A message from Lee Williams, CFRE
Regional Vice Chancellor for Advancement and Alumni Relations
As we enter the Holiday Season, USF Sarasota-Manatee greatly appreciates all that you have done—as alumni, friends, and community leaders—to support our 2,200 students. Your participation, attendance, and contribution to our 26th annual Brunch on the Bay made it the most successful event to date—with a grand total raised of $450,000! Bank of America led the effort as title sponsor, AND they contributed additional funds for a scholarship. The 2019 event was chaired by USFSM alumni Lauren Henry and Pete Petersen. Be sure to mark your calendar for Sunday, November 1, 2020, when Elizabeth Moore chairs the 27th annual gathering!
Inside our December issue, you’ll enjoy our feature on Carlos Moreira, veteran services administrator and director of USFSM’s Veterans Success Center. His story will inspire you. Also, discover how USFSM is helping students through the creation of a Food Pantry, collaborating with the Perlman Music Program for its Winter Residency, welcoming new employees to campus—Dr. Steve Miller, associate professor of Finance in Risk Management and Insurance and Marrie Neumer, as senior director of development in the USFSM Office of Advancement, and assisting donors in the creation of new scholarships.
Make plans to attend USFSM’s upcoming HospitaBull Evening at The Ritz Carlton, Sarasota, on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. It is sure to be a great night of friendship and fund raising for the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership, and if you missed the 2019 gathering, here’s a quick video which we know you’ll enjoy:
We send warm wishes to you and your families for a happy and healthy holiday season, and again, please know how much we appreciate all that you do for our community and for USF Sarasota-Manatee, in particular.
Have a question or want to learn more about USFSM or get involved? Feel free to email or call me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-359-4582, and we can explore how your interest in the university and students can make a difference in our community.sss
A message from Karen A. Holbrook, PhD, Regional Chancellor
This is a wonderful time of the year when worries, anxieties and problems fade into the background as we celebrate the joy of the season and focus on what we can do for others. Brett Culp, a speaker at the CEO Forum, said “the world is filled with good people who step up and shine.” These are people who are “anchored to a meaningful mission” and committed to an action that makes a difference in the lives of others. As I read this newsletter, these words reflect what I was thinking about the people who have been highlighted, programs that have been started or partnerships that benefit those directly involved as well as members of our community.
As you read through the stories, I think you will learn about our friends, donors and university members who are reaching out to support others through their financial gifts and life experiences, and sharing knowledge that can be passed on to someone else. Some of the programs highlighted provide benefits that meet basic needs. Other activities of individuals create life-changing experiences or opportunities that help a recipient reach goals that otherwise might not have been achievable, and still others simply build a sense of “family.” The term family appears across many of the vignettes, whether family means one’s personal family that has inspired the donor or doer to continue a personal commitment, or the family that has been developed through relationships such as the military, university friends or as the beneficiary of a donor who is not even known to the recipient.
What is very real is that all of the individuals profiled recognize someone else–thus this edition fits the season and adds to our wishes to all of our readers for a very happy holiday and peaceful, productive and healthy New Year.
Food Pantry offers help for some food-challenged students
College students face enough challenges in the classroom without having to worry about where their next meal is coming from – or whether they can afford it.
“When you consider that a single textbook might cost $300, and that $300 could feed them for a month, some students have a huge decision to make,” USF Sarasota-Manatee Assistant Director of Student Success Allison Dinsmore said.
After receiving several referrals from students identifying themselves as food challenged – meaning they’re not sure where their next meal is coming from – Dinsmore worked with Bart Stucker, coordinator of orientation and recreation programs, to open a campus food pantry.
The pantry will launch in January. It’s just one of the strategies to emerge after Lauren Kurnov, former assistant vice president of student success, established the Food, Housing and Security Committee two years ago to address basic life challenges faced by some students.
“The mission of our Food, Housing and Security Committee is not only to help diminish food and housing challenges, but also to educate students on resources available to them,” said Stucker, who co-chairs the committee with Dinsmore.
Working with USFSM’s College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership, the committee began offering workshops in budget-conscious cooking and similar clinics focused on wellness and nutrition.
