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Top stories from 2023 at USF St. Petersburg.

A remarkable year: Top stories from 2023

This calendar year was full of institutional achievements and international headlines at USF St. Petersburg. 
 
Students with intellectual disabilities overcame considerable obstacles to achieve their dreams while others passionate about solving community problems changed policies countywide. Research activities led to rescuing endangered corals and the creation of a statewide database to track human trafficking. And state and community support and the forging of key partnerships expanded programming in marine sciences and the arts while enhancing scholarships for students.

A transformational budget for USF leads to initial funding of the Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences facility

The state budget for fiscal year 2023-24 was a transformational one for the University of South Florida, providing significant new increases in recurring operational funding and investments in other top-priority projects. On the St. Petersburg campus, $24.3 million will fund the first phase of planning and construction of a new Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences (EOS) Research and Teaching facility.
 
The EOS facility will house an interdisciplinary center of excellence to harness the collective power of colleges and departments from throughout the university to address the existential challenges created by climate change, including sea level rise, high tide flooding events and other coastal hazards. Building on the world-class reputation of the College of Marine Science, this center of excellence will bring a variety of new undergraduate and graduate programs to the St. Petersburg campus to become a national destination for students and researchers studying issues related to the environment, oceanography and sustainability.
 
“There’s incredible energy and momentum in the field of ocean science here in St. Petersburg,” said Christian Hardigree, regional chancellor of USF St. Petersburg. “Our goal is to become the global destination for faculty, staff and students who are driven to find solutions to the challenges posed by sea level rise, a growing population and sustainably managing our coastal resources.”


Returning rescued corals back to the sea

two men examining a box of corals

After housing more than 5,000 rescued corals for three months due to unprecedented water temperatures that caused a massive coral bleaching event off the coast of Florida, the Florida Institute of Oceanography’s (FIO) Keys Marine Laboratory (KML) returned corals to the sea. FIO is hosted by the University of South Florida.
 
In the fall, water temperatures cooled to normal levels to allow for the safe relocation of corals housed in the on-land seawater systems at KML. Biological scientists, in partnership with restoration practitioners across the Keys, moved corals back to their ocean nurseries, a process that took several weeks. Coral nurseries are like floating Christmas tree farms that allow corals to grow under the care of researchers. Ultimately, the corals will be reattached to natural reefs using epoxy, cement, zip ties and nails. 
 
“The corals housed at KML came from nurseries where they were growing out in the ocean. Unfortunately, many of the corals that could not be relocated to land-based facilities and remained in the ocean died from the hot waters,” said KML Director Cynthia Lewis. “Conditions became right for corals to return to nurseries to grow and one day be reattached, thus restoring the reef one coral at a time.”


Forty years of the Tavern

The Tavern at Bayboro is an institution at USF St. Petersburg. This year marked its 40th anniversary of providing food, live music and a social gathering spot for faculty, staff and students outside of class and work. 
 
Since 1982, the pub has had four owners. Though their styles varied, their outlook could nicely be summed up by Tom Herzhauser, who owned the Tavern from 2010-2019.
 
“I always had the feeling that as the owner, I never really owned it. I had the keys for nine years. It is a treasure in St. Pete and especially on campus. And I always felt like I’m here for a little bit of time, and don’t screw it up.”


Student proposal leads to free bus rides for Pinellas County veterans

group of people standing in front of the PSTA veterans bus

What started as an idea by a student in a USF government class has become official policy: Veterans can now ride public buses for free in Pinellas County. The proposal, spearheaded by USF St. Petersburg student and Navy veteran Steven Brown, came out of a class where students tackle an issue and present their solution to the relevant governing body.
 
In March, Brown and the other members of his group, which included Nathan Tout-Puissant, Andrew Alan and Naveh Coleman, presented their proposal to allow Pinellas County disabled veterans to ride public buses for free in front of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) Board of Directors and received a positive response. On May 24, the board took up a vote on the proposal and approved it overwhelmingly. The board then went one step further, passing a motion to allow all Pinellas County veterans to ride PSTA buses for free starting November 10, 2023.
 
“This class really got me to think how you can affect real change in society if you have the tools and motivation at your disposal,” said Brown, who plans to continue advocating for veteran issues post-graduation. “It’s been an honor to be able to make a positive change that improves the community welfare of veterans.”


Ship granted to USF will enhance Florida Institute of Oceanography’s efforts to build a robust ocean science and maritime workforce

After a 4,000-mile journey, a 117-foot twin-hulled ship granted to USF docked at its new home port in St. Petersburg, where it will be operated by the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO) to offer transformative opportunities for students to explore and advance the field of ocean science.
 
Called Research Vessel Western Flyer, the ship was granted to USF by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. It is the most technologically advanced vessel in the FIO fleet. While FIO’s other research vessels, Weatherbird II and Hogarth, operate primarily within Florida waters, the Western Flyer will embark on expeditions further afield – operating in waters off the southeastern U.S. and stretching into the northern Caribbean Sea. Capable of longer missions and with additional berths, the added capacities will allow more interdisciplinary expeditions including at-sea development opportunities for research, engineering, maritime trades and other STEM careers.
 
“The addition of this magnificent ship will strengthen the University of South Florida’s position as a global leader in sustainability, environmental and oceanographic sciences,” USF President Rhea Law said. “We are honored to accept this generous gift from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. The Western Flyer will provide new real-world opportunities for students, help us fill the talent pipeline to meet workforce needs and expand our research capabilities.”


