Gift of Wisdom Award
The Women for Florida State University Gift of Wisdom Award was created to identify exceptional women of the past, embrace strong women of today and encourage the growth of women for the future. Our goal is to support women by building on the traditions of excellence set forth by our predecessors more than a century ago.
Felicia M. Brunson, Felicia M. Brunson, 2020 Gift of Wisdom Award Winner
Congratulations to Felicia M. Brunson, recipient of the Women for Florida State University’s 2020 Gift of Wisdom Award.
Brunson leads with an innate sense of obligation to care for and serve her community. Since graduating from Florida State in 1994, she has commenced a successful career as a public servant with Broward County, Florida. Through her commitment to championing for justice, equality and communal empowerment, Brunson was elected as an inaugural city commissioner for the City of West Park, where she currently serves as vice mayor.
Always one to quote philanthropist and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune, Brunson embodies the belief that “service is the price you pay for the God-given space you occupy,” and continues to extend her deep-rooted passion for community service beyond the duties of an elected official.
Advocating for the welfare of young women and the young at heart, Brunson founded Visions of Images, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to nurturing seniors and girls in her Broward County communities. Designed to bridge the intergenerational connection between these demographics, the organization provides not only comprehensive programming that is responsive and representative of the diverse needs of seniors but also fosters healthy self-esteem in young girls through conversation and engagement to help them become productive citizens.
“Through Visions of Images, Brunson continues to exercise her servitude for constructive social good and has helped changed many lives for the better,” Carolyn M. Hardy shared in her nomination letter. “Brunson’s efforts afford each and every senior citizen and young woman a reason to have hope, to dream and to bring to fruition their heart’s desires.”
Brunson truly epitomizes the values of W4FSU, sharing her time and talents to institute the societal changes she hopes to see throughout southeastern Florida. Most notably through her time as a mentor, where girls have come to know her as simply Ms. Fe, Brunson hopes all women can one day participate equally in a society that has fewer limitations, disenfranchisement and marginalization.
“Anyone around [Brunson] would say when a space is created at the table for her, she doesn’t dine alone. She doesn’t think for herself, and that is the embodiment of women’s empowerment,” Sasha Holmes, a mentee of Brunson’s, shared in her nomination letter. “She has been with me through each major milestone of my life, through high school graduation to moving in on my first day of college, and I could not imagine my life without her.”
Dr. Mary Coburn, 2019 Gift of Wisdom Award Winner
Congratulations to Dr. Mary Coburn, recipient of the Women for Florida State University’s 2019 Gift of Wisdom Award.
Dr. Coburn has established an unprecedented and lifelong legacy at Florida State University as well as within the Tallahassee region. A three-time graduate of Florida State, Dr. Coburn earned her bachelor’s in sociology, master’s in counseling and human systems, and her doctorate in higher education; however, her time at FSU didn’t end as a student.
Dr. Coburn’s professional career with the University began in 1981 working in student development and eventually paved the way to assume the role as vice president for student affairs in 2003. She wholeheartedly dedicated her time and efforts to ensure Florida State was a student-centric campus with a permanent culture where students were not only challenged academically but also motivated to be the best versions of themselves. From promoting diversity and addressing free speech issues, to implementing a University-wide Healthy Campus initiative, Dr. Coburn advocated for many programs and initiatives devoted to providing students every opportunity to thrive.
Though she officially retired in spring 2017, many individuals continue to speak highly of her genuine and amiable display of leadership. “She was always very warm and personable and took great interest in helping students succeed,” shared FSU Foundation Board of Trustees Executive Committee Member Julie Dunn Eichenberg in her nomination letter. “I particularly admire how she maintained her sense of calm in every situation, and those skills were tested multiple times throughout her career including when tragedy struck at Strozier Library.”
Even when the FSU community faced unforeseen adversity when an individual opened fire at the entrance of the campus library in November 2014, Dr. Coburn was commended for demonstrating quiet strength under the circumstances. Her grace under pressure and ability to jump into action and manage the unfolding situation while comforting students, their parents and faculty provided a calm and guiding presence through tragedy.
