In 2008 when Michelle Avaroma came to Florida State University as a freshman, she already had a love for working in her community. She believed that Florida State could help turn this love into both her passion and vocation — and it has, thanks in large part to the Garnet and Gold Scholar Society, a program that recently received a $250,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
“In high school, service was an interest — it was a club after school. It was a place where I could go and meet friends and work in the community,” Avaroma said. “At Florida State, it really became my passion. I got to learn so much more about issues and concerns affecting our community and the world. Florida State opened my eyes to it.”
The Garnet and Gold Scholar Society stresses community and civic engagement, leadership, international study, internship and student research. Students who meet the criteria in at least three of these five areas and write a paper outlining their complete experience are eligible for induction into the society. Inductees are recognized at commencement with a medal and their transcripts reflect membership.
The grant from the Knight Foundation will be used to provide scholarships to select students who successfully meet the community and civic engagement requirements of the program.
“My colleagues and I are grateful to the Knight Foundation for its generous support of the Garnet and Gold Scholar Society. They recognized that amazing things can happen when private philanthropy partners with a tier-one research university like Florida State,” said Tom Jennings, Florida State’s vice president for University Advancement and president of the FSU Foundation. “The Garnet and Gold Scholar Society emphasizes core tenets of FSU’s mission and values — including civic and community engagement — and I am happy that the Knight Foundation is helping us in this effort.”
Not only has the Knight Foundation supported the Garnet and Gold Scholar Society, the FSU Student Foundation also has donated more than $200,000 to support the society.
“The fact that our students are supporting this program speaks volumes as to the value they place on gaining hands-on, real-world experiences on issues they feel passionate about,” said Mary Coburn, vice president for Student Affairs at Florida State. “I am delighted that the Knight Foundation decided to also support this program, thereby serving as an additional incentive for more students to take part in the Garnet and Gold Scholar Society.”
Florida State’s immediate goal is to raise funds to support each element of the Garnet and Gold Scholar Society: leadership; internship; service; research; and international experience. For example, private support can help ease the financial burden for students, such as Avaroma, who must live away from campus to complete internships and community service projects or pursue entrepreneurial activities.
President Eric J. Barron founded the Garnet and Gold Scholar Society in 2010 and its inaugural class of 31 students was inducted in April 2011. To date, 124 students have been inducted into the society, and more than 375 students are actively working to meet the requirements to become Garnet and Gold Scholars.
“Excellence in teaching is the foundation for student success,” Barron said. “However, we can do much more than offer cutting-edge content delivered by top-notch faculty and the Garnet and Gold Scholar Society is one way we can offer more. We know that meaningful experiences in and out of the classroom inspire and transform students. Extensive data now proves that students engaged in worthwhile experiences have higher grade point averages, are happier and are more competitive in the job market.”
For Avaroma, who graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 2012 and is now pursuing her master’s degree at Florida State in public administration with specialization in nonprofit management, the positive experience she had while pursuing the requirements of the Garnet and Gold Scholar Society is something she shares readily. She speaks regularly to new students at orientation and spreads the word about the importance and benefits of the program.
“I tell new students that they should take part in the Garnet and Gold Scholar Society because it will bring a whole new love and appreciation to their Florida State experience,” Avaroma said. “Through their reflective essay that they complete at the end of the program, they will have a better understanding of everything they’ve done at FSU and realize everything they’ve accomplished and how it will help them follow their passion and what they want to do in life.”