College of Engineering News Room
Turning a Lottery Windfall into Opportunities for Others
By Brad Stager
A University of South Florida alumnus is sharing his multi-million-dollar lottery winnings with the College of Engineering to help financially support students there.
When the constitutional amendment authorizing Florida’s lottery passed in 1986, the aim was to help fund public education through the revenue it generates. Now Tampa business owner Krishna Barri, '03, winner of $14.5 million in a December 2018 Lotto drawing, is pitching in with a $500,000 gift to create three fellowships for PhD students in the college’s Department of Electrical Engineering where he earned his master’s degree.
Barri says the large philanthropic gift is payback for the support he received when he began his graduate studies in 2000. Most importantly, according to Barri, that help included work as a research assistant to Professor Chris Ferekides, who is now the interim chair of the Electrical Engineering Department.
“If he didn’t provide that job to me it would have been a disaster,” he says, adding that paying his way for three years also involved other campus jobs like working in the bookstore and the then-named Sundome arena’s parking lot.
When Barri, an occasional lottery player, realized he won millions of dollars from one of 10 tickets he bought at a local grocery store there was no hesitation as to what to do with some of the money.
“I immediately thought about Chris,” he said, because “I don’t want to change my lifestyle, I want to change people’s lives.”
That kind of response to such good fortune did not surprise Ferekides who kept in touch with his former student since Barri graduated.
“He was ready (to give) before he won it,” said Ferekides.
After earning his master’s degree in electrical engineering, Barri found communication systems work with Verizon. He then co-founded W-B Solutions, an IT services and staffing company in Tampa, in 2012. His company has grown to employ more than 100 people.
While Barri has accomplished considerable professional success, it wasn’t his original plan. He intended to pursue his PhD to conduct research and teach, but the need to earn a living took precedence, so his academic dreams were put on hold.
“What he couldn’t have, he’s making possible for others,” said Ferekides.
The fellowships are named in honor of Barri’s parents Nageswara Rao and Tulasi Barri, and his brother-in-law Raghavendra Rao Palepu, all of whom he credits for his success.
Originally from Visakhapatnam, India, Barri also gave $500,000 to support students in his home country.
Helping others achieve their goals is an act that aligns with what Barri values in life.
“Education is the greatest gift you can give somebody,” Barri said. Apply now