Beyond her tenure with the University, Dr. Coburn has positively impacted thousands of students and colleagues throughout her career. “Dr. Coburn’s willingness to extend her hand to many young women and students—including myself—has been life changing,” Dunn Eichenberg stated in her nomination letter. “She is an amazing role model as a University administrator, a mother, a friend, a true Seminole and someone who seems to balance career and family with pure grace. The mark she left on FSU’s campus will last for a very long time.”
Dr. Tamara Bertrand Jones, 2018 Gift of Wisdom Award Winner
Congratulations to Dr. Tamara Bertrand Jones, recipient of the Women for Florida State University’s 2018 Gift of Wisdom Award.
Since receiving her Doctor of Philosophy in research and evaluation methods from Florida State University in 2006, Dr. Bertrand Jones has remained an active member of the University and within the community. She currently serves as associate professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, researching sociocultural influences on socialization during graduate education and the professional experiences of underrepresented populations, particularly in African-American women, in academia.
Among her colleagues and students, Dr. Bertrand Jones is highly admired for her leadership. “I was struck by Dr. Bertrand Jones’ intellectual energy and how it was so strikingly matched with her warmth and charismatic presence,” shared Lara C. Perez-Felkner, Ph.D. in her nomination letter. “Having now been her colleague for the past three years, as well as her friend, these characteristics remain but it is clear how much others also see and value [her] quiet but powerful leadership traits.”
Known among her students simply as TBJ, Dr. Bertrand Jones is recognized for being keenly observant of the needs of her students and those she mentors, even ensuring their financial capability to provide for themselves in times of tight budgetary constraints. In recognition of her transformational role in students’ academic growth, she received a Transformation Through Teaching award from FSU in 2013.
Dr. Bertrand Jones’ admirable leadership extends far beyond the classroom. She serves as a senior research associate for the Center for Postsecondary Success and is the founder and former president of Sister of the Academy Institute, an international organization that aims to promote collaborative scholarship and networking among African-American women.
Through her engagement with Florida State University and other organizations, Dr. Bertrand Jones exquisitely embodies the ideals of leadership and community embedded within the foundation of the Women for FSU.
“As a fellow woman and a woman of color, her guidance and presence are immensely valuable to me personally and to her [students],” Perez-Felkner stated in her nomination letter. “[They] see her as a role model for how to be an exemplary individual, true to oneself, as well as a leader, scholar and educational practitioner.”
Katee Tully, 2017 Gift of Wisdom Award Winner
Congratulations to Katee Tully, recipient of the Women for Florida State University’s 2017 Gift of Wisdom Award.
Tully has always been a champion and leader at advocating for social justice in meaningful ways. In her nomination letter, Terri E. Cruz, her sister, shared, “From an early age, Katee understood that when things did not seem fair, she had the responsibility to do whatever she could to set things right.”
Tully served as a dean of the City University of New York, where she not only encouraged her support staff, both single mothers at the time, to continue their education but assisted them financially to cover the tuition costs that separated them from earning their degrees. She successfully implemented a leadership development program benefitting the rural communities of North Carolina, which lead to her speaking alongside Gloria Steinman on supporting young, geographically-isolated women. During that period, Tully was also dedicated to leading Outward Bound groups focused on women who had survived abusive relationships.
Tully currently serves as president of Her Florida, a new organization centralized on fundamental issues paramount to women. The organization’s mission is to bring a group of diverse women together for civil dialogue around the issues that matter most to them—including pay equity, school choice and reproductive rights. She is also in the process of launching a young artist market in St. Petersburg, Fla., with the goal of supporting local children that don’t currently have the financial resources and literacy to pursue their creative passions.
Though not a graduate of Florida State, Tully holds a great appreciation for the FSU community, growing up in Tallahassee among many family members who left their mark on campus, including her wife Helen. Together, Helen and she have made FSU central to their volunteer and financial support efforts.
Most recently, Tully spoke at the Women’s Leadership Institute, becoming a mentor to a few of the women in attendance and is now assisting with the establishment of a Greater Tampa Bay regional group of W4FSU.
