University of South Florida


Video by Torie Doll, University Communications and Marketing

Top stories of 2023

By Tina Meketa, University Communications and Marketing

From being invited to join the prestigious Association of American Universities to breaking fundraising records and even a faculty member making it into the Guinness Book of World Records, this has been a momentous year for USF.

USF joins the AAU

Graphic says AAU

USF has taken what many in Tampa Bay once considered a “best-kept secret” to an unprecedented new level. It reached a remarkable milestone by accepting an invitation to join the Association of American Universities, a prestigious group of the 71 leading research institutions in the United States and Canada. 

This formalizes USF's position as a leading research university. It became the first public university in Florida to be invited to join the AAU in nearly 40 years and is now one of only two institutions from the State University System of Florida to serve as an AAU member. USF has been working toward this goal for more than 15 years, as AAU membership criteria align with USF’s mission to positively shape the future for society and transform lives through education, research and innovation.     

As an AAU institution, USF is positioned to further enhance its role of meeting the state’s workforce needs and driving economic development. This trajectory will only continue as the brightest faculty, staff and students are historically known to gravitate to AAU universities located in metropolitan areas.


Rising through the ranks

Graphic says "Top 50"

USF reached its highest overall position in U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of the best colleges. It is also the fifth consecutive year USF reached the top 50 among public universities in America. U.S. News ranks USF as the “best value” among all public universities in Florida. The publication also ranks USF No. 1 in Florida and No. 16 nationally for social mobility, which measures an institution’s success at graduating Pell Grant recipients.

Also according to U.S. News & World Report, the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine is now the fastest-rising medical school when it comes to medical research and primary care. Over the last decade, the college climbed approximately 30 spots in each category, with medical research coming in at No. 50 and No. 46 for primary care. Much of this success can be attributed to the high caliber of students and the rapid rise of research funding being awarded to faculty. 

Morsani College of Medicine building

Additionally, 31 graduate programs were ranked in the top 100. Ten are ranked in the top 50 among all public and private institutions, led by industrial and organizational psychology at No. 3 and public health at No. 22. The university’s full-time MBA program moved up nearly 30 spots and is now ranked No. 73. The doctor of nursing practice program moved up 34 places into the top 50 and the physician’s assistant program made the list for the first time, coming in at No. 65. 

According to Newsweek magazine, USF is one of the best places to work in the United States. It ranks USF as one of America’s greatest workplaces for 2023, a list of the top 1,000 companies in the United States with at least 1,000 employees. USF is the only university in Florida to appear on the list and one of only a small group of colleges and universities nationwide to be ranked. Forbes also named USF as one of the nation’s best employers for women, listing it as No. 15 – the highest-ranked university in Florida.


On-campus stadium plans advance

stadium rendering

Several significant advancements were made in planning the on-campus stadium. In December, USF released the first renderings of the new 35,000-seat facility, which is slated to open in fall 2027. The design incorporates feedback gathered through listening sessions with dozens of stakeholder groups, including students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members. 

Earlier in the year, the USF Board of Trustees and Florida Board of Governors voted in favor of the financing plan, signaling state-level support for the transformational facility, which will be built on the east side of the Tampa campus on a site known as Sycamore Fields. In September, USF announced a $25 million gift from Tampa General Hospital – the largest ever to USF Athletics – to support the stadium and the athletics district on campus.

USF plans to break ground on the new stadium in fall 2024.  More information about the project, including an FAQ section, is available here.


Record fundraising year

Various shots of check presentations

It was a record-setter for total donors and funds committed in a single fiscal year. More than $157 million in philanthropic commitments were made by more than 37,500 donors. This marks the fifth straight year that annual charitable giving benefitting the university surpassed $100 million and the second straight record-setting year over $150 million. USF also set a new record with nearly 12,000 new donors. 

Some of the highlights include a $10 million gift from USF alumnus James “Jay” Nault to name the Nault Center for Entrepreneurship in the Muma College of Business and a $5.1 million gift from J.D Porter and family to name the Porter Family Indoor Performance Facility. The USF Sarasota-Manatee campus received its largest donation in campus history – $5 million from Baldwin Risk Partners to name the Baldwin Risk Partners School of Risk Management and Insurance. The College of Engineering also received its largest gift to date – $5 million from Tampa Electric to support the Clean Energy Research Center’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and develop cutting-edge solutions leveraging renewable energy.


Transformational state budget

Group poses in the state capitol

USF received its largest recurring operational budget increase, $63.3 million, in the 2023-2024 state budget, allowing several high-priority projects to move forward. The budget includes $24.3 million to fund the first phase of planning and construction of a new Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences Research and Teaching facility on the USF St. Petersburg campus. It also allocates $14 million to conduct a state-funded comprehensive clinical trial of hyperbaric oxygen therapy’s medical effectiveness in treating PTSD and traumatic brain injuries among veterans and active-duty military service members.


