The challenges of leading a top research university have never been more pronounced than they are today. President Steve Currall joined the University of South Florida on July 1, 2019. He has successfully consolidated USF’s three campuses, raised over $115 million and continues to lead through the complexities resulting from COVID-19, making Currall’s first year in office one of the most eventful time periods since USF was established in 1956.
Currall dedicated his first 100 days in office to meeting with students, faculty and leaders across USF’s three campuses. He toured various facilities, such as the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute in downtown Tampa while it was still under construction. He immersed himself in surrounding communities to help the university forge an even stronger reciprocal relationship with the region. Currall moved into the Lifsey House with his wife of nearly 30 years, Cheyenne. Shortly after taking office, Currall led his first commencement ceremony, conferring more than 3,200 degrees to the summer graduating class. He returned to the Yuengling Center on Nov. 14, 2019, where Currall was inaugurated as USF’s seventh president. During a formal investiture ceremony, he outlined his vision for the university to become eligible to join the Association of American Universities (AAU), an elite group of 65 research institutions.
USF welcomes academically strongest freshman class
Currall welcomed USF’s most academically accomplished and largest incoming freshman class of 3,773 students, up 15 percent from the previous year. The group of first-time-in-college students carried an average ACT score of 29, a 1286 SAT score and average high school GPA of 4.13. The incoming class included approximately 100 high school valedictorians and salutatorians, along with 34 National Merit Scholars. Total enrollment in fall 2019 was nearly 51,000 students.
For the first time, USF broke into the top 50 in U.S. News & World Report. It ranked No. 44 among public universities, a 14-spot climb from the previous year, reaffirming USF’s unparalleled trajectory in higher education.Since 2015, USF has jumped 44 spots, coinciding with record-breaking gains in student success. From 2008 to 2018, USF’s six-year graduation rate rose 25 percent, the largest increase of any public university in the country.
USF also made its debut in the top five nationally among all private and public “Golden Age Universities,” according to U.K.-based Times Higher Education. The university is now 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.
The inventive efforts of USF researchers continue to place the institution in the top ranks for producing new U.S. utility patents. The National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association lists USF No. 8 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 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with 108 new U.S. utility patents granted in 2019.
USF also placed first in the state compared to other public universities in a series of 10 student success-based metrics established by the Florida Board of Governors. The metrics focus on affordable access, graduating students at a high rate, with minimal debt, and preparing them for high-skilled, high-paying jobs in high-demand fields.
Over the last year, Currall has led efforts to raise more than $115 million – the second best fundraising year in USF history. Most recently, he helped establish the United Support Fund, launched in response to COVID-19. So far, nearly $400,000 has been raised to assist vulnerable students, including those who are ineligible to receive CARES Act funding. Currall has traveled the nation, advocating for USF and garnering support from new donors. One of the most significant gifts was a $10 million donation from the Taneja Family Foundation to name the USF Health Taneja College of Pharmacy, the largest philanthropic gift to a pharmacy school in the state of Florida. As a result, the college will move into the new USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute facility in downtown Tampa. Pharmacy students are expected to start classes there in fall 2021.
USF and Jabil also announced a $1 million partnership to establish the USF Jabil Innovation Institute. The institute will catalyze new collaborative efforts in innovative research, community engagement and talent development within the College of Engineering and Muma College of Business. Jabil will lease space at the Tampa Bay Technology Incubator in USF’s Research Park. The partnership includes $200,000 in research support and a philanthropic gift of $800,000 given to the USF Foundation.
The USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute officially opened in Water Street Tampa. The 13-story, 395,000-square-foot building is designed to function as a hub for Tampa’s downtown medical professionals. Students, researchers and faculty members will benefit from the world-class facility, which includes the latest technology in medical education. It is also in close proximity to the USF Health Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation and Tampa General Hospital, USF’s primary teaching hospital.
Exterior construction wrapped up on a new residence hall on the St. Petersburg campus. The $33 million project will expand on-campus housing by 70 percent and provide space for 375 additional students. Set to be completed by fall 2020, the 120,000-square-foot building will stand six stories high and will be home to the first full-service dining hall on the branch campus.
Plans are underway to build a new state-of-the-art facility in USF’s Research Park. The 120,000-square-foot building will increase the park’s footprint by 34 percent and 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. Currall worked closely with the building’s design team to ensure the space will meet the demands of contemporary innovation enterprises. It’s targeted to be completed in fall 2021.
USF’s Institute of Applied Engineering secured an $85 million, five-year contract with U.S. Special Operations Command. The institute will assist the federal government in such fields as autonomous systems, human performance, transportation, cybersecurity, data analytics and sensor technologies. Partnerships such as this advance Currall’s vision for USF’s future, where industry, research and emerging talent can grow together, while also providing real-world experience to students.
Currall made frequent trips to Tallahassee leading up to and during the 2020 legislative session to meet with state leadership and advocate for USF's legislative priorities. He met with Gov. Ron DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, the leadership of both the Senate and House, members of the Tampa Bay Legislative Delegation and the Higher Education Committee to discuss USF’s meteoric rise in the national rankings and how the state legislature can help support USF’s aspirations.