“When students are hungry, they will look for anything available, not necessarily something that’s good for them,” Stucker said. “It may come out of a vending machine. It may be fast food. We want them to place a focus on mindful eating, as well.”
Dinsmore and Stucker have negotiated with All Faiths Food Bank to provide non-perishable foods to the pantry at no cost.
Students will be able to pick up their items at a non-identifiable campus location after shopping for their groceries online. A worker will distribute the items in discreet packaging.
“We know that students may feel nervous or embarrassed about asking for this help, and we are using technology to bridge that gap,” Dinsmore said, adding the committee is planning a kickoff event the first week of spring classes to spread the word and increase donations.
“We will be doing a lot of food drives,” Dinsmore said. “So we will be supplementing all of the free food from All Faiths Food Bank with food we collect here on campus.”
With many students married and supporting children, the pantry will be available to students’ families as well.
“We are simply trying to use our resources to help students solve problems that keep them from achieving academic success here at USFSM,” Stucker said. “We are here to help. This pantry will help feed a lot of food-challenged families in our community.”
Marrie Neumer: A passion for paying it forward
Marrie Neumer, USFSM’s new senior director of development, has spent every moment of her professional career on college campuses–first in athletics and then in fundraising and alumni engagement roles at Cornell University.
Growing up in Rochester, New York, Neumer excelled in sports and went on to become a four-time NCAA All-American swimmer at the College of Wooster (Ohio). After earning her bachelor’s degree in physical education, she pursued a master’s degree in exercise physiology at Springfield College (Massachusetts).
During her second year of graduate school, she was asked to lead the women’s swimming and diving team as head coach. She spent the next two decades coaching swimmers at Springfield College, the University of Rochester, the University at Buffalo and Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
In 2003, while still at Cornell, Neumer had an opportunity to turn in her stopwatch and pursue a new path in higher education where, instead of helping students develop their athletic talent, she would help alumni connect their philanthropic goals with opportunities to support students.
Cornell alumni are famously loyal and devoted to their alma mater, which makes for rewarding work in the university’s fundraising division, where Neumer spent 16 years advancing her career and supporting the strategic priorities of the university.
At Cornell, she most enjoyed advising and guiding donors to support the next generation of global citizens. These included funding for scholarships, hiring faculty and enhancing the student experience. She also led the fundraising campaign for the new wing at Cornell’s I.M. Pei-designed art museum and was instrumental in completing the campaign to build Bill & Melinda Gates Hall, which houses Computing and Information Science at Cornell.
It was during her tenure as head of development at Cornell’s Johnson Art Museum that Neumer first visited Sarasota, hosting tours of the Ringling Museum of Art for Cornell alumni in the region.
“I fell in love with Sarasota,” she said. “The city’s arts community and culture are so vibrant–I couldn’t wait to return.”
Her love of the area led Neumer and her partner, Julie Waters, to invest in a condominium in downtown Sarasota in 2011 where they have enjoyed spending time each year getting to know the city and surrounding areas. Thus, it seemed “too good to be true” when she learned of the opportunity to join USFSM’s advancement team. Her first day is Jan. 2.
“I am excited to jump right in at USFSM,” she said. “My own college experience changed my life and gave me a passion for paying it forward. Working in higher education–both as a coach and a fundraiser–has allowed me to help students, faculty and engaged alumni pursue intellectual enrichment and personal growth. There’s nothing more inspiring than that.”
Devon Sandoval: On the move
Devon Sandoval, USFSM’s 2019 Bank of America scholarship winner, had anything but a typical childhood.
Raised in Buffalo, New York and Oklahoma by a single mother, Sandoval and his family moved frequently, leaving him to always feel like the new kid.
That restlessness persisted for years, even after he graduated from high school. It wasn’t until an enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps and, later, at USFSM, that Sandoval felt comfortable enough to plant roots and find a career path.
“A lot of people thought I was a military child, but I wasn’t. We just moved all the time,” he said.
After high school, Sandoval’s desire to be near his terminally ill father and half-brother took him to Texas. He never thought college was in his future since his grades had suffered with all of the moves.