Behind her profound dedication, Tully processes not only the heart but a history of perseverance. “As a survivor of breast cancer and 9/11, Katee exhibits courage under the most unimaginable circumstances,” Cruz stated in her nomination letter. “She prevails and shows the rest of us how we can do the same.”
Joyce Miles, 2016 Gift of Wisdom Award Winner
Congratulations to Joyce B. Miles, recipient of the Women for Florida State University’s 2016 Gift of Wisdom Award. Miles received a Master of Science in Vocational Education from the Florida State University College of Education.
President of her own consulting and training company, Joyce B. Miles & Associates, Miles has been a leader promoting systemic change in the educational arena to prepare for the 21st century workplace. She has presented locally, statewide and nationally to more than 5,000 participants and has coauthored a careers textbook for use in secondary family and consumer sciences classes.
“Joyce Miles is one of those extraordinary individuals who makes a difference and leaves a legacy wherever she goes,” recounts College of Human Sciences Dean Dr. Billie Collier. “She was one of the first people to inspire me with the FSU spirit when I arrived as a new dean. It wasn’t an empty spirit, but a voice and a commitment to our institution’s place in the education of Floridians, especially young women. Joyce translated that commitment into actions for the betterment of FSU, and what was special to me was her unflagging work for the human sciences, both at FSU and nationally.”
A longtime member of the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, Miles is highly regarded for her energy and innovation. She moved the organization forward in development and fundraising and was the force behind the AAFCS Leadership Academy, which continues to prepare young women and men for leadership roles.
When Miles was named a member of the Florida State University Foundation Board of Trustees, she knew exactly what her service project would be. She wanted to create a new organization within FSU that would be uniquely for women who have a connection to Florida State. Miles understood that women give when they have passion and purpose. As a member of the Women of Purdue, she had personally witnessed what can happen when a university acknowledges the impact of women who are encouraged to participate. What better place to make this happen than at the university formerly known as the Florida State College for Women!
"I was the fortunate one who was asked to work with Joyce Miles to develop a new support group within the FSU Foundation designed uniquely for women,” Pat Ramsey, FSU staff member recalls. “I had never met the new FSU Foundation Trustee. Before our introductory lunch was over, I knew Joyce Miles possessed the wisdom, passion, energy and leadership needed to successfully guide this new endeavor that will benefit Florida State University and the women who love her for years to come. At the end of our afternoon of planning, this stranger became my partner, my mentor, and I now call her my friend.”
The blueprint of what was to become The Women for FSU was developed on the deck of her beautiful home overlooking the mountains of Maggie Valley, N.C. The first organizational meeting in 2008 was hosted by First Lady Virginia Wetherell, facilitated by Miles, and attended by more than 70 enthusiastic women. They became the Founding Members of The Women for FSU.
“We owe our own Joyce Berry Miles much for dreaming the incredible dream of creating a new organization within Florida State University that would be uniquely for women who have a connection to the University,” Fanchon F. Funk stated in her nomination letter. “Joyce understood that women give when they have passion and purpose. The Women for FSU provides that purpose.”
Sharon Lechter, 2015 Gift of Wisdom Award Winner
Congratulations to Sharon (Yates) Lechter, recipient of the Women for Florida State University’s 2015 Gift of Wisdom Award. Lechter, who holds a Bachelor of Science in accounting from Florida State, exemplifies the values of community, leadership and philanthropy that are at the heart of The Women for Florida State University's culture.
Lechter tirelessly engages women in activities that promote their personal, professional and financial well-being, and by doing so, she better positions women to effect positive global change starting in their local communities. She has been blazing a trail for women since she accepted a position with Coopers and Lybrand early in her career as a certified public accountant. She was one of only a few women hired by the company at the time.
