Donor’s Gift Keeps Creating Student Philanthropists


The ballots were collected, the votes counted and with the stroke of a pen, FIU Communication Arts students put $10,000 to work for special needs children. Meanwhile, across town, another group of FIU students presented their choices for projects to be funded to a panel of judges and another $10,000 was put to work providing medication to low-income Liberty City residents with HIV/AIDS. These amazing opportunities for students to assume the role of advocates and philanthropists came about because of the gift of retired financial executive and current FIU student at the Biscayne Bay Campus, Herb Gruber, along with his partner Donna Lee Steffens (06).

In the Fall of 2014, Gruber and Steffens offered to award $25,000 to a local non-profit to be chosen by FIU students enrolled in a philanthropy-themed course. The Communication Arts Department’s Advanced Public Speaking class was chosen from dozens of course submissions and the new course model was implemented. With the success of the first class and its winning project – IDEAS for US – a local chapter of a national student-founded and -run organization that funds sustainable projects, Gruber and Steffens committed to donating another $20,000 to two classes this past spring.  The original class, Advanced Public Speaking class (SPC 3602) taught by Elena Nuciforo at the Modesto A. Maidique Campus and Daniel Blaeuer’s Business and Professional Communication class (COM 3110) at the Biscayne Bay Campus, were selected.

Following the course model, students in the classes chose South Florida-based non-profits and conducted extensive research on the charities, including their donation history, community impact, and financial reviews. They then presented their research to the class and advocated for their selected charities. Each class voted and narrowed the selections to five projects that would compete for the award. Students re-formed into five teams to drill down and prepare final presentations of the five projects. Each team was required to provide a comprehensive presentation of the selected organization, including information on the project’s proposed recipients, a plan of action, and a detailed budget.

The winning presentation for Elena Nuciforo’s class was given by students Andrea Dominguez, Roger Enamorado, Stephanie Barcenas, Jazmin Colon, Jeffrey Sarasola, Priscilla Mercado, and Sophia Borges (featured in photo above) in support of the non-profit One Child at a Time, which seeks to address the underlying causes of children’s learning impediments though educational therapy. The specific project proposal will fund the 2015 summer program. The $10,000 award will fund the complete costs for 20 children.

Group leader, Priscilla Mercado began an internship in January 2015 with One Child at a Time and knew she wanted to help the organization. Working closely with Miriam Jordan, founder of the non-profit, Mercado’s team was able to come up with a comprehensive plan for the donation.

“Because Priscilla and the team brought awareness to the commitment of One Child at a Time, we were already winners. The donation is ‘icing on the cake’ and insures access to our program for these children and their families,” said Jordan.

Professor Daniel Blaeuer’s winning team included students Melissa Cano, Kayla Johnson, and Katherine Hernandez, who supported EmpowerU, a federally-qualified health center providing affordable medical care to those who are financially limited to pay for the care that they desperately need.  Their primary constituency is in Liberty City, which has been classified as a “medically underserved area/ population” with a “primary health care professional shortage.” The $10,000 donation will cover the one year costs of medicine for almost 700 EmpowerU clients with HIV/AIDS, who have no other way afford these costs.

“This experience has been personally transformative, because we received the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of people who suffer from HIV/AIDS.  They have enough on their plates without worrying about how to pay for medicine.  We would like to thank Professor Blaeuer for teaching us about civic engagement and Joey Wynn and Joseph Adams from Empower U, whose compassion and commitment brought this project to life. Finally, we would like to thank the generous benefactors who enabled us to create real change for a population in need. This opportunity will never be forgotten,” said Kayla Johnson, group leader of the EmpowerU student team.

With three successful projects funded and thousands of people served, Gruber and Steffens’ gifts are introducing students to the vital work of non-profit organizations and, it is hoped, creating future philanthropists.  The project will continue in the Fall of 2015.

To learn more about the Fall 2014 philanthropy class or the Communication Arts Department and its classes, faculty, and community engagement work, read more.



Search this website