By Torie Doll, University Communications and Marketing
Askia Muhammad Aquil
Bachelor of General Studies
Askia Muhammad Aquil, formerly Otha Favors, enrolled at USF in 1966 with an associate degree from St. Petersburg College. He was pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in world languages and cultures with a concentration in French and Russian, and interned for the St. Petersburg Times and Evening Independent newspapers. Aquil had dreams of becoming a foreign correspondent or a diplomat. Then Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and everything changed.
He founded the One-to-One Group, which brought together students and faculty to discuss race relations and social justice issues. Inspired by King’s vision, their work, in collaboration with the Black Student Union, resulted in the creation of a Department of Africana Studies. Through USF Student Government, Aquil recruited students to tutor struggling Hillsborough County public school Black students and to join the fight against poverty. Aquil ended up leaving USF his senior year, but his activism in the community continued. In 2021, he was presented with the key to the City of St. Petersburg for his work to create quality affordable housing and reduce poverty while exuding peace, kindness and compassion in everything he does.
It was always his intention to return to USF and complete his undergraduate degree. Fifty years and several grandchildren and great grandchildren later, Aquil is graduating at the age of 75 with a bachelor’s degree in general studies. He has always considered himself to be a lifelong learner with aspirations for higher scholastic achievement and plans to pursue a master’s degree in liberal arts with a concentration in Africana studies.
Master of Public Health in Global Health Practice
Natalie Nagib is driven by her passion to support women in STEM and teach others about public health and medicine. Her motto is to embrace the unknown and replace fear with curiosity. Originally from Canada, Nagib was drawn to USF because of its diversity among students, staff and academic opportunities. Enrolling in an undergraduate-to-graduate pathway program, she graduated in the spring with a bachelor of science in biomedical sciences, was recognized as a Golden Bull and King O’Neal Scholar and was awarded the Dean’s Circle of Merit for Global Citizenship from the Judy Genshaft Honors College.
Nagib will walk the stage again this summer with her master of public health in global health practice. For her international field experience, Nagib traveled to Japan and served as a research assistant at Gifu University, analyzing student health data to understand how students’ physical health, mental health and lifestyle have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nagib attributes her experiences at USF with shaping her into the lifelong learner, passionate researcher, global citizen and well-rounded person she is today. Next stop is medical school at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Bradenton. Once she earns her doctoral degree in osteopathic medicine, Nagib hopes to serve Doctors Without Borders. As a physician, she plans to use her knowledge of public health to provide her patients with proactive care in addition to the reactive care they are seeking.
Doctorate in Biomedical Engineering
Born in Egypt, Youssef Mohamed immigrated to the United States with his parents and three brothers when he was about seven years old. They would eventually settle in Florida and he and his brothers excelled in academics – all four of them graduated high school by the age of 14 or 15. In 2017, at the age of 18, Mohamed became USF’s youngest graduate, graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in biomedical sciences. Now at the age of 23, he is set to walk USF’s stage yet again, this time with his doctorate in biomedical engineering. During his final year of the program, he simultaneously was completing his first year of medical school at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. As only the second USF student to pursue this undefined dual degree track, it was not an easy task. Mohamed had help from the two colleges to build a timeline that would allow him to balance the programs.
Even with a packed schedule, Youssef still made time to have fun. He played on an intramural volleyball team, routinely sailed and competed in regattas and was heavily involved in the scouting program where he earned his Eagle Scout and Quartermaster ranks. Mohamed served as the research and development chair for the Biomedical Engineering Society and his favorite memories are from collaborating with society members on challenging projects for the USF Engineering Expo, such as building an eye-controlled wheelchair and an arm-wrestling station controlled by muscle contraction.
Mohamed is still deciding in which area of medicine he wants to specialize, but he’s interested in ophthalmology, radiology and anesthesiology. In the future, Mohamed hopes to work on improving the quality of existing medical devices as well as developing new tools that are cheaper and more portable to increase health care delivery around the world.
Yesmin Delgado Alabart
Bachelor of Science in Accounting
Yesmin Delgado Alabart left Cuba at the age of 24 seeking opportunity and a brighter future. Her path to accounting stemmed from an early interest in numbers and an entrepreneurial spirit she inherited from her grandfather who owned his own business in Cuba.
