University of South Florida


Screen shows Microsoft CoPilot

[Photo courtesy: Microsoft]

USF an industry leader in generative AI

By Tina Meketa, University Communications and Marketing

Jason Hair

Jason Hair, assistant vice president of IT Research Technology

The last time Jason Hair’s team built an automated process to improve the way help tickets are assigned at the IT Service Desk, it took months of development, required specialized technical expertise and was very expensive to maintain. Flash forward to today: This solution was recreated in just a couple of weeks using new generative artificial intelligence tools and is now maintained using simple English instructions rather than writing code. 

“Gen AI helped save months in building and maintaining the solution and saves service desk technicians several hours each day that used to be spent categorizing tickets. All of this time savings means that our clients get the help they need much faster than before,” said Hair, assistant vice president of IT Research Technology.  

It’s all made possible by USF’s leadership in generative AI. USF has a history of being ahead of the curve in trying new teaching concepts and technologies. That’s why Microsoft selected USF to be one of the first universities to test Copilot, a generative AI tool that gives users the ability to interact with Microsoft 365 applications such as Teams, Outlook and Word, which comes equipped with a chatbot.

Sidney Fernandez

Sidney Fernandes, vice president and chief information officer for USF Information Technology, was interviewed for a video produced by Microsoft [Courtesy: Carrie Purol, USF Information Technology]

“At USF, we are known for our determination and willingness to push boundaries. Leading the way means we all need tools that can accelerate our progress,” said Sidney Fernandes, vice president and chief information officer for USF Information Technology. “Our work with generative AI and Copilot has demonstrated the potential of these technologies to enhance individual productivity. What makes this so thrilling for me is that these tools have the power to level the playing field and make technology accessible to those who may not have ever considered themselves technologists.” 

The university’s nimble approach inspired Microsoft to prominently feature USF as a thought leader at its recent digital event, Reimagine Education, which brought together educators and leaders from across the globe to share insights on teaching and workforce readiness in the era of AI.

“It’s been incredibly impressive to see USF building and deploying AI solutions with the power of the Microsoft Cloud, ultimately, not just for students, but also for improving operational efficiency and boosting educator productivity,” said Lydia Smyers, vice president for Microsoft Education. “USF stands out as a leader in AI with their highly strategic and comprehensive approach.”

Tim Henkel

Tim Henkel, assistant vice provost for teaching and learning and director of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning [Courtesy: Microsoft]

With generative AI’s capabilities advancing every day, USF is working to help employees and students maneuver its complexities and required judgment calls, especially as USF is one of the leaders in higher education for offering broad access to Copilot.

USF recently launched a new website offering guidance and governance created by the Generative AI Strategy Development group – a group formed in early 2023 that consists of faculty and representatives from Information Technology, Innovative Education, Human Resources, the Provost’s Office and General Counsel. 

“Since the public launch of ChatGPT over a year ago, we’ve been working across the university to facilitate conversations to understand the utility as well as limitations of this technology,” said Tim Henkel, assistant vice provost for teaching and learning and director of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. “The implications of generative AI on our learning practices are tremendous, and helping our faculty and students navigate these changes to better meet their goals is our priority.”

General Frank McKenzie

Global and National Security conference on AI in the military

USF’s expertise in generative AI is the catalyst for attracting some of the nation’s top tech companies and military leaders to campus. The Global and National Security Institute, led by the former commander of U.S. Central Command, retired Gen. Frank McKenzie, recently hosted the Great Power Competition, a conference dedicated to conversations surrounding warfare. This event, titled AI in the Era of Strategic Competition, featured the former secretary of Homeland Security and the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. 

As concerns about cybercrime continue to grow, so do concerns about the increased capabilities of threat actors using generative AI. That’s why USF Information Technology has integrated Copilot for Security into its cybersecurity toolset, which allows developers to flag risks, as well as automate how they identify the origin of an attempted breach more quickly than in years past. 

“Copilot overall is a work accelerator for me as a security engineer. I get specific value from Copilot for Security and its ability to deliver quick insights across our systems, saving me as much as 80 percent of my time on some of my tasks. While it is not a replacement for a human, it has provided immediate time-saving value,” said USF security engineer Michael Canfield.

Undergraduate and graduate students are being exposed to the risks posed by generative AI and will soon participate in the university’s largest Hackathon in May. Through the Office of University Community Partnerships and in collaboration with USF Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs, participants will be able to create new applications to advance AI’s capabilities and protect systems from misuse. More information is available here.

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