The Dean’s Student Leadership Society (DSLS) is a distinct organization specific to the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). Established to capture the spirit of the college through student leaders, it serves as a bridge between alumni, faculty, and community leaders within USF and beyond. This year, DSLS celebrated its 10th anniversary starting with a virtual event to commemorate this significant milestone.
THE ORIGINS AND IDENTITY OF CAS
The mission of DSLS is intrinsically tied to the origins and roots of CAS. Prior to its establishment, the college was divided into the Colleges of Arts & Letters, Social & Behavioral Sciences, Natural Sciences and Fine Arts. It wasn’t until 1991 when these areas merged, creating the college that exists today.
In 1995, USF embraced the arrival of Dr. Eric Eisenberg, who assumed the role of dean for CAS from 2007 to 2021. Upon taking the position, Eisenberg quickly identified a gap between CAS and the other colleges on campus.
“I recognized pretty quickly that CAS was really different from the identity of the other colleges,” Eisenberg said.
“I recognized pretty quickly that CAS was really different from the identity of the other colleges. I noticed that when somebody was in the College of Education, the Muma College of Business, or the College of Engineering, they knew what it meant to be a part of that college. CAS was a much more difficult story to tell because it's so diverse. You have people learning about psychology, chemistry, and English, and while there’s an advantage to having all these general education courses, a consequence was that students didn't really identify with the college at all. I wanted to fill that gap by trying to create an identity around a college that bridges those disciplines,” Eisenberg said.
Acknowledging this challenge, Eisenberg enlisted the help of Michele Dye, former head of communications and marketing for CAS. Dye, who had previously worked at the University of Florida and successfully established a student ambassador program, brought her expertise to address the issue.
“There are a lot of important things happening at CAS that are contributing to the university's overall mission and producing successful alumni. However, a lot of those stories get overlooked. So that was one of the motivating factors to create this core group of students that we could call on,” Dye said.
THE EARLY YEARS OF DSLS
Eisenberg and Dye laid the groundwork for DSLS, officially establishing the group in August of 2013.
Starting any endeavor comes with its share of setbacks, and DSLS was no exception. According to Eisenberg, the most significant challenge they faced was communicating to students why it would be beneficial for them to join this organization.
“Early on, we spoke to classes, faculty, and department chairs, asking them to nominate students from their area. But very often the students that we were seeking were involved in lots of other things. The students were asking questions like, ‘How is this going to add to my co-curricular resumé? Is this really going to be a good use of my time?’ Our response was to present them with an opportunity for them to represent the college and network with some really cool people,” Eisenberg explained. “Around the time this started, the Frontier Forum lecture series also began so I brought all the DSLS students to meet one of the speakers at the time, Neil de Grasse Tyson. In later years students also got to meet other speakers such as George Takai and Jane Goodall. So, it was really about establishing the reasons of why this would be a good opportunity for students, especially in the early years.”
Facing initial recruitment challenges for DSLS, Dye drew upon her experience. Having been at the university for some time when DSLS was established, she was able to tap into her network.
“I had already been at USF for three years and my role is really involved throughout campus on different committees that I was serving on. An added plus was that I started an internship program for CAS, just to have some help with the communications and marketing team. I also worked with the academic advisors and professors in helping them get the information out,” Dye said.
As news circulated about DSLS, a community of highly motivated students began to emerge. To create a sense of community for new members, Eisenberg and Dye incorporated retreats for every new class of members.
“We would have these retreats for students where someone in leadership, a guest speaker, or a motivational speaker would come in and speak to the students. Our first retreat was really great, and members started bonding with each other. Seeing that made me very happy because, these were people from all different majors who were becoming friends that would have never otherwise met had it not been for DSLS,” Dye said.
DSLS class of 2015 engaging in a team building exercise during a DSLS retreat. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Taylor)
DSLS members teaching at a local elementary school as part of the 2018-2019 “Teach-In” initiative. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Taylor)
INITIATIVES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
As part of the organization’s mission, Eisenberg and Dye initiated efforts to involve students in networking and offer them leadership roles.
For example, students had opportunities to mentor at local middle schools, engage in food drives, or offer guidance to incoming freshman, amoung other activities. They also attended the Frontier Forum and Trail Blazers lecture series, facilitating interactions with the college’s most engaged alumni and donors.
As the organization continued to grow, the roles and responsibilities evolved along with it.
Both Eisenberg and Dye empowered students to delegate responsibilities amoung themselves while also providing a space for learning opportunities. To ensure each student had equal engagement, Dye implemented committees, assigning responsibilities to each student.
While DSLS members retained independence in their roles, Eisenberg and Dye were there to offer assistance in any way needed. Whether it was aiding in schedule searches, answering financial aid questions, or writing letters of recommendation, they always put the students at the forefront of their obligations.
“One of the great things about Eisenberg is he's very approachable and very welcoming to the students and if they ever needed anything he insisted they reach out to him. So, I would try to facilitate those interactions because he was a very busy man, but he always made time for the students,” Dye explained. “One of the things I remember Eisenberg liked to do was to hear the student’s perspectives, both the good and the bad. He really appreciated hearing what roadblocks the students were encountering during their academic career and if it was something that he could take a closer look at and come up with a solution for.”
