“From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.”
– President Jimmy Carter’s Message designating March 2-8, 1980, as National Women’s History Week
March marks the University of South Florida’s celebration of Women’s History Month and an opportunity to highlight the contributions of women throughout history and contemporary society. To commemorate USF’s legacy of accomplished women leaders and contributors, the Office of Multicultural Affairs joins campus partners to host educational and celebratory events throughout the month.
The nation’s monthlong celebration of women’s history began as an outgrowth of a weeklong recognition of women’s contributions to culture, history and society organized in 1978 by the school district of Sonoma, California. National interest grew and in 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation declaring March 8th the start of National Women’s History Week – coinciding with International Women’s Day, which began to be recognized in 1911 and continues to be celebrated annually on March 8th. In 1987, President Carter expanded the proclamation to the entire month of March, and every president since has honored the annual recognition.
Throughout its history, USF has benefitted tremendously from amazingly accomplished women. The following article highlights just a few of their remarkable contributions:
Women in health: “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope”
The 2022 theme for Women’s History Month is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.” This theme celebrates the tireless work of caregivers and frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ways that women of all cultures have provided healing and hope throughout history.
At USF, women health professionals, scholars and alumnae have made significant contributions to the field:
USF College of Public Health Dean Donna Petersen has been chair of USF’s COVID-19 Task Force since the onset of the pandemic. In that vital role, she has provided extraordinary service to USF, the region and state, promoting public health practices to keep so many members of the community safe during the health crisis. In 2021, Petersen was recognized for her service as one of six women across Florida who earned the American Council on Education Women’s Network “She Stepped Up Award: Recognizing Extraordinary Leadership in Facing 2020’s Unprecedented Challenges.”
Summer Decker, associate professor in the Department of Radiology in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and director of 3D Clinical Applications, was instrumental in USF’s innovative and collaborative development of the 3D-printed nasal swab to address a supply shortage in the early days of the pandemic. Thanks to this groundbreaking solution, health care providers across the nation became better equipped to diagnose and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Among USF alumnae making pioneering contributions in healthcare:
Chemist Joanna Fowler is a world leader in developing molecular imaging that led to major advances in the identification and treatment of illnesses ranging from drug addiction to cancer. She was the first USF graduate elected to the National Academy of Sciences and is an inductee to the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame. In 2009, she was presented with the National Medal of Science – the nation’s highest award for lifetime achievement in science – in recognition of her accomplishments in developing radiotracers to measure changes to the brain circuits that occur in drug addiction and brain diseases. She is a Scientist Emeritus for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York and holds eight U.S. patents.
Graduating first in her class at USF, retired Brig. Gen. Carrie Nero continued to break barriers as a nurse serving for nearly 30 years in the U. S. Army Reserves. In 2002, Nero became the first African American nurse to achieve the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserves. Nero was also the first director of minority health at the Pinellas County Health Department where she led research on health disparities and sickle cell disease among Black residents. Despite being in retirement, during the pandemic she has volunteered with the USF College of Nursing on a COVID-19 training module and has done outreach with local churches to raise community awareness on vaccines and COVID-19 in Black communities.
USF women making powerful impacts as leaders
Powerful women have increasingly been making a powerful impact at USF and beyond, contributing to the evolving demographic profile of leaders in America.
Leadership among America’s college and university presidents remains predominately white and male. According to a 2016 report from the American Council on Education, only 30% of all presidents were women. Remarkably, USF has been led by a woman for 26 of the past 28 years. Betty Castor, the first woman elected to the Florida Cabinet and the first president pro tempore of the Florida Senate, became the first woman to lead USF in 1994, followed by President Emerita and Professor Judy Genshaft in 2000. Alumna Rhea Law has been leading USF as interim president since July 2021. The president’s cabinet of top administrative leaders today includes several women.
USF’s accomplished women leaders also have been tremendous champions of opportunities to advance women’s leadership and philanthropy in our region. In 2005, Genshaft and philanthropist Carol Morsani created Women in Leadership and Philanthropy (WLP), the first women’s philanthropic organization in the Tampa Bay region focused on developing the intellectual and leadership potential of women through the promotion of mentorship, philanthropy, community engagement and scholarly excellence. Now numbering more than 300 individual and 25 corporate members, WLP has helped stimulate numerous transformational gifts to benefit USF. It has directly raised more than $5 million to support university scholarships and programs, and has invested more than $1 million in grants, scholarships and programmatic funding to assist women students, faculty members and women in the Tampa Bay region.