After his father’s passing, Sandoval surveyed his options and enlisted in the Marine Corps, serving from 2011 to 2015 as an Embarkation/Logistics Combat Service Support Specialist, or “embarker.”
Stationed “in the middle of nowhere,” in Yuma, Arizona, Sandoval frequently traveled the world to ensure whatever was shipped—including people, gear and vehicles—arrived at its destination on time.
“My favorite place I traveled to, I think, was Romania,” he said. “The architecture was stunning, with incredible castles. I went to Transylvania on Halloween, to Dracula’s castle for an amazing Halloween party. I remember standing there, thinking, ‘How did I ever get here?’ My second favorite would either be Japan or Australia.”
Sandoval also completed a tour in Afghanistan.
“It wasn’t that bad for me. I wasn’t in the infantry. I stayed within the wire, which means within the base. If you are infantry, you are constantly outside the wire, and that’s where the danger is. I did my one tour, and then I retired from the military in 2015.”
Sandoval knew he wanted to pursue college. He was 22 at the time and had an aunt in Brandon, so he planned to live with her and attend USF in Tampa.
“I was looking forward to the whole college experience,” he said.
But then a chance encounter shifted his plans. A military friend came looking for a place to live and work and told Sandoval about USFSM, which piqued his interest in the campus just north of downtown Sarasota.
“I came down and checked it out, and I am so glad I did,” he said.
The class sizes—smaller than that of many other colleges and universities—enabled him to interact closely with professors and fellow students. Plus, the campus’ sense of community and its welcoming environment, especially toward military veterans, convinced him to enroll.
“When I started at USFSM, I met Todd Hughes, who led the Office of Veteran Success. He was just phenomenal. Carlos Moreira, Todd’s replacement, is a Marine and a really great guy, as well,” Sandoval said. “They became like family.”
Sandoval is an accounting major set to graduate in December. He currently works in the accounting department at the Resort at Longboat Key Club.
He said he’ll never forget one experience, in particular, from his time at USFSM. As he started the final semester of his senior year, he was invited to the campus’ annual Brunch on the Bay scholarship fundraising event.
As hundreds of donors and other supporters enjoyed the festivities, Sandoval was called to the stage and presented a $2,000 scholarship check by Mike McCoy, Sarasota-Manatee market president for Bank of America, the event’s title sponsor.
Even though he knew ahead of time about the scholarship, he was nevertheless floored by the bank’s generosity.
“That scholarship was incredibly helpful as I headed into my last semester,” he said.
Now, as Sandoval looks back, he regards his college career at USFSM much like his time in the military: A new experience with many unknowns, but one that nevertheless offered him stability and a place to call home.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but it found myself in the right place at the right time,” he said. As for the future, “I am off and running. Hopefully, no more travel, other than a nice vacation every now and then.”
Steve Miller: Finding the right path
Steve Miller, PhD, USFSM’s new associate professor of risk management and insurance, hails from Madison, Wisconsin, or, more precisely, Madison’s ice rinks.
As a boy and young man, he loved playing hockey, and between high school and college he spent a year as an exchange student in northern Sweden.
“My second day off the plane, my family had arranged for me to play in a try-out game. They paired me with the person who spoke the best English, who at the time was an assistant captain of the Montreal Canadiens, Mats Näslund.
“Here I am, fresh off the plane, 18 at the time, and what a thrill!” he said. “I did pretty well. If I passed the puck to Mats, good things happened.”
Miller would experience many such peaks in a career that saw him traveling the globe as part of insurance conglomerates Aon Corp. and Marsh Inc. A desire for a “new challenge” led him to academia and, ultimately, USFSM, where he’s currently helping to create the College of Business’ Risk Management & Insurance (RMI) Program.
But years ago, as an engineering student at the University of Wisconsin, Miller wasn’t sure which path to take. An engineering professor and mentor helped him to figure out his plans.
“He told me something that impacted me to this day: He asked me what was it I really wanted to do, and what he heard me saying is that I wanted to be in business,” Miller said.
