

  • Gladys Roddenberry Graduate Fellowship for Teaching Excellence

    For many teachers in Duval County, Gilchrist Berg is their greatest champion.

    His support has impacted hundreds of lives over the past two decades, and his investment in education continues to inspire.

    In fact, 100 teachers have received Gladys Roddenberry Graduate Fellowships for Teaching Excellence, funded by Berg. The fellowships provide outstanding teachers with opportunities to continue to develop in their field through $5,000 awards for graduate school expenses.

    Ninety-six percent of the award recipients have stayed in education throughout their careers.

    Not only has Berg helped teachers further their education, but each year, he provides gifts to honor educators for lifelong careers inspiring students. The Gladys Prior Awards for Career Teaching Excellence go to four local teachers each spring. The unsuspecting teachers are typically surprised in their classrooms surrounded by their proud students. Not only is the award a great honor, each teacher receives $15,000.

    Both awards are particularly meaningful because they are named for two of Berg’s teachers during his grade school years at Ortega Elementary. “The teachers inspired him, and you can tell by what he is doing for all of us that they continue to inspire him,” said Patrice Haupt, who received the Gladys Prior Award last year.

    Like all former award winners who have benefitted from his generosity, Haupt, an AP literature and composition instructor at Paxon School for Advanced Studies, is still moved by Berg’s generosity and his commitment to education. “This is a profession of passion for us, and he recognizes that,” said Haupt, commenting that it gives other teachers an opportunity to see that the work of teachers doesn’t go unnoticed.

    “It is meaningful to all of us to have someone say ‘I appreciate you and what you do matters,’ not because of numbers on a data sheet but because of the impact you have on people’s lives.”

    Berg’s investment in education has been significant, but for teachers like Haupt, who give so much, the recognition and appreciation is just as rewarding. 

  • Hicks Honors College

    Ann and David Hicks shared a commitment to improve the lives of others. When David passed away in July, countless nonprofit organizations, individuals, UNF students and alumni, all reflected on the magnitude of his impact. The opportunities that the couple provided for so many has changed lives and transformed families, and there is no question that the University of North Florida is a better place because of Ann and David Hicks.

    David Hicks’ work on the Jacksonville Housing Authority fueled his passion to help break the cycle of poverty in Jacksonville and empower others. His work was tireless, and he was instrumental in developing HabiJax into a national model. The drive to lift people up translated well to higher education. In the mid-1990s, the couple championed a needs-based scholarship initiative at UNF, Pathways to Success, and rallied significant community support. As part of the effort, they funded Hicks scholarships, specifically for students living in HabiJax homes and public housing, furthering David’s commitment to empower and provide opportunities for young people. To date 580 Hicks scholarships have been awarded. 

    The Hicks also created the merit-based Gray Scholarship program, named for a professor who taught Ann while she was getting her second bachelor’s degree at UNF in the 1990s. To date, the Gray Scholarship program has provided 365 scholarships as well as funds to 115 students to study abroad and deepen their understanding of the world and their disciplines. The couple co-chaired a major capital campaign for UNF that raised $103 million and were honorary chairs of another campaign that topped $130 million. David even co-taught an undergraduate and a graduate course in the Coggin College of Business, always eager to share his insight and inspire others. In honor of their tremendous leadership and support, the University of North Florida dedicated Building 53 in 2012 as Ann and David Hicks Hall.

    The couple donated $7 million to UNF, leading to the creation of its sixth academic college in 2015, the Hicks Honors College, a small academic community for high-achieving students. The College offers scholarships for research and study abroad and provides empowering opportunities for civic and community service.

    The Hicks Honors College has achieved great success in a short period of time and continues to grow. From fall 2017 to fall 2018, the college grew 8.5 percent to its current enrollment of nearly 620 students.

    We will truly miss David and his presence on our campus, and are so thankful for Ann’s continued commitment to UNF.

  • Jacksonville Jaguars Athletic Training Scholarship

    Speaking in the Jacksonville Jaguars film room to a captivated audience of students from the University of North Florida, Jaguars Head Athletic Trainer Scott Trulock gave some critical advice: “Be process driven — not outcome oriented.” The undergraduates hung on every word from the veteran NFL athletic trainer.

    The tour of EverBank Field and the Jaguars training facilities was an added bonus for 10 UNF athletic training students who each received $1,000 scholarships from the Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation this year. This was the first year of a five-year commitment from the Foundation and the first athletic training-specific scholarship ever at UNF.

    Peter Racine, senior vice president of the Jaguars Foundation, said funding for UNF students is part of the Foundation’s commitment to ensuring safety in youth sports by increasing the availability of certified athletic trainers. “UNF provides an important source of graduates for our initiative,” Racine said. “We are pleased to support these students — wherever their career goals take them after graduation.”

