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Community Voices: What’s what with all the changes at USF? (myths vs. facts)

Caryn Nesmith

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In July, I became the inaugural community relations director at the University South Florida St. Petersburg campus, responsible for serving as a “campus concierge,” aiming to strengthen access and forge communication, with the vision that an urban campus seamlessly integrated into the fabric of a city increases prosperity for students, businesses and all citizens.

Being jointly funded by the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, the St. Petersburg Innovation District, the City of St. Petersburg and USF, the role is unique, and it comes at a time of great change at USF. Faculty, staff and students have adjusted to consolidation of the Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses just over a year ago under a single accreditation, while facing the upheaval of a global pandemic, as well as the civil and social unrest we all experienced over the last year.

While talking to community members, I’ve encountered a number of concerns related to the present and future of the campus, and hope to break open some of the myths out there while highlighting the great work happening on campus.

MYTH: The USF St. Petersburg campus will be sidelined as a result of consolidation.

FACT: The high impact research on campus and focus on growing programs of distinction continue. As a few examples, the campus recently inaugurated a new research lab to combat human trafficking headed by Dr. Joan Reid, a top national expert on the subject. It appointed a director for STEM Education. The College of Marine Sciences (CMS) building is establishing the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation to collaborate with academic and research institutions to address the state’s flooding and sea level rise challenges and last year CMS launched a world-class ocean mapping center with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Arts programming is expanding. Our nursing program has grown from 30 students to 50 students this year.

MYTH: Consolidation battered enrollment at the USF St. Petersburg campus.

FACT: As we adjusted to a single-admissions criteria under consolidation and responded to the pandemic, the campus did see a large decrease in enrollment last year. However, that trend proved temporary and thanks to a concerted admissions effort, 760 students undergraduate students enrolled in fall 2021, an 80 percent increase from fall 2020, back to pre-consolidation rates. There were 420 graduate students up from 340 the prior year. We also saw a more than 50 percent increase in honors college enrollment (largest number ever) as well as the addition for the first time ever of five national merit scholar students to the St. Pete campus. Students came in from 35 states and 23 countries.  The campus is abuzz with students and the students are thrilled to be there.

MYTH: It’s impossible to get into USF.

FACT: It’s true that USF admissions is more competitive than ever. However, there are also so many pathway programs for prospective students in our region to seek alternative entry options. The Guaranteed Access Pathway Program (GAPP) is one of several USF programs that offers guaranteed access for students from 17 Tampa Bay high schools with high numbers of students from low-income families. GAPP joins FUSE, a transfer program between USF and eight Florida state colleges that provides seamless academic pathways for students to complete their associate degree, guaranteeing admission into specific majors at USF. Pinellas Access to Higher Education (PATHe), is another a program like FUSE but for Pinellas County students who begin at St. Petersburg College (SPC) and transition to the USF St. Petersburg campus. We also are looking at a co-location of programs on our campus for students who wish to reside on USF’s St Petersburg campus while enrolled at SPC.  Finally, the Student Support Services Program is a unique summer entry program that provides effective academic and personal support to increase retention and graduation rates for a diverse student population. The important thing is that students apply, because even if they don’t get in, our counselors can reach out and help students access these alternatives.

MYTH: USF St Petersburg campus is suffering from brain drain

FACT: Recently, several beloved leaders have left, including former Business Dean Sri Sundaram and Cathi Cardwell, Library dean and interim regional vice chancellor for academic affairs (RVCAA). Chancellor Martin Tadlock has also announced he plans to step down. These are serious losses to our campus and our community. But we are actively working to fill these positions. The presidential search is underway. In a couple of weeks, Interim USF President Rhea Law will be visiting the St. Petersburg campus for a listening tour regarding what our community seeks in a new regional chancellor, kicking off the search for that role. The search for the RVCAA and then the Business dean will follow. It’s a lot, but like the many changes over the years, we’re resilient and we continue striving to help students lead lives of impact and serving our community.

With change comes uncertainty, but my community-facing role serves as a testament to USF’s intention to remain committed to the growth of its St. Petersburg campus and also shows the mutual affection between the campus and the community that it serves.

I plan to keep you updated on campus events and I want to hear your aspirations and concerns for USF in our community, and any topics you’d like to hear more about, in future columns.

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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