Student enrollment in the Judy Genshaft Honors College on USF’s St. Petersburg campus has jumped by more than 50 percent for the 2021-22 academic year.
Nearly 150 students on the campus are in the prestigious college that provides an intimate, discussion-based learning experience with greater experiential and research opportunities. Overall, the Honors College across all three campuses experienced an eight percent growth in enrollment and saw increases in average GPA and test scores.
“The biggest reason for the substantial jump was the larger pool of students coming in with higher scores,” said Thomas Smith, associate dean of the Honors College and professor of Political Science on USF’s St. Petersburg campus. “The incoming first-year cohort make up 67 of the 144 total students now enrolled, more than double the biggest number we ever had from an incoming class.”
The Judy Genshaft Honors College admits students who have a 4.0 GPA or higher and SAT scores of 1370 or higher.
Along with small interdisciplinary classes across a wide range of academic disciplines, benefits for students include study abroad scholarships, internship and community service opportunities and an intensive research experience.
“Going into college, I had no interest in research, but I took an honors biology class my first year and I got hooked on phage [viruses that only infect bacteria] and it eventually led me to a summer internship in Dr. Mya Breitbart’s Lab in the College of Marine Science,” said Paige Boleman, a senior biology major going into her fourth year in the Honors College. “That class changed the course of my studies entirely.”
Boleman got so interested in research that during the pandemic she transformed a room where she lives into a laboratory to continue her fascination with microbiology. She is currently using the lab for her Honors College thesis, where she is isolating a virus to infect bioluminescent bacteria to better understand the relationship between phage and bacteria.
Boleman credits the Honors College’s interactive classes for allowing her to think more deeply and come at course material from a variety of viewpoints in order to contribute to classroom discussions.
Smith added that this diversity of thought, which stems from the diversity of backgrounds and academic majors found in the Honors College, is a major strength and reason why students choose to enroll.
“When you have kids from the northeast and the heartland and Florida in the same class, it brings a different perspective on the world and intellectual friction that exposes students to ideas they are not familiar with,” Smith said.
Nearly 40 percent of incoming students enrolled come from outside of Florida, comprising 17 states. Three students hail from overseas - Japan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan - marking the first time international students are part of the Honors College on the St. Petersburg campus.
“I chose USF and the St. Pete campus and the Honors College because of affordability, location and small classes,” said Sho Ishizuka, a first-year student from Japan. “St. Pete is just a beautiful place and I love the environment around the campus. And the Honors College provides even smaller classes, which I learn best from by getting to know teachers better and having more discussion-based classes where I can learn from others in the classroom.”
Ishizuka, who is also a U.S. citizen, plans to major in either Accounting or Finance. But what really motivated him about the Honors College was being in classes with students from different majors and perspectives.
“Learning about different perspectives is really important. It can help you solve problems in new ways and it will help me be able to adapt to challenges in the future,” Ishizuka said.
Though the number of students in the Honors College on the St. Petersburg campus has grown over the years, Smith says the focus is still on maintaining as intimate an educational setting as possible. He is also developing, and wants the Honors College on the St. Petersburg campus to be known for, destination programming that aligns with the character of the city and will attract students with interests in fields of study such as pre-law and marine biology.
“We have an accelerated program for students to get into the law program at Stetson and an arrangement where a Law professor from Stetson teaches a class on campus,” Smith said. “And we plan to focus on Marine and Environmental Science and connect students with the organizations and expertise in that area found throughout our region."