    Because of their rigorous schedules, students find the scholarship funds particularly meaningful, said Dr. Michelle Boling, director of UNF’s athletic training program. “They are in class in the morning and have [unpaid] onsite clinicals in the afternoons over their four semesters in the program,” said Boling. “Working is almost impossible for most athletic training students.”

    There is a 200-hour minimum every semester for each student at their clinical site, but most students put in many more. “Getting scholarships truly helps to pull everything together,” said Darby Glackin, a graduating senior in the program. “It allows us to focus on the experience we are getting in the field that enriches what we’re already learning in the classroom.”

    Students assist in area high schools, for local professional sports teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars and Armada, for colleges like Flagler College and Jacksonville University, as well as for UNF’s own sports teams. According to Boling, the students attend practices and games and, each semester, rotate to a new location. “It is learning experience,” she said, “so they get to see it all.”

    UNF’s accredited athletic training program in the Clinical and Applied Movement Sciences Department in the Brooks College of Health prepares students for the Board of Certification Examination — the gateway to becoming certified athletic trainers and finding careers at secondary schools, colleges and universities, and professional athletic, clinic, hospital, industrial and performing arts settings.

    Glackin said the professors in the program want to see students succeed and present a vast amount of information in a way that sticks. “The athletic training program taught me how to be a successful athletic trainer, as well as a confident one, giving me the tools I need to do anything I set my heart on after I graduate,” she said.

    Despite their busy schedules, the students all appreciated their special tour of EverBank Field and the opportunity to thank Foundation staff for the scholarships. And for many who dream of a job in professional sports one day, getting advice and insight from Scott Trulock was icing on the cake.

    Trulock stressed to the students to study hard, be confident in their training and have faith in their co-workers. “You think you know anatomy until you see some of the injuries on the sidelines,” he told the students during their visit. ”Protocols are so important. You have to rely on those.”

    Right now, the students are just grateful for the funding that helps reduce their load and keeps them focused.

    “I am humbled that an organization like the Jaguars Foundation would choose to invest in my future and that of other students,” said Shelby Justus, who would like to work as a high school athletic trainer after graduation. “It’s really encouraging for the Jaguars to see such value in athletic training education.

  • McCurry Scholarships

    For two decades, The McCurry Foundation has helped more than 150 students realize their dream of going to college.

    Scholarship recipients were students with good grades, leadership skills and who were willing to work to help pay for their college education – all attributes of their late benefactor, Edgar W. McCurry Jr.

    Marketing to those students was a bit of a stretch for the small foundation, according to McCurry’s son, Wood. The selections were made by “a half-dozen people with careers who got this work done when they were able to t it in,” he said.

    But a new relationship with the University of North Florida addresses those issues. McCurry said the corpus of the foundation is in the process of being transferred to UNF, which he believes will effectively manage the funds.

    He said the school’s donor engagement team has made the transition an easy process and is targeting the kind of students who match the foundation’s criteria.  

    The elder McCurry began developing leadership skills early in life. When he was just 16, he sought sponsorship from a U.S. Senator in his home state of North Carolina, then graduated from the Senate Page School as salutatorian and student body president. McCurry later became the second youngest graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Law.

    Early in his career, he served as general counsel of the prestigious Jacksonville firm of Stockton, Whatley, Davin & Company. He continued to practice law and develop real estate in the Jacksonville area until his death in 2004. The foundation, started in 1994, offered scholarships in several counties in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia.

    “He wanted to give back to the communities that helped him develop his success,” said Pam Stefansen, who began working for him in 1977 and later became the foundation’s director and treasurer.

    Laura Rodriguez is among the first five McCurry Scholars at UNF selected for the fall semester. She and her parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba through the visa lottery when Rodriguez was about a year old. They started out living in Miami but soon moved to Jacksonville. 

    A graduate of Stanton College Preparatory School, Rodriguez is majoring in international studies with a concentration in Latin America. As is required of McCurry Scholars, she is working part time to help pay for her education.

    Rodriguez enjoyed meeting Wood McCurry at a reception for the scholars. “It was interesting to hear what the scholarship means to him,” she said.

    What it means to Rodriguez is simple. “Without it, I couldn’t go to school,” she said.

    Because of a determined and generous man born more than a half a century before her, Rodriguez and many others have a path to a college degree.   

  • The Michael Ward and Jennifer Glock Foundation

    "It is great to see how people's lives can be enhanced because of someone's generosity." - junior Ariana Hernandez, a public health major

    Michael Ward believes in the value of an education. The oldest of eight children, he knew early on that college was a key to future success. He worked hard to make that happen, becoming a first-generation college graduate with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and an MBA from Harvard. Ward, who retired as CEO of CSX Transportation in 2017, and his wife Jennifer Glock, a first-generation graduate of West Virginia University, have been champions of education on all levels in Jacksonville. Their generosity is helping students succeed and thrive. 

