As the world began emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, life began to return to normal at USF’s St. Petersburg campus in 2021. Students and faculty returned to the classroom and events began again, albeit many in either remote or hybrid format.
New programs and initiatives were developed. The campus welcomed its largest, most diverse and highest-achieving class in years. And faculty continued to push new boundaries with their research on topics as diverse as the early Spanish roots of Florida’s history to the impacts of climate change.
Here’s a look back at some of the top stories of 2021 at USF’s St. Petersburg campus.
USF to launch new Center of Excellence in Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences on the St. Petersburg campus
The city of St. Petersburg has long been considered a hub for the study of marine science and is home to the largest collection of marine science, oceanographic and environmental research agencies and institutions in the Southeast. Now the University of South Florida is looking to add to this distinction with a proposed interdisciplinary center of excellence in environmental and oceanographic sciences located based on its St. Petersburg campus.
The center will build on the world class reputation of the USF College of Marine Science and will bring a variety of new undergraduate and graduate programs to the St. Petersburg campus. It is envisioned as a national destination for students and researchers studying issues related to the environment, oceanography and sustainability.
At the heart of the plan is a proposed new building, called the Environmental & Oceanographic Sciences Research & Teaching Facility. USF is seeking funding from the Florida Legislature to build the $80-million project, which would provide state-of-the-art research and instructional space for both graduate and undergraduate students from the College of Marine Science, College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering.
“Our vision is to build upon St. Petersburg’s identity as a vibrant cultural center of thought leadership, businesses, STEM and the arts and become a global destination on the leading edge of the blue-green economy,” said Martin Tadlock, regional chancellor of USF’s St. Petersburg campus.
The building would serve as a base for researchers studying the effects of sea level rise, high-tide flooding events and other environmental issues in ways that are accessible to policymakers, planners, elected officials and the general public. In addition, a new data visualization center is envisioned to provide information that improves forecasting models, helps identify flooding hazards, and assess their economic impact.
Honors College enrollment increases by more than 50 percent, campus welcomes first National Merit Scholars
Student enrollment in the Judy Genshaft Honors College on USF’s St. Petersburg campus 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.
In addition, for the first time in its history, USF’s St. Petersburg campus welcomed five National Merit Scholars to its incoming class.
“All five are outstanding young people pursuing their hopes and dreams just like their fellow bulls, and who have come here because of our academic reputation, the campus size, the opportunities for engaging in the community and the sense of place," said Martin Tadlock, regional chancellor. "When five National Merit Scholars choose this campus for the first time in our history, I believe their choice reflects the visibility that comes from being a distinctive destination campus of a highly ranked research university."
Higher Education Consortium announces inaugural Racial Justice Student Fellows
A consortium of higher education institutions focused on racial justice in Pinellas County selected its inaugural cohort of Racial Justice Student Fellows in 2021.
The St. Pete/Pinellas Higher Education for Race Equity (SPHERE) consortium chose eight students, two each from four Pinellas County universities and colleges, for the year-long fellowship.
“Through our consortium, we seek to acknowledge the unique responsibility of institutions of higher education in seeking systematic change,” said Michelle Madden, campus diversity officer at USF’s St. Petersburg campus, one of the partners of the consortium.
The fellowship will put college students at the center of creating systemic change by providing opportunities to shape policy and systems through a racial justice lens. Students will learn about mechanisms that enable racial healing and serve in summer internships to work on projects that support racial healing and transformation in the local community. Each student will receive up to $2,000 during the 2021-2022 academic year.
The fellows selected from USF St. Petersburg campus are Aaron Rose and Destiny Gomez.
“I feel like through this amazing opportunity I would network with many individuals that would be assets to implementing my dreams for this nation,” Gomez said. “I am eager to correspond with like-minded individuals that share my same passions and have the same fire burning within them.”
USF scientists announce findings from Piney Point research effort
In late March, a leak in the Piney Point phosphate plant was discovered, forcing nearby residents to evacuate and raising concerns over the potential harm to drinking water in both Manatee County and Tampa Bay, where some of the wastewater was rerouted.
A team of University of South Florida researchers were among the first to board a research cruise dedicated to studying the breach. Using the R/V Weatherbird II, the same vessel used by USF in its Deepwater Horizon oil spill response effort, the team collected water samples from Tampa Bay and Port Manatee, as well as surface sediment and fish.
Among their initial findings:
- Early results indicated that the effects of the wastewater discharge were localized in nature, not widespread.
