New scholarship at USF Sarasota-Manatee to assist graduates of Visible Men Academy

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New scholarship at USF Sarasota-Manatee to assist graduates of Visible Men Academy
SARASOTA, Fla. (June 19, 2019) – The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee is excited to announce the creation of a scholarship to assist graduates of Visible Men Academy (VMA), a free public charter school that serves predominantly at-risk elementary-aged students in Bradenton and Sarasota.

Endowed by David Kotok and Christine Schlesinger, supporters of VMA, the Visible Men Academy Scholarship will provide VMA graduates with financial assistance for tuition, books and other supplies throughout their education at USFSM.

“The room was abuzz with excitement when, at a recent event, parents learned about the scholarship,” said Schlesinger, who serves on VMA’s board of directors. “All of a sudden there was a path for their son to go to college. These are families who can’t afford meals sometimes. This is life changing.”

Kotok, the founder of Sarasota-based investment firm Cumberland Advisors, said, “With this scholarship fund, a pathway to a college degree will be available to those who could otherwise not afford it. Selection is based on merit. The focus is on Sarasota and Manatee residents.”

The scholarship represents USF Sarasota-Manatee’s commitment to providing access to higher education to underserved students from the local community.

“We are very grateful to David and Christine, and the Visible Men Academy, for providing a pathway for these young boys to earn a scholarship to USFSM,” Regional Chancellor Karen A. Holbrook said. “We are committed to providing a supportive environment where students can achieve their dreams, and I am so pleased that this scholarship will provide even greater access to USFSM’s broad array of academic programs and the many other opportunities our students experience.”

Visible Men Academy, 921 63rd Ave. E., Bradenton, serves more than 100 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. The school opened in 2013 with the mission of providing a high-quality education that meets the needs of at-risk elementary-aged boys through the collaborative efforts of students, teachers, administrators and parents. The school was designated an “A”-rated school in 2018.

“The thrust of the Visible Men Academy mission is to connect underserved boys to a strong sense of future possibility,” CEO and Head of the School Neil Phillips said. “This connection directly and positively impacts a young person’s ability to make good decisions to preserve their dreams. This magnificent USFSM scholarship provides us with a tangible and attainable opportunity to which our boys can strive. This is powerful and immensely meaningful to our school, and, most importantly, to our highly deserving students and families.”

Before receiving the Visible Men Academy Scholarship, VMA graduates must meet USFSM admissions requirements, including those related to SAT/ACT scores and Grade Point Average.

Once admitted, students may contact USFSM financial aid counselors to apply for the VMA scholarship or other USF Foundation scholarships. The scholarship will be available to VMA graduates enrolled in any of USFSM’s four colleges: the College of Business, the College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences, the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership and the College of Science & Mathematics.

Lee Williams, regional vice chancellor at USFSM, said the idea for the scholarship occurred after USFSM representatives, along with Schlesinger and Kotok, toured the facility about a year ago.

“I left the VMA campus tour with a deeper appreciation for the importance of early education,” Williams said. “The VMA leadership and staff truly care about children, and USFSM is pleased to participate in this effort. We are also humbled that Christine Schlesinger and David Kotok are spearheading the scholarship endowment.”

The scholarship comes as VMA is reaching out with other programs to ensure continued success of its graduates. Among them, the academy launched the SunBridge Program in the 2017-18 academic year to support VMA fifth graders as they prepare to transition to middle school.

This successful program assists parents and VMA graduates with onsite visits, discussion groups and other activities to prepare students for middle school – a critical step in their academic development. Additionally, SunBridge assists students in attaining scholarships to such prominent institutions as the Out-of-Door Academy and St. Stephen’s Episcopal School.

The first VMA graduates will be eligible to enter USF Sarasota-Manatee in fall 2026.

For more information about the Visible Men Academy Scholarship, or to contribute to the scholarship fund or any other fund that supports USF Sarasota-Manatee students, visit or call Lee Williams at (941) 359-4582.


About USF Sarasota-Manatee (USFSM)
USF Sarasota-Manatee is a regional campus of the University of South Florida system, offering the prestige of a nationally ranked research university with the convenience of a hometown location, including classes in Manatee and Sarasota counties and online. USFSM is ideal for those interested in pursuing a baccalaureate or master’s degree, professional certification, or continuing education credit in a small, personal setting with distinguished faculty and a dynamic curriculum of more than 40 academic programs. Website:

About Visible Men Academy (VMA)
Visible Men Academy is a tuition free, all-boys public charter school serving at-risk boys from Sarasota and Manatee Counties. VMA exists to provide boys from low-income communities an outstanding academic, character and social education in a nurturing school environment. Website:

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