After immigrating to the United States, Alabart worked to support herself full time while attending classes at St. Petersburg College, learning English along the way. During this time, she volunteered for AARP to prepare taxes for residents of Pinellas County, blending her lifelong math interest with her newfound business skills to help people. Alabart transfered to the USF St. Petersburg campus with an associate’s degree in Business Administration.
During her time at USF, Alabart held positions as an office administrator at a staffing company, an assistant bookkeeper at Pinellas Technical College, worked for a small CPA firm and completed an internship at the tax and accounting firm Concannon Miller.
Alabart will be graduating this summer with a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and a 4.0 GPA. She also has a coveted internship lined up with the global tax and consulting firm RSM and has been accepted into a master’s of Accountancy program with the goal of earning her CPA license. She thanks the faculty and staff at the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finanace for keeping her on track and excelling during the upheaval of the pandemic.
Alabart hopes to next combine all the knowledge she has learned along her journey with her tremendous work ethic to be part of helping grow a company. Her grandfather, she suspects, would be proud.
Bachelor of Science in Biology
Born in Bangladesh and raised in Bradenton, Riffatul Islam witnessed extreme poverty during visits to his native country. This experience fueled Islam’s passion for helping people, and with a fascination for the human body, he knew at a young age that he wanted to become a physician. Islam chose the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus because of the small class sizes which would allow him to have stronger relationships with his professors and peers. He loved being a part of the USF Judy Genshaft Honors College because of the interdisciplinary classes which gave him the opportunity to explore his creativity outside of his usual science-based course load.
While at USF, he was recognized as a Golden Bull, was a member of the Order of Golden Brahman and the Student Government Association and held several leadership positions, including orientation leader, ambassador, campus council representative and student governor. As student governor, Islam created initiatives and programs that unified the three campuses as OneUSF and helped to rejuvenate the Sarasota-Manatee campus after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. To prepare for medical school, Islam participated in the USF Pre-Health Scholars Internship Program through the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.
Islam plans to specialize in internal medicine because of its holistic approach to understanding the human body. From his experiences as an immigrant and regular world traveler, Islam also wants to provide aid to poverty-stricken countries by serving organizes such as Doctors Without Borders and Unicef. Islam’s two main motivations in life have always been religion and family. He attributes his successes and continued guidance in life to Allah, his parents and his brother.
Riyza Jose Morales
Master of Arts in Global Sustainability Policy
Tampa native Riyza Jose Morales started her academic journey as a Pizzo Bull right next to USF at Pizzo Elementary. She’d eventually grow up to be a USF Bull, earning a bachelor of arts degree in international studies in 2019. Jose Morales's experiences serving diverse intersections of the Tampa Bay public before and during the COVID-19 pandemic prompted her to continue her education at USF in 2020 by pursuing a master of arts in global sustainability policy, hoping to better understand how to build inclusive institutions and resilient communities. The intimate setting, passionate professors and ability to take charge and design a personal curriculum within the Patel College of Global Sustainability have been invaluable to Jose Morales. Working hard to pull straight A’s every semester along with a full-time job and internships, Jose Morales started suffering from serious burnout in her last semester and says that she is grateful she was able to overcome that with the support of faculty and staff.
During her seven years at USF, Jose Morales has worked to inspire local youth, empower refugee families, champion inclusive politics, battle food insecurity and build smarter streets in the Tampa Bay area. Since May 2021, Jose Morales has had the opportunity to strengthen regional local government sustainability with the Southeast Sustainability Directors Network, applying the knowledge and skills she has acquired at USF to her work. She hopes to one day operate at an international level, working with governing bodies to develop strategies for equitable, participatory and sustainable policies and livelihoods in communities worldwide.
Doctorate in Marine Science
Growing up on the water, Alyssa Andres has always been fascinated by marine life. After receiving her bachelor of science degree in biological science, she had planned to attend veterinary school, but chose instead to take time off to explore marine science research across the globe. Andres spent three years exploring different aspects of marine research, including an internship in South Africa working with great white sharks, and research assistantships exploring tiger shark ecology in Western Australia and sea turtle conservation in St. Croix. The first time she saw sharks pass below her research boat, she was struck by their grace and power, and knew she wanted to spend her life learning more about such animals and how they are influenced by the world around them.