- Concentrations of nutrients declined over time and were more typical of those in the historical record for this part of Tampa Bay. Model results show that the concentrations of nutrients within the discharged water have been diluted at least 1000-fold since the initial release.
- A diatom bloom of about 25 square kilometers in size around Port Manatee that formed in response to the discharge dissipated over time. Diatoms are single-celled microalgae called phytoplankton. Chlorophyll concentrations (a proxy for phytoplankton biomass) are within the range generally observed in Tampa Bay during April and May.
The full suite of the data collected at Piney Point, including USF’s data, can be viewed on a dashboard maintained by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.
Call Me MISTER program introduces its first cohort of future male teachers of color
In November, the USF College of Education officially welcomed its first group of male students of color who have committed to becoming teachers at schools in Pinellas County through an innovative program called Call Me MISTER.
Call Me MISTER stands for Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models, and aims to increase the number of male teachers of color in elementary schools with large populations of poor or at-risk students.
In January 2021, USF’s St. Petersburg campus partnered with Pinellas County Schools to develop the program that puts black or brown male teachers in classrooms where they can be mentors. The two institutions worked together to identify prospective applicants like Juan Dacosta, who grew up in the St. Petersburg area.
“Because I went to school in Pinellas County for 12 years, I understood the premise of the whole program and why it’s necessary and important,” Dacosta said.
As a graduate student, Dacosta has a master’s degree in business administration and is now pursuing a master’s in education. “For me, without thought, I had to do it because it allows me to give something back to the community.”
The Call me MISTER cohort for 2021-2022 includes Dacosta and two undergraduate students, Michael Wright and Triston Williams. During a ceremony, these students signed commitment letters at the USF St. Petersburg campus, where the program is housed. The ceremony symbolized their commitment to urban school teaching and the Call Me MISTER program’s mission and values, including confidence, dignity, discipline and self-respect.
USF History professor inducted into Spanish royal order for groundbreaking work on Florida’s early history
A University of South Florida History professor who has devoted his career to uncovering the early Spanish roots of Florida’s history was honored for his work by being inducted into one of Spain’s most prestigious civil orders.
J. Michael Francis, the Hough Family Endowed Chair of Florida Studies at USF’s St. Petersburg campus, was presented with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic at a ceremony at the official residence of Spain’s Ambassador to the United States in Washington, D.C. on October 28.
King Felipe VI of Spain named Francis to the order, which rewards “extraordinary civil behaviors” that promote friendship and cooperation between Spain and the rest of the international community, according to the ambassador’s office.
Francis said he was surprised and humbled by the recognition, and credited the support of his many collaborators and partners over the years.
“This is certainly the most prestigious honor I’ve received in my career,” Francis said. “It is an individual honor but one that would not have happened had I not had a lot of other shoulders to stand on.”
At the ceremony, Francis was presented with a red-enameled cross with a golden frame. The center of the medallion reads “A La Lealtad Acrisolada” (To Proven Loyalty) and “Por Isabel la Catolica” (By Isabella the Catholic).
"Professor Francis has done remarkable work to shine a spotlight on Florida's early Spanish history. We are all very pleased to see him honored in this meaningful, and highly significant, way," said Martin Tadlock, regional chancellor of USF’s St. Petersburg campus. "This recognition is important to everyone on this campus as well as in the state of Florida. It demonstrates our commitment to supporting our faculty and their world-class research, and it also reflects the value of that research to the citizens of this state."
Grand opening of new research lab to combat human trafficking in Florida
Researchers, legislators and law enforcement leaders came together at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus to celebrate the grand opening of a research lab devoted to studying human trafficking in the state. The event highlighted ongoing projects and recognized champions of anti-trafficking efforts in Florida.
The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Risk to Resilience Research Lab is one of the first research centers dedicated to studying the myriad impacts of sexual exploitation of children in Florida and housed on the USF St. Petersburg campus.
“We realized there was a much larger group of youth who were vulnerable to this than previously understood,” said Joan Reid, a criminology professor whose research focuses on child sex trafficking in Florida and is director of the TIP lab. “I came up with the conclusion that any kid is vulnerable. Given the right situation, meeting the right trafficker, any person, any child can be manipulated into this.”
The research lab helps stakeholders, including non-profit groups, legislators and law enforcement agencies, by providing accurate data and resources about victims of human trafficking.
“As we began looking at this, we realized Florida does not have a unified data center for human trafficking,” Reid explained. “As we were interviewing stakeholders, it became apparent that many of them were lacking data; the data they needed to do their work.”