    “Education is the best gift,” said Ward. “It improves lives, and it helps students understand the world.” The Michael Ward and Jennifer Glock Foundation has had a significant impact on the University of North Florida and its students. In addition to providing funding for scholarships, Ward, a strong advocate of the armed forces, has given generously to UNF’s Military and Veterans Resource Center. 

    Much of Ward’s philanthropy at UNF has focused on helping students overcome obstacles. A key area benefiting from his support has been the on-campus Student Accessibility Services (SAS) and its highly successful ACCESS Academy — Advancing College Competency: Encouraging Student Success. Students registered with the DRC are encouraged to participate in ACCESS Academy’s “boost sessions” covering  topics from time management and study skills to stress  management, self-advocacy and career readiness. Each class includes three one-hour sessions along  with individual time working with a mentor to implement the learned strategies. Once a class is completed, the student receives a $100 scholarship. 

    “The boost sessions were very beneficial,” said Uche Onyibe, a senior majoring in computer science.  “I learned things that I hadn’t learned before. There was a lot of discussion between participants; you meet people you can relate to.”

    Dr. Rusty Dubberly, director of the DRC, said the program has been incredibly successful, and gifts from the Michael Ward and Jennifer Glock Foundation, which provide the $100 incentive for the students and funding for program staff, have been vital to that success. “Gifts from the Michael Ward and Jennifer Glock Foundation have benefited hundreds of students with disabilities at UNF,” he said. “Their generosity directly impacts our students’ academic and career readiness, which is a gift that lasts a lifetime.”

    According to Dubberly, during the 2017-18 school year, students participating in ACCESS Academy had a higher average GPA than the average of the full student body. During the past three years, over 99% of the students participating in ACCESS Academy have maintained satisfactory academic progress in their coursework at UNF — a clear indication that the program is working. 

    “I’m so grateful. It is phenomenal that Mr. Ward chooses to do this and make an impact,” said junior Ariana Hernandez, a public health major. “It is great to see how people’s lives can be enhanced because of someone’s generosity.”

  • Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI)

    “Maybe you ought to teach a class.” It’s a suggestion many have gotten from Ralph Sawyer over the years. 

    Passionate about continuing to share knowledge and learn in retirement, Sawyer was instrumental in bringing OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, to UNF after moving to Jacksonville in 2005 and discovering a void. After retiring as chairman of the ophthalmology department of the Bethesda Naval Hospital, Sawyer had gotten involved with a similar program at Johns Hopkins University. With the approval and enthusiasm of the UNF administration, Sawyer, a friend Martin Connor and a few others filled the first semester with 150 students. The second term had 350. Today, OLLI at UNF, one of 124 nationwide, has 1,500 members who choose from more than 300 programs annually.

     “Retirees learn and share their interests,” said Sawyer, who teaches such thought-provoking classes as “Current Events,” “Great Decisions” and “Just What Were They Thinking?,” an anthology of authors from the past 150 years. 

    Although UNF’s OLLI is funded primarily through $50 member dues, modest class fees and support through two past awards from the Bernard Osher Foundation, philanthropists invest in much-needed improvements including classroom upgrades and volunteer recognition and appreciation programs, according to Jeanette Toohey, director. In 2018, Ralph and Adelva Sawyer made an initial gift that established the OLLI Enhancement Fund, an endowment that also includes an account to support more immediate needs. “Their generous gift has elevated OLLI to its next level,” Toohey said. 

    Sawyer is grateful to UNF for its support of OLLI, particularly for the use of the Adam W. Herbert University Center. “People who attend are 50 and older, so this really helps the community,” he said. “The University contributes to the ongoing education of the older community.” 

    His 30-year Navy career included heading the ophthalmology training program at Naval Hospital Jacksonville for eight years before running the ophthalmology teaching program for 15 years at Bethesda, where he treated senators and congressmen and made house calls to the White House. 

    Sawyer also is active in the World Affairs Council of Jacksonville that consists of accomplished individuals whom he frequently asks to speak at OLLI classes. “The whole idea of intellectual engagement is looking for any outlet in which people can grow themselves and share what they are interested in,” he said. “OLLI provides a tremendous outlet for that."

  • The PLAYERS Championship Endowed First-Generation Scholarship

    Growing up, Huyana Phour had little doubt that she would go to college. Paying for it was the unknown.

    Both of her parents are from Cambodia. Her father escaped the country’s genocide through a dangerous walk to Thailand with his family as a young child. Her mother got out of the country when she was 18. Though neither finished high school, they knew America would be the land of opportunity for their only child. 

    “My parents always told me they would pay for me to go to college no matter what, saying ‘We came to the U.S. for you to have a better life,’ ” she said, knowing the financial burden would be difficult. 