Leadership and dedicated service to USF’s students were hallmarks of Phyllis P. Marshall’s career. Marshall arrived at USF in 1960 – the fourth year of the university – and served as the director of USF’s student center from 1976 until her retirement in 1994. She devoted her career to developing diverse and inclusive student programming at USF. The more than 400 active student organizations at USF today can trace their roots to Marshall’s groundbreaking work. In 1994, after years of lobbying from undergraduate students in the class of 1987, and state legislation allowing for a building to be named after a living honoree, USF’s University Center was renamed the Phyllis P. Marshall Center in her honor.
Pioneering women leaders of today – and tomorrow – include Britney Deas, who in 2019 became the first woman to be elected USF student body president in more than 20 years and the first African American woman ever elected to the position. Since then, USF Student Government has continued to increase representation among women. All members of the newest Student Government cabinet, elected in October 2021, are women – a first for USF’s Student Government.
USF’s visionary women benefactors creating a culture of philanthropy
USF boasts an impressive portfolio of alumnae philanthropists who are making powerful impacts on the footprint and offerings of the nation’s fastest-rising university.
Carol Morsani, with her husband, Frank, has given more than $40 million to the university, including to the Morsani College of Medicine that bears their name. Pam Muma and her husband, Les, are the university’s largest individual benefactors, giving more than $56 million to support the Muma College of Business, USF Health and Athletics. The Taneja Family Foundation provided $10 million to name the USF Health Taneja College of Pharmacy – the largest philanthropic gift to a pharmacy school in the state of Florida.
Throughout her 19 years as USF president, Judy Genshaft and her husband, Steven Greenbaum, gave $10 million to various causes at the university. Then, just before her retirement, they made a $23 million gift to build and name the Judy Genshaft Honors College and endow the college’s deanship. It is perhaps the largest gift by any college president to their own institution while still in office.
Kate Tiedemann’s $10 million gift to name the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance still stands as the largest gift in the history of the USF St. Petersburg campus, and the school is one of the few business schools in the country named after a woman. Tiedemann’s spouse, Ellen Cotton, a retired banker and Hallmark store entrepreneur, made a gift of $1 million to establish the Ellen Cotton Endowed Scholarships, which support full-time undergraduate students pursuing all majors in the school. Together, they have also given $3 million to endow the dean's position with the school in 2019 and another $1 million to create an endowed professor position in finance. All told, they have given more than $15 million to the school to date.
St. Petersburg native and alumna Lynn Pippenger has given nearly $30 million to USF, including a $5 million gift to name the iconic Lynn Pippenger Hall at the USF St. Petersburg campus. Pippenger is the former chief financial officer of Raymond James and began working there as a payroll clerk at the then-unknown brokerage firm in 1969 and helped build it over the years. She created the firm’s human resources department and launched an internal educational program now known as “Raymond James University.”
Demonstrating leadership and loyalty to the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus are USF alumnae Tracy O’Neill and Drs. Anila and Mona Jain. The three epitomize what it means to be active supporters of the campus, with Anila and her mother, Mona, chairing this year’s Brunch on the Bay fundraising event and O’Neill serving as chair of the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus Muma College of Business Advisory Board.
Anila, a physician and medical consultant, also serves as a Campus Board member and is a longtime donor, along with her mother. Both actively support campus events and mentor young students. O’Neill stands out for service as well, having helped guide a generous five-year gift and internship program involving the Lynn Pippenger School of Accountancy in the Muma College of Business and the Kerkering, Barberio & Co. accounting firm, where she works as chief administrative officer. O’Neill is a past Brunch on the Bay chair as well.
USF women scholars drive high-impact research and innovation
Women faculty at USF are leading groundbreaking research to address challenges – local and global – generate knowledge and improve lives. Among them:
Professor, engineer and environmentalist Maya Trotz is pioneering work with local schools through a project called Water Awareness Research and Education (WARE). The cross-disciplinary project inspires educational and community partnerships to focus on water as a critical resource that connects us across cultural, socio-economic, geospatial and political landscapes. Growing up in Guyana inspired Trotz’s work at the nexus of water quality and global and community sustainability and education. She received the 2014 Award for Outstanding Contribution to Environmental Engineering and Science Education from the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors for her ability to integrate research with K-12 and university education.