Partnership between USF and Tampa Bay Wave aims to make region major fintech hub with new St. Petersburg-based accelerator
An innovative multi-year partnership between the University of South Florida Muma College of Business and Tampa Bay Wave is launching the FinTech|X Accelerator, with its first cohort to be selected in 2022.
This accelerator is designed to assist high-potential, high-growth startups in the fintech, or financial technology, industry through mentoring, pitch coaching and investment training. The overall goal is to transition startups to sustainable, scalable and profitable businesses.
“The fintech accelerator will allow our campus to play an active role in the growth of fintech across the Tampa Bay region,” said Gary Patterson, interim director of the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance, which is one of six schools within the Muma College of Business. “We are excited to see the new ideas and companies this accelerator generates and what it offers the industry.”
Along with supporting aspiring fintech businesses and entrepreneurs, the accelerator seeks to make the region a hub for fintech startups and talent. The bulk of the in-person programming and signature events will take place on USF’s St. Petersburg campus and other venues around the region, highlighting Tampa Bay’s strong financial industry presence and expertise while exposing the local business community to emerging technologies and business models impacting the financial industry.
“This is the first step toward a bigger vision for establishing the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance and this region as a hub of excellence in this exciting field,” said Moez Limayem, the Lynn Pippenger Dean of the Muma College of Business.
Fintech refers to the integration of technology into financial services. Online banking systems, crypto exchanges and crowdfunding platforms are all examples of fintech.
SAILebration begins new graduation tradition for St. Petersburg campus students
As part of a new campus tradition, USF St. Petersburg campus Fall 2021 graduates had the opportunity to celebrate earning their college degrees by hopping aboard a sunset cruise for dinner, dancing and remembrances.
For more than three hours on the evening of December 8, students soaked in the picturesque views of Tampa Bay on a StarShip yacht as it sailed from downtown St. Petersburg to the Skyway Bridge and back. Throughout that time, students celebrated their achievements with friends, faculty and USF leadership.
The sunset sail, dubbed SAILebration, was the first such event, which planners hope will become a part of the campus’ identity.
“Campus traditions are such an important part of the fabric of an institution,” said Amberly Nelson, conference and event planner for the Regional Chancellor’s Office. “Traditions provide a common experience, promote community and build a legacy.”
Board of Trustees approves funding for a new pool on campus
After eight decades of use, the pool outside of H. William Heller Hall will be replaced by a new pool closer to the center of campus.
On December 7, the Board of Trustees approved the use of $2.1 million from Campus Improvement Trust Funds for a new 4,600-square-foot pool with a separate, enclosed pumphouse as well as new indoor classroom and office space.
The new facility will be built behind the Pelican Apartment’s residence hall between 2nd Street S. and Dali Boulevard S. A retention pond is currently in that space.
The outdoor facility will include a pool deck for programming or lounging, bench seating in the pool, lap lanes, an ADA lift and an outdoor shower. The inside will feature a reception area, men’s and women’s locker room and showers, a wet classroom, additional student space, offices for Campus Recreation staff and a separate building on the other side of the pool for equipment and storage.
The timeline for the new pool includes updated architectural drawings to be completed in January 2022, with bids for the construction going out in the spring. The new pool is scheduled to open by the spring of 2023.
Acknowledging the people who came before
In collaboration with Native American nations and community partners, the USF St. Petersburg campus created a Native American Land Acknowledgement statement in 2021.
By acknowledging those who came before, honoring their cultures and establishing partnerships with Indigenous communities, the campus is remembering a prosperous and painful history while building bridges for future opportunity.
In early March of 2020, two staff members from USF’s St. Petersburg campus, Michelle Madden and Emily Mann, took a trip down to the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in the heart of the Everglades. There, in one of the last remaining expanses of Florida’s natural environment, they met with representatives of the state’s largest remaining Indigenous community.
“I was struck by how removed it was from everything else,” said Madden, USF’s St. Petersburg campus diversity officer. “There was no major road to it. I got the sense that they lived in a place where they were forced to locate.”
Madden and Mann, a librarian at the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library, began organizing a group of faculty, staff, students and experts in the community to work on a land acknowledgment statement for the St. Petersburg campus.
Working with the Seminoles, the group finalized a statement that touches on the history of Indigenous tribes on the campus land and their forced removal, the respect for their culture and a call to be better stewards of the land. For both the tribe and the campus community, the land acknowledgment is the start of what they hope to be a fruitful partnership.
“They didn’t want the land acknowledgment just to be something that was said and forgotten about. They wanted it to be a pact that we would start working with them and think about them as a living people,” said Mann. “We wanted it to tell a story but also to start a conversation.”
The full statement is available here.