    Today, Phour is a junior at UNF majoring in communication. She is also a recipient of a First Generation scholarship funded by THE PLAYERS Championship.

    THE PLAYERS commitment to education

    The First Generation Scholarship program was approved by the Florida legislature in 2006 to provide matching funds for scholarships that benefit students who would be the first generation in their families to graduate from college. THE PLAYERS Championship endowed a First Generation Scholarship fund at UNF in 2009. In August 2017, THE PLAYERS pledged to double the current endowment to $1.5 million over the next five years. 

    Twenty-five students like Phour received THE PLAYERS Championship Endowed First Generation Scholarship this year, which will reach even more students in the future.

    “For almost a decade, THE PLAYERS Championship of the PGA TOUR has made higher education possible for First Generation students at UNF,” said Ann McCullen, vice president for University Development and Alumni Engagement and executive director of the University of North Florida Foundation, Inc. “Their generosity is changing lives on our campus and in this community. We are so grateful for their partnership and investment in UNF students.” 

    Jack Garnett is captain of past chairmen of THE PLAYERS, known as the Red Coats for the jackets they earn chairing the PGA TOUR’s prestigious annual golf tournament. It was the Red Coats who established THE PLAYERS’ endowment for first generation students at UNF.

    “We feel we have an opportunity to change the whole dynamics of a family through support we provide to a First Generation scholar,” Garnett said. “The likelihood of their kids going to college is so much higher, then they have kids who go to college, and it continues to the next generation …”

    Being able to help start that cycle is an ambitious goal embraced by Garnett and his fellow Red Coats, and with the number of scholarship recipients impacted each year, they are continually rewarded by students’ appreciation and their success.

    Making the dream a reality

    Without this scholarship I would not be able to afford to go to college,” said David Lu, who is grateful to THE PLAYERS for helping him pursue the American dream his Vietnamese parents craved for their children. “Every year it pays a big chunk of my tuition and books.”

    A junior in mechanical engineering, Lu said his parents moved to the U.S. for a better life and set high academic expectations for their sons. After graduating from Paxon School for Advanced Studies in Jacksonville, Lu was accepted to a few colleges and chose UNF largely because being close to home would be more financially feasible. His brother, Tuong Lu, graduated from UNF’s nursing program before THE PLAYERS Championship Endowed First Generation Scholarship was established.

    The brothers are the first generation in their family to seek a four-year college degree. Although their parents were skilled professionals in Vietnam, they lost their jobs with the regime change after the war, Lu said. The couple moved to the U.S. in the 1980s, and today own a nail salon in Amelia Island.   

    Lu recognizes the importance of hard work and looks forward to his future as an engineer. “In high school, I made the decision that my grades are a reflection of me and nobody else should have to tell me that I have to work hard and study hard to succeed,” he saiid. 

    Lu appreciates career-building opportunities he has at UNF and hopes to work for an engineering company that will help him finance graduate school. 

    Meanwhile, he is particularly grateful to have scholarship donors who show an interest in his future and what he is working on.

    “The Red Coats are genuinely good people who take the time to interact with us,” he said. “It shows they really do care. They have a concern for their community and the welfare of its youth."

    Scoring big for UNF and the community

    The UNF First Generation endowment is part of THE PLAYERS’ goal to generate $50 million over 10 years for youth-related charities — with a heavy emphasis on education. THE PLAYERS has generated more than $92 million to benefit about 300 local charities since the tournament moved to Ponte Vedra Beach in 1977.   

    “UNF is such an important aspect of our community by training qualified people to be in our workforce,” said Garnett, a proud alum. “If we are to continue to compete for business, we have to partner with UNF.”

    Before they established the First Generation scholarships, THE PLAYERS provided scholarships for area students to go to any college. “We wanted to create an endowment at UNF to keep that money at home,” said Garnett, who chaired the tournament in 2002.  

    Past chairs are Red Coats for life, with the honor of representing tournament volunteers and helping to decide how to spend charity dollars, said Garnett, whose role as captain is to coordinate the Red Coats’ activities for his two-year term.

    Gratitude and Paying it forward

    “My favorite thing to do is handing out awards and checks,” Garnett said of his community involvement through THE PLAYERS. “It’s wonderful to see the smiles when you give a small charity 10 percent or more of its budget or see the UNF students’ faces at graduation.”

    And it’s clear that the scholarship recipients appreciate the Red Coats’ interest in their academic success as much as the funding itself.

    “THE PLAYERS Championship is always engaged with its scholarship recipients at UNF,” said Tyler Stovall, a past recipient of THE PLAYERS scholarship who graduated in 2016 in health science and is now pursuing a master’s degree.

    “Jack Garnett presented me with my scholarship at my high school graduation,” he said. “It was a special moment showcasing how the Red Coats believe in their students.” 

