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It's A Record: Nearly $600,000 in Scholarships Given Out At the Annual Muma College of Business Scholarship Luncheon

By Keith Morelli

Scholarship Luncheon attendees

TAMPA (August 25, 2017) -- Solomon Mukasa is the reason business scholarships are so important.

The native Ugandan moved the crowd of nearly 400 with his story of hardship and triumph at the annual Muma College of Business Scholarship Luncheon on Friday. The son of a UNICEF executive, Mukasa said he had come to America to get a university education, which was his parents' wish. Then, his father died suddenly.

"One day I was comfortable and had everything I needed," he said in the luncheon's keynote speech. "The next day, I had nothing."

He was thousands of miles from home and the tuition money his father had provided was no longer accessible. His educational opportunities at the University of South Florida were fading and he was unable to pay housing costs. He began couch surfing at friends' homes.

On top of this, his mother, back in Uganda, was diagnosed with cancer and his brother, also enrolled at USF, started failing classes and began drinking.

"So, here I am in America, in my junior year, trying to deal with my grief, my brother's struggles," he said, "and my accounting classes."

But on Christmas Eve 2015, he got an email that he had been awarded the Good Karma Scholarship. That allowed him to graduate in December, he said, to the applause of the audience. Now he is seeking a master's degree in public administration to follow in his father's footsteps.

"You must know that this scholarship proved what I suspected when I chose USF," he said. "People care here. I would be able to continue growing."

That was one of many stories told among those seated at the nearly 50 tables inside the Marshall Student Center during the luncheon. Another milestone for the day was this:

The amount of scholarships awarded to business students was the most ever given out in the history of the event.

About $600,000 made its way from the hands of generous donors to the lives of about 250 students.

But the day belonged to Mukasa, a soft-spoken international student with no public speaking experience at all. He said his scholarship came through the help of many here at USF.

"The people at USF worked together," he said, "to help connect me with resources."

Through it all, his goal has remained clear, he said, to make a difference in this world.

"I want to take my American education and like him," he said referring to his father, "become a civil servant in a leadership role in the United Nations. I want to help children all over the world the way my father did, and the way that the people in this room have."

Nicci Perone's story also highlighted the benefits of scholarships given to deserving business students. In her address to the room, she said she had a highly successful contracting business that offered custom painting, decorative finishing and specialty plaster work, but a few years ago, a traffic accident left her unable to continue the business. The single mother had to shut it down, release her crews and sell all her equipment to make ends meet for her and her three daughters.

She saw the opportunity to finish her education and now, at 49, she is getting ready to graduate in December with a bachelor's degree in marketing. She changed her misfortune to an advantage and was fulfilling a life-long dream of completing her education.

"One of my goals in returning to school was to change my perspective, to open up different worlds," she said. "That has happened, but another perhaps more important benefit has come from all this. My girls have seen me display the kind of behavior that I hope they will display when they face hardships."

Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem thanked the donors, many of whom sat with the very students who directly benefited from their scholarships, and said that the college takes these investments seriously.

"We promise to work as hard as we can to provide a great return on every donor's investment," he said. "That means we are going to do our very best to provide students with the best possible education and prepare them for jobs with meaningful salaries in the field in which they are trained so that they are employed at or shortly after graduation."

He cited statistics that placed USF at the top of Florida universities with regard to placement rates for business graduates earning at least $40,000 a year right after graduation. USF, he said, was at the top of the list.

"Our students graduated to the highest salaries, higher than any other Florida university," he said. "The USF Muma College of Business is a place that truly transforms students into young professionals, equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to take leading positions in business and society."

Before the luncheon began, 10 students met with their benefactors, Barron and Dana Collier, for whom the Collier Student Success Center is named. They sat in a small conference room, listening to words of encouragement from the Southwest Florida philanthropists.

Barron Collier urged students to continue in their education. Getting that diploma, he said, is not the end of the journey. He also told students not to shy away from opportunities that sometimes come out of nowhere.

"In life, doors open and windows open," he said. "Look for them."

Nathalia Guerra, an accounting major who graduates in the spring, is a recipient of a Collier scholarship.

"This scholarship is very important," she said. "I don't want to be paying compound interest after I graduate."

Students attending the luncheon were encouraged to write thank-you notes on paper flowers left on the tables. At the end of the event, the flowers all were hung from the branches of two large trees, symbolizing the blooming of personal and professional growth.

"Thank you SunTrust, for providing me this scholarship," said one floral note written by finance major Chandara Chea. "This scholarship gave me motivation to keep on pursuing my educational career."

"Mrs. Janis Boyd," said another penned by Shane Varnum, "I can't thank you enough for this award. Due to your provisions, I am able to pursue my education further without such a financial burden. Again, I appreciate you so much."