USF's Outstanding Graduate 'proud to be a Bull'
TAMPA, Fla. -- Demelza Hays lost her mother when she was 12 years of age and her father had to hold down two jobs to keep their family together.
Such circumstances could easily have sent her life into a downward spiral. Instead, Hays has soared to the great heights, achieving recognition from the University of South Florida Alumni Association as the summer 2012 graduating class’ Outstanding Graduate.
“My father taught me to never give up on my dreams from a young age,” said Hays, who grew up in Seminole Heights.
An important part of her life’s choices she owes to working in restaurants. But then being named for the impulsive and courageous character in the 1970s BBC series “Poldark” might have something to do with her adventurousness.
“My parents looked up the name,” she said. “It is Scottish, and means ‘strong fort.’ My family is both Scottish and English, so they enjoyed the show very much.”
Graduation from college most likely would have been enough of a show of strength for Hays’ father. When her name was called during commencement, there was a lot to say about her achievements during the time she spent at USF.
Hays decided early on to immerse herself in her surroundings as she majored in economics in the College of Arts and Sciences and got involved in numerous activities driven by her innate curiosity and openness to the world. For her, getting involved meant going the extra mile.
Since her freshman year at USF, Hays said she has worked diligently to achieve excellence in every opportunity presented to her. She took USF’s mission to heart and made it her own. Known for innovative research, community and global engagement and building leaders, USF offered many options that Hays jumped right into.
She was involved in the Emerging Leaders Institute, the Stampede of Service, the USF Case Competition and the Honors College Research Colloquium. She was one of the three winners of the College of Business Elevator Competition, was named to the College of Business’ “25 Under 25,” and was honored with the Golden Bull Award that distinguishes USF's top 20 students. She also served as an intern for Congresswoman Kathy Castor.
The Office of Education Abroad got to know her and helped her study in Costa Rica and she went on to earn a U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarship to study in India and a Fulbright postgraduate research grant to continue her studies there.
That’s where the restaurants come in. Hays worked at a Mexican restaurant when she was 14 and at an Indian restaurant during her sophomore and junior years in college.
“I worked at Viva La Frida's and I learned about the great Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. I learned Spanish, listened to live Spanish music when I bussed tables on the weekends, and made Spanish friends,” she said.
At Cilantro Indian Cuisine where the Indian television station B4U played all day, she picked up words in Hindi. When business was slow there was plenty of time to sit around and talk. That’s when she heard fascinating stories about India. One in particular, told by Ankit Singh, captured her imagination.
“He told me he was Sikh and that his family had been warriors who pushed the Mughals out of Hindustan (India). He told me about his holy land and the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, Punjab, which was a temple made completely out of gold in Northern India near Pakistan,” she said.
Hays knew she had to see this place and the Critical Language scholarship took her there. After travels around India she developed her research topic for the Fulbright, examining the effect of microfinance loans on 15 villages that received loans, compared to a control group of 15 villages that do not.
After both of her travels abroad she went a few steps further. Hays founded the USF Spanish Tutoring Program, a free service, was selected as Member of the Year by the USF Spanish Club and served as president of Club de Español. She founded the USF Punjabi Club after her trip to India. She also learned to play the sitar and now dances the traditional Punjabi dance for women called Gidha.
During her volunteer activities, Hays worked with the Students of India Association to sponsor USF’s first “Turban Day.” She said that it “created awareness for students who cover their heads in religious observance, by offering students a five dollar Starbucks gift card in exchange for wearing a Turban for one hour around campus, and for relaying back their experiences to us that we used in an educational video about Sikhism.”
And there’s more.
Hays has planted flowers at a local elementary school, was a three-time site leader with Stampede of Service, tutored high school students for free and worked with the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections, registering more than 500 students to vote.
After serving as Associate Professor Terry Sincich’s teaching assistant, the new graduate was selected to contribute to the textbook “Statistics for Business and Economics” which comes out in 2013. She created homework questions for the book and found articles and data to include.
Then there’s Hays the businesswoman. She started her own company in 2010, Tamarindo Properties, LLC, which invests in foreclosed homes and manages property in Tampa. She invested her savings and now that business is her main source of income supporting her education.
Hays spent her senior year conducting research on the correlation between a woman’s status and the health of her children with USF Professor Benedicte Apouey in the Department of Economics.
Conversations with one of her professors in the College of Business, Walter Andrusyszyn pointed Hays in a logical direction. His professional experiences in the U.S. State Department inspired her to make her next goal a State Department career.
Hays describes herself as “resilient, culturally aware and a leader,” and “extremely proud to be a USF Bull.”
USF is proud of her as well. And the admiration is mutual.
“If I could reverse time and do it all over again, I would still come to USF because no other school could prepare me as thoroughly to lead the tremendous life that I have been granted,” Hays said.
All of her experiences at USF have “helped me build strong bonds within the community and gain the knowledge that anything is possible with hard work and dedication.
Filed under:Arts and Sciences Economics Mathematics and Statistics Student Success
Author: Barbara Melendez