    Garnett can identify with the students’ challenges. His father died about nine months after he graduated from Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville. He struggled with attendance while earning an associate’s degree at the local junior college. At his mother’s encouragement he went to UNF, where he graduated in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Today he is president and owner of Garnett Commercial Real Estate, Inc., which he started nearly 19 years ago.

    Garnett is pleased to now have the opportunity to make a difference through THE PLAYERS Championship and he’s especially proud of the 2,000 PLAYERS volunteers who give so much to the community.

    Now Garnett challenges scholarship recipients to pay it forward: “Wherever you are as a UNF graduate, remember what was done for you,” he tells them. “Volunteer for something that makes your community better.”

  • RF-SMART Computer Lab

    he Morales family and their company, RF-SMART, are committed to making the world a better place – a focus that extends far beyond the company’s day-to-day operations and into the Jacksonville community. Jorge Morales, chairman, and his son, Michael, CEO, lead the innovative company that has been a key partner of the University of North Florida. 

    Talk to any employee there and they will confirm that the company’s mission statement — “We exist to transform our customers and change lives” — is not just a plaque in the lobby, but the key to the culture at RF-SMART. Th e business motto extends to the company’s philanthropy and certainly to its involvement with UNF, which includes a recent $1 million gift  to the School of Computing to fund scholarships and an endowed professorship to enhance research. 

    President Szymanski announced the generous gift  at his inauguration ceremony in February. “The Morales family and RF-SMART are building their legacy on our campus,” said Szymanski, commenting that the gift  will change lives. “It is truly transformational.” 

    Past involvement with the University of North Florida has been significant. Jorge Morales has provided scholarships for computing students, endowed a scholarship fund and supported a senior capstone project. In 2017, the RF-SMART Computer Lab was established in the School of Computing to provide space for systems soft ware courses. 

    Jorge has been just as generous with his time, serving on the UNF Foundation Board and Dean’s Leadership Council for the College of Computing, Engineering and Construction. He is grateful for the strong relationship UNF has with the business community, one he says benefits students and local companies. “It’s a great partnership,” Morales said. “We share ideas, what we are looking for in graduates and in curriculum, and the University listens.”  

    RF-SMART regularly hosts interns and currently employs more than two dozen UNF graduates. Michael Morales said he is always impressed by the students who come to work at RF-SMART. “They are a cultural fit,” he said. “They are high caliber individuals, have strong work ethics, and they want to learn and grow.” UNF alumnus Charles Cox, ’13, customer transformation coordinator at RF-SMART, said a comment from Jorge during his first few weeks on the job has stuck with him: “I want this to be your first and your last job.” Cox said the words reflected the company and family’s commitment to a strong work environment that also promotes community involvement and responsibility. “They care about people,” said Cox. “It is obvious in everything they do.” 

    Cox, who remains grateful for a scholarship he received in college, said he admires the philanthropy of the Morales family. 

    “Seeing Jorge and Michael give to scholarships adds to my gratitude for them as leaders,” Cox said. “They continue to inspire us all.”

  • Student Emergency Relief Fund

    At a very young age, Dr. Anne Lufrano knew that college was in her future. Her parents valued education, and at that time, residents of New York City could attend any one of the City Universities for free. Looking back, she now sees that having a chance to attend college made all the difference in her life. She went on to earn a doctorate and have a career as a clinical psychologist.

    "I would say that my husband and I both feel that where we are in our life is because of the education that we've had," she said. "So, we feel it's so important to level the playing field and to do whatever we can to allow other people to have these opportunities." The Lufranos have done just that, helping many UNF students earn an education over the years.

    When the pandemic caused a financial crisis for many students, Anne and her husband, Dr. Robert Lufrano, a retired chairman and CEO of Florida Blue, made a generous matching gift to the Student Emergency Relief Fund. Students who had lost jobs and couldn't afford rent, groceries or tuition applied for assistance.


    "The need was enormous," Anne said. "I feel so strongly for those students because they are working so hard to get that education, and then something like this comes along that they have absolutely no control over. So that was our impetus, to do the matching, hoping to encourage other people." And it certainly did. The gift inspired hundreds of additional donations. Since mid-March, the fund has provided about 400 payments to students in need.

    The Lufranos' response to help UNF students was one example of many. The couple has lent support to Parents Association Endowed Scholarships, First Generation Scholarships as well as scholarships through the Student Affairs Community Council and School of Music. In 2009, they established the Lufrano Intercultural Gallery in the Student Union, which offers cultural and educational experiences for students, faculty and staff.

    Anne's years of donating time and talent to the University are also inspiring. She currently serves on the UNF Foundation board, has dedicated years of service to the Student Affairs Community Council, chaired fundraisers for various initiatives, helped start the parent program, served on the last presidential search committee, and more. She received the Presidential Medallion for Outstanding Service, the highest nonacademic recognition at UNF.