Engineering Professor Norma Alcantar has gained global recognition for her pioneering work in engineering natural products to create sustainable and non-toxic technologies for a wide range of applications. She holds 22 patents, 12 of which are related to using cactus mucilage as a purification system—a folk practice she first learned from her grandmother in Mexico who boiled the pads of the prickly pear cactus, known as nopales, to produce clean drinking water for her family. Alcantar was recently inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame and is the first woman faculty member and first woman of color to start her professorial career as an assistant professor and navigate the ranks to full professor in the history of the USF College of Engineering.
In the arts, Aisha Durham, associate professor of communications, is breaking ground as a curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s first multimedia hip-hop collection. The recently released Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap chronicles 40 years of hip-hop and rap music and reveals the many trends within this multifaceted genre, its social and political implications, and its influence on popular culture.
Meanwhile, Erin Kimmerle’s innovative research as a forensic anthropologist is helping the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners identify unmarked burial grounds, as well as the Hillsborough County Sheriff and Medical Examiner’s offices solve cold case homicides. Also executive director of the Florida Institute for Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science at USF, Kimmerle received the 2020 AAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award for her research that uncovered the remains of 51 boys in unmarked graves at the former Arthur G. Dozier School of Boys. She’s worked with law enforcement agencies across the country to help identify missing people and solve cold case homicides. In 2018, her efforts were showcased during “Art of Forensics: Solving the Nation’s Cold Cases,” a month-long exhibit at the Tampa Bay History Center.
Historic commitment to women’s studies; resilience to human trafficking
USF’s Department of Women’s and Gender Studies has a rich history at the university. Founded in 1972 by gender psychologist Juanita Williams, Women’s Studies at USF is thought to be the second women’s studies program in the U.S. Beginning in 1986 and for 10 years, USF was the first and only public university in Florida to offer a bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies.
Women’s Studies became a department in 1992, and during the 1990s, the department began offering an undergraduate concentration in Women of Color Studies, an undergraduate certificate in Women’s Spirituality, and, in 1999-2000, a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies. The Board of Regents approved the Master of Arts degree in 1997, and the department admitted its first class of graduate students in 1998. In 2010-2011, a permanent chair was appointed, and the department’s name was changed to Women’s and Gender Studies to better reflect the work of questioning gender binaries and hierarchies. The department celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with commemorative events planned for fall 2022.
Another first for USF is the opening of a research lab devoted to studying human trafficking in the state. Opened in 2021on the St. Petersburg campus, the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Risk to Resilience Research Lab is one of the first research centers dedicated to studying the myriad impacts of sexual exploitation of children in Florida. Joan Reid, a criminology professor whose research focuses on child sex trafficking in Florida is director of the lab. Proposed legislation would establish the lab as a centralized repository for anonymous human trafficking data collected from law enforcement sources across the state.
The power of sport: Championing the growth of women’s athletics programs
In 1972, the nation’s landmark gender equity law Title IX passed, opening doors and providing protections intended to increase participation in women’s athletics. That same year, USF launched women’s varsity athletics with the start of the women’s basketball program. USF’s support for women’s athletics programs has continued to grow as part of its commitment to student success and to provide experiences that prepare female student-athletes for success as an athlete and beyond.
The women’s basketball program has achieved historic success. In 2019-20, the program notched its ninth consecutive 19-win season and was poised for its ninth straight postseason appearance before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the end of the college basketball season. In the 2020-21 season, the team won its first AAC regular season and tournament titles at USF. Overall, USF’s women athletes have won 59 conference championships in eight different sports including tennis (13), volleyball (12), softball (eight), soccer (seven), golf (six), track and field (six), cross country (five) and basketball (two).
Growth continues for USF’s highly successful women’s sports programs. Just announced, are the additions of women’s beach volleyball in 2024-25 and women’s lacrosse, bringing the total number of Bulls’ women’s athletics teams to 12 and USF’s total varsity sports program count to 21.
To champion the continued growth of USF’s incredibly successful programs and to support the power of sport in the lives of women athletes, USF Athletics and the Bulls Club launched Stampede for Women. The goal of the initiative is to raise awareness and empower female student-athletes to overcome challenges through gathering community support of USF women’s athletics programs. USF woman student-athletes need the required resources to continue their success on the track, on the court, on the field, in the water and in life. Gifts to the initiative support 10 women’s sports programs and over 200 student-athletes within USF Athletics, including student-athlete scholarships, career development opportunities, team building, foreign tours and capital projects. It also aims to establish a fresh community of woman leaders in the Bay area, who could become professional mentors for USF student-athletes. To date, more than $150,000 has been raised since the Stampede was formally introduced in February 2021.