Lechter is the co-author of a number of best-selling books related to personal development, financial literacy and entrepreneurship, including the international blockbuster “Rich Dad Poor Dad” and 15 other books in the Rich Dad series. She partnered with the Napoleon Hill Foundation to release two national best-sellers: “Think and Grow Rich—Three Feet from Gold” and “Outwitting the Devil.” In 2014, Lechter released “Think and Grow Rich for Women,” which features case studies of women who have been influential not only because of their success but also because of their dedicated service to their communities.
In 2008, President George W. Bush appointed Lechter to the first President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy. She served both President Bush and President Obama in that position. As founder and CEO of Pay Your Family First, she has developed a number of programs to benefit women, children and families.
A committed philanthropist, Lechter gives back to communities that have a global impact as both a volunteer and a benefactor. She is a member of the Business Advisory Board for EmpowHER, a company focused on women’s health issues. She also serves on the national board of the Women Presidents’ Organization and the national board of Childhelp, an organization founded to prevent and treat child abuse.
Within her own community, Sharon was integral in the passage of Arizona Senate bill 1449, a bill that requires financial literacy concepts to be permanently incorporated into standard economics curricula in Arizona schools.
In her nomination letter of Ms. Lechter, Angela Totman shared, “Sharon epitomizes the qualities that represent a woman of giving and wisdom. Her passionate dedication to her profession, as well as her commitment to women and communities, has created a legacy that women all over the globe carry with them.”
Tena Pate, 2014 Gift of Wisdom Award Winner
Congratulations to Tena Pate, recipient of the Women for Florida State University’s 2014 Gift of Wisdom Award. Pate, who holds a Bachelor of Science in criminology from Florida State, has made a significant impact in the Sunshine State not only as an advocate for victims’ rights but also as a mentor and leader.
Pate has had a long and distinguished career as a voice for crime victims. She was the first person appointed to serve as the victim’s advocate for Okaloosa and Walton counties. In 1993, Governor Lawton Chiles appointed Pate as the Florida victims’ rights coordinator. She played a key role in the passage and implementation of the law requiring courts to inform crime victims of their rights. During Governor Jeb Bush’s administration, Pate oversaw the implementation of the governor’s Violence Free Florida initiative for victims of domestic violence and the statewide Triad, a crime prevention program established to assist Florida’s elder citizens.
In ten years with the Executive Office of the Governor, Pate served four state leaders: Bob Martinez, Lawton Chiles, Buddy MacKay and Jeb Bush. Pate was initially appointed to the Florida Parole Commission by Governor Bush and the Florida Cabinet; she was reappointed to this position in 2010 and has held it since.
Pate’s nominator, Gina Giacomo, asserts Pate is an integral part of the Commission.
“As agency head, she makes a daily effort to encourage others, to acknowledge their value, to tell them they’re appreciated and to thank them verbally, electronically and even with hand-written notes. Her actions show that she values everyone’s contributions. She regularly seeks opinions at all levels of the agency and provides opportunities for staff members to grow both professionally and personally. By setting an example, she teaches others to lead. Because of her, the Commission has a culture of teamwork, collaboration, trust, knowledge and motivation,” Giacomo said.
Giacomo went on to describe Pate as humble, caring, competent and as someone who continually strives to discover her full potential. “She sees serving as a leader as a lifelong journey. She literally takes on the role of a servant. You will not find her at the head of the buffet table, where you might expect to see the agency head, but you will find her handing out plates or serving drinks to staff,” said Giacomo.
Pate’s professional commitment to Florida is equaled only by her personal commitment. She is a member of the management team of the Leon County Special Olympics and volunteers with Chelsea House, a program that serves women and children who are at risk of becoming homeless. She mentors young professionals as a member of Leadership Florida’s Class XXX and serves on the organization’s Northwest Florida Regional Council. She is a member of the University Center Club, where she often takes girls and young women she is mentoring to lunch.
In addition to these distinctions, Pate’s service has been recognized with prestigious awards. She is a member of the Florida Criminal Justice Chief Executive Institute, Class 47, and is the recipient of the Florida Council on Crime and Delinquency’s statewide 2011 Criminal Justice Award for Distinguished Service. She was selected by the Tallahassee Democrat as one of the Top 25 Women to Know in Tallahassee in 2013. Most recently, she was nominated for the John C. Maxwell Leadership Award. The Maxwell organization received 3,000 nominations from the United States and Canada; Pate finished in the top 100.
