When it comes to educational opportunities, Turlock native Margo Souza believes that it is better to give than to receive.
The 74-year-old former president and CEO of Turlock’s Circle H Dairy Ranch Inc. donated $1 million to UC Merced in an effort to create leadership initiatives for Merced’s diverse student population.
In April, the school pledged to establish the Margo F. Souza Leadership Center within UC Merced’s Office of Student Life. The program will offer conferences, guest-speaker events, and various leadership activities for all students.
Although Souza is an alumna of Seattle University, the Turlock dairywoman noticed that leadership opportunities are scarce in the Central Valley due to high unemployment rates and a failing economy.
She was confident that implementing a leadership center would enrich local students, and allow them to follow their dreams.
“For many of these students, they are the first in their families to even go to college,” said Souza. “They are still trying to find their place in the world, and with leadership training, they’ll find where they will be happy.”
Souza attributes her success and worldly views to attaining her college degree in nursing. When she returned to Turlock to help her father with the family business in 1984, she kept her education close to her heart.
As a woman in a man’s world, Souza had to prove herself as an innovative industry representative before her male counterparts. In 2004, she was named Outstanding Woman in Agriculture by the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation. She also served on the California Milk Advisory Board for 15 years.
As a result, she has become one of the most successful businesswomen in the Central Valley. But throughout all this time, Souza never forgot the importance of scholastic achievements.
Souza was the first in her family to go to college, and she wanted to provide the same opportunities for future generations. According to Souza, roughly 58 percent of UC Merced undergraduate students are the first in their families to attend college.
When Souza knew that her retirement was looming near, she decided to set aside a portion of the money she received from selling the family dairy to improve the economy by targeting the youth.
“I wanted to give back to UC Merced because I wanted to contribute something to these kids,” said Souza. “This program will enhance their leadership skills and help them start their own businesses. We are going to enrich the Central Valley with all of these college graduates.”
Souza also hopes that her connections in the agricultural business will be an asset to the students by providing internships or job opportunities.
UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland said that Souza’s role as a leader will inspire students and help them strive to meet their goals.
“Serving as a business owner for nearly 30 years in a male-dominated industry, she exemplifies the true qualities of a leader,” said Leland. “Her vision to help students discover and hone their entrepreneurial spirit will be carried out through this important center.”
This is not the first instance that Souza has shown her generosity to the school. Nearly four years ago, Souza asked friends and family to donate money to UC Merced’s engineering department rather than to provide gifts for her 70th birthday. The college earned more than $2,000 through her efforts.
“It is important to invest in our future because we need a growing economy,” said Souza. “When I see the array of students who are investing their futures in schools, I can’t think of anything more impressive. They all come from diverse backgrounds; there has never been an opportunity like this before.”
Although Souza is retired, she will continue to do her best to provide for the youth. She wishes to continue partnering with UC Merced by becoming actively involved in the leadership center.
“This gives me a chance to be back on campus,” said Souza. “I’m honored to be a part of this school, and how it will deeply affect our local region.”