“Today, as I talk with students as an educator in the risk management and insurance fields, the concept of fit and matching a career path with a student’s interests and aspirations has stuck with me,” he said.
Being a double major in finance and risk management and insurance, Miller was able to enter an executive training program with a large brokerage and consulting firm, Alexander & Alexander Services Inc., known today as Aon Corp.
A couple of years later, an opportunity arose at competitor Marsh, Inc., which was developing technology solutions for corporate risk management clients. Working in Chicago, Miller was sent to London to oversee parts of Europe and the Middle East.
“My first three clients were in London, Rome and Madrid,” he said. “I spent three years (in London), growing and developing our operations in Europe. I came back to Chicago, where my job was to develop new international operations, which meant I worked mainly in South America, Central America and Asia.”
Then the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, happened. Marsh lost several hundred people who worked at its offices in the Twin Towers. Asked to lead Northeast operations, Miller spent a year commuting between New York and his home in Chicago.
After that, he started to ask himself about the next challenge. While working on academic research, he began to consider academia and was accepted into the University of Georgia’s doctoral program. It was there that he met his wife, Tina.
Following graduation, their first stop was St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, which was launching a RMI program. Miller spent 10 years there, helping to build one of the top programs in the nation.
“Afterward, I started asking that question again: What’s the next challenge? The program at St. Joseph’s was in a really healthy position and I was open to something new,” he said.
USFSM had posted a RMI position in its College of Business, and Tina liked seafood and walking on the beach.
“Not only did they have the new position in risk management and insurance at USFSM, they also had a retirement in the finance department at USF St. Petersburg, which opened a position for my wife,” Miller said.
Today, Miller enjoys teaching students about risk management and insurance and introducing them to the many opportunities the industry offers. Few students at U.S. colleges and universities pursue risk management and insurance—only 80 RMI majors exist nationally—but the industry is growing and openings are plentiful.
“It is a tremendous, untapped opportunity,” Miller said. “Risk is uncertainty. Disruptions in your family’s economic plan can create difficult circumstances if you don’t have the right tools in place. Likewise, firms, even the largest global organizations, can be impacted adversely by risk.
“Down the road, as data become more accessible, as more firms are thinking about their reputation risks, about hacking, information security and cyber-risk, as they are thinking about strategic risk, such as mergers and acquisitions, having somebody with a risk management perspective will be necessary,” he said.
He believes USFSM is well-positioned to capitalize on industry trends.
“As we build our program, we will be building it in partnership with industry,” Miller said. “We want to make sure our students have access to community internships, mentorships and, most importantly, a place to go to work when they graduate.”
Perlman Music Program returns to USF Sarasota-Manatee
Mark your calendars: The Perlman Music Program (PMP) Sarasota Winter Residency returns to USFSM campus from Dec. 23, 2019, through Jan. 4, 2020.
Under the auspices of world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman and his wife, Toby, the Perlman Music Program annually invites 34 string musician students, ages 12 to 20, to Florida’s Gulf Coast for 17 intensive days of recitals, master classes and rehearsals with world-class faculty, all culminating with the annual Celebration Concert at the Sarasota Opera House.
“Every year, it’s a legacy in the making,” said Elizabeth Power, executive director of PMP.
Most events are free and take place in a heated outdoor performance tent on USFSM’s campus. Visit www.perlmanmusicprogramsuncoast.org to access the entire schedule of PMP’s 20-plus musical events.
Recently, the Sara String Quartet, comprised of Perlman alumni and current Juilliard students KJ McDonald, violin; Rinat Erlichman, violin; Hannah Geisinger, viola; and Derek Louie, cello, spent a busy week in Sarasota performing at a variety of local venues and at area elementary, middle schools and high schools. They also performed on Russell Gant’s Classical Music Show on WUSF-FM and WSMR.
The four talented musicians named their quartet the Sara Quartet because they first came together as a group in Sarasota and because the word in Japanese means hope, love and prosperity.
McDonald is a chamber musician, now in his eighth year with the Perlman program, pursuing a master’s degree in performance at The Juilliard School under the tutelage of Itzhak Perlman and Catherine Cho.
