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City of St. Pete donates $125,000 to increase diversity at USF’s College of Marine Science

Jaymi Butler

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Research conducted by faculty and graduate students in USF's College of Marine Science stretches from Tampa Bay to Antarctica. A contribution by the City of St. Pete aims to enhance diversity in the college's graduate programs.

The University of South Florida Foundation will be getting a hefty contribution to help enhance diversity in the ocean sciences. 

The $125,000 gift to the USF College of Marine Science’s “Bridge to the Doctorate” fellowship endowment supports underrepresented students of color who are African American or Black, Hispanic or Latinx, Pacific Islanders, Native American or Alaska Native. It will be dispersed over the next five years.

St. Petersburg deputy mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin announced the city’s gift at a virtual meeting Friday and called it “one of her proudest moments” as a civic leader.

“USF’s College of Marine Science plays a key role in St. Petersburg’s culture of innovation,” she said. “Our pledge is one additional step the city is taking to level the playing field so that students of all races and backgrounds can participate in the college’s rich academic enterprise. We understand what a difference this will make.”

The contribution, Tomalin said, aligns with the city’s Grow Smarter initiative, which includes a spectrum of equity-focused investments. It complements USF’s broader portfolio of diversity-focused initiatives, commitment to equity in education, and its track record of student success. In recent years, USF has been recognized as a national leader in student success and has been honored for graduating underrepresented minority and limited-income students at rates equal to or higher than white and higher income students.

Dr. Karyna Rosario, a former recipient of the fellowship who is now a research associate at USF’s Marine Genomics Laboratory, said that this program demonstrates the school’s commitment to diversity and its willingness to invest in its students.

“You are changing students’ lives by providing them with a whole new world of opportunities,” she said. “This fellowship will mean the world to them.”

During the last 30 years, the College of Marine Science has developed a pipeline of programs to help diversify representation in the ocean sciences arena such as its Oceanography Camp for Girls, a three-week summer experience for rising high school freshmen, and a program for college students called Research Experiences for Undergraduates.

The endowment, which was established in 2004 and is now valued at more than $1.3 million, enables the college to support one to two graduate students from underrepresented groups every year.

Dr. Tom Frazier, who became the dean of the College of Marine Science in June, said that even though he’s relatively new to St. Petersburg, he can already see the value the city places on diversity, inclusion and investing in academic excellence for the benefit of society.

“It’s more than just an infusion of cash. It’s a statement about St. Pete, of who we are and what we aspire to be,” he said. “We are extremely grateful to the City of St. Petersburg for this generous and timely commitment. Now, more than ever, we need to incorporate a full complement of perspectives in our effort to address the complex challenges facing our blue planet, and this gift helps us continue our longstanding work to improve STEM diversity.”

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