Office of National Scholarships A Busy Place

USF’s best students are earning increasing number of highly regarded national scholarships.

By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (June 1, 2012) – The expression, “If you build it, they will come,” applies to USF’s Office of National Scholarships.  The office was established in 2007 to publicize the availability of prestigious national scholarships and encourage USF students to apply for them. 

The results speak for themselves.

“We knew our students were capable of competing and receiving them. It was simply a matter of instilling a sense of self-confidence in our best students as we have in them,” said Provost Ralph Wilcox.  “They met our stringent standards to be admitted, they’re working hard, they’re earning excellent grades, impressing their professors, engaged in the community in a variety of ways – exactly what earns the kind of recognition and financial support they deserve. Any student who thinks he or she has a chance should absolutely go through the application process.”

By competing and succeeding, in many cases, USF students are adding their names to the university’s history of firsts.

The growing list of scholarship recipients is one that continues to break each previous year’s record – three years in a row.  In fact, 2012 has brought forth the largest group of national scholarship recipients in USF’s history. That includes a record 17 USF students who earned Gilman Scholarships. It’s the largest group at one time in USF history.


Of note, five students reached the top tier of Fulbright Awards for the first time and one student received the prestigious Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship. USF is also represented in an impressive array of other highly respected scholarship programs. A sixth student, Michael Jones, who graduated from USF Sarasota-Manatee, will use his Fulbright to do research in Laos.


Veronica Valencia and Christine Goddard, both in Honors College, were admitted to the Fulbright UK Summer Institute, an honor bestowed on only a limited number of undergraduate students each year. Majoring in biochemistry and Mandarin Chinese, Valencia is one of six students from the U.S. who will study at Newcastle University. Goddard, a public health and Spanish major, will study at Cardiff, Bangor and Aberystwyth Universities in Wales. They are two of 43 students overall in the Summer Institute program, one of the most prestigious and selective summer scholarship programs operating world-wide.

Marc Poling, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in geography, and Dana Mahop, a graduate student in public administration have been awarded Presidential Management Fellowships. The PMF Program is a flagship leadership program sponsored by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that leads fellows to a career in the government. Fellows in the program receive Federal employee full salary and benefits. 

The German Academic Exchange Service known as DAAD, for Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst, awarded scholarships to Tamara Simunovic , a senior majoring in international studies and German and Petr Bambasek, a junior majoring in mass communications.


Two Hollings Scholarships, offered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) support full-time study of oceanic and atmospheric science, research, technology and education, were awarded to civil engineering majors Michael Esteban and Ileana Wald. 


To top things off, there are three students who were awarded more than one prestigious scholarship in a single year. Sarah Seabrook, a sophomore double majoring in environmental science and policy and environmental biology, earned both a Hollings and a Gilman; Elizabeth Birmingham and Gina Ferrara both received the Freeman Asia and Gilman scholarships to study in China. Birmingham is a College of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in international relations with a minor in Chinese. Ferrara is studying international business specializing in marketing.


The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program  aims to diversify the kinds of students who study abroad and the countries and regions where they go by supporting undergraduates who might not otherwise be able to participate due to financial constraints. The Freeman ASIA program is working to increase the number of Americans with first-hand exposure to Asia, its peoples and various cultures.


The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program’s coveted scholarship, aimed at providing a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers, went to Christie Campla this year. USF’s 2011 Goldwater Scholar, Jean Weatherwax, brought home USF’s first Marshall Scholarship which finances young Americans of high ability to do graduate study in the United Kingdom. 


Shaza Husssein is the first from USF to be selected for the Udall Scholarship from the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation.  She is a junior majoring in environmental science and policy and chemistry. This scholarship goes to sophomore and junior level college students committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy or Native American health care. Hussein won a Hollings Scholarship in 2011.


The College of Marine Science is congratulating doctoral student Maria Vega-Rodriguez for being one of this year’s recipients of the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship.  The NESSF program provides support for students pursuing advanced degrees in earth and space sciences or related disciplines. Out of 287 applicants, only 54 were chosen. Her NASA proposal, “Influence of Temperature and Water Quality Variability on Coral Reef Diversity” seeks to evaluate water temperature and other water quality indices affecting  coral reef ecosystems in the Florida Keys.


The Boren Awards for International Study are scholarships and fellowships for undergraduate and graduate students to focus on uncommon languages in underrepresented parts of the world that are critical to U.S. interests. Alecia Belnavis , an Africana Studies major is headed to Tanzania to study Swahili, Lauren Richardson, a triple major in history, economics and international relations, is also going to Tanzania to learn Swahili, and Michael Schwab-Holler, an international relations and economics major, will go to China to study Chinese.

The U.S. Department of State’s highly competitive Critical Language Scholarship will help biomedical sciences major Sayeef Mirza with his Arabic studies in Oman. Loni Lebanoff, a biology and psychology major is going to Vietnam on a Freeman ASIA scholarship, which is also supporting Birmingham and Ferrara.


“These highly-regarded awards show that USF students are consistently competitive with students from the most recognized colleges and universities in the U.S.,” said Linda Lucas, director of the Office of National Scholarships. “Our students’ accomplishments both in leadership and academics make them strong applicants for all these national merit awards.”

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