The USAmeriBank Foundation and Helios Education Foundation have committed $2.5 million to establish a scholarship fund for students participating in FUSE, a program guaranteeing admission to University of South Florida students who first earn their associate’s degree in select areas of study.

The announcement was made Nov. 29 at the USF’s College of Education by representatives from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay (CFTB), USF, Hillsborough Community College (HCC) and the two funding partners. The scholarship was developed under the umbrella of the Tampa Bay-based LEAP College Access Network by HCC, USF, and CFTB.

“All of our goals are the same,” said Judy Genshaft, president of the USF system. “It’s all about student success and what we can do for not only our enrollees, but also their families and the Tampa Bay region.”

The initial scholarship fund of $1.5 million was seeded with a $500,000 gift from the USAmeriBank Foundation and matched on a 2-to-1 basis by Helios. Additionally, Helios has pledged another $1 million in future 2-to-1 matching funds. 

“It’s only by partnering and having the communities we serve be successful that we in turn can be successful,” said Jennifer Steans, founding director and chairman of the board for USAmeriBank. “I believe no individual group can have the impact that needs to be made across the country in terms of providing true access to excellent education and meaningful career opportunities.

“We’ve got to work together.”

Paul Luna, president and CEO of Helios, believes FUSE and the community support surrounding the program can be replicated in other parts of Florida and beyond.

“This will be a model for what I think other communities can and should do to support students,” Luna said. He added that supporting programs like FUSE aligns with Helios’ mission. “When we talk about our beliefs, we talk about education as an investment, not an expense. It’s an investment in our future, in our students, and in our communities.”

The CFTB is the backbone organization for LEAP, a local college access network focused on increasing the proportion of Tampa Bay residents with degrees or credentials to 60% by 2025. Marlene Spalten, the foundation’s president and CEO, said that supporting FUSE became one of LEAP’s first focus areas.

She added that everything from LEAP’s inception to the announcement of this new scholarship was the result of a selfless, multi-sector approach.

“The news today would not be possible without partners who are respectful and generous to one another, and who put their ego aside to work together to solve a complex community challenge,” Spalten said.

Genshaft said the USF System currently has 500 students who are enrolled in FUSE.

Of those institutions, the largest proportion of FUSE students comes from Hillsborough Community College, which initially piloted the program along with St. Petersburg College last year. There are currently 206 HCC students enrolled in FUSE.

Ken Atwater, president of HCC, recalled FUSE’s launch a little more than a year ago.

“We reflected that a community’s education attainment level has a direct correlation to its long-term sustained economic viability,” Atwater said. “Through FUSE, we are elevating efforts to ensure we move beyond (college) access to timely completion.”

HCC and USF students are eligible for the new FUSE Scholarship. The expectation is other Florida state colleges who offer FUSE will be given an opportunity to come on board as the scholarship grows.

From their initial admission into FUSE, each eligible student can receive up to $5,500 in FUSE scholarship awards as they successfully progress through the program. Once they earn initial eligibility for the scholarship, students will receive scholarship allocations each semester as they accumulate credits toward a degree.

The scholarship fund’s first recipient is Michael Malcolm, an HCC student who will begin classes at USF in 2019. Malcolm was recognized during the scholarship announcement.

FUSE students can select from numerous degree pathways that address critical workforce needs, such as biomedical sciences, finance, elementary education, information technology and public health.

The program is currently available at the following institutions: Hillsborough Community College, St. Petersburg College, College of Central Florida, Pasco-Hernando State College, Polk State College, Santa Fe College, South Florida State College, or State College of Florida.

Atwater is particularly interested in the ways the program can help bolster Tampa Bay’s economy.

“This is what makes FUSE unique,” he said. “Unlike other articulation agreements across the state, HCC and USF are focusing on areas that represent job growth.

“For our degrees to have real value, they must lead to jobs.”

Visit the websites for USF and Helios for more coverage on the FUSE Scholarship announcement.


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