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Alumna Who Blazed a Trail is Now Clearing a Path

CONTACT: Susan Sigman
(850) 645-8844; ssigman@foundation.fsu.edu

Posted March 5, 2013

TALLAHASSEE—An alumna who blazed a trail at Florida State University is now clearing a path for needy students.

Maxine Thurston-Fischer, Ph.D., and her husband, Kenneth C. Fischer, M.D., recently included a $2 million gift in their estate plans -- $1.6 million to provide support to first-generation, low-income students engaged in the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE) and $400,000 to provide scholarships to needy students enrolled in the College of Social Work.

A national model, Florida State’s CARE provides preparation, orientation and academic support for students who are among the first in their family to attend college and may face unique challenges in college because of educational or economic circumstances. Due in large part to CARE’s impact, the University is a leader in the graduation rate of African-American undergraduates.

These contributions to CARE and to the College of Social Work come from an alumna who made history at Florida State and can relate on how it feels to be a “first.”

Maxine Thurston-Fischer was the first African-American to graduate from Florida State with a master’s degree in social work (MSW) in April 1964, and she was one of the first blacks admitted to Florida State. She was honored at the 50th Anniversary of Integration celebration held in April 2012.

 “The School of Social Work had quietly made history by awarding the University’s first degrees to African-American students,” Thurston-Fischer wrote in “Reflections from Another Era” in 2004.”

Two decades later, Thurston-Fischer again made Florida State history by joining the inaugural class of the College of Social Work’s doctoral program. She received her Ph.D. in 1987.

Nicholas F. Mazza, Ph.D., dean of the College of Social Work, said Maxine Thurston-Fischer's personal, academic and professional journey is a story that serves as an inspiration and model for students studying at Florida State University.

“These students will have the support and an historical lesson for their own journey. Indeed, Dr. Thurston-Fischer, through word and deed, has demonstrated that education, personal humility and professional resolve can make a profound difference in bringing fulfillment grounded in a commitment to the larger community,” Mazza said.

Dulny Salazar, a sophomore Honors student and CARE participant, said she is grateful for Thurston-Fischer being such a wonderful role model.

“Dr. Thurston-Fischer is a great example for other young women to follow. She shows that anything is possible, despite the circumstances,” Salazar said. “As a first-generation minority woman at FSU, I see students like myself who can achieve whatever we want to do. If we set our minds to it, the task, no matter how great, can be achieved.”

Presently, CARE serves almost 1,400 first-generation students on the Florida State campus, said Tadarrayl M. Starke, director of CARE. CARE’s track record will become even more successful and the couple’s legacy will serve as an example for CARE students, who will see the rewards of hard work, dedication and determination.

“Through their example, CARE students will see first-hand the value in striving for the best in academics and personal development,” Starke said. “We are honored to have our center forever connected to such a rich tradition.”

Thirty-eight CARE students are enrolled in the Honors Program and 181 made the dean’s or president’s list during the fall 2012 semester. With their gift, the couple will help countless generations of future CARE participants discover a better future at Florida State.

Karen L. Laughlin, Ph.D., dean of Undergraduate Studies at Florida State, has known Thurston-Fischer and Fischer for a number of years and has witnessed their long-term support for Florida State students who have their own set of challenges to overcome in order to succeed in college. For example, the couple has generously contributed to the state-sponsored First Generation Matching Grant program since its inception, Laughlin said.

“I have been touched by the warmth with which they have embraced the CARE students they have helped to support, and their deep commitment to fostering these students’ academic achievement is inspiring,” Laughlin said.

Laughlin said the couple’s most recent gift will help CARE enrich the support it offers its students and further strengthen a program that has already received national recognition for its success.

Thurston-Fischer received a Bachelor of Science in social work and sociology from Indiana University in Bloomington in 1960. Her path to Florida State began when a recruiter from the School of Social Work (now the College of Social Work) visited her offices at the Florida Department of Public Welfare in Gainesville, where she was the first and only black staff member.

“Dared by my colleagues to test the recruiter’s veracity, and certain that I’d never hear from him again, I asked for more information about the MSW program. I decided to apply,” Thurston-Fischer wrote in her reflections piece.

Despite having obstacles after obstacles thrown in her way--everything from being denied educational leave and stipends granted to her white colleagues to having to find housing in a racially segregated community—Thurston-Fischer persevered.

Today, Maxine Thurston-Fischer is the president and CEO of The Thurston Group, a consulting firm for research, program evaluation and organization development services to human services agencies. Her career in social work has included management, executive and consultant positions in health policy and planning, social justice, youth services, organization development and program evaluation. Kenneth Fischer is a neurologist and has served as a faculty member at the University Miami – Miller School of Medicine since 1982.

As Maxine Thurston-Fischer wrote in her reflections, many of today’s students and some faculty members cannot imagine a time when a black student was a novelty at Florida State.

“But sadly, much like 40 years ago, too much of our circumstances and relationships continue to be defined by color, race and ethnicity,” she said. “Yet, so much has changed – and I’m proud to have been a part of that change at Florida State University.”

Gifts to the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE) Academic Support Fund (No. F06490) or the Social Work General Scholarship Fund (No. F07526) can be made online at foundation.fsu.edu or by mail to the FSU Foundation, 2010 Levy Ave., P.O. Box 3062729, Tallahassee, FL 32306-2739. Please include the fund number with your gift.

Photo: Maxine Thurston-Fischer

Maxine Thurston-Fischer

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