Junior finance major Stephanie H. Espinosa’s goal is to be the first in her family to graduate college and to do so debt-free. She’s meeting her goal, thanks to several ShopFIU vendors.
It may seem like an unlikely source, but since 2009, several vendors have contributed or committed to contribute more than $500,000 to FIU scholarships—a contribution which is matched by the state each year. This means more than a million dollars have been or will be added to scholarship funds because of the vendors’ efforts.
The contributions have resulted in students like Espinosa fulfilling their dreams. During her sophomore year, Espinosa was faced with what she felt was a do-or-die decision: Take out a loan or pull out of college. Then she heard about FIU’s First Generation Scholarship Fund—the scholarship fund the majority of campus vendors support.
Espinosa received a scholarship at the time. Now, she expects to graduate at the end of next year debt free.
Graduating from college for Espinosa doesn’t just mean getting on the pathway to a good career. It’s about leading with example. The eldest of four siblings, Espinosa feels she needs to be a good role model and show her siblings that with hard work success is possible. She also wants to make her parents proud. Espinosa’s parents, who emigrated from Cuba in the 60s and 70s, were never able to attend college; therefore, it was very important to them that their children graduate from college.
At a recent breakfast hosted to celebrate ShopFIU vendors who give back, Espinosa and several other student recipients of scholarships expressed gratitude to the vendors—getting to meet some of them face-to-face.
The vendors were equally delighted to meet the students whose lives have been impacted by their contributions.
One student shared how she was able to stop working a strenuous job—distributing newspapers in the wee hours of the morning—because she received a scholarship. An international student discussed how he was able to focus on his college transition since his financial burdens were eased through the scholarship. Many discussed their stories of perseverance to be the first to graduate in their families.
“When you actually see the results, it’s just amazing,” said, Rolando Espinosa from Right Choice Vending/Coffee. “It’s not about pennies and nickels. You’re helping somebody have a career and a better future. At the end of the day, that’s what matters.”
Greg Sokolow—a financial representative of Gabor Agency, which offers FIU faculty and staff insurance and retirement plans—says, “It’s a pleasure to support FIU students.”
Sokolow runs into FIU alumni all the time, and he’s glad Gabor Agency’s contribution is helping current students turn into future successful alumni. “Just seeing all the FIU graduates and all the great things they are doing, whether they are in the corporate world or in higher education…as a financial advisor anything you can do to ease their burden is important.”
Stephen Gibson, an assistant director for ShopFIU who oversees the vendor donations, knows the value of scholarships.
Originally from Jamaica, Gibson moved to the United States to study. “I struggled. I understand what it means for students to get support,” he explains.
And ShopFIU, he says, is here to support students—and the support is not just providing dining and snack options.
“A very high percentage of students here are first generation students, and this is just a way for vendors to show their support for the FIU community,” Gibson says.
He adds that it shows the vendors are not just here for business purposes. They care about the university community.
“They want to give back to the students so students will be able to achieve their objective, which is to earn a degree within a certain timeframe, and then go out into the community and find a job,” Gibson says.
Joan Gonzalez ’00, director of development for the First Generation Scholarship Fund, says her favorite part of her job is seeing first-hand the impact donors have on students.
“I love to hear the stories behind the donors and students. It keeps me going. I’m just very proud of the students,” says Gonzalez, who is a first-generation graduate of FIU herself. “You get to see how amazing our students are and how amazing our donors are.”
Story originally published on FIU News: news.fiu.edu/2016/11/shopfiu-vendors-give-back-through-student-scholarships/106142