Cynthia O’Connell helps create a legacy in education


Cynthia O’Connell had no intention of creating a career in teaching, but as she now reflects on her work, she sees a distinct trend. “Helping young people realize their greatest destiny and realize themselves is something I now see as the theme of my career.”

After a career ranging from advertising and brand development to promoting scholarships for at-risk youth and managing international tourism efforts at three Olympic Games, she was named one of Tallahassee’s 25 women you need to know.


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O’Connell came to Tallahassee from Lake City to attend Florida State University, earning a degree in communications in 1978. She began a career in marketing, working in financial services and banking. “It’s always been my desire to build brands that make positive life changes, and I’ve seen a lot of progress,” she said, “for the better!”

Over the past few decades, she has reached new heights as a Governor-appointed Trustee of the University of Florida. “Being a trustee of the University of Florida for 10 years taught me a lot about the significant economic impact created by Florida universities. In my opinion, they are the engine of Florida’s booming economy.

In 2011, she was appointed by Governor Rick Scott to serve as Secretary of the Florida Lottery, leading professional staff to achieve record growth among U.S. lotteries through branding, operational transparency and winnings. of income.

“We had a series of exciting ‘firsts’ when we launched in 1988, when I was the Lottery’s first promotions manager,” she says. “When I later returned as Secretary, I was honored to be able to champion a ‘refreshed’ brand for the lottery and to create programs for more protection for players and to create wider access to gaming through to technology.”

O’Connell is now the first director of the Florida Prepaid College Foundation, mapping the Foundation’s strategy and direction to provide more children with the opportunity of a lifetime – a college education.

“We are reaching thousands of children, many of whom are first-generation students and cannot afford to go to college. I hope this Foundation will serve as many deserving students as possible who wish to attend university,” she said.

O’Connell turns to the Foundation’s Path to Prosperity Scholarship Program, a new partnership with the Florida Chamber Foundation, to bridge the education inequality gap for children living in pockets of poverty.

“Educational inequality is one of the root causes of generational poverty, as identified by the Florida Chamber Foundation. Over 800,000 children live in poverty postcodes and we are committed to helping them,” she said. “A debt-free path to a college education would empower students to make a difference in society, improve their own circumstances, and improve their communities. Private industry, government, educators and the public all need to be at the table for this to happen.

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His volunteerism reflects his commitment to higher education. O’Connell was appointed to the Florida Commission on Community Service in 2015 by Governors Scott and DeSantis and has served on the University of Florida Foundation Board of Trustees since 2001. She is a member of Florida Tax Watch, Volunteer Florida Foundation. Boards and as former Chairman of the Florida House Board in Washington, D.C.

For decades, O’Connell continued to support and engage with students through his role on the Alumni Advisory Council of the UF Florida Blue Key Student Leadership Honor Society.

She is a trustee of the Florida Chamber Foundation and served as president of the Economic Club of Florida from 2018 to 2020, leading the organization during the height of COVID-19.

She finds inspiration in those who have gone before her. “My mother understood the importance of a college education. So much so that when I graduated from Florida State University, she also graduated that same year. But, she had spent nine years part-time to get there through FSU classes at the then Lake City Community College while raising a family and with a demanding career in municipal government,” O’Connell said. .

This family legacy of education led to the creation of two scholarships for women returning to college, named for her and her mother, Faye Bowling Warren, at Gateway Community College, initiated by her brother Marty Bowling, graduating from West Point in 1968.

“I sought a life of public service, and with it the opportunity to serve the greater good of all Floridians,” she said, nodding to her late public service career. husband, the president of the University of Florida, Stephen C. O’. Connell, and the distinguished military service of her current husband, Dan McCarthy.

The life of his late godmother, Royce Meier of Tallahassee, inspired O’Connell to delve deeper into his Catholic faith. As O’Connell reflects on her career and looks forward to what she still has ahead of her, she encourages us to keep the “faith” and be true to ourselves in work and life by staying focused on the long term.

“Tell your own story,” she says. “If you have a perspective that you know is right and strong and that represents who you are, be authentic. We all have ups and downs, but if you ever lose the long view, you don’t grow up and become the whole person you were meant to be.

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