    There's no doubt that UNF students mean a great deal to Anne. "I feel that everything we can do for students not only helps them personally, but helps our community," she said. "I love the University. I'm really impressed with the students and the faculty. It's just a joy for me to be involved."

  • Bob Tonsfeldt Music Scholarship

    Cameron Wooley loves to sing. Determined to follow her dream, she auditioned and was accepted at UNF, yet couldn’t get to the funding amount she needed to make the dream a reality. Then she received a special gift — a Bob Tonsfeldt Music Scholarship.

    “When they told me the news, I sat and cried for about 30 minutes,” Wooley said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to be able to do this.’”

    At the same time, Juliana Galletti was weighing her options to study voice. “The Tonsfeldt award was the deciding factor for me choosing UNF,” Galletti said. “I felt very blessed receiving the award, which has been so helpful with my expenses.”

    Now seniors, Wooley and Galletti are two of seven students who have benefited from these four-year scholarships. Their benefactor, also a longtime supporter of the School of Music, began adding funds for individual student scholarships about eight years ago.

    “Donating is fine,” Tonsfeldt said, “but getting to know these kids is a big deal. Cami and Juliana have just been remarkable. I’ve seen them grow so much, and it’s been fun to get to know them and go to their recitals. It touches you so much; it’s absolutely great.”

    He also recently added funds for both singers to study abroad in a four-week summer opera program in Europe led by Dr. Krzysztof Biernacki, associate professor of voice and music. “It’s just one of the many ways that Bob has supported the opera ensemble and the students,” Biernacki said. “I am eternally grateful for his support. I literally couldn’t do what I do and the students could not get the experiences they get without Bob’s support.”

    Tonsfeldt, with his wife Gwynne who has since passed, began giving generously to UNF nearly 20 years ago, when his work brought him to Jacksonville. A 30-year employee of AT&T, he retired as president of Bell South Mobility. In addition to his planned legacy gift to the University, he has donated to the Gerson Yessin Distinguished Professorship in Classic Studies, which allows faculty to bring renowned guest artists to teach classes and to perform. 

    Though not a musician himself, Tonsfeldt has a tremendous love of music, which he now shares with the students he sponsors.

    “He is an inspiration,” Wooley said. “He’s such a warm, kind person — really an exceptional human being. If I’m ever in a place in my life where I can help someone else, I really want to do for someone what he did for me.”

  • Peter Trofimenko | School of Music Gift

    Peter Trofimenko’s career merged two worlds — one financial, the other musical. He worked within both  for many years; investment expert by day, orchestra conductor and arranger by night. 

    Though retired now, Trofimenko’s love of music continues and recently inspired a gift that will touch the lives of UNF music students for many years to come.

    Collected over a long career, his donation included string and percussion instruments that filled the Robinson Theater stage, orchestra scores, 70 boxes of sheet music, CDs and DVDs. 

    For the School of Music, the donation is indeed a treasure. The gifts include a grand marimba, timpani, xylophones and many other percussion instruments. Dr. Andrea Venet, assistant professor of percussion and department head, said the generous donation has enhanced operations and programming. 

    “Students now have access to full-size, concert quality instruments in our practice rooms as well as spaces used for instruction,” Venet said. “Peter’s generosity has allowed us to have multiple ensembles rehearsing at the same time, which we were unable to do before.” It has also allowed for a different kind of music to be played at UNF with the donated strings, which include Russian folk instruments called domras and balalaikas. Trofimenko, who grew up in what is now Ukraine, began playing a balalaika in first grade.

    After earning a Ph.D. in finance, and a second undergraduate degree in music, Trofimenko relocated with his family to work at an investment firm in Washington D.C., where he founded the American Balalaika Symphony. He served as artistic director and conductor for more than 70 musicians and also traveled the world to conduct other orchestras. 

    These days, since his relocation to Jacksonville, you might find him visiting Room 2304 in the Fine Arts Center, where violinist Rose Francis and her students are learning to play domras. Francis said Trofimenko also has been generous with his time, demonstrating techniques and sharing the history of the instruments.

    Francis has been tasked with creating a new program at UNF and to grow the current small ensemble. “It’s really a lot of fun, and we’re having a great time learning instruments of a different culture,” Francis said. “Not many musicians have seen a balalaika orchestra or heard the instrument, let alone been able to get their hands on one.” 

    For Trofimenko, the donation is all about helping students develop as musicians. “I hope that the students take an interest in playing the string instruments, which are used as a foundation for music education in Eastern Europe,” he said. “They’re very easy to play, and your UNF students are progressing quickly. I’m impressed.”

