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Catalyze 2022: USF President Rhea Law

Mark Parker



We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2022 and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2022.

When the University of South Florida Board of Trustees (BOT) began searching for someone to temporarily fill former President Steve Currall’s role following his abrupt resignation in July, they wanted more than just an interim president.

The BOT sought someone with the institutional knowledge and community connections to guide America’s fastest-rising university through consolidation, transformative projects and the additional losses of a provost and regional chancellor – all while navigating a pandemic.

BOT Chair Will Weatherford recommended Rhea Law to lead the university through exciting yet challenging and uncertain times – and if Law’s recent Governor’s Business Leader of the Year Award is any indication, he recommended the right person for the job. Law was presented the award in November by the Florida Council of 100, and it honors a model leader for the state that has excelled in business, civic and philanthropic endeavors.

“Rhea Law represents the best of Florida,” said Syd Kitson, chairman of the Florida Council of 100 to the USF Newsroom. “She has brought a servant mindset to every aspect of her life – as a dedicated lawyer and businesswoman, a committed public servant to our state and now as interim president of USF.”

Law plans to build on that servant mindset in 2022 and named her catalyzing idea for the new year without hesitation.

“Without question, our new USF Interdisciplinary Center of Excellence in Oceanographic Sciences (EOS) is an important and groundbreaking development,” said Law. “It’s a very exciting, impactful project that will be located on our USF St. Petersburg campus, building on the world-class reputation of the College of Marine Science.”

Law said the heart of the project is a proposed $80 million building – the Environmental & Oceanographic Sciences Research & Teaching Facility. This building will replace most of the 80-year-old Marine Science Labs, and Law said the facility would provide state-of-the-art research and instructional space.

Law said bringing the EOS to fruition requires public and private partnership, and USF is working with community members and state legislators to secure funding.

“USF is seeking public education capital outlay (PECO) funds during the upcoming Florida legislative session to start immediate construction on the building,” said Law. “Along with philanthropy for the required match.”

Law said the EOS would bring a variety of new undergraduate and graduate degree programs to the USFSP campus and envisions it as a national destination for students and researchers studying issues related to the environment, oceanography and sustainability. Law also noted the EOS is the future home of the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation and called its work highly significant.

“It will establish a home base of expertise in coastal resiliency that will serve the entire state and other coastal communities nationwide,” said Law.

As the university progresses through the new year, Law said she is most excited to see the promises made regarding the consolidation of USF’s three campuses fulfilled “as we achieve greater heights together.”

Law said she also hopes USF receives continued recognition in 2022 for its work, impact and achievements in several areas.

“Such as generating an economic impact of $6.02 billion in the fiscal year 2019-2020, being one of America’s top research universities, ranking No. 1 in Florida and 8th in the nation for U.S. patents and supporting student success with $125 million in scholarships annually,” stated Law.

While Law’s tenure as president may be short – the university plans to hire a new president midway through 2022 – she plans on leaving a lasting legacy. Law hopes people remember her as a leader who helped reinforce the culture of working together as “One USF” and furthered USF’s momentum while creating an effective path for the next president.

“And I’d also like it to be as a proud USF alumna who was honored to serve her university when asked at a key moment and did all she could to enhance USF’s upward trajectory,” added Law.

After relinquishing her role as president, Law said she plans to continue to engage with USF and help the new president in any way possible. Law has a long history of community involvement, and said she will continue to serve on various boards and committees to assist in the enrichment of the Tampa Bay region.

“More importantly, I’ll be in search of my new adventure,” said Law.

At this time next year, Law said she looks forward to a dynamic new president leading USF, working collaboratively with a new provost in Tampa, a new regional chancellor in St. Petersburg and alongside leadership at the Sarasota-Manatee campus.

“And I look forward to seeing USF continue to make an impact as a preeminent university,” said Law. “Shaping the lives of students to make a difference in the community, country and world.”




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