USF responds to the coronavirus pandemic
As COVID-19 turned the world upside down in the spring, USF quickly pivoted to protect the health and safety of students, faculty and staff while maintaining academic and business operations. During spring break in March, faculty and staff transitioned all courses – more than 5,200 – to remote instruction, together with all of the critical services the university provides to students. Throughout the summer, staff and faculty prepared for a phased return to campus in the fall semester. In addition to getting buildings and classrooms ready for a safe return, the effort included the complex process of developing a full schedule of courses with a mix of face-to-face, hybrid and high-quality online instruction. This phased approach will continue in the spring semester.
USF Health experts have been at the forefront of the Tampa Bay region’s response to the pandemic. Efforts have included working on the frontlines, producing 3D-printed nasal swabs, creating face shields for health care workers, conducting clinical trials and assisting the Florida Department of Health with contact tracing. The university also has awarded funding through a COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants program under the auspices of the USF Pandemic Response Research Network™ — a transdisciplinary initiative organized by university leadership and faculty researchers to quickly respond to current and future pandemics.
With the recognition that reduced employment opportunities on- and off-campus created financial and food insecurity for some students, USF President Steve Currall launched the USF United Support Fund in March. To date, more than $322,000 has been awarded to students to help them pay for food, rent and other critical needs. In June, the United Support Fund became one of 31 #BullsUnited in Action HerdFunder projects. Organized by the USF Foundation in partnership with units across all three campuses, #BullsUnited in Action included projects supporting emergency relief efforts and scholarships for students, research and more. Altogether, the USF United Support Fund and #BullUnited in Action campaigns raised more than $1.1 million between March 24 and July 8.
USF also made an unprecedented investment of $20 million to help students who were experiencing financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic remain on a path to timely graduation. The university awarded the We Got U-SF Scholarship and Waiver to nearly 22,000 eligible undergraduate and graduate students to encourage full-time enrollment in the fall.
Historic consolidation creates One USF
USF began operating under a single accreditation for the Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses on July 1. Consolidating from three separately accredited institutions was a requirement of a Florida law passed in 2018 and amended in 2019, and the consolidation plan was approved by the executive council of the regional accrediting agency that oversees higher education in the southern United States. Consolidation provides a wide range of new opportunities for students and faculty and ensures that every student can earn their degree from a Preeminent State Research University. USF now offers additional majors, scholarships, support services and study abroad opportunities to students on any campus, as well as expanded access to student organizations and intramural or club sports teams. Faculty on each campus can take advantage of new opportunities for interdisciplinary research collaborations and access to more community partnerships.
USF implements initiatives to address systemic racism, promote racial equity
Prompted by protests and concerns locally and nationally about the killing of Blacks in Minneapolis, Atlanta and elsewhere, and a variety of longstanding issues related to racism, President Currall in August announced a series of actions as part of the university’s ongoing commitment to dismantling systemic racism and actively promoting racial equity across USF’s campuses and in the community. Among those steps was the appointment of Dr. Haywood Brown, USF’s vice president of institutional equity, as a member of the Executive Leadership Council, the university’s top leadership team. In addition, Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, associate professor of sociology, was named senior advisor to the president and provost on diversity and inclusion. To advance research on racism in society, the Office of the Provost and USF Research & Innovation committed $500,000 to fund a first round of interdisciplinary research projects. A newly formed research task force selected 23 projects exploring a wide range of issues in systemic inequality, economic and health disparities, Black history and contemporary challenges for funding.
In a December update to the USF community, President Currall announced several more initiatives, including the launch of an anti-racism website to serve as a collective resource and information warehouse for content related to USF’s commitment to anti-racism. Highlights include opportunities for community involvement, training resources for faculty and staff, and tools and links for students to find courses related to anti-racism. Additionally, the Diversity, Anti-Racism and Equity (DARE) Dashboard reflects USF’s commitment to evidence-based actions to address inclusive excellence and racial equity.
New facilities enhance research, academic endeavors
The new USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute officially opened in downtown Tampa with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that signified the culmination of nearly five years of design and construction. The 13-story, 395,000-square-foot facility serves as a hub for approximately 1,800 students, faculty and staff to live, work and study along the vibrant downtown waterfront as a key anchor of Strategic Property Partners’ $3 billion Water Street Tampa development. It also will be home to the Taneja College of Pharmacy, with classes beginning there in fall 2021. USF Health will also share the facility with Tampa General Hospital for collaborative efforts focused on cardiology, urgent care, imaging and executive wellness.
On the St. Petersburg campus, a new 125,000-square-foot residence hall increases the number of on-campus beds by nearly 70 percent. The 375-bed facility, called Osprey Suites, is the third residence hall on the campus and expands on-campus student housing from approximately 550 beds to more than 900. It also supports efforts to develop additional educational programming for residential students.
