Founded by students in the first College of Medicine class at Florida State University, FSUCares remains devoted to underserved and unprivileged populations, both locally and internationally, while exposing and preparing future physicians for the changing faces of medicine and society.
Putting its alignment with the college’s mission statement to practice, the FSUCares SSTRIDE Student Award Fund provides scholarship assistance to college-bound high school seniors from the Science Students Together Reaching Instructional Diversity & Excellence (SSTRIDE) program.
Through its first two years, the fund has awarded nine scholarships to students intent on pursuing degrees in STEM fields to assist in their transition to Florida State University. Through gifts to the FSUCares SSTRIDE Student Award Fund SPARK Campaign, organizers hope to add at least three more students from the 2024 high school graduating class to that count.
“SSTRIDE prepared me for college by giving me academic support and mentorship, while also giving me experiences in the medical field that led me to the decision of my future career,” said FSU sophomore Arianna Gomez-Martinez, a graduate of the SSTRIDE Collier County program and 2022 FSUCares SSTRIDE Scholarship recipient.
“Getting scholarships took the burden off my parents and me when we were struggling to find a way to pay for my education,” added Gomez-Martinez, an Immokalee High School graduate who is studying to become a medical social worker. “It allowed me to come to college stress-free and to focus only on my schoolwork.”
That is precisely what FSUCares Past-President Neha Saini, a member of the M.D. Class of 2024, hoped the scholarship program would accomplish when it was established. A SSTRIDE mentor dating back to 2018, she has a great appreciation for the many challenges facing the programs’ participants.
“All of us at FSUCares are so grateful for the support this scholarship has received,” Saini said. “The satisfaction derived from offering these opportunities to alleviate financial burdens is immeasurable. [SSTRIDE] goes beyond mere academic support; it’s about empowering individuals from challenging backgrounds to pursue their aspirations.”
Josica Previlus, a first-generation college student and another scholarship recipient in 2022 from the Immokalee program, credits the resources provided by her SSTRIDE experience for opening her eyes to career possibilities within STEM.
A sophomore double-majoring in criminology and information technology, she is exploring career possibilities in cyber security, possibly in a health setting.
“Receiving scholarships was the sole reason I did not need to take out any loans,” Previlus said. “It paved my journey to FSU.”
Leah Wojtaszek and Kaley Maze, graduates of the SSTRIDE program in Sarasota County, were among the three scholarship recipients in 2023. Freshmen at FSU, they are on different undergraduate paths with the same goal: attending medical school.
Wojtaszek, who attended Sarasota High School, was accepted into the Interdisciplinary Medical Sciences Pre-Clinical Professions program. Maze, who graduated from Sarasota’s Booker High School, is majoring in cell and molecular neuroscience. Each cited SSTRIDE experiences for influencing their career plans.
Still uncertain of whether she will become a physician or a medical researcher, Wojtaszek found her passion for a health-care career through SSTRIDE’s guest speakers and clinical skills experiences, such as the visiting physical therapist who taught the class how to wrap an ankle with kinesiology tape.
Maze hopes to become a neurologist and credits SSTRIDE’s Pre-Med Mentoring Program for providing the guidance necessary to navigate college life. But her favorite experience was attending the recent SSTRIDE Alumni Leadership Conference, where networking opportunities with SSTRIDE alumni physicians buoyed her confidence as she follows her chosen career path.
“Without scholarships, I would not be at FSU,” Maze said.
“Seeing these positive transformations and knowing that we contribute to creating more equitable opportunities for these students brings a profound sense of fulfillment to me and my FSUCares peers,” Saini said. “The collective efforts of medical students joining forces to support younger students facing similar challenges conveys a powerful message about the values upheld by the College of Medicine.”
Contributions to the FSUCares SSTRIDE Student Award Fund SPARK Campaign, which will be directed to the 2024 scholarship recipients, will be accepted through March 1.