Each year, the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee hosts a variety of events that attract people to our campus from the communities we serve.

The venue might be an open community forum like the one we hosted a few weeks ago with political candidates from our region who were running for state and local offices. Other times, people come to our campus for educational workshops, for an evening lecture on an important social issue, for a day-long financial literacy seminar for investors, or to express their views about USF system-wide events like consolidation.

It is also common to see K-12 students participate in programs at USFSM that introduce them to college and inspire them to work toward earning a college degree.

As a student-centered, community-engaged institution, USFSM empowers students to lead lives of impact. We prepare our students to be productive members of the workforce, committed to the Sarasota-Manatee community — and beyond.

This past weekend, USFSM celebrated the 25th anniversary of Brunch on the Bay, our premier event, and we were reminded once again about the important partnerships we have with members of our community. We were also reminded once again how generous our community is in supporting scholarships for USFSM students.

This year, the event certainly was a “feel-good” affair. It was wonderful to welcome leaders from USF Tampa, including USF System President Judy Genshaft, who hasn’t missed the event in her 18 years of service and considers the brunch “one of the highlights of the year.” The USF Herd of Thunder Band, the USF cheerleaders and Rocky the Bull (taking selfies with everybody) added spirit that is uniquely characteristic of a university and contributed immeasurably to the energy of the event.

You could just feel the sense of pride.

Since its humble beginnings in 1994, when a group of community supporters decided to organize an event to raise both awareness of the university and funds for student scholarships, Brunch on the Bay’s purpose has been to create the resources to provide educational opportunities for those who otherwise might not have them. The event is designed to accomplish a very clear and simple goal of funding scholarships — more than 1,700 during its 25 years of existence — but it also has become a wonderful social event filled with great food and fellowship, a place where friendships are formed and rekindled year after year.

Scholarships that have been funded by brunch attendees support students like featured speaker Kayla Collins, a criminology major who will become the first member of her family to earn a college degree when she walks across the stage at commencement in 2020. Scholarships made it possible for Francisco Loera to complete an unpaid student-teaching assignment last year; he is now a first-grade teacher at Palmetto Elementary. Scholarships are making a degree possible for James McKenzie, who lost his job in the economic downturn and was homeless when he enrolled at USFSM. McKenzie is on track to graduate with a degree in hospitality management in 2019.

Hundreds of other students, the majority of them local, have benefited from brunch scholarships because of the remarkable generosity of the Sarasota-Manatee community. Nearly $1.2 million in scholarships have been awarded and a scholarship endowment of $1.3 million continues to grow.

We are grateful for the incredible community support. It is impressive and powerful.

It is also humbling and deeply appreciated by students who will join our community as contributing members of society.

Thank you, Sarasota-Manatee!


Karen Holbrook is the regional chancellor of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.