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Bulls in the ‘Burg: USF St. Petersburg campus

Caryn Nesmith



On Jan. 17, USF St. Petersburg campus and the community came together to celebrate the investiture of USF president Rhea Law. Photo: University of South Florida.

Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

The USF St. Petersburg campus jumped full force into the new year and semester with a packed slate of signature events that will continue through the semester.  Read below about what we’ve been up to, from hosting Suncoast Tiger Bay’s annual State of the Bay, the St. Petersburg Innovation District’s State of Science, a celebration for USF President Law’s official inauguration and more.  Also, in case you missed it, we had a manatee rescue instigated by a marine biology student, the launch of a collaboration with The Studio@620 and the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library to digitize materials that capture the history of the studio and St. Petersburg’s artistic renaissance, and we welcomed new leaders to campus and a new vocal music program.

The Pinellas Community Foundation has joined with the St. Petersburg Foundation and experts at the University of South Florida Muma College of Business’ Customer Experience Lab to create a robust survey that allows us to better understand the status, pandemic experiences, needs and challenges of nonprofit organizations by size, sector and mission focus. The initiative follows up and expands upon the 2018 Pinellas County Nonprofit Scan and Survey, commissioned by the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg.

The 2022 survey is designed to be completed once per organization by the executive director, CEO, chairperson, or the person with the deepest knowledge of current organizational dynamics. It is open to Pinellas County-based nonprofits as well as those providing significant services to county residents. Survey results will be released in Spring 2023, with deeper dives on specific topics released throughout the year.

USF’s Customer Experience Lab also partners annually with Neptune Flood, a St. Petersburg-based firm that is the largest private flood insurance company in the nation, on a survey that aims to gather consumer perceptions and attitudes, gives insight into how people think about flood insurance. This year’s survey continued to highlight the continued need for education about flood risk and flood insurance. Read more about the nonprofit survey here and the flood risk survey here.

Hundreds of elementary and middle schoolers from Pinellas County Schools spent two days on the USF St. Petersburg campus for the first-ever PCS student leadership summit. Over 300 4th and 5th graders from 78 schools participated, along with parent chaperones and teachers. Part of getting to college is being able to picture yourself on a campus. For one activity, these students did a scavenger hunt around campus taking pictures with iPads, literally “picturing themselves” here. Kudos to our amazing Pinellas Access to Higher Education (PATHe) team for bringing this to campus. In March, hundreds of high school students will visit the campus through this program. Read more about the summits here.

Suncoast Tiger Bay Club, a non-partisan political club that aims to foster a better understanding of public issues, kicked off its 45th season on the USF St. Petersburg campus Jan. 3 with its annual “State of the Bay” event featuring St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard. Over 200 people attended the event, which was moderated by publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst Joe Hamilton. The leaders touched on topics relevant across the Tampa Bay region, like the future home of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team, the redevelopment of the Historic Gas Plant District, the proposal for a new Moffit Cancer Center in downtown St. Petersburg, renovations for the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina and regional transportation. Read more here.

More than a dozen community partners came out to share intern and volunteer opportunities with our USF St. Petersburg campus students as part of the Spring 2023 semester’s Civic Engagement Fair and Get On Board Day, which saw student clubs and organizations tabling as well. Lots of energy and synergy were seen. Community partners in attendance included CASA, Tampa Bay Watch, Creative Clay, AARP Tampa Bay, Ronald McDonald House, People Empowering & Restoring Communities, Keep Pinellas Beautiful, The Edible Peace Patch, the Supervisor of Elections, Hope Villages of America, Big Brother and Sisters, Friends of Strays and Creative Clay.

On Jan. 11, the St. Petersburg Innovation District’s 5th annual State of Science event updated the public on District successes over the past year, including the opening of the Maritime and Defense Technology Hub adjacent to campus this month. The Hub is now home to 21 organizations in a collaborative environment intended to capitalize on proximity to catalyze innovation. The event also showcased five innovators who had only six minutes each to present their research or interesting applications of technology in life sciences, education and marine science.‍ Speakers included: Mary Losacco, who described Bayfront Health’s use of artificial intelligence (AI) to decrease intervention times for stroke patients; USF’s College of Education Dean David Rosengrant, who described how students can learn challenging physics concepts through augmented reality; Natalie Sawaya, USF College of Marine Science doctoral student, who described her research on viruses that are critical to the marine environment; Ben Minichino, Pole Star Global president, who described how Polestar serves the U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security and other clients by managing 75 million ship position reports daily; and Saildrone’s Richard Goosen, who described the company’s overseas ocean mapping efforts. The USF St. Petersburg campus is a founding member of the Innovation District, whose mission is to foster job growth, economic development, learning and inspiration by bringing innovative people together.

During an inspirational ceremony at the USF St. Petersburg campus Jan. 12, more than 15 young people from throughout Pinellas County were recognized for advancing the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle, high school and college students were celebrated for overcoming adversity, fighting for social justice and lifting up their communities. The fourth annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Banquet drew nearly 100 people to the USF St. Petersburg campus for an evening filled with powerful talks, messages about the meaning of Dr. King’s life and an award presentation to students following in his footsteps. Music from Gibbs High School Jazz Band added to the festivities. Read more here.

On Jan. 17, USF St. Petersburg campus and the community came together to celebrate the investiture of USF president Rhea Law. The event was part of several in a weeklong celebration that culminated with a ceremony in Tampa on the 19th. St Pete community leaders attending displayed their Bull pride and included U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, Mayor Ken Welch, St Petersburg City Council members Gina Driscoll and Ed Montanari, St. Petersburg Innovation District members, St Petersburg Chamber-Commerce members, St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership members and representatives from local organizations and businesses like Duke Energy, Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services Inc, Community Foundation Tampa Bay and so many more. Read more here.

USF President Rhea Law and USF St. Petersburg campus Regional Chancellor Christian Hardigree attended St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch’s State of the City Jan. 28, where he announced the selection of the Hines/Tampa Bay Rays proposal for redevelopment of the Historic Gas Plant District. We’re excited for collaboration opportunities with the redevelopment. We especially loved seeing campus student leader Nathan Poinsette in the We Are St. Pete Vision Video:

Caryn Nesmith is director of community relations at USF, a position jointly funded by the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, the St. Petersburg Innovation District, the City of St. Petersburg and USF. This is a series focused on USF and its role in our community, serving to strengthen the prosperity of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. You can contact Caryn at

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1 Comment

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    Irv Cohen

    February 21, 2023at4:27 pm

    Excellent summary of how USFSP is such a vital member in our community

    Looking forward to frequent updates and how people in St Pete can get more involved

    Well done!

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