Current Features

Citizens of the World

USF provides a world-class education to students at home and abroad, through myriad scholarly activities and experiences. Here is a sample.

By Kim Franke-Folstad

The back of a male student holding his arms open on top of mountain.

Senior Felipe Guell Bernardi visited Taishan Mountain, Jinan, Shandong, China, while studying abroad.

Think about an average family – your family – and how it grows every time it connects with someone new. A friend. A teacher. A neighbor. A co-worker. All the people who bring different perspectives into the household when they visit, or when you spend time with them.

Now imagine a family of scholars – a whole university – reaching across the globe in ways that benefit students and faculty, and also those with whom they connect.

USF built its strategic plan for 2013-2018 around that concept, with goals that included producing well-educated global citizens while advancing research, innovation and sustainability with programs and projects meant to change the world for the better.

The effort has been a success, to say the least. Last year, USF led the nation as the top producer of Fulbright Scholars, and is poised to be a top producer again next year. USF ranks third nationally for graduate student volunteers serving in the Peace Corps, and 19th among large colleges and universities for total undergraduate Peace Corps volunteers. And in 2017, USF Education Abroad received the Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion in International Education (EDIIE) award from Diversity Abroad.

"That's a statement," says Roger Brindley, system vice president for USF World, which leads the university's involvement in the international arena.

Any student who comes to the USF campus is going to have a global experience, he says, because 12 percent of the Tampa campus' students are international and it is a global campus. About 1,600 USF students currently take part in study abroad opportunities every year.

"The challenge for USF is to continue to build that diversity of thought, that diversity of innovation and entrepreneurial scholarship and learning and research, so that when students graduate, they have a nuanced understanding of their world," Brindley says.

What the global perspective brings to any classroom, in any major, is powerful, he says, from religious studies to political science to history to the performing arts.

The experience, he says, is "transformational."

Roger Brindley sitting in a chair smiling.

Roger Brindley, USF System vice president for USF World, oversees global engagement.

Going There

Peter Kivuva would agree.

Kivuva is certain his semester abroad in London, where he took two courses and was employed by an international firm, was a key factor in landing his dream job in New York City. He'll soon be working for Goldman Sachs, a leading global investment banking, securities and investment management firm.

"I wanted to live in a city that embodies the industry I'm pursuing," he says of his choice to go to London. "Living among individuals with similar goals and aspirations, coupled with a pragmatic way of thinking, had a significant impact on my development as a young professional."

Kivuva, a finance major who graduated in May, says his time abroad was an investment in his future, adding value to his personal brand. And, yes, it was "life-changing."

Christopher Haynes, assistant director of Student Services with USF Education Abroad, says students never regret going on a study abroad experience. "They learn about themselves and about cultures all over the world."

A male student, Peter standing outside of a building in London.

Peter Kivuva, '18, says his semester in London was "life-changing."

It's also good for academic and future achievement. Both the Institute for the International Education of Students, or IES Abroad, and the American Institute for Foreign Study, or AIFS, found that nearly all students felt their time overseas helped build valuable skills for the job market.

Research performed for the U.S. Department of Education found that both GPA and time to graduation are positively affected, especially for at-risk students. An IES Abroad study found that students are twice as likely to find a job within 12 months of graduation, and typically out-earn their peers. Ninety percent who applied got into their first or second choice of graduate school. And AIFS reports that 80 percent of study abroad students they surveyed felt the experience helped them to better adapt to diverse work environments.

Students who have international experiences in college have a greater global competency, show empathy and have increased critical thinking skills, Haynes says.

And just about anybody can have a travel abroad experience. Just ask any GloBull Ambassador – study abroad students who happily volunteer to share their stories with others who might be interested.

The typical study abroad student is still a white female undergraduate, but that's changing quickly – especially at USF. The university has generated a 43 percent increase in participation in the past three years, and the racial and ethnic profile closely mirrors that of the campus student population.