  • United Therapeutics Corporation | COAS Donation

    Last week, the UNF - College of Arts and Sciences was pleased to receive a gift-in-kind donation of lab equipment from United Therapeutics Corporation, a biotechnology company focused on providing a brighter future for patients through the development of novel pharmaceutical therapies and technologies that expand the availability of transplantable organs.

    On behalf of the College of Arts and Sciences, UNF chemistry chair Bryan Knuckley accepted a multitude of laboratory items, including bio-safety cabinets, acid-base cabinets, visual inspection hoods, sterilized carboys, a pH Meter, equipment for cell expansion, and a leak testing system. The generous gift-in-kind from United Therapeutics will ignite a passion for learning and discovery among our chemistry and physics faculty and students. 

    "I am grateful to United Therapeutics for instilling their passion for having fun and doing good at the University of North Florida," said Jenna DuPilka, the Assistant Director of Development for the College of Arts and Sciences. "Our students and faculty will soar higher because of the lab equipment that will fuel innovative chemistry and physics research, thus diversifying career advancement programs leading to successful job placement and professional growth."

    United Therapeutics Corporation is headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland and Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and is the first publicly-traded biotechnology or pharmaceutical company to take the form of a public benefit corporation. Its wholly-owned subsidiary Lung Bioengineering Inc provides ex-vivo lung perfusion services to transplant centers through dedicated facilities in Silver Spring, Maryland and Jacksonville, Florida.

  • Urban Initiative Scholarship Program

    Each year at the University of North Florida, hundreds of students graduate from the College of Education and Human Services, motivated to begin making a difference in children's lives. More than half of UNF's education graduates choose to stay local to teach, a reflection of the strong reciprocal partnerships between area school districts and the University.

    Former Jacksonville Jaguars owner and philanthropist Wayne Weaver, an avid supporter of education initiatives, sees UNF's role in local education as a critical one. "The key is a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal in every school," said Weaver. Both he and his wife, Delores, have dedicated resources to help make that happen.

    The Urban Initiative Scholarship program at UNF provides scholarships to high school graduates who are inspired to teach and want to teach in local urban schools. Ten new students, motivated to be great teachers, joined the program this fall thanks to the generosity of Wayne Weaver. The goal of the program, now in its second year, is to diversify the teacher pipeline to better reflect PreK - 12 demographics in urban areas. After graduating, students in the program immediately gain employment in Duval County schools, serving the growing need for qualified teachers.

    "The pipeline of underrepresented populations pursuing careers in education is extremely important, particularly in Duval County," said Dr. Rudy Jamison, assistant director of UNF's Center for Urban Education and Policy. "We want those underperforming and under resourced schools to have better quality educators in front of our students. This is truly revolutionary work."

    Shainique Flores, a freshman scholar in the program, looks forward to having the opportunity to impact lives as a teacher and wants to provide her future students with a supportive environment for learning. "Being able to learn from someone who has similar experiences and similar backgrounds definitely makes that teaching environment more comfortable for students," she said.

    Flores first learned about UNF's education initiatives through the Bridges Summer Program, a two-week camp for rising high school seniors to experience college life and explore how teaching changes lives and transforms communities. Funded the past two years by the Delores Barr Weaver Fund, the program is just another example of the Weavers' tremendous support of local education and area students. In addition to attending as a high school student in 2019, Flores also worked as a program mentor this summer. She is grateful for the support that individuals like Delores and Wayne Weaver are providing to enhance education, and she is eager to make a difference in the classroom.

    "I think it is so awesome," Flores said of her future career as an educator. "You can help students be anything they want to be. You can be their inspiration."

  • Van Vleck Early Career Teaching Excellence Awards

    Early in his life, Jim Van Vleck wanted to be a teacher, buoyed by the impact of several exceptional educators.

    One professor was so inspirational that Van Vleck gave up his senior year of playing college baseball to search for a sparrow hawk’s nest. He had originally decided to take an ornithology class because he thought it would be easy. But the teacher was so motivating that Van Vleck’s newfound enthusiasm for birding overtook his desire to win that fourth letter in baseball.

    Ultimately, his goal of becoming a professor was replaced by the immediate reality of supporting his family. He and his wife, Joan, had already had the first of their two daughters and realizing that completing his Ph.D. thesis at the Harvard Business School could take several years, Van Vleck took a job with The Mead Corp. (now known as MeadWestvaco). He stayed with Mead his entire career.

    “But the minute I retired, I went back and started doing what I always wanted to do,” he said of his love for teaching.  

    Van Vleck has taught classes at Harvard, as a doctoral student; the University of Dayton, as an executive-in- residence; and at the University of North Florida, as an adjunct. As good teachers do, he learned many lessons along the way. One was seeing how difficult it was for untenured professors to juggle the full-time e ort of being a good educator while also doing research to attain tenure. Another was the value of having a good mentor, particularly for untenured professors.  

