USF Sarasota-Manatee approved for minority teacher scholarships

Thalia Meza

Thalia Meza

SARASOTA, Fla. (July 14, 2015) – College of Education student Thalia Meza and her mother were looking for scholarship opportunities last fall when they found a promising one, the state-funded Minority Teacher Education Scholarship.

Meza, whose father is Mexican, applied and learned she met the requirements for the $4,000 annual remittance except in one key area: Her school, USF Sarasota-Manatee, was not among those approved for scholarships by the Florida Fund for Minority Teachers (FFMT), the fund’s administrator.

It turns out, the university was previously approved for the scholarships through its USF Tampa affiliation, but that changed in 2011 when the school earned separate accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. As a result, the school needed to apply separately with the Gainesville-based fund to again attain eligibility.

Undaunted, Meza appealed directly to university officials who were eager to help.

Their work paid off. On July 7, USF Sarasota-Manatee was formally welcomed into the FFMT program, joining 36 other colleges and universities statewide – including USF Tampa and USF St. Petersburg.

“When I found out, I thought, ‘Wow, I really made a difference,’” said Meza, 21, who takes most of her education courses at USF Sarasota-Manatee’s North Port instructional site. “All the people at the Florida Fund for Minority Teachers were very helpful, and, of course, at the university.”

FFMT’s board of directors initially signed off on USF Sarasota-Manatee’s acceptance two weeks ago after faculty coordinator Dr. Lora Kosten made a formal presentation to board members that touched on the college’s history and programs, including academic support and internships.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for our students,” she said. “I think it’s going to build our enrollment and give more opportunities for students of diverse backgrounds.”

Dr. G. Pat Wilson, interim dean at the College of Education, agreed, adding, “Those awarded the scholarships are Florida residents and will teach in Florida public schools, and so this supports our community as well.

“This is good for our students, our campus, our programs and our public schools,” Dr. Wilson said.

Nationally, minority teachers have long been under-represented in school classrooms compared to minority enrollments.

An April 2012 Florida Department of Education study found that while minorities represent more than 57 percent of Florida students, only 29 percent of Florida teachers fall within minority categories – African-American, Hispanic, Asian or Native American/Pacific Islander.

For the past three decades, that disparity has stemmed largely from a surge in minority enrollments. From 1981 to 2011, minority student enrollment in Florida schools grew 219 percent to 1,536,112, according to the study. That compares to an 80-percent rise in overall enrollment and a 13-percent increase in white student enrollment to 1,131,718.

“Definitely when we started looking into the program we saw there was a real need for more minority teachers in the classroom,” FFMT Executive Secretary Daniel Rogers said.

Created by state statute in 1996 to bring more parity to classrooms, the fund has since awarded more than 4,000 minority teaching scholarships.

Of those that went on to earn teaching certificates, 73 percent are still teaching while another 8 percent have transitioned to school administrative roles, FFMT Program Director Cheryl Williams said.

“That’s pretty remarkable in terms of retention in the field,” she said.

The scholarship, available only to juniors in approved education programs, provides up to $2,000 per semester.

The application period for fall scholarships has closed, but the FFMT might make exceptions for USFSM teaching students who apply immediately, Rogers said. He said he expects a handful of applications for the upcoming semester.

Meza said she’s looking to apply again, although by now she might have too many credits to qualify as a junior, possibly knocking her out of contention. Meza also volunteers as a youth-soccer coach in Venice, where she lives, and said she’s always wanted to be a teacher.

Even if she misses out on the scholarship, she said she’s happy to help others.

“It’s only for juniors and even if I’m not eligible, this will help other students so I would be just as happy knowing they wouldn’t have to go through what I’ve gone through,” she said.