Diversity series programming – designed by students for students – focuses on reaching out to nontraditional study abroad students to debunk myths and break down barriers, Haynes says. There's also more diversity in the type of studies available. In 2016, USF created a new position for a curricular integration officer whose job is to find ways to better integrate study abroad into the curriculum across all majors – further contributing to student success.

And travel isn't just for rich kids anymore. Students can use most student loans, scholarships, grants, Bright Futures or Florida Pre-Paid funds to help pay for their programs. Grants and loans are also available specifically for study abroad, including support for Pell Grant-eligible students. And USF's many study alternatives are designed with financial needs in mind, Haynes says.

Among the scholarships supporting diverse education/research abroad opportunities for students in need is the Passport Scholars Program started with a $1 million endowment from USF System President Judy Genshaft and her husband, Steven Greenbaum, as well as the Genshaft Global Presidential Scholarship.

Traveling and learning as a Peace Corps volunteer is also an option, see feature three, "We are More Alike than Different."

Coming Here

Of course, the exchange of knowledge and experience works both ways, and USF continues to increase the number and diversity of the international students enrolling at/learning at/attending USF.

"Our students need to learn about the cultures of the world," says Glen Besterfield, dean of admissions and associate vice president of Student Success and Student Affairs. "And not everyone has the wherewithal to have an experience abroad. We can either send them out to see the world or bring the world to our students."

Getting international students interested in coming to USF isn't difficult, he says. Many students are attracted by Tampa's climate – either because it's completely different from their own or very similar. And even if they've never heard of Tampa, Florida is a recognized destination in countries across the globe.

And then there's the price point. International undergraduates pay just over $17,000 a year in tuition, Besterfield says – the same as out-of-state undergraduates. Universities in well-known U.S. cities and regions – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Silicon Valley – cost much more.

International student Daria (Dasha) Antipova looked but didn't like the educational choices available to her in Russia, so she decided to cast a wider net. At the American Center in Moscow, where she's from, she got information about U.S. schools, including USF. And when she heard a presentation by dean Moez Limayem about the Muma College of Business, she knew it was for her.

"I absolutely love it here," says Antipova, who is studying business analytics and information systems and advertising, and expects to graduate in 2019. "The weather. The people. The opportunities it's providing me. Compared to what I would be doing if I hadn't come to the U.S. ... I was just less excited about life in general."

There were adjustments. She'd been to the United States several times, but she didn't know anyone at USF. Public transportation wasn't what she'd hoped, and Tampa was smaller than she'd thought. "My first semester, I focused on school," she says, "and watched Netflix in my free time."

Then she found a job in campus housing. And that's when her involvement started.

Getting a job helped her get over some barriers, she says, and she made some American friends. She also heard about iBuddy, a campus program launched in 2012 that partners international and domestic students, and encourages engagement outside the classroom with campus events and social programs. In her second year at USF, Antipova applied to iBuddy. Since then, she's served as president of the International Student Association and as student director of the iBuddy program.

"International Services does an incredible job connecting students and getting the resources they need," she says.

Female student with red hair standing against a pillar at USF.

Dasha Antipova chose USF after hearing a presentation by USF Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem at the American Center in Moscow.

That isn't an easy job, given the sheer number of international students now attending USF. "Our students come from more than 145 countries with very different approaches to higher-level education and the university experience," says Marcia Taylor, director of USF's Office of International Services.

Some common concerns include understanding American culture and making true friends, housing, finding food that suits their palate, finances, and finding an internship or a job after graduation. About a third of international students (mostly undergraduates) live in a residence hall.

Programs like iBuddy, the Global Citizens Project and some student organizations help. So does early intervention, Taylor says. The staff has three campus locations to provide support and services for students applying to a university program, those in INTO USF programs (which help prepare international students for guaranteed entry into USF by providing academic pathway and English language programs), and those already on campus.

"There's a truly welcoming atmosphere," Taylor says. "Our international students have been Homecoming king and queen, student government president and vice president, star athletes and top academic performers. They are true student leaders."