PASSING THE TORCH
In 2018, Dye transitioned from USF to concentrate on professional development as a leadership and management expert. In 2021, Eisenberg retired his title as dean to welcome CAS’ Interim Dean Magali Michael. Now assisting USF President Rhea Law, Eisenberg remains a strong advocate for the college in his current position as Senior Vice President of University-Community Partnerships.
In this new role, Eisenberg engages with community partners, including the University Area Community Development Corporation (UACDC), Tampa General, Busch Gardens, and others to advocate for the improvement of student life. This involves addressing challenges such as accessible housing, transportation, food insecurity, and more.
Though both Eisenberg and Dye have taken a step back from DSLS, they take great pride in the program and the lasting legacy they left behind.
“When Michele approached me with the idea for DSLS, a big part of the idea was to create a network of connections among arts and sciences majors that could last a lifetime. While it's only been ten years, I think this milestone is positive proof that we're well on our way to accomplishing that goal of lifetime connections and friendships,” Eisenberg explained. “Building relationships and a sense of common identity among arts and sciences students is especially important because unlike the professional colleges like business, medicine, education, nursing, and engineering, our students are wildly diverse in their interests. Rather than seeing this as a weakness or as a challenge, I see diversity as a strength. It reinforces the idea that a liberal arts education should be grounded in interdisciplinary thinking.”
10-YEAR ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
The DSLS 10-year anniversary was commemorated through a virtual event organized by stewardship and success coordinator, Grace Partridge. The occasion included a brief introduction from CAS’ interim dean, along with opening remarks from its founders Dye and Eisenberg.
Participants also had the chance to listen to insights from DSLS alumni, representing both the earlier years of the organization and recent additions to alumni status.
Among the alumni who spoke was Alyssa Culp who graduated from USF in 2016 with a degree in history and religious studies. Currently working as a visiting assistant professor of history at Illinois Wesleyan in Bloomington, Ill. Culp recounted her most memorable experiences during her time in DSLS and the impact it had on her personal and professional journey.
“I have quite a few memorable moments from DSLS. There were dunk tanks, donut buffets, intense scavenger hunts, and legendary golf cart rides! I was also able to work at the USF football game which was a really cool experience because I had never been in a VIP box before, and we smuggled leftover food out of the stadium. But I think the most memorable thing about DSLS wasn't really a specific event, but more so the support and encouragement I received,” Culp explained. “After USF, it was my goal to become a history professor, a goal that many people discouraged me from pursuing. It wasn’t until I found DSLS, that I was surrounded by a group of people with similar goals and aspirations. Dean Eisenberg and my fellow DSLS members all encouraged me to go for it and to make that leap. Now I'm in a career that I absolutely love, and I owe much of that to support of DSLS.”
Other alumni featured in the celebration included:
- Dr. Jeremy Lomax, class of 2016, bachelor’s in biology
- Samanatha Holland-Hughes, class of 2016, bachelor’s in public administration and political sciences
- Erinn Bamberry, class of 2017, bachelor's in pure mathematics
- Chris Miklaszewski, class of 2022, bachelor’s in biomedical sciences
- Caitlyn Coleman, class of 2023, bachelor’s in microbiology and a minor in infection control
- Dylanis Lopez Ruiz, class of 2023, bachelor’s in biomedical sciences and a minor in psychology
In addition to alumni speakers, the audience had the opportunity to listen to a committee of current DSLS students leading the presentations throughout the event. DSLS president, Nicole Nagib, guided attendees through a presentation highlighting the organization’s current updates and initiatives.
DSLS students have recently participated in various events, including the USF women’s basketball game, the Earth Democracy event, the Fast 56 awards, both Trail Blazers and Frontier Forum events, and the Women’s and Gender Studies 50th Anniversary. Beyond CAS-related occasions, DSLS students have engaged in numerous professional development initiatives, such as the DSLS Etiquette Luncheon, volunteering at the USF Botanical Gardens, and hosting the DSLS Freshmen Mentoring Program.
The event concluded with the unveiling of an exciting achievement for the organization.
“The final development I get to announce today is the official DSLS Support Fund. This fund will help close the gap on immediate needs that the DSLS organization has. It will offer financial assistance to the entire organization, and it will provide DSLS members with experiential learning and leadership opportunities. This has been in the works for as long as I've been a member, and it just feels exceptionally right to announce it in honor of our 10-year celebration,” Nagib said.
THE FUTURE OF DSLS
Established with the mission of shaping an identity for CAS through student leadership, DSLS has experienced substantial growth over the past decade, forging a network of highly motivated professionals with and beyond USF.
As the organization looks to the future, it aims to continue this legacy by welcoming a new class of students during their induction ceremony in April 2024.
To learn more about DSLS or ways to support, please contact Stewardship and Success Coordinator, Grace Partridge.