Erlichman, originally from Israel, is a junior at Juilliard, studying under Perlman and Li Lin.
Geisinger will graduate in May from Juilliard with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in performance under the tutelage of Paul Neubauer and Roger Tapping, while Louie is a third-year undergraduate there, studying with Joel Krosnick.
While they all came to the Perlman Music Program in different ways, they credit Director of Chamber Music Mary Peckham for bringing them together as a group.
“She is a very good judge of character and can tell which musicians will mesh well together,” McDonald said. “Plus, we were all at Juilliard, so we could find time, an early morning here and a late night there, to practice together.”
McDonald has been with the Perlman program the longest of the four musicians.
“When I was 14, I needed to make a decision about whether I wanted to continue with the violin,” he said. “My teacher told me about the Perlman Music Program and by some providence I got in. After my first summer with PMP, I told my mom, ‘I have to keep playing the violin.’ It was no longer that I wanted to play, I had to.”
While Geisinger will graduate in May after an accelerated five-year program at Juilliard, the other three plan to continue their education, earning master’s degrees and doctorates.
Three of the four are interested in teaching music after graduation, while Erlichman says she’s keeping her options open.
“I am very interested in teaching,” Louie said. “I don’t think there’s anything as satisfying as when you are trying to teach a student something and you see in their face that they suddenly get it. They play it and say, ‘Thank you so much.’ It is the most rewarding feeling you can have.”
Asked about her most memorable experience at the Winter Residency, Geisinger said, “For me, it was at a workshop when we performed Beethoven Op. 127, a very difficult piece.
“There was a moment when I saw Mary (Peckham) was crying and I saw this look of great satisfaction on Mr. P’s (Itzhak Perlman’s) face,” she said. “I can’t explain it, but it is a moment I will never forget.”
All four say they found a second family with PMP.
Asked about “Mr. P,” Erlichman said it’s been “a blessing” to learn from him, and that he and Toby are caring and generous with their time and talent. She describes her experience as “a wonderful journey.”
“Whatever festival I had been to previously,” Louie said, “I had always felt very alone. But when I got to Perlman, it really was like family. Most festivals just contact you when they want you to do something for them. Perlman Music Program stays in touch with us, always wanting to know how we are doing and how they can be of help. It really is a family.”
For information and tickets, visit www.perlmanmusicprogramsuncoast.org or call 941-955-4942.
James and Michelle Thermidor: Planning is everything
James and Michelle Thermidor, both in their early 30s, have an ambitious plan to help USFSM students in perpetuity by turning a modest investment into a $1 million scholarship fund.
Don’t bet against this young couple. They know a thing or two about planning and hard work.
James and his family come from Port au Prince, Haiti. His father arrived in the United States first, followed by James, his mother and four other siblings about 10 years later.
“We landed in Miami. Then we moved to a small town, Immokalee, where my parents worked picking tomatoes or watermelons, doing whatever they had to do to get by,” he said.
Soon there were eight children after three more were born in the United States, and James was tasked with caring for his younger brothers and sisters.
James’s father worked with a transport company, so he was on the road a lot, which left James to help his mother, whom he calls “my inspiration.”
“It was very tough on her,” he says.
His mother eventually learned to speak English and attended nursing school. It was then that she decided to move the family to Port Charlotte.
Michelle is originally from Brooklyn, New York, the oldest of three. She was raised by an aunt and grandmother, who were her caregivers. Her mother passed away at an early age and her father never played a role in her life.
“My aunt had a close friend who lived in Port Charlotte. We built a home there, and moved there when I was 16,” she said.
She and James met as students at Port Charlotte High School.
“Michelle saw something in me that most people don’t see,” James said. “She believed in me.”
The couple married in 2012, worked in a variety of jobs before they figured out what they wanted to do.
James initially considered web programming and web design, but instead turned to the hospitality industry. He attended classes at Florida SouthWestern State College for two years, and then, at a friend’s urging, he transferred to USFSM.
“He was taking classes here and told me about it, and I had to check it out,” James said. “So, I started here and I loved it.”
