Inaugural Scholars Luncheon raises funds for student scholarships

By Linda Joffe

Guests listen to a New College student talk about his work at the college.
Guests listen to a New College student talk about his work at the college.

The New College Foundation hosted Our Students Transform the World: New College of Florida Scholars Inaugural Luncheon March 14, at Michael’s on East in Sarasota. Christine Jennings, vice chair of the New College Foundation Board of Trustees, conceived of the event and organized a planning committee that attracted more than 350 guests to the event.

“For years, there’s been confusion about New College and its purpose,” stated Jennings. “It’s not a school for rich kids, and the students have diverse interests and backgrounds. We wanted an opportunity to tell the New College story, and to create 350 new ambassadors who can go out into the Sarasota-Manatee community and share that story with others.”

Proceeds from the event will support single-semester scholarships valued at $2,500 each and enable 23 students to attend New College for one semester, based on in-state tuition.

“The majority of New College students receive some form of financial aid, and 30 percent receive Pell grants, which means their families have very scarce resources,” said President Donal O’Shea in his opening remarks. “Scholarships make all the difference for them in being able to attend college. While we have the lowest tuition in the state, it is still a reach for many families. Our mission is to help support all of our students so that they can attend New College and receive a top-notch education.”

New College students shared the impact scholarships have had on their academic careers with luncheon attendees during a brief listening session. Faculty members also spoke with guests about the high-level research they and their students conduct at the college. They reinforced O’Shea’s notion of New College as “a graduate school for undergraduates.”

New College students Alex Koutelias and Cassidy Heaton each described what financial support has meant to their New College experience.

Cassidy Heaton and her service dog address luncheon attendees.
Cassidy Heaton and her service dog address luncheon attendees.

“I am beyond thankful to be at New College, a school that cares about keeping a well-rounded liberal arts education accessible to all,” said Koutelias, who heads to an arts management graduate school program next fall. “Through the scholarships offered to me, many of my aspirations have become realities. There are hundreds of students at this school who share my drive, my passion and my desire to impact the world in a positive fashion.”

Heaton, who initially turned down admission to New College in favor of the University of Chicago, transferred to New College after two years at the university.

“It feels sometimes like a hundred things had to fall into place for me to be here, but one of the most critical pieces is also one of the easiest to overlook,” she said. “Without significant financial aid and scholarship contributions, I would never have been able to come to New College…. I will always be grateful, and I know I will pay it forward. I can’t wait to show you what I can do.”

New College alumna Mary Ruiz, a strategic growth consultant, addressed the luncheon and spoke of the impact New College has had on her life. Ruiz, a former chief strategy officer at Centerstone of America and former CEO of Centerstone of Florida, was the first in her family to attend college.

“New College was the only place I wanted to attend,” recalled Ruiz, an urban studies major who went on to receive an MBA from the University of South Florida, “but I had a very big problem. I aimed to be first in my family to go to college, but my family had nothing to spare for my education. Thankfully, New College offered a partial scholarship and I won a national scholarship from General Mills Corporation.” By the time she graduated from New College, Ruiz had a resumé full of prestigious for-credit internships and landed a job within six months.

The New College Foundation will continue to host its annual scholarship fundraiser, Clambake, this year Nov. 7 on the New College Bayfront.

— Linda Joffe is a communications specialist at the New College Foundation. Associate Director of Communications Liz Lebron contributed to this article.


Located in Sarasota, New College of Florida has educated intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement since its founding in 1960. As the State of Florida’s designated honors college, New College provides an exceptional education that transforms students’ intellectual curiosity into personal accomplishment. The 110-acre campus on Sarasota Bay is home to more than 800 students and 80 full-time faculty engaged in interdisciplinary research and collaborative learning. New College offers nearly 40 areas of concentration for undergraduates and a master’s degree program in Data Science.

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