TAMPA — More than 70 students at the University of South Florida's Muma College of Business have Barry and Dana Collier to thank for helping launch their careers.
The couple has donated $480,000 over the past six years to fund the Collier Scholarship and Muma's corporate mentor program, which helps students who are the first in their families to attend college.
"America is the land of opportunity, and you hear such negative news about it not being as opportunistic as it used to be and I think it still is," Barron "Barry" Collier III said. "To see just how incredible these students are and what they've had to persevere through, it's a testament to the human spirit."
In that vein, on Aug. 28 the Colliers donated an additional $10.9 million to USF, money that will be used to help even more business students.
Dean Moez Limayem hopes the newly renamed Collier Student Success Center will beef up business students' post-graduate "soft skills" — writing a resume, chatting in an elevator, networking at a dinner party. These, he says, will bring the business school closer to its goal of 100 percent employment or continuing education for students after graduation.
Some of those recently graduated students shared with the Colliers what impact the scholarship — which gives thousands of dollars to a handful of students each year — had on their lives.
Here are their stories.
Jacri Stubbs, 24
When Jacri Stubbs was 7, his father when sentenced to 10 years in prison for dealing drugs.
By middle school, Stubbs was on the same path.
His neighborhood was violent. He was robbed blocks from home and, he said, wrongfully arrested.
"I had no faith in my community's authoritative figures, and ended up not having much faith in myself," Stubbs said.
When he got to Miramar High School, he knew he had to turn it around — and help his four siblings do the same.
He graduated from high school, but the idea of college came with challenges, too. And after his acceptance to USF came more work. He worked to understand every resource available to him, got a job, joined the corporate mentor program — and got the Collier Scholarship.
Stubbs is in New York City now. He has been promoted twice in his 3½ years in advertising and now he's an advertising account executive at Havas Health.
He realizes how lucky he is.
"When I visit home, I see this constant cycle of not graduating high school and having babies and going to jail," he said. "I always didn't see myself in that light."
Every day, he wakes up and thinks of all the "had nots."
Had I not defied stereotypes.
Had I not invested in myself.
Had others not invested in me, too.
Stubbs once heard that 80 percent of kids with an incarcerated parent also end up in prison.
"I can't imagine what kind of life I would be leading had no one invested in me," he said. "I am not the 80 percent."
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Shari-Ann Myers, 25
Hometown: Palm Bay
Shari-Ann Myers was 14 when her family moved to the United States from Jamaica.
Her parents both had held good jobs. But their certifications didn't translate and they didn't land the better-paying jobs they had imagined. Both worked hourly jobs while attending trade schools, but her father became disabled after an accident.
Myers began working several part-time jobs her first year at USF. She refereed basketball games and put in hours at Sam's Club. She was a teaching assistant for business calculus and tutored her peers.
In her freshman year, she paid her family's phone bill. In her sophomore year, she picked up even more of their expenses.
She's thankful for that work. It helped her land six internships in her field throughout college, including this summer with PricewaterhouseCoopers, where she'll return as a full-time tax associate after completing her master's degree in May.
"It's definitely a dream job," she said. "For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a tax accountant."
The Collier Scholarship came at a critical time. It made possible her study-abroad program in Spain. There, she learned different European accounting methods she wouldn't have had in class in the United States. That helped her land an internship with a company with overseas clients.
"I definitely think the American dream is difficult to achieve, but there are people out there striving for it," Myers said.
She remembers when they first came to the United States and were never allowed to eat out. Now, she says, they can treat themselves.
They were even able to go out for Thanksgiving.
Kelli Immel, 25
Heading to college, Kelli Immel had love and emotional support from family, but lacked financial support.
At the Muma College of Business, she intended to pursue a career in finance.
But it wasn't in her heart.
"I met Jesus and he gave me a new dream, and from that place I wanted to find an avenue in which I could serve," Immel said.
And for three years in college she did serve, through college ministry, with the Underground Network, a Tampa nonprofit that serves as a resource for smaller Christian nonprofits in the Tampa Bay area.
The Collier Scholarship allowed Immel to graduate with degrees in marketing and psychology without debt, and begin working full time at the nonprofit.
"Truth is, I quite literally could not do what I currently do if I had graduated with student debt," she wrote to Barry Collier in a letter.
For no cost, the Underground Network provides financial services, training, coaching, event planning and other resources to startup ministries "so that they can care for those in our city that are most hurting and disadvantaged," she wrote. "I believe so deeply in the work that I do that I have no trouble getting paid what many consider to be a very small wage.
"Your generosity has allowed me to help hundreds of people as they care for those that many have turned away from," she said. Men coming out of addictions. Women rescued from the sex industry. Children with special needs.
"Your gift was not just a gift that allowed me to avoid paying back loans, it was a gift that freed me to do what I feel like God has asked me to do, hopefully while helping those in our city that need it the most."
Contact Anne Steele at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400. Follow @annemariesteele.