University of South Florida

College of Education

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Faculty and Staff Notes: Fall 2021

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The College of Education’s staff and faculty are actively engaged in teaching, research and service activities both within the university community and beyond. Read about the accomplishments and achievements of our faculty and staff during the Fall 2021 semester.

To submit information for a future issue of College of Education Faculty and Staff Notes, please contact Elizabeth Engasser at

Professor Vonzell Agosto was featured in multiple news stories about varying topics within the education sector.

Professors Ilene R. Berson and Michael J. Berson received a Library of Congress grant for a project that will strengthen the skills of early childhood teachers in supporting preschoolers’ exploratory learning and play-based inquiry using community-based historical photographs. The project, titled “Scaffolding Historical Inquiry for Preschoolers: School & Home Active Play-based Explorations (SHIP-SHAPE),” is funded by the Library of Congress’s Professional Learning & Outreach Initiatives Office and is conducted in partnership with the Tampa Bay History Center, the Florida Department of Education’s Division of Early Learning and early learning coalitions in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco and Hernando counties.

William Black at UCEA annual meeting

Professor William Black presented the presidential address at the University Council for Educational Administration’s Annual Meeting in November. His address, titled “Leadership Beyond Ableism: Towards Collective Responsibility and Interdependency,” was presented in an innovative format, including a Zoom-like platform to reflect the new technologies adopted in education during the pandemic, and having the audience sit in a seating circle to represent community and interdependence.

Dr. Black also served as a panelist at the College of Education’s Education in Action luncheon in November. The theme of this year’s event was “Money, Politics and the Future of Public Education.” A recording of the event is available on YouTube.

Academic Advisor Bobby Brown presented at NACADA's 45th Annual Conference in October. In his presentation, titled “Fixed? Time to break it! Advising toward a growth mindset to increase student success,” Brown explored the concept of growth mindset and how to effectively apply strategies promoting it within the academic advising context.

Professor Barbara Cruz was featured in WUSF’s Florida Matters podcast in an episode about Tampa’s Hispanic food history. The podcast episode also discusses a book Dr. Cruz co-authored with Andrew T. Huse and Jeff Houck titled “The Cuban Sandwich: A History in Layers.” The book is scheduled to be published this fall.

Dr. Cruz also was featured in a documentary from the Florida Channel titled “Florida Crossroads – 90 Miles and Beyond: Independence” that explores how Cubans have shaped the Florida cities of Key West and Tampa and have left longstanding institutions and traditions that still exist today.

Associate Professors Cheryl Ellerbrock and Eugenia Vomvoridi-Ivanovic were featured in an article published by WUSF about the Helios Middle Grades Residency Program. The article, published in January, highlights how the residency program aims to help fill local middle school science, technology, engineering and math teaching vacancies in Hillsborough County Public Schools. In November, the Helios Residency Program hosted a signing day ceremony for 21 students who received early job offers from the school district.

Associate Professor Evan Dart is serving as principal investigator on a new research project titled Project STARS, which stands for “Scholars in Teaching, Applied Research, and Service.” Funded by a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the multi-year project will prepare school psychology students to become faculty members in higher education settings.

Professor Amber Dumford published a new book chapter titled "Cleaning and Reporting Complex Survey Data: What to Do About Skip Logic and Conditional Response Options." The chapter was co-authored with Angie L. Miller from Indiana University, Bloomington, and was included in the book “Basic Elements of Survey Research in Education: Addressing the Problems Your Advisor Never Told You About.” The book was published by Information Age Publishing.

Professor Allan Feldman was awarded a USF Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning Research Grant, titled “A Study of the Incorporation of Authentic STEM Research Experiences in SCE 4863: Science, Technology and Society.” The study will explore how a current science education course at USF can provide pre-service teachers with opportunities to have authentic research experiences so that they can learn the practices of science and engineering and later teach about those experiences to their future students. The project began in September.

