UF Foundation launches ambitious plan to strengthen Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- The University of Florida Foundation has launched an initiative to raise $100 million for the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program, which has given more than 3,200 Florida students from low-income families the chance to go to college.
“Investing in these talented young people is the right thing to do, period. They are our future,” said Scott Hawkins, chairman of the UF Foundation Board of Directors. “The only way the state will prosper is if all Floridians have a chance to reach their own potential. The Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program makes that possible.”
The program is designed for students who are the first in their families to attend college. The average annual income for families of this year’s scholarship recipients is $18,292. It is transforming the state by increasing the number of college-educated Florida residents, raising families out of poverty, creating healthier communities and generating a stronger workforce.
Named for retiring UF President Bernie Machen and first lady Chris Machen, the program was established in 2006 and is supported primarily through a special UF fund and the generosity of alumni and friends. It is the most successful universitywide fundraising program for students in UF’s history, with more than $62 million raised so far. Raising $100 million in private investments will help sustain the program.
A 15-member volunteer council comprising alumni and program supporters will guide the fundraising effort. The council is chaired by former UF trustee Joelen Merkel of Ocean Ridge, Fla.
Several members of the council renewed their commitment to the scholarship program with new pledges of support. Among them is 27-year-old Brandon White, a former Opportunity Scholar and now an Orlando lawyer who on Saturday made a gift of $1,000 to the program.
“I want to give back to a program that has given so much to me and changed the projection of my life,” White said. “This is just my first pledge. I’ll continue making pledges and encourage other Opportunity Scholars to do the same.”
Opportunity Scholars currently come from 62 of Florida’s 67 counties. Many of these students, though academically talented, would not be able to attend college without the scholarship.
“When we talk about ways to improve our state, we’ve got to include the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program in the conversation,” said Dave Kratzer, UF’s vice president for student affairs. “This program has the power to directly improve the lives of all Floridians. We’re not simply investing in the future of smart students; we’re investing in the future of Florida.”
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