Governor signs bill making USF lab state repository for human trafficking data

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that makes the USF Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Risk to Resilience Research Lab the statewide repository for anonymous human trafficking data. As part of the larger Senate Bill 7064, which supports victims of human trafficking and strengthens penalties for human traffickers, the provision allows the TIP Lab to collect and analyze statewide data to better understand the magnitude and trends in human trafficking across the state and over time. 
 
The lab is also tasked with evaluating the effectiveness of state-funded initiatives to combat trafficking and will work with law enforcement and state agencies to report data on human trafficking investigations and prosecutions, which can aid those agencies in combatting human trafficking and individuals.  
 
“The creation of a unified database for human trafficking will be transformational for this region and for Florida,” said Joan Reid, USF professor of criminology and director of the TIP Lab. “It will allow us to have a more accurate picture of the prevalence and patterns related to human trafficking in the state in order to better combat and reduce this illegal activity.”


First cohort of students with intellectual disabilities completes UMatter Program

As a student with an intellectual disability, 21-year-old Luke King wasn’t sure he could ever attend college. But thanks to an inclusive postsecondary education program, the Sarasota native spent the past two years at USF St. Petersburg and is now ready to pursue a career and live on his own. 
 
King and five others were the first cohort of students to graduate from the Eileen Hoffman Hafer UMatter Program, receiving a certificate of completion at the end of the Spring 2023 semester. This innovative program provides young adults with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to experience higher education and campus life, learning social skills and career training along the way.
 
“I always wanted to come somewhere where I could make changes and be more confident to do other things in the world,” King said. “It’s not something that comes to you; it’s something that you have to work to get and hope that things work out.”
 
The UMatter program was launched in 2020 through a $900,000 grant awarded by the Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities. In 2021, USF received a $1.2 million gift from Andrew and Eileen Hafer to help fund its operations and initiatives. In addition to the six graduates, five students entered their second year, and another cohort of ten started in August.


Inaugural Bulls and Brews by the Bay raises $80k in funds for student scholarships

More than 250 USF alumni, donors and friends donned lederhosen and dirndls for a good cause during the first-ever Bulls and Brews by the Bay. Nearly $80,000 was raised during the inaugural "Okto-BULL-fest” event, which means the campus will be able to provide ten times as many scholarships from the USF St. Petersburg Scholarship fund during the 2024-2025 academic year compared to the previous year. 
 
The waterfront event featured an array of craft beer selections from local breweries, as well as non-alcoholic options. There was also a traditional German menu curated by USF Dining, which included bratwurst, sauerkraut and pretzels. Owners and brewers from several St. Petersburg area breweries donated the craft beer in honor of USF's Brewing Arts Program.
 
"We were thrilled that our supporters responded so positively to our Bulls and Brews by the Bay event,” said Howard Rutherford, associate vice president of development for University Advancement. “We are excited to build on the success and create momentum for an annual USF St. Petersburg campus tradition.”


Who’s hunting the black widow spider? Their brown widow relatives, research shows

A brown widow spider kills a black widow spider in a container habitat set up by USF researchers.

Brown widow spiders are seeking out and killing their black widow relatives, a surprising twist in the natural relationship between species of spiders known for their venomous bites, according to research out of USF St. Petersburg. Researchers found that in a container habitat, brown widows were 6.6 times more likely to attack black widows than other related species. The behavior is likely a driver of the black widow spider’s population decline.
 
The study also revealed that both brown and black widow species are more likely to die of predation than starvation, suggesting that “competition for scarce resources is not a significant cause of mortality among spiderlings for either species,” the researchers said.
 
“We have established brown widow behavior as being highly aggressive towards the southern black widows, yet much more tolerant of other spiders within the same family,” said Louis Coticchio, who led the study as part of his undergraduate research at USF along with advisor Deby Cassill, associate professor in the Department of Integrative Biology.


USF Contemporary Art Museum’s inaugural GENERATOR exhibition opened on the St. Petersburg campus

The Vertical Migration viewer responsive animation is featured during the new art exhibition by SUPERFLEX.

As part of its ongoing expansion of arts programming across the bay, the USF College of The Arts’ Contemporary Art Museum (USFCAM) presented the inaugural GENERATOR exhibition on the St. Petersburg campus. GENERATOR is an expansion of USFCAM, which seeks to be an incubator of new ideas and a place for expanded artistic experimentation. 
 
The opening exhibition was titled SUPERFLEX: This Is The Tip Of The Iceberg, which explored a world where human life depends on coexistence with other species. The installation, by internationally renowned Danish artist collective SUPERFLEX, immersed viewers in two parallel and interconnected realms – a terrestrial space unsettled by rising water and a submerged space in the ocean’s depths – to signify the impacts and consequences of climate change, especially relevant to Florida and its coastal communities. The free exhibition ran from October 6 through November 22 in the Harbor Hall Gallery at USF St. Petersburg. 
 
“The city of St. Petersburg is an art mecca, with so many great museums, galleries and artists that create such a vibrant culture. It is only natural for our campus to not only provide a stellar arts education to students, but foster events and programming that contribute to the growing art scene in our city,” said Christian Hardigree, regional chancellor of USF St. Petersburg.

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