Nearly 70 smiles young and old beamed from the crowd as an oversized pair of scissors clipped the red ribbon in front of the Teresa Turner Learning Center in Gainesville.
Students, staff, donors and politicians alike gathered at 1065 SW Ninth Street to witness the grand opening on Saturday of a new $600,000 learning center dedicated to students and staff members of the Southern Scholarship Foundation. The SSF, which provides rent-free living in cooperative housing to students with financial need, academic merit and strong character, has wanted to open a learning center for its students for nearly 15 years.
Teresa Turner, the director of student affairs for central Florida at the Southern Scholarship Foundation is well-loved by the staff and the 165 students the foundation serves in Gainesville.
She had no idea the new building would be named after her.
“I’m so overwhelmed,” Turner said. “I can’t stop smiling.”
The space dedicated to the students features high-speed business-class wireless internet, two televisions, a chalkboard wall, a conference room, tables, chairs and a study counter fitted with adjustable privacy dividers. There are also two private rooms available to students that they can reserve in advance for online-proctored exams or video interviews. When the private spaces and conference rooms are not reserved, they will be open to students.
For students like Bernadine Vassor, a junior at the University of Florida, who is living in a scholarship house without a study room, the 24/7 learning center is everything she wished for.
The 20-year-old political science major enjoys studying at night and feels confident that the learning center will be a safe place for her to get her work done.
“Sometimes, if I was in the library on campus until 1 a.m., I would just stay there and sleep until it was light outside again,” Vassor said. “Now, with this new learning center, I don’t have to worry about staying the night to study. I can easily drive to my scholarship house which is just five minutes away.”
Another student, Jamal Joseph, plans to use the 24/7 learning center to help him stay focused on his 14-credit hour semester studying computer science.
The 18-year-old freshman at Santa Fe College heard about the Southern Scholarship Foundation through his mom, who encouraged him to apply. He is one of the handful of Santa Fe College students who have the opportunity to live in one of the nine scholarship houses in Gainesville.
“I never expected to get in,” Joseph said. “I’ve been able to focus on my schoolwork without worrying about how I’m going to be able to pay my rent every month.”
He said the learning center will make it easier for him to focus on his studies, even though he lives in a house with a small communal study space.
For students like Vassor and Joseph, the learning center will serve as a much-needed study space to assist them in reaching their future goals both in college and beyond.
House manager and student affairs coordinator Ben Stecker, 21, is excited for his house residents to utilize the brand-new facility.
“I think our students appreciate it,” Stecker said. “They see it as a confirmation of what SSF stands for which is supporting students and their education.”
Shawn Woodin, president and chief executive of Southern Scholarship Foundation paused after the ribbon-cutting ceremony to soak it all in.
“I am just so elated the day is finally here,” Woodin said.