Antipova agrees that the campus is open and accepting. People are curious when they learn she's from Russia. They want to hear what life is like for her there.

With nearly 5,000 students from around the world, those kinds of cultural conversations are becoming commonplace at USF.

There are more students from India than any other country (1,072 in fall 2017), and those are mostly graduate students. But China isn't far behind with 850 students enrolled last fall. Saudi Arabia, Oman, Venezuela, Brazil, Pakistan, Taiwan, Bangladesh and Nigeria round out the top 10.

The university still does a great deal of recruiting, as well, targeting regions where there's an interest and high standards. "At the end of the day, we're just looking for good students that fit this university," Besterfield says.

Faculty Connections

But students don't get to have all the fun. International travel is crucial for faculty and staff, as well. It puts USF in touch with the world, and that exchange of ideas has resulted in research opportunities and innovations that benefit health care, the environment and more. (See story page 36.)

One example is the long-running success of the Leadership Enhancement and Development program, or LEAD, in which USF Health partners with Tampa General Hospital to bring the experience and knowledge of hospital administrators to developing countries, including Thailand, China and Panama.

"Medicine is truly global. You can practice it anywhere," says Dr. John Sinnott, MA '74, chair of the Department of Internal Medicine in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, who created the program in 2000. But what many countries don't have are administrators with leadership skills, he says. So the program brings doctors to the United States for training in everything from setting up a library, media relations, management skills and patient safety. They might discuss organizing an infection control committee, pulling from the most appropriate specialists available, and establishing how they will function. Or they might talk about how a pharmacy and therapeutics committee could do a cost-benefit analysis to determine the best-in-class medicines for their hospital.

"A number of the people we've trained have gone on to become academic deans or hospital presidents," Sinnott says

As word of mouth spreads, the LEAD program's prestige continues to grow. And because USF has a large number of international doctors on its faculty, some of whom are interested in working with their country of origin, there's a lot of insight into what's needed and who to contact, Sinnott says.

Meanwhile, the U.S. doctors learn from their international counterparts, and the health professionals and patients they see when they visit other countries.

"It's been the most amazing growth experience in my life," Sinnott says.

Tracking it All

The number of moving parts – the people and organizations and programs that make USF's global reach work – is daunting.

And it's exciting, says Kiki Caruson, assistant vice president of Research, Innovation and Global Affairs, who helps track the university's partnerships, faculty and staff activities, student international mobility and alumni living and working around the world. All that information goes onto USF's Global Discovery Hub website,, where anyone can view it.

"The goal of the Hub is to link these pieces together," Caruson says of the site. "Few universities can say they know as much as we do and back it up with data. We are a national leader in mapping our global footprint."

The Hub also links people, places and projects. Students can use it to see what's going on in a particular country they're interested in. Faculty can learn about the projects others are engaging in. Another priority is to use the Hub to identify USF alumni groups in various parts of the world and hold events that are specific to that region.

"We want to stay in touch with all of our students," Caruson says. And the Hub is just one way to help those who are far away feel as though they're part of what's happening at their ever-evolving alma mater.

According to Amanda Maurer, director of Education Abroad, USF also is establishing an Education Abroad Alumni Society. Alumni who have benefitted from a global experience will be able to reconnect and give back to the current student population by sharing their stories and helping to make study abroad more attainable for all USF students.

After all, it's a point of pride for everyone involved that USF's global reach has come so far so fast. An institution that many would have labeled "regional" just over a decade ago is now known worldwide for its commitment to student success, high impact research and rigorous academic standards.

Global universities are relevant universities, Brindley says. And USF is both benefitting from and giving back to the world.

A picture of a group of international students standing around the usf logo.

Each spring, summer and fall semester, the Office of International Services hosts the International Sash Ceremony, to celebrate graduation and gift each student with a sash that represents their home country's flag. At spring commencement 2018, 675 sashes were given to graduating undergraduate, master's and doctoral students.

Learn more about USF World

Read about students' adventures abroad at the Going Places Blog