UWF welcomes National Merit Finalists and top scholarship recipients

The University of West Florida welcomed three National Merit Finalists this fall.

Diana Hanks, Hannah Funk and Cara Womacks were among 1,500 students across the country to meet the requirements for finalist standing, out of more than 1.6 million students who entered the 2017 National Merit Scholarship Competition. They were awarded full tuition, room and board, a $600-per-semester book stipend and a research stipend to attend UWF,  a total value of more than $50,000.

“We are delighted that Diana, Hannah and Cara chose the University of West Florida,” said UWF President Martha Saunders. “They may be the first National Merit Finalists to attend UWF, but I don’t think they will be our last. UWF has nationally competitive academic programs that give our students the opportunity to challenge themselves while preparing for their careers or for graduate school. UWF also provides our undergraduate students with opportunities to participate in research from the moment they enroll. Our focus on high-impact learning for our students is one of the things that sets us apart.”

Funk, a graduate of Choctawhatchee High School in Fort Walton Beach, said she was looking for the right university that was close to home and offered a quality education to help her pursue her dream of becoming a nurse practitioner.

“This scholarship will open so many doors for me,” Funk said. “I plan to apply to the UWF School of Nursing, and this generous scholarship will allow me to save the money I earn for more schooling after I earn a bachelor’s degree, with the ultimate goal of working in either a NICU or emergency medicine. I just want to be in a position to be able to help people and make a difference in their lives.”

Hanks, a mechanical engineering major who graduated from Pace High School in Pace, said she chose to attend UWF after enjoying her experience in the dual enrollment program for the last two years. She said she plans to become an aerospace engineer, ideally for Boeing.

“UWF will help me by giving me a solid start on my education,” Hanks said. “Because UWF is a smaller school, I’ll be able to interact more with my professors and have more opportunities for research and internships.”

A homeschool graduate from St. Louis, Womacks credits the National Merit Finalist Scholarship with making her college dreams come true.

“I wouldn’t be able to afford my education without this scholarship,” Womacks said. “It gave me the financial security to move to Florida from Missouri and allowed me to pursue my dream of studying marine biology.”

Additionally, the University recently hosted its President’s Scholarship Competition, which awards top Florida high school graduates who show potential to serve as future leaders with the institution’s most prestigious scholarships. The Pace Presidential Scholarship is offered in conjunction with Florida Bright Futures and covers on-campus room and board, tuition, a $600 book stipend and a research experience, totaling more than $50,000. The John C. Pace, Jr. Honors Scholar Award, offered to students admitted to the Kugelman Honors Program, is equivalent to the Pace Presidential Scholarship, with additional funds available for an educational experience, such as study abroad.

“Last year, we awarded over $2 million dollars in merit scholarships to a number of outstanding students,” said Dr. Joffery Gaymon, vice president for enrollment and student affairs. “They have achieved great academic success throughout high school and developed an impressive academic record. We are very pleased to have such an exceptional class of scholars join the UWF family.”

The following students were named recipients of the John C. Pace, Jr. Honors Scholar Award and granted admission to the Kugelman Honors Program: Sophia Giddens, psychology major and graduate of Pensacola High School in Pensacola; Aleigh Rowe, marine biology major and graduate of Timber Creek High School in Orlando; and Cameron Wakeland, environmental management major and graduate of Crestview High School in Crestview.

Wakeland said she chose to attend UWF after visiting, based on the small class sizes and the vast number of research and internship opportunities available for undergraduates. Being selected for one of the Pace Honors Scholar Awards, she said, was an added bonus.

“I really wanted to go somewhere where I felt more like an individual and less like ‘just another number,’” Wakeland said. “Being awarded the honors scholarship was truly an answer to my prayers, too. I had been working toward the goal of a full ride since my sophomore year of high school, and it was the best feeling in the world to learn that I had actually achieved it.”

For more information about the 2017 premier scholarship recipients, visit