Assistant Professor Nathan Fisk is the principal investigator of a new research project titled “The 502 Project.” Funded by a $2 million grant awarded by the National Security Agency’s National Centers of Academic for Excellence in Cybersecurity (NCAE-C) program office, the project will design, implement and support an online community connecting cybersecurity education events and community organizations throughout the NCAE-C program’s Southeast Region. Project partners include the University of West Florida, Florida International University, Tennessee Tech University, Forsyth Technical College, St. Petersburg College, the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals, and the Florida Center for Cybersecurity (Cyber Florida).

Assistant Professor Elizabeth Hadley and Associate Professor Eunsook Kim were awarded a grant by the Spencer Foundation for their research project, titled “Gauging the Benefits of State-Funded Preschool for Early Language and Literacy: The Case of COVID-19.” The grant was awarded as part of the Foundation’s call for proposals focused on Critical Issues in Advancing Racial Equity and Innovative Methods. 

Associate Professor Jennifer Jacobs was appointed Interim Campus Director of the College of Education at USF’s Sarasota-Manatee campus. In this role, Dr. Jacobs will serve as part of the College of Education’s leadership team and work to ensure excellence in teaching, research and service conducted by faculty members at USF’s Sarasota-Manatee campus. Dr. Jacobs’ appointment commenced in November.

Dr. Jacobs also was selected to receive USF’s Outstanding Community Engaged Teaching Award for the 2020-21 academic year. The award is hosted by USF’s Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President to recognize excellence, innovation and effectiveness in teaching that demonstrates community collaboration, institutional impact and deeply engaged, high-quality teaching. Dr. Jacobs will be presented with the award at USF’s Faculty Honors and Awards Reception on March 10, 2022.

Ruthmae Sears at USF Football Game

Associate Professor Ruthmae Sears was recognized at the USF v. Temple Football Game in October for her contributions to advancing justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in higher education and in STEM disciplines. That same day, Dr. Sears served as the keynote speaker at the Intercultural Student Leadership Conference hosted by USF’s Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Associate Professors Ruthmae Sears and Dana Thompson Dorsey are part of an interdisciplinary team of researchers who presented their findings to the St. Petersburg City Council on how the city can identify and address structural racism in the community. The report, “The Examination of Historical and Modern-Day Impact of Structural Racism on the Lives of Black People in the City of St. Petersburg, Florida” was reviewed by the council, which voted in December to act upon the recommendations made by the research team. The report was undertaken and authored over a six-month period and includes five recommendations for the city.

Professor and Chair Barbara Shircliffe served as a panelist at a Florida Conversations panel hosted by the Tampa Bay History Center in November, titled “1971 – 2021: 50 Years of School Desegregation in Hillsborough County.” The panel recounted the history and stories of brave leadership as schools were desegregated in Hillsborough County.

Assistant Professor Sara Smith’s learning app, MARVL, was shortlisted for the Reimagine Education Award in the Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality category. The MARVL app, which stands for Multimedia Augmented Reality Vocabulary Learning, allows children to complete their English vocabulary learning on their own while also reinforcing their knowledge of words in their home language.

Instructor Cindy Topdemir wrote multiple notes for the Florida School Counselor Association’s bi-monthly newsletter. Dr. Topdemir currently serves as governing board chair of the Florida School Counselor Association. Links to her articles are included below.

Professor Zafer Unal received the Outstanding Presentation Award from the Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE) Interactive Online 2021 Conference.
SITE is an international, academic association of teacher educators, researchers, practitioners and collaborating organizations across multiple disciplines. SITE creates and disseminates knowledge enhancing teacher education through the use of technology across a global context.

Professor Brenda Walker was featured in a story published by ABC Action News about the Call Me MiSTER program. In November, the Call Me MISTER program, which stands for Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models, welcomed its first group of students who have committed to becoming teachers at schools in Pinellas County. Dr. Walker serves as director of the program, and instructor Sandra Vernon-Jackson serves as coordinator.

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About the USF College of Education:

As the home for more than 2,200 students and 130 faculty members across three campuses, the University of South Florida College of Education offers state-of-the-art teacher training and collegial graduate studies designed to empower educational leaders. Our college is nationally accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), and our educator preparation programs are fully approved by the Florida Department of Education.