When Stephanie Parenti walks across UCF’s stage this weekend to receive her diploma, she’ll be looking for her mom in the audience.
Stephanie and Roseann Parenti have a unique relationship. Concern about Stephanie’s well-being in the midst of the abuse and financial instability that rocked her young life drove Roseann to pass her daughter from relative to relative around the state.
Although Roseann was always a part of her daughter’s life and the two lived together for some time, Stephanie eventually settled in the Tampa area with her grandparents.
Stephanie, a first-generation college student, will graduate Saturday during one of four weekend ceremonies at the UCF Arena . She will earn a degree in Political Science with an emphasis on International Relations. She’ll go onto graduate school and then will work with the U.S. State Department.
And her mom couldn’t be prouder.
“I believe with all my heart that it takes a village to raise a child,” Roseann said. “The diversities that Stephanie has lived through make her the most wonderful person I know.”
A student in UCF’s Burnett Honors College, Stephanie was awarded the prestigious Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship. She was one of only 20 recipients from across the country.
As a fellow, she’ll continue her education at Seton Hall University in New Jersey and then start with the Foreign Service, where she sees a future for herself working in politics and public diplomacy.
“I’m most looking forward to meeting people from different cultures, spending time with them and getting to know how things operate in different countries,” she said.
Stephanie says she’s grateful for her unusual upbringing, which exposed her to different cultures and points of view.
After seeing the proliferation of xenophobia around her after 9/11, she became committed to learning about other cultures and translating people’s customs and values.
“I saw so much discrimination,” Stephanie said. “It hurts, because we’re all foreigners. We all come from different backgrounds.”
“Having the exposure to learn about any culture I wanted to really drove me,” she added.
Stephanie received her associate’s degree from Valencia Community College, where she studied political science and participated in the human rights organization Amnesty International.
At UCF, she focused on international studies with a minor in Spanish. She has also been active in research, completing a project about how ideas affect history and writing an Honors in the Major senior thesis on neocolonialism.
She credits the mentorship that she has received from the McNair Scholars Program with helping her discover her love for research and earning the Pickering Fellowship. The program aims to increase the number of first-generation college students from low-income families and underrepresented groups pursuing doctoral degrees by exposing them to research and other scholarly activities.
“It’s been my foundation here at UCF,” said Parenti. “Without McNair, I wouldn’t have gotten into research or Honors in the Major. It’s the greatest thing I’ve done at UCF.”
Stephanie also was named a MacArthur International Relations Scholar by UCF’s Office of Global Perspectives. The scholarship honored her commitment to building international awareness and understanding in the local community.
Stephanie hopes to earn a graduate assistantship at Seton Hall, a role that would allow her to mentor undergraduate students and share the importance of research with them.
But for now, she’s most excited about giving her mom the perfect Mother’s Day gift — the opportunity to see her daughter graduate from college.
“I could not be more proud of her and how she persevered to become the woman she is,” Roseann said.