    Van Vleck shared an idea with Dr. George Rainbolt, dean of UNF’s College of Arts and Sciences, to address those issues and provided funds to make that idea a reality. This year is the first year of The Van Vleck Early Career Teaching Excellence Awards, which provide $4,000 to two untenured educators for a course release, supplies, equipment or travel, while their tenured mentors will receive $1,000 for supplies, equipment or travel.

    Van Vleck said the dean’s enthusiasm made him feel there is something fundamentally good in helping quality teachers and giving a mentoring experience that is as good for the mentee as the mentor.

    While Van Vleck has generously funded several programs at UNF, this one is probably the most satisfying to him personally. “It comes out of my own experience and has the potential to achieve several desirable objectives,” he said.

    It was an experience stimulated by an inspiring teacher and the search for that sparrow hawk’s nest — which he ultimately found. 

  • William C. Webb Coastal Research Station

    A drive to the beach down JTB over the Intracoastal Waterway provides almost a birds-eye view of the University of North Florida’s newest acreage — an expansive living laboratory for UNF research and exploration, just minutes from campus.

    The 1,050-acre plot of pristine salt marsh wetlands was donated to UNF by the Widan Investment Corporation in December, expanding opportunities for student excursions and field research.

    “It provides habitat for many upland and aquatic species and is one of the most scenic properties along the Intracoastal Waterway in Florida,” said Dan Webb, president of Widan Investment Corporation. “I am proud to give this unique property to the University of North Florida Foundation in honor of my father, William C. Webb.” He is especially pleased with the University’s enthusiasm for the property, now dubbed the William C. Webb Coastal Research Station.

    Almost immediately after the University took ownership of the marshland, which was appraised at $8.8 million, faculty and students were eager to explore the area.

    “There is only so much you can learn in the classroom,” said Samantha Shaw, a junior majoring in coastal biology. “It’s great to be on the water and get hands-on experience,” she said during a recent boat trip with Dr. Eric Johnson, assistant biology professor, and other students in his Marine Ecology class. 

    Within minutes, the students were pointing out the intricacies of the salt marsh and oyster development, while identifying countless species of waterfowl, crustaceans and other wildlife along the mudflats and mangroves. The salt marsh is an optimal home for many creatures including bottlenose dolphin, alligators, blue crabs, shrimp, black and red drum, flounder, spotted sea trout, eagles, ospreys, herons and more. For Johnson, who specializes in fisheries ecology and management, the property is ideal for his courses and those of other faculty who focus on estuarine ecology.

    “This provides us with a place in the field to demonstrate to students what they are learning in the classroom,” Johnson said. “Our students will get exposure to a vast, natural ecosystem,” he said explaining that the property is particularly valuable because it is not fragmented like many wetland environments in the area. “Big blocks like this are a real rarity so close to a large urban environment,” Johnson said. “That makes the property a great resource for us.”

    Johnson teaches at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and hopes to develop a long-term database of the area so that students can study trends over time. He said the Research Center would be useful for analyzing impacts of erosion and climate change, as well as monitoring important animal populations.

    “The proximity to the University is what makes this property so special,” said UNF President John A. Delaney, a longtime champion of land preservation and conservation. Delaney, who began the Preservation Project when he served as Mayor of Jacksonville said, “UNF will be good stewards of this property, and our students will learn firsthand the value of these types of property and why it is important to preserve them.”

    Dr. Jim Gelsleichter, director of UNF’s Coastal and Marine Biology Flagship Program, agrees that the property is a great boost to the program because it provides students with unique hands-on experiences, as well as opportunities for research. He said the property is ideal for biological sampling, as well as monitoring impacts of environmental stressors and restoration efforts.

    “I also believe the property will play a valuable role in increasing student interest, retention and recruitment,” Gelsleichter said commenting that he hopes to get freshmen involved early. He feels strongly about providing immersive “first-year experiences” for those interested in the sciences, and even hopes to craft a course built around monitoring the property’s ecological system.

    Paige Duffin, a graduate student pursuing a master’s in marine biology, plans to continue her studies to get a Ph.D. She hopes to teach one day and research seagrasses and ecological genetics. Duffin agrees opportunities on the water or doing research go far to build and maintain interest in science programs. 

    “As an undergraduate, I was not always sure it was what I wanted to do,” she said. “Some of the classes were really hard, but having real-world experiences really made all the sleepless nights studying worth it in the end.” Duffin sees the new property as a huge boost to the coastal and marine biology program. “So many more students will have these experiences as a result of this gift,” she said.

    This property expands those opportunities and puts UNF in a competitive position for recruiting, teaching and graduating students who are knowledgable and job-ready.

    “Because STEM fields are so competitive, it’s good to have hands-on experiences like this,” said Lucas Welch, a junior studying ecology and evolution biology. “Seeing it firsthand really highlights the importance of this type of work.”