–By Nina Rose
Alberto García Marrero was out of gas.
It was spring 2019, his second-to-last semester at FIU, just a handful of credits away from earning his bachelor’s in international business. Marrero’s FIU tuition was paid for by scholarships, but he helped his parents out financially and could barely cover his living expenses.
Marrero was running out of money, and student loans might be his only solution. He was at the gas station, checking his bank account on his phone, and noticed a deposit from FIU. When he got to campus, he logged into his computer and learned that he had received the Pamela Silva Conde First Generation Scholarship.
An Honors College student at the time, Marrero held leadership roles in five honor societies, was interning at the City of Doral’s Office of the Mayor and Council, and working part-time. The scholarship not only covered his living expenses that semester, it also enabled him to attend summits and conferences—high-impact activities that were otherwise out of reach. Alberto was honored at commencement that summer as a Worlds Ahead Graduate, richly adorned in layers of stoles, honors cords, and medallions.
Marrero knew as early as middle school that he wanted to be a lawyer. The Chapman Graduate School would be his next stop—to earn an MBA in FIU’s top-ranked international business program. That’s when he met the team at the FIU Foundation that would help him enter the philanthropic path.
Becoming a philanthropist
Marrero says his path to becoming a philanthropist began in elementary school. At the age of 3, in 2001, he and his parents moved from Cuba to Miami. An ESOL student, the first few years of elementary school were a struggle—especially spelling and writing—that motivated him to do better and be better. Then it was the choice words of a fifth-grade teacher that he vowed to prove wrong, the prescience of a sixth-grade math teacher who pushed to get him into advanced classes, and the guidance of a middle-school principal who pointed him toward greater opportunity. It was mentors Marrero encountered, even through college―getting to know him, talking to him, investing in him, championing him―that made him a philanthropist.
“Philanthropy is paying back the people who invested in you to continue that ripple effect and broaden the effect in society and our community,” says Marrero. Their investments prompted him to lead several student organizations in college, start an FIU branch of an international legal honor society to attract first-generation students to the law, mentor high school and college students, serve in the community, and make a sizable gift to FIU as a new alum.
But Marrero didn’t just make a gift. He helped create a new vehicle for giving―one that makes philanthropy more accessible to students and alums.
Next generation philanthropy
Marrero wanted to make a gift to the Honors College with the full complement of giving options available to FIU’s more substantial, established donors, including funding scholarships now, actively mentoring recipients, and using planned giving to maximize the impact and duration of his gift. What he encountered were several barriers. Philanthropy, it seems, was built with older, more established donors in mind. Alberto wanted access to the same tools. He wanted personal, meaningful philanthropy that he could afford, but with an outsized impact.
So the FIU Foundation and Marrero worked together to lower the minimum age for gifts of life insurance (after all, premiums are cheaper for younger donors), mix in an operating account with a lowered gift threshold for immediate scholarship impact, tweak the minimums required to name an endowment for legacy impact, and give early-stage donors more time to reach the required $25,000 endowment threshold. Together, they rebuilt the engine for next generation philanthropy.
What started with a desire to make a gift led to the creation of the Pathway to Philanthropist program. “It was awesome that they were making these changes, making it easier for younger adults to be able to give back,” he said. “It was an opportunity to be able to start something new within my means that was going to have a tremendous impact.”
Howard Lipman, CEO of the FIU Foundation, said, “Alberto was the catalyst for this program. He wanted students and alumni like him to be able to give like any philanthropist.”
The program’s gift structure has an extended giving timeline, creating a built-in opportunity for the university to engage with students and alumni donors along the entire giving cycle and beyond as a special group of donors. Marrero believes this program will gain traction with alumni and make a huge difference philanthropically.
“I want to look back ten or 15 years from now and say, ‘Look at our amazing alumni base, look at what everyone is doing and how they are giving back to FIU and the community, and not just South Florida.’ ”
Crafting a gift
Part cash and part proceeds from a life insurance policy, Marrero’s gift will create an endowed need-based scholarship for first-generation college students, with a preference given to first-year Honors College students studying international business. Available cash from the gift will support scholarships in the very first year, an impact that is tripled by the current 2:1 match by the State of Florida for first-generation scholarships. Marrero will fulfill his gift over 15 years, with the majority of the proceeds funding the endowment and the remainder benefitting FIU’s Center for Leadership and Service, which nurtured him into the leader he is today.
“Many students at FIU get their education semester by semester because they might not have the means to do all four years back to back, 15 to 18 credits per semester. Some might be taking six or nine credits because that’s all they can afford,” says Alberto. That motivated him to make this gift to first-generation students facing financial barriers.
But the scholarship is about more than financial support. “It’s getting that mentorship and that connection that really helps individuals grow.”
Filling their tanks before hitting the road
Marrero graduated with his MBA, virtually, this past August. He drove up to Tallahassee a week later to begin his first semester of law school at Florida State University. One day he will serve on the bench. Before getting on the road, Marrero made a major commitment to first-generation college students like himself. He’s filling up their tanks so they don’t have to wonder whether this is the semester they’ll come up short. He’ll mentor them and champion them—and maybe create a few philanthropists along the way.