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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 4 years ago

With purpose

Bonnie Silvestri found her passion tying community service to education.
by: Steven Benna Staff Writer

Bonnie Beth Silvestri is focused on serving her community and teaching young people.

In her role as director of strategic communications in the Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships at the University of South Florida, Silvestri has found a way to combine the pair.

“Service learning has become a major passion of mine,” Silvestri, 45, says. “It's about tying service in the community to the curriculum of a course, so the service becomes part of the course.”

A key portion of Silvetri's approach is getting students into the community, she says. The goal is for them to “put what they're learning in the classroom into practice,” says Silvestri, a 40 under 40 recipient in 2006, when she was executive director of the Crowley Museum and Nature Center in Sarasota. “Always with the purpose of serving others.”

Silvestri's work is paying off. In late 2015, she was the recipient of the Graham-Frey Civic Award. The award, named after former Florida Gov. and U.S. Senator Bob Graham and U.S. Congressman Lou Frey, “recognizes outstanding contributions to the development of civic learning and engagement in sustaining our participatory democracy,” according to its application. She is the first USF staff member to win the award.

“I'm really driven by this desire to see the world how it is and how it can improve,” Silvestri says. “I think the key to democracy is having an engaged community and an engaged electorate.”

The challenge comes in bringing awareness to the importance of community engagement and how it impacts student success, says Silvestri, who works out of the main USF campus in Tampa. Her plan is to continue sharing stories and working to get students involved.

She's also met some great people along the way.

“My work at USF always inspires me because I have the opportunity to collaborate and connect with faculty, visiting scholars, artists and students,” Silvestri says. She appreciates working with visual and performing arts because it provides a great way to “explore difficult topics in a meaningful way.”

Silvestri is set to continue focusing on what she's been doing for the past several years: building community-wide relationships and applying research to community-based problems.

“I think it all boils down to passion and having a desire to see how the world can be a better place,” she says. “The more engaged we are and more knowledge we have, the more we can improve the world for other people.”

Blast from the past
Here are some of Bonnie Silvestri's answers to the questionnaire when she was a 40 under 40 recipient in 2006.

Name one pressing issue affecting our region today: Affordable housing to encourage a younger, diverse community to discover the wonders of Sarasota.

How would you solve it? It would be particularly helpful for an organization like the Young Professionals Group to put out materials on the best value areas in the community for young singles and families. For example, a brochure could contain information about attaining a mortgage as a first-time homeowner, the demographics of the local neighborhoods, the school systems and the property values over a five-year period. 

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