Tena Pate has made a lasting commitment to serving others. This path isn’t easy; it is often a balancing act; and results can be slow in coming. But these hardships don’t deter Pate.
Giacomo said, “I have worked under individuals with many different leadership styles, and I must say that it is a privilege to work with a leader who gets out of bed each day to serve others. She truly exemplifies the values of the Women for Florida State.”
Kitty Hoffman, 2013 Gift of Wisdom Award Winner
Congratulations to Katherine B. “Kitty” Hoffman, recipient of The Women for Florida State University’s 2013 Gift of Wisdom Mentor Award.
Hoffman’s relationship with Florida State University dates back to 1932 when she was a freshman at Florida State College for Women (FSCW), bartering a year’s worth of room and board for a truckload of oranges from her father’s grove. During her four years as a straight-A student, Hoffman was president of the Student Government Association and wrote for the student newspaper. She also represented the state as a princess in Asheville, N.C., at the renowned Rhododendron Festival.
After graduating from FSCW, Hoffman earned a master’s degree in chemistry from Columbia University and was accepted into medical school at Duke University. Unfortunately, Duke required its female medical students to stay single, so Hoffman decided to take a different path. She married her high school sweetheart and fellow chemist, Harold Hoffman, and in 1940 joined the chemistry faculty at FSCW.
Hoffman served on the faculty throughout the World War II era; through FSCW’s transition to a co-educational institution; through the tumultuous years of the 1960s and 1970s, during which she served as the University’s dean of women from 1967 to 1970; and into the early 1980s, when she served as president of the Faculty Senate from 1980 to 1982.
And in what is perhaps her most enduring legacy, she taught thousands of students and received numerous teaching awards. To mark that legacy, in 1984, the year she retired, the chemistry department dedicated the Katherine B. Hoffman Teaching Laboratory in her honor. Hoffman in return has given greatly to the University. Examples include her recent establishment of the Katherine B. Hoffman Endowed Lecture in Environmental Chemistry, the establishment of the Katherine Blood Hoffman Endowed Fund in Chemistry for student support, and dozens of other gifts to the College of Arts and Sciences that include symposia for liberal arts and an endowed chair in psychology.
In her 98 years, Hoffman has embraced her relationship with Florida State—as a student, a faculty member and a dean. In 2007, former Florida State President T.K. Wetherell presented Hoffman an honorary doctorate and then cited her “countless contributions to the creation and preservation of our University’s great heritage.”
Sherrill Williams Ragans, who nominated Hoffman for the Gift of Wisdom Mentor Award and introduced her at the 2013 Backstage Pass dinner, said Hoffman has given generously of her time, talent and treasure.
“Kitty does not talk about exemplary citizenship in the University community or the larger community. For all of these years, she has demonstrated citizenship worthy of emulation by all who have observed her,” Ragans wrote in her nomination letter.
Ragans cited testaments of others who said Hoffman was a great role model and mentor for women.
“She inspires all who come into her presence to behave better, straighten their shoulders and stand taller – in short, to be their very best,” Florida State professor of sociology Patricia Yancy Martin said.
Stella Cottrell, 2012 Gift of Wisdom Award Winner
Congratulations to Stella Cottrell, recipient of The Women for Florida State University's 2012 Gift of Wisdom Mentor Award. Cottrell taught French, social studies and music in Texas and Florida for 12 years and has served on the music staff at churches in those states for 35-plus years. She also serves as a rehearsal accompanist for Walt Disney World’s entertainment division.
In writing Cottrell’s nomination, Women for Florida State University member Pam Vierling said, “Stella is often behind the scenes, volunteering her time and talents in order to bring music to the forefront. I am so thankful that she shares that gift with us.”
