The Best and Brightest Choose UWF

December 4, 2018 | Martha D. Saunders, Ph.D.

2018-2019 top scholars

They’re among the best and the brightest in the nation, and they’re brand new to campus. I recently had the pleasure of meeting a group of first-year students who are not your average freshmen. These nine young adults are an elite bunch known as UWF’s “Top Scholars.” Their commitment to academic excellence is paying off, literally. This fall, they were awarded the University’s highest scholarships, valuing more than $50,000 each.

We welcomed four National Merit Finalists as part of our freshman class–the most we’ve ever had–for a total of seven students enrolled to date. James Henderson, Mason Hutchinson, Fiama Mastrangelo and Joshua Wood are among the 1.6 million high school juniors who took the PSAT in 2018. Less than one percent of students in that group qualify as National Merit Scholarship Finalists, and at UWF we award this impressive accomplishment with our most prestigious scholarship–full tuition, room and board, a book stipend and a research stipend.

Gianyce Gesualdo, Isabel Holland, Eden Ridgeway, Matthew Sharpsteen and Olivia Stanhope are this year’s Pace Presidential Scholarship recipients. This scholarship is awarded through the President's Scholarship Competition, a one-day, invitation-only competition open to high school students from across the state who have been offered admission. In conjunction with Florida Bright Futures and financial aid, the scholarship covers tuition, room and board and a book stipend. Students who join the Kugelman Honors Program also receive a research stipend as part of their scholarship award.

All of our recent scholars are unique and they are bringing a variety of backgrounds, diverse interests and differing skill sets to UWF. They’re studying biomedical sciences, computer and information science, engineering, mathematics, nursing, physics, political science, psychology and social work. Although they’re a diverse group, they have one thing in common: out of many options, they all chose UWF.

Nothing makes me happier than awarding more of our top scholarships every year and welcoming such high-caliber students to campus.

Many of our brightest students come from area high schools, a point of pride for UWF. These are high-performing, high-achieving scholars with the potential to change the world, and they’re choosing to take advantage of the quality education found in their backyard.

Katie Condon, the executive director of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, told me she hears it often from the students who could go anywhere: they choose UWF because they want high-impact experiences. They’re looking for honors programs, undergraduate research, study abroad opportunities, experiential learning programs, quality internships and more.

Students not only want to be involved on campus and expand their academic and social awareness, but they also want opportunities to build their resumes and develop the skills necessary to secure employment post-graduation or continue their education at a graduate school.

For National Merit Finalist Mason Hutchinson, a Niceville High School graduate who grew up primarily in Virginia, it was the University’s computer science program that drew him to UWF. He was looking for a stand-out, nationally recognized program in a high-demand field.

“Without having to worry about tuition or housing, I can be free to focus on my education, be exposed to new perspectives and ideas, and still have the freedom to explore new things,” he said.

Matt Sharpsteen, a J.M. Tate High School graduate and one of our Pace Presidential Scholarship recipients, said he learned he received the scholarship while driving to work in downtown Pensacola.

“I had just gotten off the phone with my mom, wishing her a happy birthday, when I noticed my dad calling,” Sharpsteen said. “He asked if he could open and read me a letter I had gotten from the University. I was thrilled to be able to give the ultimate $50,000 birthday present to my mom! But kidding aside, I was more thrilled to have just received the opportunity of a lifetime—the opportunity to attend college and earn my degree debt-free.”

Just about a semester into life as a UWF student, Sharpsteen reports that his professors and advisors have already reached out to him with dozens of unique opportunities related to his interests and major. With his eye on possibly attending law school one day, Sharpsteen plans on joining student government on campus, in addition to studying abroad. He’s also launched his own business in downtown Pensacola: Pensacola Food Tours (check it out)!

Another one of our Pace scholars, Isabel Holland, is a Pensacola native and graduated from West Florida High School with the dream of going to medical school. She said the scholarship allows her to explore her academic interests without financial stress. She plans on getting involved in the American Medical Women’s Association, in addition to many other organizations on campus. With multiple college acceptances, it was UWF’s student-to-faculty ratio, in addition to the scholarship, that ultimately sealed the deal for Holland to become an Argo.

“One morning, there was a message waiting for me that changed my life,” she said. “I had been awarded the Pace Presidential Scholarship. I read the letter over four times before screaming the news to my parents. Whether through research or studying abroad, the opportunities are endless in helping me succeed and achieve my life goals. UWF’s elevated learning and devotion to individuals stands out in comparison to other colleges. Every time I step foot on campus, I am reminded of exactly why I am here.”

To the best and brightest students in Florida, take notice. UWF offers the educational experiences you seek, debt-free. We’re shouting it from the tops of our pine trees, “You belong at UWF!”