Last fall, he also joined more than 200 students for the annual USF Day at the Capitol where students travel to Tallahassee to learn about Florida's state government and advocate for the university. During the USF Day reception, the president honored USF alumni serving in the Legislature, including state Sen. Joe Gruters, House Speaker-Designate Chris Sprowls and state Reps. James Buchanan, Jackie Toledo and Jennifer Webb and thanked them for their unwavering support for their alma mater. These advocacy efforts paid off as – in spite of record revenue shortfalls due to COVID-19 – the Fiscal Year 2020-21 state budget includes $6.5 million to grow the important work being done by Cyber Florida at USF, $5.5 million in new funding to support the development of the St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses under One USF and $7 million for new and improved student health and wellness and other student life facilities across all three campuses and USF Health.
For the first time in many years, Currall hosted on-campus events for both of Florida’s U.S. senators, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott. The president also traveled to Washington, DC to meet with lawmakers from the Tampa Bay area delegation as well as USF alumni serving in Congress. Those meetings included time spent with Sen. Scott and Reps. Bilirakis, Castor, Crist, Diaz-Balart (USF alumnus), Meadows (USF alumnus and now chief of staff to President Trump), Steube, Spano (USF alumnus) and Webster. The visits provided a great opportunity to reiterate USF’s past successes and to further collaborate to grow USF’s national stature.
New leadership appointments
Several high profile positions were filled during Currall’s first year. Jeff Scott was named the new head football coach. Currall introduced him to the community in front of a spirited packed crowd at the Sam and Martha Gibbons Alumni Center. Scott signed a five-year contract after serving at one of the nation’s most dominant football programs, Clemson University, where he was co-offensive coordinator and a wide receiver coach.
Jay Stroman was appointed SVP of Advancement and Alumni Affairs and CEO of the USF Foundation. Stroman comes to USF from the University of Georgia where he served as senior associate vice president for development and alumni relations. Prior to Jay’s arrival at USF, Noreen Segrest served very effectively as the interim SVP of Advancement and CEO of the Foundation.
Other appointments include:
Chris Garvin, dean of the College of the Arts
Thomas Frazer, dean of the College of Marine Science
Allison Crume, associate vice president and dean of Undergraduate Studies
Brian Ten Eyck will soon join Currall’s leadership team as VP of Executive Affairs and Chief of Staff. He comes to USF from the University of Arizona where he served as chief of staff in the Office of the Provost.
Currall also approved the reappointment of Provost and Executive Vice President Ralph Wilcox. Wilcox joined USF in 2003 and has been in his current position since 2008.
Currall has represented USF at many local events alongside Tampa Bay’s community of students, alumni, business partners and leaders. He threw out the first pitch during USF Day with the Tampa Bay Rays. He and his wife Cheyenne joined the USF marching band at the annual Gasparilla Parade of Pirates, a local tradition since 1904. They also rode the Zamboni during the annual USF Lightning Night at Amelie Arena.
The president addressed thousands of entrepreneurs and investors at the 2020 Synapse Summit held in downtown Tampa. Currall’s speech emphasized the importance of innovation and regional partnerships for job growth and patent production. The first USF president to speak at the summit, Currall outlined a platform of ideas that would strengthen the university’s economic impact in the region, which is currently estimated at $5 billion. His leadership is being felt throughout Tampa Bay, serving on boards for Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa Bay Partnership and Innovation Alliance.
Currall has recently received a number of honors and awards:
- Fellow, Royal Society of the Arts of the United Kingdom (Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce)
- Commissioner, National Commission on Innovation and Competitiveness Frontiers, U.S. Council on Competitiveness
- Honorary Member, National Academy of Inventors
- Editorial Board, “Technology and Innovation”
- Honorary Fellow, International Academy of Nanobiotechnology
Diversity and Inclusion
One of Currall’s first initiatives as president was to develop USF’s Principles of Community. He formed a task force comprised of a broad cross-section of university stakeholders to collect foundational ideas to craft the document. It outlines the university’s commitment to inclusion, civility, open expression, evidence-based deliberations and vigorous debate. These values reinforce the leadership and responsibility of USF to create a compassionate society in which all members of the community are treated with respect. Currall is working diligently to help develop programs that raise awareness of how race impacts attitudes and behaviors and is considering innovative avenues to enhance diversity in recruitment, development, retention and rewards. He’s also instructed the USF Office of Supplier Diversity to ensure that Black-owned businesses participate as vendors to the university.
Leading through the coronavirus crisis
COVID-19 continues to present unique challenges. The Florida Board of Governors recently approved USF’s plans for a phased return to campus after all classes transitioned to remote instruction following spring break in March. Currall formed a team of university leaders and public health experts to develop and implement the cohesive plan that protects the health and safety of students, faculty and staff while ensuring academic continuity. During this time, dozens of coronavirus-related research projects have received funding through the newly established USF COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant Program.
Currall's support has been wide-reaching. He’s visited USF Health-run coronavirus testing sites and advocated for students and faculty volunteering their time to produce personal protective equipment. He’s also hosted several virtual town hall discussions, reassuring the USF community that his leadership is present at every step of the way.
Consolidation takes effect
On July 1, 2020, the University of South Florida’s three campuses consolidated into one, accredited university. This follows approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the regional accrediting agency that oversees higher education in the southern United States. This unites the campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee into one integrated curriculum with a single set of academic policies and procedures. Students from across all three campuses will benefit from a wider selection of courses, access to renowned faculty, resources and scholarships.