University of South Florida St. Petersburg Campus



A transformative education inspires instructor to create scholarship for first-generation college students

David Connelly wearing a USF shirt sitting next to his dog.

When David Connelly began teaching at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus, he was struck by how much the college experience had changed since his days as an undergraduate.

“There were more scholarships and grants available when I was a student. Many of my students were working 30 hours a week or more,” said Connelly, an adjunct instructor of Humanities. “I told them I would not have been able to keep up my grades if I had to work like that.”

Connelly, who spent more than 20 years as the public relations director at the Museum of Fine Arts in downtown St. Petersburg, credits his education with broadening his perspective and opening the door to a series of adventures. He wanted USF students to have similar opportunities.

“In my own life, education has played such a huge role,” Connelly said. “It transformed my life. That’s really where I want to give – to help students complete their education.”

Working with the USF Foundation, he created a planned gift to establish the David Connelly and Joe P. Pérez First Generation Scholarship, an endowed scholarship for students of any major on USF’s St. Petersburg campus. To fund their scholarship, David has designated the USF Foundation as a beneficiary of his IRA and savings account.

Pérez was Connelly’s partner of 32 years and the person who introduced him to the St. Petersburg campus. Pérez worked as an office manager in the Academic Advising Center, a position he held until shortly before his death from lung cancer in 2010.

“He loved that job,” Connelly said. “He was right there on the front lines with students. He really liked helping students navigate the process.”

Connelly was a first generation college student and grew up in a working class family in the small town of Waynesburg, Ohio. His father never finished high school but was determined to send his son to college.

“He would say, ‘David, you could always lose a job. But your education will be with you forever,’” Connelly said.

Connelly was a good student and earned admission to Mount Union College, now called the University of Mount Union. He majored in English but had the opportunity to study a variety of subjects. He loved the small class sizes and personal interactions with professors and graduated summa cum laude.

Connelly enjoyed his college experience so much, he considered a career in higher education and earned a graduate degree in College Student Development from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He later earned an MA in Latin American studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

A series of twists and turns led him to Texas, where he met Pérez, and then to Shreveport, Louisiana, and a job as a reporter and editor for the Shreveport Journal. After the newspaper fell on hard times, Connelly applied to be a grants writer at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. And so, his career in the museum world began.

Connelly and Pérez moved to St. Petersburg in 1996. As public relations director at the Museum of Fine Arts, Connelly performed a variety of duties, from editing the museum’s magazine to coordinating all media coverage. While he loved the job, he decided to retire in 2017 at age 65.

Now he teaches one course each semester at USF’s St. Petersburg campus. He said his job is to connect the humanities to his students’ personal lives. Connelly said he also hopes to impart his appreciation for higher education.

“I tell them, right now, you have career goals and that’s great,” Connelly said. “But you don’t know how those will change over time. Your education will give you more opportunities. It certainly did that for me.”

To learn more about creating your own planned gift at USF, please visit

Return to article listing

About the Newsroom

At the USF St. Petersburg campus newsroom, we highlight the people, events and initiatives that make us distinct. From groundbreaking research to inspiring student profiles, we are dedicated to telling our campus' story and promoting its value to the greater Tampa Bay community and beyond.


Harbor Notes News

Learn about the latest news, research updates and public events in our Harbor Notes News and Harbor Notes Events newsletters.