Vierling first met Cottrell in 1984 when, as a young teacher and new mother, Vierling was struggling to find a daycare provider. Through a mutual friend, Cottrell volunteered to help Vierling. “I was so appreciative for this otherwise complete stranger who came to my rescue in the midst of a crisis. I soon learned that this kind gesture was just one small example of who Stella is. Today, I am eternally grateful because it was the start of a wonderful friendship,” Vierling wrote in her nomination.
“Stella has a special talent for seeing potential, whether it’s within a community, a school, a committee or an individual person,” Vierling continued. “She acts on that vision and always leaves it better than the way she found it.”
In addition to being active in Women for FSU, Cottrell is an FSU Foundation Board of Trustees member and has chaired the Arts & Sciences Leadership Council. She also is a graduate of Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree in French.
Cottrell was presented with the award at The Women for Florida State University's Backstage Pass to the Very Best of Florida State, held March 16-17, 2012.
Dr. Penny Ralston, 2011 Gift of Wisdom Award Winner
Congratulations to Dr. Penny Ralston, recipient of The Women for Florida State University's 2011 Gift of Wisdom Mentor Award. Ralston is dean emeritus of The Florida State University College of Human Sciences and director of the college's Center on Better Health and Life for Underserved Populations.
Ralston was nominated by Florida State alumna Joyce Miles. The pair grew up two hours apart in middle-Indiana farm country, though they did not meet until some years later as home economics and human sciences professionals. Miles' sought out Ralston's experience, and Ralston became her mentor and friend.
"When I would attend national meetings, I would watch Penny in action and think to myself what a remarkable young professional she was," Miles wrote in her nomination essay. "She was so poised, so self assured, and all in the room would pay attention when she spoke or weighed in on an issue. She is such a great role model. Today, we owe Penny a debt of gratitude for believing that women do indeed have a special place in philanthropy and especially at The Florida State University," Miles said.
Ralston was presented with the award at the The Women for Florida State University's Backstage Pass to the Very Best of Florida State, held March 18-19, 2011.
Nancy Turner, 2010 Gift of Wisdom Award Winner
Congratulations to Nancy Turner, recipient of The Women for Florida State University's inaugural Gift of Wisdom Mentor Award. Turner is a Florida State alumna, having earned a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education in 1961 and a doctorate in High Education in 1977. She served as the director of the Oglesby Student Union at Florida State from 1979 until her retirement in 2003.
Turner was nominated by fellow Florida State alumna Stella Cottrell. The two met in 1968, at the beginning of Cottrell's sophomore year at Florida State. At that time, Turner was the associate director at the Baptist Student Union and was there for Cottrell as she made the transition into adulthood.
"Nancy's kindness years ago has made me a better person, a better friend, a better mom and a better citizen of the world," Cottrell wrote in her nomination essay. "Although I will never be able to thank her enough, my desire and determined purpose is to pass that love and goodness on to others. That is why I believe Nancy is so very deserving of this award."
Turner was presented with the award at The Women for Florida State University's inaugural event, "Backstage Pass to the Very Best of Florida State," held March 19-20, 2010.
The Florida State University we know today began as a seminary in 1851. Then, in 1905, it became the women's liberal arts college known as Florida State College for Women. In the early 20th century, the field of liberal arts was considered a woman's domain and the college's inaugural female students helped set the standard of excellence for what are now the university's current arts programs. In 1947, when the Florida State College for Women became The Florida State University, women began to branch out into other fields, mirroring the change and progress taking place around the globe. The sciences, law and athletics at Florida State are now arenas where women are not only prevalent but also extremely successful. As part of our mission, The Women for Florida State University is committed to providing increased professional opportunities for women in the local community and throughout the state of Florida.
The history of this great university cannot be told without recognizing the influence of its pioneering women. The Women for Florida State University recognizes that FSU's past is comprised of thousands of small stories of unique, independent women. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to become a physician in the United States said, "For what is done or learned by one class of women becomes, by virtue of their common womanhood, the property of all women." With this in mind, the Gift of Wisdom Mentor Award was created not in recognition of one woman's professional achievements or of one woman's support for a large group of women, but as a celebration of all women's individual stories.