GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A retired University of Florida professor has donated $1 million to support UF’s Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program so students from low-income backgrounds can follow his path to higher education.

Dr. Paul Nicoletti’s gift will create graduate-level scholarships in UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He made the gift this winter during a four-month fundraising drive that collected $15 million for the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program. Donors rallied to support the program after an anonymous donor gave $10 million in October to rename it in honor of Bernie and Chris Machen, UF’s president and first lady.

Nicoletti’s own life experience inspired his gift. A $150 Sears Roebuck scholarship took him from his family farm in Missouri and helped pay his way through the University of Missouri. He later obtained a master’s degree in epidemiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“I have a very special place in my concerns for scholarships and for the support that scholarships give, financially and psychologically, to students by giving them the opportunity to go to college,” Nicoletti said.

A professor emeritus of infectious diseases at UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine, he spent 28 years at UF as a faculty member and adviser to many students. While there, he endowed a scholarship for students with financial need who are interested in public health. After retiring in 2003, he endowed another need-based scholarship for students interested in careers in food animal medicine.

Machen praised Nicoletti’s commitment to students.

“Dr. Nicoletti is a wonderful role model for aspiring veterinary medicine students, and with this gift he’s really raised the bar,” Machen said. “The next generation of veterinarians will include his great legacy.”

Throughout his career, Nicoletti received recognition nationally and internationally for his work on public health, including in 2010 the prestigious Meyer-Steele Gold Head Cane Award, the highest honor from the American Veterinary Epidemiology Society. It is given to scientists who have made significant contributions to improve human health through their work in veterinary epidemiology and public health. In February, Nicoletti was inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars are Florida high school graduates from families earning less than $40,000 a year and neither parent holds a college degree. The average annual household income for families of Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars is $18,759. Machen’s goal when he established the program was to open UF’s doors to all qualified Florida high school seniors regardless of their families’ incomes. Scholarship recipients are among the state’s brightest and most talented high school graduates, and all are accepted to UF on their academic merits. Only after acceptance to UF are they considered for the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program. Since its inception in 2006, the program has supported more than 2,600 students.

Machen believed that UF, the state’s flagship university, has a responsibility to all Florida’s citizens, and that all academically deserving students should have an opportunity to attend UF. National studies show that students from low socio-economic backgrounds can be deterred from enrolling in college because of fear of debt and concern that working while in school could hinder their chances for academic success. UF’s Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program addresses this problem.