Scholarship Luncheon Celebrates Community Support of Brilliant Students

Published on Wednesday, April 26th, 2017 by David Gulliver
New College of Florida students Sabrina Finn, Yara Rincon and Mackenna Jensen with Mary Anne Young, executive director of the New College Foundation, and New College President Don O’Shea at the Foundation’s Scholarship Luncheon.

The New College Foundation’s annual Scholarship Luncheon brought together dozens of Sarasota and Bradenton leaders and celebrated their combined gifts of more than $750,000 to support academically gifted but financially needy students, and $60,000 to support student research projects.

The luncheon, on Thursday, April 20, at the foundation’s offices on the New College campus, brought together approximately 20 students with more than 60 donors who support them.

Among the attendees were Felice Schulaner, Francine Blum, Bill and Betsy Johnston, Bonnie Haber, Alexandra Jupin and John Bean, Audrey and Bill Coleman, Mike and Marie Pender, George and Tina Skestos, Altom and Jennifer Maglio, Roseanne Martarello, and Alison Gardner and Jan Sirota.

New College President Don O’Shea thanked the attendees for providing students with an unparalleled education.

“The uniqueness of New College is the ethos of our students and faculty, which can be described in a word: curiosity. It’s a desire and drive to follow that curiosity wherever it takes them,” he said.

“You have a critical role in making that New College education possible. We think of our students as academic athletes. Your generosity helps us attract the best and brightest students in a highly competitive academic arena.”

More than 50 percent of New College students require financial assistance to attend college, and 28 percent come from low-income families that qualify for federal Pell Grants.

Three students gave short speeches thanking the supporters. Sabrina Finn, a third-year student from Ohio, is studying language and cognitive neuropsychology, and her research has included documenting isolated languages in the Amazon rainforest. She referred to part of the New College motto in her talk.

“I know that my spirit of ‘ecstatic wonder’ has grown immensely thanks to my education at New College. I have become more passionate, more academically engaged, and more open-minded,” she said.

“I have grown persistent, confident and strong because of my time here, and I have forged some of the most profoundly impactful relationships of my entire life with the professors, friends, and classmates who make up a part of this community.”

This summer, she’ll be conducting field research in Taiwan on grammatical structures of Mandarin Chinese for her senior thesis project. She hopes to pursue a doctorate in neurolinguistics – and someday return to New College as a professor.

Yara Rincon, a third-year student from New Jersey, told supporters about her academic journey. She grew up dreaming of being the next Jacques Cousteau. “He was everything I wanted to be – he was fluent in French, he was an inventor, he was a renowned marine biologist, he traveled, he was in filmography and he had a positive impact on the world.”

Fast-forward, she said, and she has succeeded – she speaks French, she is a certified diver, a photographer and has studied marine biology. She even met Cousteau’s son, Jean-Michel.

But at New College, she has been able to do advanced genetics research that changed her plans, and she now is studying biochemistry. She won a research opportunity this summer that will place her in the labs at Northeastern University, with some of the world’s leading mitochondrial researchers.

“I look forward to discovering my potential and realizing the impact I can have on others,” she said. “And ultimately, I am glad that I was able to find my own path.”

On the other hand, Mackenna Jensen is staying with marine biology. The second-year student, also from Ohio, said she has always loved the water, from Fort Erie as a child to oceans and aquariums as she grew up.

She learned of New College through a postcard about summer programs for younger students, and the possibilities for marine biology spoke to her. “I remember crying, because it was just so perfect, a great program, small, right on the water, and plenty of opportunities for hands-on work,” she said.

So far, she said, she has studied the biology of sharks, rays and skates, learned anatomy, and got that hands-on work by tagging sharks from the College’s research boat.

“I’ve had all these opportunities I don’t think I would have had anywhere else, and in just my first two years,” she said.

Charles Hamilton, a New College charter class alumnus, has supported scholarships for years. But having recently moved back to Sarasota, he was able to meet the current class of students in person.

“Observing New College from a distance, one can easily miss how smart students are, how sensitive and ambitious they are, and how moving their stories and their dreams are,” he said. “This luncheon reminded me of that, and made me long to see how they all turn out.”