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The Forward Scholarship for Women of Excellence, In Just One Year, Receives Enough Donations to Reach Endowment Level

By Keith Morelli

Puja Patel, Anna Morra, Fadwa Hilili and Giselle Lara

TAMPA (August 30, 2017) -- A scholarship that was implemented just last year by four Muma College of Business accounting graduates has grown to the point of endowment.

The four grads, Fadwa Hilili, Puja Patel, Anna Morra and Giselle Lara, in 2016 each pledged $1,250, the seed money for the Forward Scholarship for Women of Excellence. With matching contributions and with other donations along with their own pledges, the fund has grown to $25,000 and is now endowed. That means that the core of the scholarship – all the donated money itself, is preserved and the scholarship money now comes out of interest and investments made through the USF Foundation.

And that means scholarships generated by the fund can be available every year without fear of the fund being depleted.

It's a benchmark in scholarship-world and one that each of the four women, all in their 20s and now accountants in the Tampa Bay region, are proud to discuss.

"This reflects how generous and responsive the USF community is by stepping in with its support," said Hilili. "We hope to have inspired fellow alums to band together in similar philanthropic endeavors."

A financial auditor and CPA at TECO who received her master's degree in accounting in 2015, Hilili has said from the outset that the goal was to grow the scholarship to $25,000 so that it could be endowed to indefinitely benefit eligible female students in the Lynn Pippenger School of Accountancy.

The motivation she needed to create the scholarship comes from her own experience.

In 2012, Hilili owed a balance on her tuition and worried about how she was going to pay for the approaching semester. She had taken 15 to 18 credit hours a semester – an accelerated schedule – so she could graduate in less than three years. With the monetary shortfall, she would have to consider dropping a class to afford her books and tuition.

Then, she was selected as a Barron Collier First Generation Scholarship recipient. And that was what inspired her to return to USF after graduation and do the same for other students.

While an undergraduate, Hilili was involved in the Corporate Mentor Program and became friends with three fellow accounting students, Lara, who received a master's degree in 2013; Morra and Patel, both of whom graduated in 2014. As they bonded over their shared assignments, interest in professional development and self-improvement, a strong desire to give back to USF began to grow.

That desire translated into the first Forward Scholarship for Women of Excellence awarded last year to Rebecca Hatz, who graduated earlier this year.

"We are thrilled to have reached endowment less than a year after founding the scholarship," said Morra. "Upon inception we knew paying it forward was greater than just us four and the inaugural recipient."

Patel wanted to thank the multiple donors who shared in the vision, particularly the companies for which each woman now works.

"Through their generosity and matching gifts from our companies," she said, "we were able to accomplish this much sooner than expected."

The scholarship is awarded to women studying accounting who have a financial need and proven academic merit. Recipients also are encouraged to contribute to the fund when they graduate, once they are able, so that other women seeking to break into accounting careers can be helped paying for their classes.

"For us, it doesn't stop here," said Lara. "We plan on continuing to grow the endowment in hopes of empowering the next generation of female leaders in business."