A state-of-the-art facility under construction in the University of South Florida Research Park will bring together researchers, patent officers, entrepreneurs, financial investors and corporations to enhance technology commercialization and the Tampa Bay region’s growing innovation and knowledge economy. Located at the gateway to the USF Tampa campus, the three-story, 120,000-square-foot building will house laboratory facilities, office and meeting space for innovators and both established and startup companies, as well as retail and dining options. Completion is expected in fall 2021.
In early December, USF broke ground on the new home of the Judy Genshaft Honors College, a five-story, 85,000-square-foot facility that will strengthen USF’s position to attract the best students in Florida, nationally and internationally. Private gifts totaling $43 million have been pledged and received for the project, including a historic lead gift of $20 million from USF President Emerita and Professor Judy Genshaft and her husband Steve Greenbaum that was announced in May 2019. Donors have made commitments specifically toward the new facility and the university can’t use the funds for any other purpose. The total cost of the project is $54 million and fundraising efforts will continue. Construction is expected to be completed in late fall 2022.
Key leadership positions filled
Jay Stroman was appointed senior vice president of advancement and alumni affairs and CEO of the USF Foundation. Stroman, who has 20 years of highly successful institutional advancement experience, joined USF after six years at the University of Georgia. At UGA, he helped coordinate and lead a capital campaign that exceeded its $1.2 billion goal more than a year earlier than the original target date. Previous experience included six years at Harris College in northeast Georgia and nine years at Mercer University.
Thomas K. Frazer, who served as the State of Florida’s first chief science officer in the Department of Environmental Protection, joined USF as professor and dean in the College of Marine Science. He spent more than 20 years at the University of Florida, serving in leadership positions in the university’s Water Institute, the School of Forest Resources and Conservation and the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. Most recently, he served an eight-year term as director of the School of Natural Resources and Environment.
Chris Garvin is the new dean of the College of The Arts, which consists of the Schools of Architecture & Community Design, Art & Art History, Music, and Theater and Dance. He came to USF after serving as director of the University of Georgia’s Lamar Dodd School of Art for the past six years. He also served as director of the Multimedia Program, dean of the College of Media and Communication, and a Senior Fellow of the Corzo Center for the Creative Economy during his 16-year tenure at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
Allison Crume joined USF as associate vice president and dean of Undergraduate Studies. She previously was at Florida State University, where she served in progressive administrative roles since 2006, and most recently as associate vice president for Student Affairs and adjunct faculty in the College of Education.
Usha Menon was named dean of the USF Health College of Nursing and senior associate vice president of USF Health. She joined USF Health in September 2018 as professor and vice dean of research for the college and has served as interim dean since February of this year. She is the sixth dean since the college was founded in 1973.
Multiple efforts target food insecurity
With the coronavirus pandemic impacting nearly every aspect of daily life, USF teamed up with Feeding Tampa Bay to ease the burden on families unsure of where their next meal might come from. During October and November, USF hosted eight of the non-profit’s Mega-Pantry events at the Yuengling Center on the Tampa campus. Altogether, more than 94,000 meals were provided to nearly 4,000 adults.
Working with Feeding Tampa Bay and other partners, USF opened the Center for the Advancement of Food Security & Healthy Communities. Food insecurity research and related activities have taken place across various colleges at USF for years, with no single entity to bring them all together. By providing a meeting space, services and coordinated activities, the center will help foster the multi-disciplinary collaboration of faculty, students and partners interested in addressing and finding solutions to the crisis.
Food pantries on each USF campus adjusted operations early in the coronavirus pandemic to meet the growing need among students. During the summer, the Feed-A-Bull pantry on the Tampa campus had 805 visits compared to 219 during summer 2019. In the fall semester, the pantry distributed about 4,000 pounds of food to an average of 40 students per week. The Support-A-Bull Pantry on the Sarasota-Manatee campus opened on April 1 in response to the economic impact of COVID-19 on students. The pantry has distributed about 1,000 pounds of non-perishable food items. On the St. Petersburg campus, the Support-A-Bull Market has distributed more than 3,100 pounds of food to 145 students since the pandemic began, as well as 256 pounds of pet food through its partnership with SPCA Tampa Bay.
In Pinellas County, a USF study found that low-income teens facing food insecurity were more likely to eat cheese sandwiches during school lunch and be bullied because of it. The study, designed to learn about the ways in which teens face food scarcity and what changes they would like to see, centered around different focus groups in four Pinellas County community centers in collaboration with the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County and Feeding America. Researchers also found that school environments present challenges for teens where they can be stigmatized as being poor. Moved by the teens’ stories and desire for better food quality and presentation, Pinellas County Schools initiated the Student Food Connection Taste Testing program to collect teen feedback about menu items.
