Student Awards and Scholarship Celebration yields room full of 'success' and 'magic'

April 6, 2023

Dean Michael Hartline with award winners Gabriella Gonzalez (Emerging Leader Award), Bradley Cusnier (Legacy of Leadership Award) and Joel Weeks (Young Professional Award)
Photo by Kallen Lunt/College of Business

James Wood received some big news last fall: He got accepted into one of the College of Business combined pathways, which would allow him to get a head start on a master's degree through graduate-level courses that would count toward both his bachelor's and master's degrees.

He wasn't sure how he was going to pay for the extra tuition for master's level classes until he got more big news: He'd received a scholarship through a college donor.

"I was thrilled," said Wood, who ended up receiving multiple scholarships this academic year. "I knew I would be able to take more master's level courses without having to worry about the additional costs."

Wood, a senior majoring in real estate and finance and working toward an MBA with a concentration in real estate, spoke as one of several featured guests last week in the annual Student Awards and Scholarship Celebration.

The event drew about 180 people to Tallahassee's AC Marriott hotel for an evening that celebrated top students and the donors who fuel their academic achievements through scholarships, fellowships, assistantships, financial awards, real-world learning experiences and other student support.

Both groups embody excellence, said Michael Hartline, dean of the college.

"We in the College of Business celebrate excellence because it is what our faculty and staff members strive for every day," Hartline told attendees. "Excellence emanates from our planning, partnerships and mission and from our classrooms, roundtables and competitions. Excellence is the core of who we are."

To students and donors, he said, "Thank you for your excellence."

The event, sponsored by the College of Business Board of Governors, also featured remarks from donors Christopher Iansiti (BS finance '92; MS instructional systems '94), chair of the FSU Foundation Board of Trustees and the benefactor of the Christopher E. Iansiti Outstanding Leader Scholarship, and Danny Persaud, a member of the college's Board of Governors executive committee and the benefactor of the Danny Persaud International Student Scholarship.

"In one meeting room," Iansiti said, "we have students, donors, board members, faculty and staff, and when we bring all of that together, we have magic -- we have success."

Iansiti spoke as an engaged alumnus, major donor and fervent fundraiser. He said donors want to, above all, make an impact at a "winning organization" such as FSU and the College of Business. He also said donors were seeing the fruits of their investments in "our best and brightest" students.

He encouraged students to eventually become donors themselves.

To the donors in the room, Iansiti added, "When you think about a return on your investment and seeing all of our students here, this is a great return -- giving back to students who will eventually give back to the college."

Case in point: Cathy Stupski, a retired pre-K teacher who lives in Jacksonville and attended the ceremony with her son Eric, several years ago created the KES Accounting Scholarship in honor of her late husband, Karl, who graduated from the college with a B.S. in accounting in 1976. She recalled how much a scholarship helped their son Matt, who earned a bachelor's degree in accounting in 2013 and a master's degree in accounting degree in 2014, both from FSU.

"We wanted to give back," Stupski said. She said Matt said to her, "'Why don't you give a scholarship? That goes directly to a student. I was a recipient of that.'"

Persaud told attendees he gives to make a difference. He shared his experience as a young child, when he and his family found themselves evicted from their home. Only months before, they'd immigrated from Guyana, with excitement for a new life in the U.S.

Now they were on the street with no money and nowhere to turn.

"Picture a 7-year-old kid in a foreign country," Persaud said. "You don’t know where you are or where you’re going to sleep tonight. I remember that night being on the side of the road, homeless and looking up at my mom and seeing the uncertainty in her eyes. That’s the day I became an entrepreneur."

He now owns eight companies and sees the power of education and generosity. He's an active FSU supporter and major donor.

"There’s an old saying that if you drop a pebble in a pond, it causes a hundred ripples," Persaud said. "I believe one person can help hundreds or thousands. I’ve helped as many people as I can get through college and get a better education."

"I think knowledge is power," he added.

Karly Cantrell, a vice president of the college's Student Leadership Council, recognized students in the Beta Gamma Sigma honor society, the James M. Seneff Honors Program and the Student Leadership Council.

SLC President Natalie Faith Timm announced winners of three inaugural college student awards: Gabriella Gonzalez (Emerging Leader Award), a junior majoring in accounting and marketing; Joel Weeks (Young Professional Award), a senior majoring in finance and management information systems; and Bradley Cusnier (Legacy of Leadership Award), a senior majoring in finance.

Throughout the evening, oversized monitors displayed the names of all 275 college-awarded scholarships for attendees to see. This academic year, 211 students have benefitted from $824,497 in scholarships and awards from the college.

"That's a lot of love," Hartline said. "The sheer volume of our scholarships and investments in students truly illustrates the commitment to excellence of our donors, and we're forever grateful to every one of you – the donors who provide these scholarships and the students who shine excellence on all of us."