Dr. Deep Sea sets world record for living underwater

Joseph Dituri


Joe Dituri


Joe Dituri


After spending 100 days underwater, USF Associate Professor Joseph Dituri entered the Guinness Book of World Records. Dituri, also known as Dr. Deep Sea, lived in a 100-square-foot habitat located 22 feet below the surface at Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, breaking the previous record of living underwater of 73 days. 

The mission was part of the 55-year-old biomedical engineer’s efforts to study the effects of hyperbaric pressure on the human body, such as how it can help humans live longer and prevent diseases associated with aging. He hopes this research will be useful in treating a broad spectrum of illnesses, including traumatic brain injuries. 

While underwater, Dituri taught a biomedical engineering course at USF, regularly put on scuba gear to explore the ocean with visiting scientists and virtually interacted and taught more than 2,450 students from countries all around the world, including Korea, Abu Dhabi and Chile.


Campus enhancements

Judy Genshaft Honors College

The landscape of the USF Tampa campus changed quite dramatically over the last year, with the grand openings of two high-profile buildings. After much anticipation, the Judy Genshaft Honors College building opened near the Yuengling Center along USF Genshaft Drive. The five-story, 85,000-square-foot facility features a variety of spaces for intellectual development and creative exchange, including open-design classrooms, 39 signature learning lofts and dedicated studio spaces for art, food and culture, along with music and technology. 

Student Wellness Center

Located across the street is the new Student Health and Wellness Center. The building is nearly four times the size of the old Student Health Center, which had previously been located near the bookstore. It offers services all under one roof, including a pharmacy and 68 exam rooms for a variety of services, such as gynecology, dermatology and immunizations.

Several other projects are underway to address a portion of the university’s deferred maintenance needs. They’re funded by an investment of nearly $73 million in last year’s state budget to support USF’s Capital Renewal Program. The Office of Administrative Services, which oversees facilities management, unveiled an interactive map that allows users to track the status of the 87 critical projects being addressed on all three campuses, majority of which pertain to roof repair and replacement, and operations, such as electrical, fire alarm and HVAC systems. 

USF water tower

One of the most publicly recognizable projects is the renovation of the 26-year-old water tower, which hadn’t been painted in more than a decade or received any significant construction improvements since that time. The 212-foot tower is responsible for pressurizing and supplying drinking water to the majority of buildings on campus. 

Construction site

USF is on the cusp of launching a new era on the Sarasota-Manatee campus. Construction is underway for the campus’s first student center and residence hall. The six-story, 100,000-square-foot building is scheduled to open in the fall of 2024 as the on-campus home for as many as 200 students. The campus is also planning to construct a new Nursing/STEM building, most recently selecting architects and a general contractor.



President Rhea Law

Shortly after the start of the new year, the USF community gathered at the Yuengling Center to celebrate the inauguration of President Rhea Law. Law is the first USF alum to serve as president and previously chaired the USF Board of Trustees. During her address, she spoke about her personal connection to the university, and reflected on its transformation from a small commuter school into one of the nation’s top research universities.  She highlighted three areas of teaching and research excellence identified in USF’s Strategic Plan that provide a roadmap for USF’s future growth: health sciences, environmental and oceanographic sciences and global and national security.  

Prasant Mohapatra

Prasant Mohapatra joined USF as provost and executive vice president of academic affairs. Mohapatra came from the University of California, Davis, where he served as vice chancellor for research since 2018. A distinguished professor in the Department of Computer Science, Mohapatra held multiple leadership positions at UC Davis, including dean and vice provost of graduate studies, associate chancellor, interim vice provost and chief information officer, and chair of the Department of Computer Science. Mohapatra is a fellow of both the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

Will Weatherford, Rhea Law, Mike Griffin

Will Weatherford and Mike Griffin were re-elected to two-year leadership terms on the USF Board of Trustees. They have served as chair and vice chair, respectively, since June 2021. Weatherford is the managing partner of Weatherford Capital, where he focuses on providing leadership and strategic guidance to the team, and previously served as 84th Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. Griffin is an executive managing director and market leader for Savills, a worldwide company known for its consistent delivery of a full range of integrated real estate services across the globe. Griffin previously served as chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and was recognized as its youngest chairman in the more than 135-year history of the organization.


Community impact

Nursing Mo-Bull unit

USF plays an integral role across Tampa Bay, leading high-impact collaborations with businesses, non-profit organizations and government. 

One of many projects includes a new manufacturing certificate program in East Tampa. Funded by a $684,000 grant from the Truist Foundation, USF is developing and will implement an “Introduction to Production Systems” certificate program to train the future manufacturing workforce with in-demand skills with the goal of enhancing the economic mobility of participants. 

To address the needs of medically underserved areas throughout Tampa Bay, the College of Nursing launched the Mo-Bull Nurse Medical Clinic. It’s a recreational vehicle that was converted to offer traveling treatment rooms and a laboratory/diagnostic center that not only provides access to health care, but also advances nursing education. The program is made possible in part by a gift from Skanska.

