The Third Decade Begins

Latino Scholarship Program welcomes new cohort and first former scholar as sponsor at 20th anniversary celebration.


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 26, 2011) – “Inspiring” was a word heard often during and after the University of South Florida Latino Scholarship Program’s awards ceremony which also celebrated its 20th anniversary.


The new School of Music building was the perfect location to begin a new decade with a cohort of 25 new scholarship recipients gracing the stage. The program is strong, robust and doing what it set out to do better and better each year.


The concert hall comfortably accommodated the large crowd of sponsors, supporters, past recipients, family members and friends that had outgrown previous venues. Members of the Gonzmart family, the SantYago Education Foundation, the Helios Education Foundation and the Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Council were in attendance. 


“I received many messages from guests who told me how impressed they were with the building and the concert hall,” said Patsy Feliciano, organizer of the event, who also serves as USF’s director of Diversity and Inclusion for the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity. “But even more so I heard how moved they were by the stories of our students – how accomplished they are and how far they’ve come.”


One shining example is Jackie Toledo. She has earned the honor of becoming the first Latino scholarship recipient to become a sponsor. Toledo graduated in 2000 and is currently an engineer for CPH Engineers Inc. She and her husband are providing the Jose and Jackie Toledo Su Abogado Hispano Scholarship and as sponsors will also mentor a student through the four years at USF. The announcement was met with thundering applause as she stood to take a bow.


Another example is a new student, freshman Dianelys Barroso.  She left her family in Cuba and quickly learned English and excelled in school. Her mother died of cancer in February 2010. 


“Without my mom, every day is a challenge, even the simplest things such as getting out of bed or smiling are a million times harder because she was the person who inspired me and gave me strength to go on,” Barroso said. “She was my hero, by best friend.”

Even though she had to deal with this terrible heartache, she continued to excel in school and graduated in the top 6 percent of her class with a 4.25 GPA.

“Through her life experiences, she understands the role of helping others,” Feliciano said. “That’s a quality we look for in our scholars.”

Barrosso plans to study political science and psychology and pursue a career as a lawyer.  Pro-bono work for low income families will be her specialty. 

Another recipient is transfer student Kevin Botello. Though having spent much of his life in the United States, he moved around a lot often doing farm work to help his family.  His biggest challenge was “overcoming an unstable household, being that my parents are from Mexico and had to migrate from state to state to find work and at the same time support and motivate my brothers and I to keep going to school.”


Botello said his family understood the importance of an education which sustained his passion for learning and kept him focused on earning an associate’s degree.  He is now pursuing a degree in nursing at USF.


“I think Dr. Braulio Alonso was definitely smiling down on us with pride,” she said of the program’s founder who died last year. 


First under the direction of Donna Parrino for the first 10 years, followed by Feliciano, the program has raised $2 million and graduated 300 students. Parrino’s retirement from USF was announced at the celebration and she was presented with flowers to a standing ovation.


“There was so much love in the room for Donna because everyone knows how much she has done for so many students over the years,” said Feliciano.


Program alumni Dr. Brandon Rodriguez, an eye surgeon in Tampa, and Hillsborough High School teacher Monica Sleeter were among the award presenters, which also included members of the Latin Community Advisory committee, Parrino and Feliciano.


There are currently 105 students following in Dr. Rodriguez’s and Sleeter’s footsteps, receiving scholarships and paired with their scholarship sponsors who serve as mentors until they graduate.


The generosity of individuals, foundations and corporations has been extraordinary, according to Feliciano. The Helios Education Foundation made an historic gift of $1.25 million in 2008 which provided matching dollars for those from community donors and was eligible for matching funds from the State of Florida. 

Feliciano said, “Matches were provided again this year to leverage community gifts received during the 2010 to 2011 fiscal year. We appreciate donations in all sizes, large, medium and small.”   

Feliciano and everyone connected to the program proudly point to this year’s graduates who number 23 with 13 continuing in school to pursue graduate degrees.


“One of our students was accepted into UF’s School of Dentistry, another into Stetson University College of Law and another to Ross University College of Medicine,” she said glowing with pride.  “I will never stop being proud of this program and proud of all the people who have been supported by it. We’re looking forward to the next 20 years and many more scholars.

“Today our program’s alumni are serving our communities as professionals in fields such as education, nursing, medicine, law, engineering, accounting, you name it.  Taken together they comprise an amazing cadre of people,” Feliciano said.


Gratitude was expressed throughout the program.


“It is the philanthropy and mentorship of the donors that provides students at USF with the necessary foundation to achieve academic success,” Dr. Rodriguez said. “I am very thankful for their generosity.”


Sleeter said, “The program’s motto, ‘We must lift as we climb’ is ingrained in me. As a teacher at a Title 1 school, I see myself in my students. I see the desire and yearning that I also had, to make something of their lives.”


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.