Gator Good

First-Gen Giving

This alumna is inspired to give back.

By Gigi Marino

“I was just composing an email,” says Michelle Piazza ’87, M’96, “and thought again how thankful I am for the linguistics class I took in college. I use what I learned there every day.”

Piazza is so grateful to the Department of Linguistics that she has willed half of her entire estate to it. “I majored in mathematics,” she says, “and, of course, math has nothing to do with linguistics, but I found it to be the most helpful class I have ever taken in my life. Word choice, the order of the words, all have a different connotation and meaning. Math taught me to think logically, and linguistics taught me how to communicate effectively.”

Piazza works as a database administrator for the Airlines Reporting Corporation and communicates daily with people from around the world. “Especially in the multicultural world we live in, you have to make sure that you are very clear in your communications with other people,” she says. “I’ve found it makes a huge difference in being understood, particularly now that most of our communication is electronic. We spend more time on email than we do on the phone.”

The other half of her estate is earmarked for the Machen Florida Opportunities Scholars program, which provides support to students who are the first in their family to attend college. The majority of students in this program are in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. As a first-generation college student herself, Piazza empathizes with the challenges these students have. Never having had a mentor in college and being in a predominantly male field, she is glad to be able to offer that opportunity to others.

She says the decision to donate her estate has been cathartic. “Once the paperwork was finished, I felt a big load off my shoulders. Just knowing that if anything happens to me, everything will be taken care of, and some good will come of it is a huge relief,” says Piazza.

“I have no children, and my brother has no children,” she says. “With all the charities out there, I think the University of Florida can do the most with my money. It’s important to invest in people, and I really like the idea of paying it forward.”