He earned his degree in 2017 and worked for a while at the Gasparilla Inn and Club in Boca Grande. He then joined Enterprise Rent-A-Car. While working and going to school, he was married with three children: Elizabeth, 7, Julian, 5, and Carter, 3.
“I was hustling,” he said.
But through it all, he never stopped talking about real estate: “It was always in the back of my mind.”
James attained a real estate license and tried several companies before landing at Maronda Homes, a Pennsylvania-based home builder, where his wife also worked.
“I am not an employee. I am an independent contractor,” he said. “My company is James Thermidor REALTOR. It is straight commission sales, but I sell only Maronda homes.”
Michelle is studying for her real estate license, and the couple plan to start a real estate and property management company. Also part of their plan is to give back.
The couple approached USFSM’s Office of Advancement about their idea to launch the Thermidor Education Initiative scholarship fund. Every semester, they plan to increase their giving by 10 percent. The State of Florida matches their donations two-to-one for every dollar given to the First-Generation Matching Grant Program.
“It was basically two phone calls and a meeting, and the fund was established and working within a month,” he said.
James says his 20-year goal is to grow the fund into a $1 million. Both said they thought it would be difficult to make a difference at their young ages, but they started small and decided to commit to the project.
“I never start something without having a goal,” James said. “I never just throw money at something. We are very spiritual people and believe that what goes before your success is your giving.
“If you just sit around and say, ‘Someday when I make a million dollars, I will give something back,’ it will never happen,” he said. “You have to have a plan.”
James said that young people need to understand that they can make a difference in people’s lives, even with a relatively small amount of money.
“It feels so good to do this,” he said. “Go ahead. Make the phone call. And have a goal.”
Seeking opportunities for farmworkers
A retired, anonymous USFSM professor and his wife have developed a scholarship for migrant farmworkers and their families.
The professor, a Flint, Michigan native, says he’s long been interested in helping the workers, who travel the country to wherever crops need to be picked.
“I am a blue-collar guy,” he said. “My dad was involved in the sit-down strikes at General Motors in the 1930s, so I grew up like that. I’m not a radical, but I’ve been involved in many, many causes.”
Lately, he’s been focused on Beth-El Farmworker Ministry in Wimauma, a nonprofit 20 miles south of Tampa that’s dedicated to addressing farmworkers’ basic needs.
He decided to lend a hand a few years ago. Touring Immokalee in Collier County, he was shocked to see the dilapidated trailers, filled with mildew, where the workers lived. Not one family per trailer, but three or four families, and sometimes at a rate of half their earnings.
“I came home that night and told my wife that I had just seen the worst thing that I had ever seen,” said the professor, now retired and living on the Gulf Coast. “I got up in the middle of the night and emailed the Secretary of Agriculture for Florida, and I asked him to go down there and look around. I told him if he would be comfortable for him and his family to live in one of those trailers, he would never hear from me again. The next thing I knew, he had appointed me to a statewide farmworkers board. I guess I got his attention.”
As he became more involved with migrant farmworkers’ issues, he learned that they want what any parent wants: a better life for their children, and they are willing to work hard and long to make that happen.
He also learned about the challenges the migrant families face: no paid sick days, limited access to dental and medical care, poor housing, dangers from pesticides, fear of immigration raids and hunger, to name a few.
According to Beth-El Executive Director Kathy Dain, farmworkers are paid piecemeal.
For picking 32 pounds of strawberries, they might earn $3.50. For a bucket of tomatoes, they’ll get a penny per pound, and for a bucket of blueberries (that sell for $60 in the store) they’ll receive $5. That’s gross pay before taxes.
“Our objective is to try to address the immediate needs of the workers,” she said. “For example, today nearly 600 families will come through our food pantry. Overall, Beth-El serves about 100,000 people per year.”
Recently, thanks to generous donations, Beth-El opened a dental clinic for the workers, many of whom had never seen a dentist. On its first day, a line of more than 50 people began forming at 4 a.m., even though the clinic opened at 8.
