University of South Florida


Construction of the Judy Genshaft Honors College building to conclude with once-in-a-lifetime classroom experience

By Torie Doll, University Communications and Marketing

A group of students holding up the "go bulls" hand gesture while standing in front of the construction of the honors college building.

Honors students tour an early phase of the building's construction. [Photo Courtesy: Atsuko Sakai]

USF is just a few weeks away from the grand opening of the Judy Genshaft Honors College building and its construction has provided students first-hand experience in a variety of fields, such as engineering, architecture, interior design and sustainability. For the last four semesters, the college has offered a capstone course, called Exploring Behind the Veil: The New Honors Building. The course has had a different focus each semester – depending on the stage of construction – where students participated in regular tours of the building to document the construction process.

Sophomore Chirah Bonono is studying nursing and says the course has helped her gain a new understanding about the importance of hospital and nursing home design.

“It has been really interesting learning about how design can affect people physically and mentally,” Bonono said. “A building’s environment can make people feel better overall, and that’s something to take into consideration in the health field.”

Students work as a group to lay out material samples and photos of furniture to design a room.

Chirah Bonono (right) works with material samples to mock-design a room in the new honors building.

Bonono and her classmates worked with material samples to learn about various details of the five-story, 85,000-square-foot building and how they will contribute to a positive learning environment. From the color-changing exterior wall panels, to the sustainable carpet and interior design choices, they were able to experience just how much meticulous planning went into even the smallest room.

“This class is a wonderful example of the unique, multi-disciplinary, hands-on and collaborative approach that the USF Judy Genshaft Honors College classes represent,” said Steve Lafferty, director of design and construction for USF Facilities Management. “It’s very rare that an architectural project gets documented this well and this thoroughly for posterity. A lot of things get documented as history when people look back on it, but this class actually documented it as we were going through it, so that’s unique.”

In conjunction with Lafferty, the course is taught by Judy Genshaft Honors College Associate Professor of Instruction Atsuko Sakai with special guests from the building’s design and construction team.

“Everyone involved is passionate about what they do,” Sakai said. “This building is a reflection of how much we care about our campus and our students. This building is a landmark in a way, but the legacy is the process involved to build it and the people who were a part of that process.”

Students stand with a trivia game they made about the honors college.

Honors students created a trivia game about the college. [Photo Courtesy: Atsuko Sakai]

Each semester, the students worked on a class project to leave behind for the next generation. The first two classes created a series of educational materials for visitors, such as board games, and a course lesson for incoming freshmen. The third class created an oral history project to document the stories of all of the professionals who collaborated on the design and construction process. The final class is in the process of creating informational welcome packets for future visitors and events.

While students, such as Bonono, plan to incorporate the course’s lessons into their chosen career paths, a former student was inspired to alter her plans. Now an alumna of the Judy Genshaft Honors College, Anjolaoluwa Bolaji originally planned to pursue a career in industrial organizational psychology, but the capstone course inspired her interest in interior design. “The capstone course allowed me to discover and develop my creative side,” Bolaji said.

After the course, Bolaji earned an internship with USF Facilities Management’s planning department where she helped develop floor plans and select design materials for several existing buildings on the USF Tampa campus, as well as the new honors building. “It was an invaluable experience that allowed me to contribute to the school that made me who I am today,” Bolaji said.

Honors student Melsy Salguero, a junior studying civil engineering with a focus on geotechnical engineering, took the capstone course last year. After the course, she earned an internship with Barr & Barr, a construction management company working on the new USF Student Health and Wellness Center.

A group of students pose with a small timecapsle for the honors college.

Honors students with the college's time capsule. [Photo Courtesy: Atsuko Sakai]

“In class and through site visits, I learned about the intricacies of what went into the new honors building's construction,” Salguero said. “Being able to be in the new space when it opens will undoubtedly be awe-inducing. The new honors building will enable students to have innovative spaces to learn, share ideas with the community and grow beyond what was possible at the Allen building.”

The honors college currently occupies 10,000 square feet of the John and Grace Allen Building, which was the university’s first building when it was established in 1956.

Students have played an integral part in developing the building’s plans dating back to 2017 – two years prior to the $20 million initial gift announcement from USF President Emerita and Professor Judy Genshaft and her husband Steve Greenbaum. At the time, the college offered a course that focused on prospects of a new building and facilitated focus groups, allowing students to share their vision with the architect.

According to Sakai, this course is a favorite among honors students, and some even requested to continue their involvement in the building, even after they finished the course. She organized a student work group to provide building tours for student events, finalize the oral history project and fill a time capsule for the college.

There will be a grand opening celebration in May and the building will be operational this summer.

Return to article listing