In her search for graduate programs, Andres came across Brad Seibel, a professor at the USF College of Marine Science. His physiological research on how animals are suited for life in extreme environments piqued her interest and the opportunity to have him as an advisor is what drew Andres to USF to pursue a doctorate in marine science. The College of Marine Science, poised on the peninsula of the USF St. Petersburg campus, offered an integrative education in oceanography and the opportunity for Andres to place her work into a larger context.
For her dissertation, Andres researched how different shark species use energy and how environmental factors, such as rising temperature and decreasing ocean oxygen, influence such energy use and in turn, shark interaction with their habitat and ecosystem. She worked with colleagues at Rutgers University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to investigate spiny dogfish sharks off the coast of New Jersey and studied young blacktip and bull sharks at Mote Marine Laboratory that she collected from Tampa Bay. Since very few people have investigated energy use in sharks that must continually swim to breathe, such as bull and blacktip sharks, Andres had to dive into the engineering realm to design, execute and build the special chambers she needed to study her species.
During her time at USF, Andres’s advisor was instrumental in shaping her as a scientist and she appreciated his ability to let her lead and explore in creative ways. Andres even discovered her own passion for mentorship, leading undergraduates from Rutgers, USF and Eckerd College in her research and worked with non-profits to support women in STEM. Andres plans to stay in academia and become a professor with her own laboratory and students to mentor.
Doctorate in Physical Therapy
Joseph Schneider was first introduced to the physical therapy profession when he injured his elbow playing baseball in middle school. He thought his physical therapy assistant was the best and was amazed that his injury could be healed through exercise and not surgery. Schneider made his career interest official when he enrolled in USF’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program.
He had the honor of being the class president of his cohort where he served as liaison between the students and school leadership and planned fun events and study groups. He was also a part of the USF School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences’ Student Diplomat program that helped to promote the school in the community, on social media and through tours. Schneider loved his cohort because everyone jelled so well together and worked as a team better than any baseball team he played on. This bond and the school’s dedicated faculty would help carry him and his cohort through the COVID-19 pandemic that impacted almost their entire three-year program. Schneider helped to plan the Florida Physical Therapy Association’s first virtual Student Conclave conference when USF was chosen as the 2021 host.
Even through a pandemic and his parents’ divorce, Schneider never wavered and is graduating in the top 25 percent of his class. After graduation, he starts a new job at the private outpatient clinic, Manual Physical Therapy and Concierge Services, in his hometown of Bradenton where he interned and worked as a physical therapy technician. The owner has been patiently waiting for him to return ever since. In the future, Schneider hopes to open his own franchise.
Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences
After serving in the Marine Corps for 12 years, Cliff McAfee had a difficult time finding his purpose. McAfee moved to Florida from Pittsburgh to be closer to his three children. After a few discouraging experiences in other academic programs, McAfee obtained his associate degree at Pasco-Hernando State College. His professors encouraged him to continue his education, and based on his passion to help and care for others, recommended he major in interdisciplinary social sciences with concentrations in sociology and anthropology.
McAfee transferred to USF, but had a difficult time juggling classwork with his responsibilities as a single parent, in addition to suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury that stemmed from his time serving the Marines. He struggled with his self-confidence and felt like he didn’t have anyone to turn to because he didn’t fit in as a veteran and non-traditional student. Then, he found the support and camaraderie he needed through a group of veterans he met through to the USF Office of Veteran Success. McAfee started to thrive, becoming the vice president of the USF Student Veterans of America chapter, and discovering a perfect career fit in student affairs. He also conducted undergraduate research with the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity, and Student Accessibility Services, regarding online classes and recording devices.
McAfee aims to reduce the stigma often associated with accessibility services and student veterans. He is proud to show his kids that it doesn’t matter how long it takes, just never give up and finish what you started. In the fall, McAfee is pursuing a master of education in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in college student affairs.