Scholarship Surprise

USF Trustee Jordan Zimmerman and President Genshaft surprise essay contest winner with scholarship award.


Photo by Aimee Blodgett | USF News


USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Sept. 18, 2012) – A paid-for college education is one of the best surprises anyone could hope to receive and Zimmerman Advertising Founder and Chairman Jordan Zimmerman shocked a local Tampa-area student with just such a prize this morning. The fact that today is also her birthday made the day all the more special. 


Haidee Graves earned a four-year scholarship to the University of South Florida with her prize-winning essay written for Zimmerman’s “Raise the Bar on Florida Education” competition held over the summer.  Hers was selected from nearly 1,120 entries posted on Zimmerman’s blog 


The 20-year-old’s parents had a hard time keeping the news from her for the past two weeks, but they talked her into going with them to Tampa International Airport and the conference room where Zimmerman and USF President Judy Genshaft greeted her. Graves was presented with a large poster-sized version of her scholarship award amidst green and gold balloons and surrounded by other family members who met them there for the big surprise.


Currently enrolled in community college, Graves has always dreamed of attending classes at USF. She is already quite familiar with USF’s campus, which she finds “beautiful,” and where she is involved with ROTC. She hopes to attain the rank of captain. Her current interest is international studies, and she hopes someday to do humanitarian work. Of today’s surprise, Graves said it was the “best birthday present.”


Genshaft thanked Zimmerman for being so generous with his alma mater and exemplifying what every alumnus should be: someone who “learns, earns and returns.”   


A key advocate for education in Florida, Zimmerman’s “Raise the Bar” contest was spurred after FCAT reports were released in early summer announcing that a dismal 27% of Florida’s 4th graders had passed the written portion of the test. Kicking off the contest on June 1st, Jordan received essays from across the state – from students, teachers, parents and alarmed Florida residents – all voicing their concern for the state of the education system.


“The response was overwhelming, but it was empowering to see so many people speaking out about what’s happening in our state,” Zimmerman said. “Haidee’s entry captured my attention right away.  It was concise, specific – and most importantly, actionable. Success in the classroom starts with the teachers, and Florida is failing miserably.  There are no more excuses.  It’s time for a change.”


Each “Raise the Bar” candidate was given 250 words to craft an idea that would help alleviate the current educational issues that the state is facing. Zimmerman handpicked Graves after reading her submission, which highlighted the importance of valuable, passionate faculty members that are able to connect with their students.


“What good are smaller class sizes when a teacher doesn’t know how to connect and relate to an individual student?” wrote Graves.  “What is the use in more afterschool programs when you don’t have coaches that encourage kids to join?  School faculty is by far the biggest determining factor of a student’s success.  Florida should focus on finding the right employees who can guide kids towards graduation.”


“At the University of South Florida, we are committed to continuously strengthening our academic programs – and that starts with a world-class faculty who is passionate about teaching,” said Genshaft.  “We are thrilled to have Haidee joining our student body, and look forward to exceeding her expectations as she continues her education with us.”


Jordan’s commitment to bettering Florida’s education system has been a lifelong passion. He is a trustee at the University of South Florida, where he and his executive team rewrote the advertising program’s curriculum – something that hadn’t been done since Jordan went through the program 30 years earlier. Zimmerman sponsors the USF Zimmerman Advertising Program. Jordan is a trustee at Pine Crest School, in Ft. Lauderdale/Boca Raton. Zimmerman is a long-time supporter of the PASS (Partnership to Advance School Success) program, including mentoring Principal Enid Valdez of Piper High School, (his alma mater). Over the summer of 2011, Zimmerman Advertising built a state-of-the art television studio and journalism lab at Piper, and rewrote the video program. Jordan also has been named to the Council of 100, a special group of private-sector advisors who make recommendations to Florida Governor Rick Scott from a business perspective.


To find out more about the “Raise the Bar on Florida Education” contest, visit Jordan’s blog: