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Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Jonique Simmons almost didn’t come to UF.

Although she had been accepted, Simmons said she had no way of covering the costs. That’s when the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program stepped in to help her.

“When I found out I got FOS, it just changed my whole life,” the UF sport management freshman said.

President Bernie Machen created the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program in 2005. The program provides full grant and scholarship packages to first-generation college students at UF. Between 2012 and 2013, the program received more than $12 million to fund students, according to the program’s website.

“He paved the way for a lot of students to come to the University of Florida,” Simmons, 18, said. “He just gave us the opportunity to achieve our dreams.”

With Machen’s time at UF almost over, students like Alexa Tsongranis said they are sad to see him go.

Tsongranis, a UF psychology and advertising junior, said Machen felt like a friend to the scholars.

“Not only is he the reason I’m at this school, FOS has kept me at this school,” Tsongranis, 21, said.

According to the program’s website, the program has supported more than 2,900 students since 2006.

Machen made sure he was accessible and visible to the program’s students, said Leslie Pendleton, the program director.

“Any opportunity he had, he would attend events we hosted,” Pendleton said. “He really loved the program, and he is very beloved by the students.”

Machen attended the Florida Opportunity Scholars Program reception in September and took individual photos with all 300 scholars.

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“It really showed how much he appreciated us and how much he cared about our future,” Simmons said.

While the program’s students are sad to see Machen go, they said they are excited to see how incoming President Kent Fuchs will move forward with the program.

“The program we have is so beneficial and creates so many opportunities for students,” said Liza Allison, a 21-year-old UF tourism, events and recreation management junior. “If he doesn’t know that yet, he will know it. There’s no need to change it in any way unless to better it.”

Florida Opportunity Scholar and public relations senior Agassy Rodriguez said he was rooting for Fuchs.

“I hope he continues that tradition of being open with the students, even though he wasn’t the one who created the scholarship,” the 21-year-old said.

[A version of this story ran on page 8 on 10/20/2014]

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