FIU Business Now Magazine
 
THE MAGAZINE OF FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY'S COLLEGE OF BUSINESS
 
The Power of Giving Back

The Power of Giving Back

By Ellen Forman

When Samuel Hernandez (BBA '20) stepped on the FIU campus in 2016, he dove into student activities and found a second home, a place that would enable him to fulfill many of his goals. Yet Hernandez, who had arrived from Cuba a mere two years before starting college, knew that paying for his education would be a challenge.

After initial uncertainty about his major, by his junior year, he found a passion for finance. He joined the Phoenician Investment Fund (PIF), which prepares its members for investment banking and Wall Street careers. Yet as graduation neared, his anxiety about how he could afford his tuition grew.

It was then that he learned about the BMI First Generation Scholarship. Inspired by BMI Companies founder Tony Sierra, whose journey to achieving the American dream began with selling insurance door-to-door at the onset of his nearly 50-year-old firm, BMI provides up to two years of full tuition for first-generation FIU Business students during their last two years of studies.

Thanks to his scholarship, Hernandez was able to forgo working to pay his tuition and pour himself into developing and teaching an investment banking course for PIF members, helping them compete for coveted jobs in finance against Ivy League graduates. He graduated summa cum laude and landed an internship, and later a job, at a Miami-based investment banking firm where he started as a fall intern, largely through his PIF network.

"The BMI Scholarship helped me pay for the last two semesters in school when I was developing the skills I needed to succeed," Hernandez said. "I went from nowhere, to a job I really wanted, in the space of a year – thanks to BMI."

BMI Companies is a Miami-headquartered health and life insurance company with travel assistance plans. It caters to the Latin American market, with local offices in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador. Founder Sierra felt a kinship with FIU and its students, supporting them informally over the years, noted Stephanie Garcia, BMI's media and public relations director. FIU asked him if he wanted a more formal arrangement.

"The BMI Scholarship helped me pay for the last two semesters in school when I was developing the skills I needed to succeed," Hernandez said. "I went from nowhere, to a job I really wanted, in the space of a year – thanks to BMI."

Tony Coley

"When we got word of this, we realized we had to do something more," Garcia said. "This is about helping to empower the future." When conditions permitted, BMI held a marketing competition on campus, allowing students to get to know the company and giving BMI's leadership greater insights into the talents and goals of potential scholarship recipients.

The BMI Scholarship also brought new possibilities to Kelly Escalona (BBA '20). She had a challenging start, coming from Venezuela with her parents, who struggled in her early years to make a living.

Escalona ticks off a list of assistance the scholarship brought her. A new laptop when hers failed. A car that was reliable enough to get her and her two siblings to high school and college. The ability to pay her own way without loans so her parents could finance the education of their other two children, whose time in college overlapped with Escalona's. It also enabled her to focus on a job at FIU that became a passion: becoming a teaching assistant for business calculus. "Education is so important in my life," she said. "My family values education. I always had the dream to help guide students so they can make wise decisions on their education."

"Education is so important in my life," she said. "My family values education. I always had the dream to help guide students so they can make wise decisions on their education."

"I am so grateful to my donors," she said. "This is an investment that will last forever. Thank God I graduated debt free and in abundance!"

For BMI's Garcia, hearing the gratitude of students has made the scholarship an even more fulfilling experience. "They did a video thanking us," she recalled, "and one of them said, 'thank you for giving me this opportunity to change our family tree.' That gave me goosebumps. That's exactly what we want to achieve – to help them alleviate their struggles and help them rise."