The Power of the Collective: 15 Years of Women in Leadership & Philanthropy at USF
Dec. 21, 2020
For Carol Morsani, it began with a meeting between herself, Julie Gillespie and Dr. Juel Smith.
“Julie brought us all together to convince us this was a good idea and something that was needed,” said Morsani.
The “good idea” was creating the first women’s philanthropic organization in the Tampa Bay region focused on developing the intellectual and leadership potential of women. This idea, launched by Morsani, Founding Executive Director Dr. Juel Smith and a small group of founding members, became USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy (WLP). Fast-forward to today and WLP has grown tremendously in size, scope and impact, boasting more than 330 individual and 26 corporate members, but recruiting the first of these was a task Morsani described in one word: difficult.
“When you start a new program, especially when it is the first of its kind, nobody knows quite what it’s going to be or how it’s going to develop,” she said. Many women she talked to felt USF was geographically too far for them to get involved, but Morsani encouraged them to come to campus and learn more. “It was a struggle to begin with, but we did it.”
In the 15 years since its founding, WLP has raised more than $6 million to assist students and faculty members. More than $1 million of that has been in scholarship support awarded to almost 1,000 students.
Scholars receive more than just funds, as WLP members also mentor students and provide transformational leadership development, training and networking opportunities.
WLP recently launched the InvestInHER Student Support program to provide emergency financial assistance and supplemental support to ensure that WLP scholars succeed.
In addition to providing scholarship awards for students, each year WLP awards six grants through the Dr. Kathleen Moore Faculty Excellence Award program to faculty members at USF whose research and creative efforts focus on women, women’s issues and women’s initiatives. Recipients receive a one-time, $5,000 award to recognize faculty research and instructional excellence and to support their continued scholarship.
Wanting to recognize WLP’s milestone anniversary and publicly acknowledge her satisfaction with the evolution of the program, in March 2020, Morsani met with WLP Executive Director India Witte to make a $100,000 gift to establish the WLP/Faculty Excellence Award Endowment in support of the faculty award program.
“I think it’s an excellent idea to help women with their research and their professional pursuits. It pleases me to help women reach their goals, and I encourage other women to do the same sort of thing,” said Morsani.
Morsani is overjoyed to the see the organization she helped found flourishing.
“When we started the program, we hoped it would be successful. Never could I imagine how it has grown and flourished, that it would be here 15 years down the road, prospering and helping women and helping faculty,” said Morsani. “I’m just pleased and proud. I think it is a wonderful program.”