University of South Florida


Helios Awards $2.1 Million Grant to Support Black Leadership Network Scholarships for USF System Students

Judy Genshaft with a group of USF student holding a thank you banner

Helios Education Foundation has awarded the University of South Florida’s Black Leadership Network (BLN) a $2.1 million grant to support the future success of underrepresented students from across the USF System.

The grant is divided into two parts, establishing a $2 million scholarship endowment that will provide future support for 40 students per year in perpetuity, and also contributes $100,000 immediately for scholarships, mentoring and leadership skills programming to help students graduate faster, better prepared and with less debt.

“Diversity and inclusivity are core values at USF, and creating opportunities for more students to realize their academic and career dreams is a key priority,” said USF System President Judy Genshaft. “Together with Helios and our other generous supporters, we are committed to enhancing access for high-achieving and deserving students.”

The Black Leadership Network was founded in December 2016 with a mission to enhance the education and leadership opportunities for African-American students in the USF System. The Helios grant increases the number of scholarships BLN can award in the upcoming year from 12 to at least 24 and provides an additional $20,000 for mentoring and professional development programming to further benefit the scholars.

“Helios Education Foundation’s mission is to ensure more students, particularly first-generation, minority, and underrepresented students achieve a postsecondary degree,” said Helios Education Foundation President and CEO Paul Luna. “In partnership with the Black Leadership Network, we are proud to establish this endowment to allow more students, regardless of zip code, to experience the transformative power of education.”

USF has been recognized by the Education Trust as the top school in Florida and sixth best in the country for black student

Judy Genshaft with a group of USF students

success. The university has also closed the graduation rate gap regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, a rare achievement in higher education.

“For African-American kids who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to stay in college, it will change their lives,” said Jerry Bell, a BLN founding member. “It could also provide them with the option not to work and instead take advantage of other opportunities like the study abroad program or a summer internship that is in their field but doesn’t pay. At the end of the day, that resume looks a lot better and they can graduate with much less debt.”

“Receiving the Helios scholarship is almost an indescribable feeling,” said Rolynn Wilson, 18, who recently graduated from Northeast High School in St. Petersburg. “Yes, you’re receiving the financial aid, but you’re also being invited into a family – and becoming a part of a community. You’re being mentored and receiving guidance and motivation. I could tell from the first day that I am truly welcome and they are really going to help me grow throughout my college career. I’m so grateful for that.”

The Helios grant continues a strong and meaningful partnership with USF that dates back to 2007 and includes more than $15.7 million in support for scholarships, teacher preparation and education policy. Helios has three other scholarship endowments at the university: the STEM Scholarship Program, the Diversity Scholarship Program and the Latino Scholarship Program.

“We are incredibly grateful for the support we’ve received over the years from Helios Education Foundation,” said Joel Momberg, CEO of the USF Foundation and senior vice president for university advancement and alumni affairs. “Their scholarships are making a tremendous impact that will forever benefit our students and strengthen our community.”

View more information about the opportunities provided through USF’s Black Leadership Network.

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