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Community Voices: What’s in a leader? Bring on the USF superheroes

Caryn Nesmith

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USF St. Pete
Photo: USF

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.

As the search begins for both a new University of South Florida president and a new USF St. Petersburg campus regional chancellor, local community and business leaders are being called upon to share their opinions on the traits these prospective leaders must possess.

There have been myriad opportunities for St. Petersburg residents to weigh in over the last couple of weeks, both in-person and via an online survey.  Last week, USF Interim President Rhea Law spent the day on this side of the bay, while Board of Trustees member Mike Griffin, who is leading the presidential search committee, did the same the week prior.

The question, “what do you seek in a leader?”, prompted a wide variety of responses: community-minded and -engaged, collaborative, autonomous, innovative, authentic, creative, visionary, courageous, humble, confident and inspirational.

The array was indicative of the superhero-like qualities these individuals will need in order to serve the many constituencies of a large public university, as well as those of a campus and community with a strong will and desire to maintain a distinctive identity.

Our community has not been shy in insisting that USF has a big responsibility to serve its home region. Attending the various listening sessions, I heard a sense of urgency that the new USF president would truly appreciate the qualities that make St. Petersburg a great city on the rise: its spirit of collaboration; its strong urban core with a mix of science, art, and tech; the educational ecosystem in Pinellas County.

“The new president needs to really spend time in St. Petersburg,” said Alison Barlow, executive director of the Innovation District. “There’s so much more happening in here in addition to all that you see on the surface.”

There’s also a desire for academic programming to grow.

J.P. DuBuque, CEO of the St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation, stressed the need to bring technology and engineering programs to the St. Pete campus given the local business talent demand and the university’s desire to build out a fintech program here.

“We hope that the new president will prioritize the needs of the greater St. Pete business community with regard to workforce and talent development,” DuBuque said.

Melissa Macogay, Chief Nursing Officer at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital (JHACH), said that in addition to a trainee pipeline for nurses, JHACH needs more healthcare training programs supporting laboratory, pharmacy, respiratory care and neuro-diagnostics.

Terry Marks, CEO of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, added: “We welcome and encourage leaders who appreciate how arts contribute to the fabric and economy of our city.”

The community was equally outspoken on the subject of who should fill the shoes left by Martin Tadlock, the regional chancellor of USF’s St. Petersburg campus, who plans to return to the faculty in June.  Hopes for the campus and its future leader include a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion; and an acknowledgement of the city’s history of racial inequities.

“The new chancellor should have an appreciation of the history, so when people make references to it, there is empathy and understanding,” said Ricardo Davis, president of the Concerned Organization for Quality Education of Black Students, Inc.

Barlow and Chris Steinocher, president of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, described a need to come to consensus across the bay area on a new vision/definition of regionalism, one that works together and promotes a sense of collaboration and abundance instead of scarcity.

“There’s nothing more regional than USF,” Steinocher said.

While many expressed appreciation for the listening tours, there was also a demand for future visibility from both the new president and chancellor, as well as a commitment to transparency and keeping the community engaged long after the searches have ended

“The key now will be keeping the community involved and informed. “What will be the feedback loop?” Esther Eugene, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, asked.

While we may be hoping for a superhero, these leaders won’t be flying solo.

“The new leaders should have the humility and willingness to accept help,” said Jason Mathis, CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership. “Our community will be here for them 100 percent.”

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 carynn@usf.edu

 

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    Carl Lavender

    November 1, 2021at4:25 pm

    I was also there to stress emphasis on Equity, Philanthropy and Community Evaluation of either new Leader. Veatrice Farrell representing Deuces Live St Pete was also there to push for Equity in the political network that supports USF. Bridgette Heller prominent Leader in Corporate Circles gave great remarks related to the USF School of Education and the pipeline towards workforce development. Really robust conversation not covered in the article. Worth noting however. Peace.

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