Musicians perform on stage

Skanska is also the lead partner of the Mentor Protége Program, which completed its third cohort of local minority, women and veteran-owned businesses. The program, hosted by the Office of Supplier Diversity, provides companies with training, development and partnership opportunities to help them grow their capacity and become more effective with competitive bidding processes. 

Families across Tampa Bay are gaining greater exposure to the arts thanks to a number of new initiatives hosted by USF’s College of the Arts. This year, it started an outreach program that brings interactive music, theater and dance performances to students in Hillsborough County Public Schools for free and during school hours. This helps remove obstacles that prevent the community from accessing the performing arts.


Research and Innovation

Western Flyer

It was quite an active year out on the water. The Florida Institute of Oceanography, which is hosted by USF, received its most technologically advanced research vessel, the Western Flyer

The 117-foot twin-hulled ship granted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute has the capacity to embark on longer missions than FIO’s current fleet. The vessel features a sophisticated remotely operated vehicle designed to reveal the deepest, most mysterious parts of the Gulf of Mexico and can livestream video, data and shipboard activities using remote science technologies. This allows people on land and on board the vessel to cooperatively conduct research in real time.

The Florida Institute of Oceanography’s Keys Marine Laboratory also led a significant effort to save coral from a massive bleaching event. Due to an unprecedented heat wave and escalating water temperature, researchers harvested more than 5,000 coral specimens from offshore nurseries and parent colonies and worked with partner organizations to relocate them to their lab’s water tanks. The rescued coral were rehabilitated for three months and returned to the sea once water temperatures cooled earlier this fall.

coral tanks


coral in tanks


USF received its largest grant ever for cybersecurity. The National Science Foundation provided the university with $3.7 million to establish the Cybersecurity Research and Education for Service in Government, which will enable USF to recruit, mentor and provide scholarships to at least 28 graduate and undergraduate students and prepare them to serve as cybersecurity professionals in the federal government. 

computer screen that shows code

Another new cybersecurity initiative includes the launch of the Rapid7 Cyber Threat Intelligence Lab, funded by a $1.5 million investment from the Boston-based company’s charitable arm, the Rapid7 Cybersecurity Foundation. The lab recently received a $1.5 million grant from the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation to conduct research into effective ways for training cyber operators. 

Rhea Law and Brian Murphy

USF is also helping fill the immense talent gap in the cybersecurity industry through ReliaQuest Labs, a unique six-week program established through a $1 million partnership with global cybersecurity company ReliaQuest. Since its inception, more than 350 students have completed the program and over 100 of them have been hired by ReliaQuest. During fall commencement, founder and CEO Brian Murphy received the President’s Fellow Medallion, an award given to very distinguished and highly meritorious individuals.

Through a collaboration between the College of Public Health and Muma College of Business, USF was awarded more than $8.5 million in grants to train the nation’s public health leaders in collaboration and leadership skills. The Public Health Regenerative Leadership Synergy grant was developed by three philanthropic nonprofit organizations in response to a badly depleted, post-pandemic public health care workforce. The one-year leadership development training is open to public health professionals from across the country, providing them the opportunity to reimagine their roles in creating healthy communities.

Man with hearing aid

A USF-designed hearing intervention is at the center of a national study that shows hearing aids can slow cognitive decline by 50 percent. Through the Aging and Cognitive Health Evaluation in Elders study, researchers provided older adults a hearing “toolkit,” which included hearing aids, self-management tools and ongoing instruction and counseling with an audiologist to "make listening easier for the brain." This allowed participants to remain more socially and physically active, which contributes to mental and emotional wellbeing, while helping mitigate other negative aspects of aging, such as inactivity, isolation, anxiety and depression.


National titles and new hires abound in athletics

The USF football team will play in a bowl game for the first time in five years, meeting Syracuse on Dec. 21 in the Boca Raton Bowl. First-year head coach Alex Golesh was named by College Football News among its Top 15 coaches of 2023 and a finalist for its annual Coach of the Year Award.

Other significant athletics news included: 

Fans in the stands
  • Amir Abdur-Rahim named new men’s basketball head coach.
  • USF coed cheer team claimed a third straight national title.
  • Track & field’s Romaine Beckford won two national championships in the high jump.
  • Women’s basketball won its second American Athletic Conference championship.
  • Pri Piantadosi-Lima named first-ever head coach of beach volleyball.
  • Women’s golf reaches first NCAA postseason since 2012.
  • Women’s volleyball returns to postseason for first time since 2018.
  • Longtime women’s soccer coach Denise Schilte-Brown named to lead Tampa Bay’s first-ever professional women’s team – the United Soccer League’s Tampa Bay Sun.
  • Women’s basketball head coach Jose Fernandez’s contract extended to 2029.

More top stories:

USF St. Petersburg

USF Sarasota-Manatee

USF Health

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