When it comes to education, the children at a Beth-El are fortunate to have a school to attend while their parents work in the fields. The school takes them through eighth grade when they can, hopefully, move on to high school.
The farmworkers’ frequent moving around handicaps the children’s ability to pursue an education, as do cultural and language differences that make it difficult for them to learn.
“We had an opportunity with this scholarship to do something that would make a difference,” the professor said, adding the scholarship originated through a trust established by his wife’s mother and stepfather, who did all of their giving anonymously.
“We are being true to their wishes,” he said. “He would have been very happy with this scholarship. He was one of those who respected people for looking for a step up, not a hand out.”
The scholarship has an operating portion, which can be immediately awarded, plus an endowed portion, which is invested and accrues in perpetuity. The funds are not limited to full scholarships, but rather will be awarded to students who meet the needs-based criteria, with a focus on the children of migrant families who are first-generation students.
He described farmworkers as some of the hardest workers you will ever find, workers to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude: “I always tell people, ‘When you have lunch today, or dinner tonight, thank a farmworker.’”
Carlos Moreira: Helping veterans to transition to college life
Carlos Moreira has lived both sides of the veteran experience as an active member of the military and a full-time college student. Before arriving at USFSM to earn bachelor degrees in finance and risk management and insurance, he served 15 years in the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan, Asia and the United States.
Now, in addition to pursuing an MBA, he helps student veterans seek scholarships and other assistance at USFSM’s Office of Veteran Success.
“One of the most rewarding things about this position is being able to help veterans look at things from a different perspective,” said Moreira, the office’s veteran service specialist.
“The best moments for me, aside from seeing students graduate, is making sure they get jobs,” he said. “My job doesn’t end when these veterans receive their degrees. I want to see them succeed after graduation as well.”
USFSM serves about 330 veteran students, including active military, reservists, National Guard members, veterans and military dependents. Moreira’s job is to help these veterans and active duty personnel to be successful.
Many visit the office on a regular basis. Some stop by for help transitioning to civilian life, or to experience the camaraderie integral to the military. Others visit for career counseling, scholarship assistance or simply to relax with other veterans who’ve shared the military experience.
“The center is a place where veterans can come and meet other veterans, but it’s also open to other students and the public,” Moreira said. “That is the whole point of transitioning. We want to help integrate veterans into the general population.”
USFSM is committed to helping veterans make this transition, but the job isn’t always easy, and sometimes a disconnect develops between the expectations of military life, which is highly structured, and the civilian world. Adding to that, veterans are sometimes older than other students, which can impact how they relate to their peers.
But there are advantages to being a student veteran as well. Among them is life experience.
“These are students who already have a strong work ethic by the time they come here,” said Moreira. “They already know about team work, problem solving and leadership. They’ve led people into battle. They’ve been put in charge of important and expensive equipment, including planes that cost millions upon millions of dollars,” he said. “These students know all about responsibility.”
In addition to seeking a graduate degree and overseeing the Office of Veteran Success, Moreira is a gunnery sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, serving at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
He first visited the center as an undergraduate student several years ago. He had served as president of USFSM’s Latin American Student Association and the Student Veteran Society, but he wanted to become more involved in campus activities while also lending a hand.
By the time the previous administrator, Todd Hughes, had moved on last year, Moreira was pursuing an MBA and had become the natural choice to succeed him.
“As a student, I saw great potential here, and now I get to help veterans and their families every day,” he said.
In his first year at the center, Moreira helped launch a USFSM chapter of “Salute”—the nation’s only veterans honor society—and connected the campus to “Jackson in Action,” a scholarship foundation named for former NFL wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Already, three student veterans have received foundation scholarships.
He also helped expand the campus’ annual Sept. 11 tribute, while also initiating “Paychecks for Patriots,” a career fair held in November. Hosted in collaboration with the State College of Florida and job assistance agency Career Source Suncoast, the fair was open to everyone, but focused on veterans.
And Moreira says he’s just getting started.
“Every person who walks in here has a different story to tell, and that is one of the great joys in working here,” Moreira said. “Every day, you get an opportunity to help student veterans. I am just grateful to be part of this experience.”