By Kevin Watler and Daphne Kotschessa Almodovar, University Communications and Marketing
The University of South Florida awarded more than 2,400 degrees during summer commencement on Saturday, Aug. 5. The ceremonies included recipients of 1,610 bachelor’s, 690 master’s, 132 doctoral and five specialist degrees. This marks the first group of students to graduate since USF was invited to join the Association of American Universities in June. The AAU is a prestigious group of the top 3% of all research universities in the U.S.
The group features 19 undergraduate students earning a perfect 4.0 GPA and 85 student veterans, and includes graduates from 36 states, 71 nations and four U.S. territories. Approximately one out of three graduates (785) are recipients of Pell Grants, reflecting USF’s impact on social mobility. Pell is a federal financial aid program for students from modest socioeconomic backgrounds.
At 18 years old, the youngest graduate earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. The oldest graduate, who is 67 years old, received a master’s degree in library and information science.
USF President Rhea Law presided over all ceremonies, which were held in the Yuengling Center on the Tampa campus.
Noor Khalil Algoul, Bachelor of Arts in political science
At the age of 18, Noor Khalil Algoul is the summer 2023 youngest graduate. The Palestinian American was born in Florida but grew up in Jordan. When she moved back to Florida in 2015, she didn’t know English and had to work extremely hard to continue her education. Algoul’s efforts paid off and she ended up graduating from King High School in Tampa as valedictorian, while dual enrolled at Hillsborough Community College. She then transferred to USF, completing a political science degree. Algoul now not only speaks Arabic and English fluently, but also Korean and Spanish intermediately. She is currently learning Turkish. Algoul plans to attend law school.
Lauren Flannery, Bachelor of Science in environmental science and policy
Lauren Flannery fell in love with USF when she visited as a recruit for the university’s cross country and track and field teams. But repeated stress fractures required the Pennsylvania native to make the tough decision to prioritize her health and leave the sport that she loved. Though difficult to accept, Flannery accepted the old adage that “when one door closes, another opens.” Without the commitments that come with being an NCAA Division 1 athlete, she was able to be very active in student organizations, study abroad, volunteer at a local food pantry and even graduate a year early.
Flannery has been an active member of the College of Arts and Sciences Dean's Student Leadership Society, served as a student assistant in the Office of Education Abroad and received the Global Citizens Award. She volunteered at an organic permaculture farm in Costa Rica to implement landscaping, design analog maps and apply sustainable methods that would lead to the farm becoming a certified organic operation. As a member of the Judy Genshaft Honors College, she traveled to Andros Island, Bahamas, for an immersion course on tropical island environments. Flannery recently received the Alana Leigh Thompson Memorial Scholarship at USF, which allowed her to spend this summer at Yellowstone National Park working as a biological technician intern with the National Park Service. There, she helped identify plants, control the spread of invasive plant species to maintain biodiversity and ensure the wellbeing of the ecosystems within the treasured national landmark. Post-graduation, Flannery will spend some time in Sweden seeking opportunities in environmental conservation.
Rey Rosado Borrego, Bachelor of Science in nursing
Culture, academics and the Herd of Thunder Colorguard program brought Rey Rosado Borrego to USF. Known for its top-notch College of Nursing, Borrego knew USF was the place he would find community. He has created long-lasting memories as a member of the colorguard and serving as team captain for the competitive USF Winterguard team. Borrego not only led the team through the pandemic, but also to the gold medal at the WGI World Championships. The first-generation college student is grateful for the resources and opportunities extended to him as he navigated the unfamiliar terrain of higher education far from his native Mexico.
Borrego credits USF faculty for motivating and guiding him while the USF Latino Scholarship Program removed the financial weight of attending college. The support of his mentors and peers empowered him to become student president of the Accelerated Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing program. Selected by faculty to speak at his upcoming pinning ceremony, Borrego will join Moffitt Cancer Center as a registered nurse.
Andrii Kostyrko, Bachelor of Science in accounting
Andrii Kostyrko arrived in Tampa from Ukraine with his immediate family in 2017 after witnessing the Russian invasion of Crimea. The Kyiv native settled into the bay area, reuniting with extended family members and finding greater stability. Just 15 years old at the time, Kostyrko immersed himself in his education. He took advantage of dual-enrollment classes in high school and graduated early. He earned an associate degree at St. Petersburg College and then transferred to USF St. Petersburg through FUSE, a pathway program that helps students earn their associate degree while guaranteeing admission into USF.
In the midst of completing his bachelor’s degree in accounting, the war in Ukraine broke out in February 2022. Kostyrko’s family and friends have remained in Kyiv throughout the conflict, experiencing the many effects of war, including air raid sirens, food shortages and ongoing power outages. Despite the weight of the world on Kostyrko’s shoulders, he stayed on track and excelled at USF. He is graduating summa cum laude and will be attending graduate school for accounting at USF. He plans to pursue his Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license in the state of Florida.
Read more about Kostyrko here.
