News Archive

St. Petersburg Philanthropists Give $14 Million to Enhance USF Finance Program

By Elizabeth L. Brown

Moez Limayem, Kate Tiedemann, Ellen Cotton, Rhea Law

ST. PETERSBURG (April 18, 2022) -- Philanthropists Kate Tiedemann and Ellen Cotton, long-time supporters of the University of South Florida’s programs on its St. Petersburg campus, recently made gifts totaling $14 million to support efforts to make the USF Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance a “hub of excellence” in fintech education.

The gifts were formally announced and celebrated at a Monday ceremony held at the school, which is part of the USF Muma College of Business. About 100 supporters, business leaders, and university leaders attended the event.

“Kate and Ellen’s latest display of landmark generosity has paved the way for a cutting-edge program in fintech education,” said USF President Rhea Law. “Fintech is a rapidly emerging field and this exciting program will establish a talent pipeline to serve the area’s burgeoning tech community.”

Moez Limayem, the Lynn Pippenger Dean of the USF Muma College of Business, said the new gift continues Tiedemann and Cotton’s legacy of preparing business students for a bright future. He called the gift “a shot in the arm with fintech” for students.

“Fintech is one of the fastest-growing tech sectors in the nation and world,” said Limayem. “The future is now. And tomorrow’s business leaders must understand the importance of this technology and envision new uses. It is really exciting.”

The gift, made through the USF Foundation, supports Limayem’s four-pillar vision for fintech. Fintech, short for "financial technology," is a catch-all term for any technology that’s used to augment, streamline, digitize, or disrupt traditional financial services. It impacts everything from mobile banking and insurance to crowdfunding, blockchain, cryptocurrency, and investment apps.

The first pillar includes the creation of professorships that will attract top-tier faculty who conduct scholarly inquiries into emerging opportunities, assess fintech risks and threats, determine how to mitigate them, and teach students the same.

Gary Patterson, Ellen Cotton, Kate Tiedemann

While the business school will use part of the gift to recruit world-class faculty researchers, $2 million is earmarked to support the Tiedemann-Cotton Endowed Professor of Finance, a professorship that was awarded to Gary Patterson, who joined USF’s St. Petersburg-based faculty in 2000.

“Being named to an endowed professorship is one of the highest academic awards that universities can bestow on a faculty member and I am extremely honored,” said Patterson, who, in April, agreed to serve as interim director of the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance as the school searched for a new leader.

The plan’s second pillar involves students and changes to the finance degree programs. 

Patterson said the school will update its curricula and explore new undergraduate course options. It will also revamp its master’s program so those who earn the graduate degree will not only have mastered core finance concepts and skills but will also have a firm understanding of the technology and design science programs.

New courses could focus on topics such as machine learning in money laundering, robotic process automation in fintech, digital payment technologies, and algorithmic trading, he said.

Michael Wiemer, who was appointed the inaugural director of the Fintech Center at the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance, said the gifts help USF expand experiential learning opportunities for students, such as internships, co-ops, or remote learning opportunities to connect with alumni.

“As this technology spreads, it’s becoming increasingly important for our students – this region’s future workforce – to understand the myriad of ways in which technology can advance business and open new opportunities and they must also understand ways that security, transparency, and privacy should be assured,” Wiemer said.

The third and fourth pillars are community outreach and education, which include offering conferences, executive education programs, and workplace certificate programs. Limayem said he wants the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance to become a place where students and fintech entrepreneurs alike come for education and mentoring, where startups come for resources and major firms come for talent.

Xiomara Montes Gil, a junior finance student, said she was excited about how the gifts will impact future students.

“The University of South Florida has given me countless opportunities to pursue my professional and personal growth. I believe my career trajectory is bright because of this university. Yet the students of tomorrow will have an even brighter path,” she said.

“Fintech is reshaping the banking industries and as a result of this gift, USF is reshaping its finance education to help the students explore the latest disruptions in the industry, starting with their first finance classes,” she said.

The gifts further solidify the Tampa Bay region’s footprint in fintech, including a strong presence in St. Petersburg that has come as an outgrowth of the city’s strong roots in the financial services sector.

The area is home to Raymond James, now the largest financial service provider outside of Wall Street. According to the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp., financial services is St. Pete’s largest employment sector, and the thriving tech community has drawn companies such as ARK Invest and Dynasty Financial Partners to relocate to the area.

St. Pete mayor Ken Welch, a USF alumnus who also celebrated his first 100 days in office on Monday, praised the center and its potential to benefit the community’s diverse population. “This center can be the digital bridge to financial inclusion,” he said.

Martin Tadlock, regional chancellor of the USF St. Petersburg campus, reminded the audience that the generous gift will be felt by students for generations to come.

“Kate and Ellen, you are an inspiration to me and to countless others throughout our region,” he said. “In a region that is home to a strong financial industry presence, we will continue to fulfill workplace needs and serve as an incubator for collaboration and exploration.”