In November, USF’s St. Petersburg campus was one of only seven higher education institutions across the nation to receive a grant through the 2020 Ford College Community Challenge. A $25,000 grant from the Ford Motor Company Fund will support a project that will promote food security in South St. Petersburg by producing up to 150 pounds of fresh vegetables for the community each month. The Fresh and Local Greenhouse Project could help address food inequality in South St. Pete, where access to affordable and nutritious food is limited. The greenhouse is scheduled to open in summer 2021.
Sanitation technology has implications for the planet – and beyond
USF signed licensing agreements with two international companies that allows them to manufacture a portable wastewater treatment system invented at USF. India-based Elefo Biotech and the WEC Project of South Africa have agreed to manufacture the NEWgenerator, a solar-powered machine that generates nutrients, energy and water by safely recovering them from human wastewater. These companies join existing licensee Eram Scientific Solutions of India as part of a global access portfolio. Civil and environmental engineering Professor Daniel Yeh and his research team designed and built the NEWgenerator over the past decade to help solve global sanitation concerns. Due to the NEWgenerator team’s significant contribution to global sanitation, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office named it a winner of the 2020 Patents for Humanity Award. The prestigious award recognizes innovators who use game-changing technology to meet global humanitarian challenges.
Using some of same principles as the NEWgenerator, Yeh and his graduate students have also developed the Organic Processor Assembly, a closed system that converts human waste into fertilizer and water that allows astronauts to grow fresh vegetables in space. It is being tested at the Kennedy Space Center for its effectiveness under simulated space mission conditions. NASA is considering the technology for its lunar exploration program, Artemis, which is working to return humans to the moon in 2024.
USF climbs in multiple rankings
USF is once again the fastest-rising university in America, according to U.S. News and World Report’s (U.S. News) 2021 Best Colleges rankings. Over the past 10 years, USF has risen 78 spots among all universities, from No. 181 to No. 103, and 54 spots among public universities from No. 100 to No. 46, more than any other university in the country. This is the second consecutive year USF is among the top 50 public universities in the nation, according to U.S. News.
For the first time, USF climbed into the top five nationally among all private and public “Golden Age Universities,” according to new rankings released by the U.K.-based Times Higher Education. USF stands at No. 4, up from No. 7 last year, in the rankings that compare the performance of institutions founded between 1945 and 1966. Relative to all institutions around the world, USF climbed 11 places to No. 27, the most improved of any university in the U.S.
USF also continues to be in the top ranks of global universities in producing new U.S. utility patents, according to rankings released by the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association. With 108 new U.S. utility patents granted in 2019, USF is eighth among American public research universities and 16th among all universities worldwide in generating new patents. The ranking places USF as a leader among the more than 1,000 academic institutions generating new, novel and useful inventions granted intellectual property protection from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Honoring those once forgotten
As forgotten burial grounds continue to be discovered around Tampa Bay, USF and the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) have worked with local officials and community members to rediscover unmarked graves and identify those forgotten there. FPAN and several USF researchers collected and analyzed data from several sites including two locations in Clearwater as well as the area surrounding Robles Cemetery in Tampa. Perhaps the most notable project has been at Zion Cemetery, the first African American cemetery recognized by the City of Tampa.
Also, Antoinette Jackson, professor and chair of anthropology, is leading the “African American Burial Grounds & Remembering Project – Living Communities Challenging Silenced Histories in Florida.” The project, which includes various community partners, is designed to identify, interpret, preserve and record unmarked, previously abandoned and underserved African American burial grounds in Florida, with a focus on Zion Cemetery and St. Petersburg’s Oaklawn Cemetery.
Deepwater Horizon research concludes
Ten years after the oil drilling ship Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 crewmen, USF marine scientists concluded studies on the impact of the disaster. Weeks after the event, BP announced a $500 million fund, distributed over 10 years by the independent Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), to help scientists and communities understand the immediate and long-term impacts on marine life and coastal environments. Over the ensuing decade, USF received a significant portion of the funds, totaling over $37 million, to establish the Center for Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems (C-IMAGE), an international consortium of professors, post-doctoral scholars and students from 19 collaborating institutions. C-IMAGE’s goal has been to conduct research and make critical scientific conclusions that impact policy-driven recommendations for the future of deep-water oil drilling. C-IMAGE is one of dozens of consortia, research teams and individuals that received GoMRI funding. One of the most significant contributions by C-IMAGE researchers has been to compile the first comprehensive baseline of oil contamination across the entirety of the Gulf of Mexico. USF led more than 25 research expeditions Gulf-wide since the Deepwater Horizon disaster.