Mariyah Pressley, Doctorate in biomedical engineering
Mariyah Pressley spent her academic career learning how technology and data can be used to effectively deliver solutions in clinical and pharmaceutical environments. Her dissertation, supervised by mentors at the Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, was focused on using mathematical models to better understand tumor growth dynamics to optimize cancer therapy. She authored three academic journal articles – two of which she was lead author – and presented at national and international conferences.
Throughout her time at USF, she held data analytics and modeling internships with Bristol-Myers Squibb and Johnson & Johnson and helped recruit doctoral students by serving as a graduate student ambassador at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Students. Pressley took full advantage of campus life – participating in a competitive dance team that provided late night dance sessions and local performance opportunities.
When she experienced a necessary leave of absence, the USF community rallied around to provide the support she credits for helping her get through the program. As a USF graduate student, Pressley was supported by grants awarded by the National Science Foundation, National Cancer Institute and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Following commencement, Pressley will join Genentech in the San Francisco Bay area.
Haley Hines-Gaal, Master of social work
Haley Hines-Gaal found the USF Online Master of Social Work program while seeking to balance full-time work with graduate studies. Her journey has been fueled by a deep sense of gratitude for the professionals who helped guide her when she lost her parents and was placed in foster care as a teenager. The social workers met with Hines-Gaal often, encouraging her to pursue higher education. “I could see that a career in social work could allow me to make a similar impact on people’s lives and be able to drive positive change,” she said.
At USF, Hines-Gaal further connected with her peers and the dedicated faculty who run the flexible, yet rigorous program. As part of her studies, she interned at Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa where she helped homeless clients and at-risk families obtain stable housing. Hines-Gaal said this experience has put her on the fast track to a career that drives opportunity within the community. She is strengthening her skillset by serving as a housing counselor for the City of Tampa Housing and Community Development Division.
Learn more about Hines-Gaal’s journey here.
Fabrizio Petrozzi Yanez, Bachelor of Science in business management
Fabrizio Petrozzi Yanez was drawn to USF because of his love for St. Petersburg, particularly the Innovation District. He saw the potential of the city and the university, and knew it was the right place to grow both personally and academically. Eventually, Petrozzi, a student in the Judy Genshaft Honors College, became a resident assistant at the Pelican Apartments and Osprey Suites residence halls. That experience allowed him to discover his leadership skills, placing an emphasis on creating a safe and welcoming environment for all.
The greatest challenge Petrozzi faced while at USF was the pandemic. The transition to virtual learning was a significant adjustment, and not being able to return home to Peru was emotionally challenging. Additionally, having most of his friends and connections move away from campus added to the sense of isolation. Overcoming this challenge required resilience and adaptability. He found solace by focusing on his studies and resident assistant duties, which he credits with keeping him grounded. Petrozzi also took the opportunity to explore new hobbies and interests. By making a conscious effort to stay connected virtually with friends and family back home, he felt less alone. He also sought support from the university's mental health resources, which were invaluable during this time.
As a mentor in the UMatter program, which provides young people with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to experience higher education and campus life, Petrozzi found immense satisfaction and happiness seeing the change he can make in their lives. In fact, he plans to continue working with the disabled community after graduation.
Petrozzi is an honoree in the Muma College of Business 25 Under 25 Program.
Epiphany Jordan, Master’s in social marketing
Epiphany Jordan is a multitalented professional from Nevada who says the Online Master of Public Health program with a concentration in social marketing makes her feel like she’s graduating with three degrees. It had been decades since the author, who also serves as caregiver to her mother, had been in school and the first time learning how to think like a scientist. While testing rebranding strategies on nurturing connections, she fell in love with qualitative research and taking deep dives into the way people think. Jordan admits she entered the program not sure of what it entailed and felt a little strange being decades older than her peers, but she succeeded in learning to leverage commercial marketing strategies to influence behaviors for the greater social good.
Jordan soon realized her personal perspective and life experience outside public health were assets that brought welcome insight and empathy to the research she and her colleagues carried out. The support she received throughout the program validated her interest in redefining human touch as an integral part of health and wellness. This new skillset from the only accredited graduate school program in the world in her field has opened the door for Jordan to become a social marketing consultant for health agencies in Reno. The author is working on a second book on nonsexual touch for couples.
Jessica Rice, Bachelor of Science in biology
At the age of 22, Jessica Rice was in nursing school and a single mom to newborn Bentley, who was born with a medical condition, when she made the difficult decision to put her education on hold. She went to work as a nursing assistant at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and two years later decided to transfer from another institution to USF as a biology major when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a public health emergency. Rice spent much of the pandemic in the hospital caring for patients infected by the deadly coronavirus. She busied herself with pre-med coursework, worked long hours and cared for Bentley.
In her second year at USF, Rice received a prestigious invitation to apply to the Omicron Delta Kappa honor society, which recognizes achievement in scholarship and other areas. A Selby Achiever, Rice also received the Brunch on the Bay Scholarship and served as the vice president of Tau Sigma, a national honor society designed exclusively for transfer students at USF.
After graduation, Rice plans to get married and enjoy family life with her fiancé, her son and step-daughter. She plans to apply to the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine to continue pursuing her dream of becoming a pediatrician.
Learn more about Jessica here.