Aylesworth scholarships in excess of $581,000 have been awarded to more than 100 students at 14 Florida universities. The foundation would not be possible without the support of Aylesworth Fish & Bait in St. Petersburg, run by husband and wife owners Bobby and Dawn Aylesworth.
Florida Sea Grant plays a role in the scholarship program by advertising and screening candidates, and finding the best possible students and research projects. Bobby shares about the industry and philanthropy in this interview that originally appeared in Florida Trend.
Tell us about Aylesworth Fish & Bait and the bait industry in Florida.
“My father and uncle started the company in 1944. It was actually a little hut on the end of the Gulfport Pier. We have gone through some very difficult ups and downs — in particular, the mid-90s when the net ban went into effect. This business was very dependent on the net fishery, and when that went away, we were challenged to reinvent ourselves. That’s how we got involved in focusing on the fishing bait distribution business.
We sell several hundred different types of baits, from just a frozen piece of squid all the way up to a high-end rigged bait. Business is very good, it keeps us quite busy, and we actually have a little fun here too.”
Tell us about the Aylesworth Foundation for the Advancement of Marine Science.
“My parents saw this as a means to fund research projects that could be beneficial to the industry and have an impact not just in the immediate future, but way down the road. We have provided scholarships to a wide range of students in fields related to the marine sciences — journalism, seafood safety, anthropology, engineering and economics. We have students who have come back as teachers, researchers and professors.”
What role does Florida Sea Grant play in helping the foundation award scholarships?
“The administration by Florida Sea Grant is very important to our success. They help us find the brightest and most deserving students by advertising within the network of Sea Grant colleges, pre-screening candidates and then presenting our board with the cream of the crop. We look for smart individuals, Florida residents who are working hard to get their education but might need a little financial help. The scholarship often carries the student through the course of their graduate studies.”
How can other business leaders become involved with Sea Grant?
“If you own a business in Florida and are interested in establishing a program to support student scholars, it’s easy to set up a program similar to the Aylesworth Scholarship. All it requires is contacting Sea Grant Director Karl Havens to talk about your focus, the number of students you’d like to support each year, those kinds of details. Once it’s set up, Florida Sea Grant can handle all of the administrative work, announcing the opportunities and rating applicants. You end up supporting the best and brightest students in their training related to a coastal or ocean topic in your area.”
Aylesworth Scholars of Note
Mark Butler is an internationally known marine biologist and eminent scholar at Old Dominion University whose research is helping restore Florida Bay sponges.
Thomas Chesnes is Chair of Biology at Palm Beach Atlantic University and author of published research on seagrass ecology, fisheries management and the invasive Burmese python in the Everglades.
Christy Foust conducted research that examines how stressors related to climate change such as increased salt marsh salinity affect the genetic structure of plants. She now teaches biology at a Tampa high school STEM academy.
Lesbeth Rodriguez focused on techniques to use marine natural products in the pharmaceutical industry and is now Associate Director of Global Regulatory Affairs at Bayer HealthCare in Berkley, CA.
Michael Tringali, a genetics researcher for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, discovered the Choctaw bass species unique to Florida’s Panhandle.
If you are interested in supporting a new student scholarship program, please contact Sea Grant Director Karl Havens.
To see the original article that appeared in Florida Trend , visit: Florida Trend Report: Luring the Best and Brightest
Learn more about Aylesworth Foundation Scholarships: