It's no coincidence that Peter R. Betzer has played major roles in both the USF College of Marine Science and the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership. The two institutions' origins are inextricable. Originally known as St. Pete Progress, The Downtown Partnership began when its founding members pieced together the land surrounding Bayboro Harbor and lobbied the state legislature to create the University of South Florida - St. Petersburg. As Professor Emeritus and former Dean of the College of Marine Sciences, Betzer has had a hand - through both institutions - in the parallel evolution of St. Petersburg and its university. With his vision, the College of Marine Science's stature has climbed to one of the foremost programs in the country, and St. Petersburg has built a downtown marked by science and innovation - becoming the marine science research hub it is known to be today.
Years in St. Pete
Organizations involved in
St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, USF St. Petersburg College of Marine Sciences, recruiting other science groups to the area.
What gets you out of bed every day?
The excitement of what St. Pete could become. The challenge now is trying to connect that meaningfully so that we can continue to progress, and it seems to me that there are lots of opportunities.
Why St. Pete?
I was at a symposium in Tokyo, giving a paper, and one of the people in the audience listening to me was a professor at the University of South Florida. Afterwards he came out to me and said, “You know, we’re advertising for a position for someone, you could obviously do it. Would you be interested?” And I said, “Where’s the University of South Florida?” Because I didn’t even know. I was brought up in the northeastern tradition. Nonetheless, I came down for an interview and really liked it, although it was very small at that time with five faculty and 12 graduates in the Department of Marine Sciences. I thought, “these are really great people.” So my wife and I decided to come here and haven’t regretted. It’s been a wonderful spot.
What is one habit that you keep?
I really enjoy listening to music so we’ve been going to the Florida Orchestra since 1975, I think. And I have been swimming with the St. Petersburg Masters’s Group since 1973 – it’s a way for old duffers like myself to continue being halfway healthy. I’ve competed internationally with some success with that group.
Who are some people that influence you?
As I look back, you see this incredible transition. From a very small biological station to the largest marine science research complex in the southeastern United States. When we started thinking about growing this, we had some wonderful business people Jack Lake, Andy Barnes, Paul Getting of the Chamber of Commerce and Marnie Normile with the Downtown Partnership, and they believed that bringing really talented graduate students from around the world to St. Petersburg would really help us change the world’s perception of our community. Later on the generous people like Anne Von Rosenstiel, Claude Green and the Tampa Bay Times helped immensely with creating endowments that have lifted our graduate program. They also helped during the recession in 2008-09, when it was very tough to get Federal Grants -so they’ve been a continuing inspiration.
In fact, Anne Von Rosenstiel has just created an innovation endowment in the College of Marine Science that will be – in perpetuity – helping top-notch scientist try out some ideas that may take a little money for some chemicals and might take some support for an analytical instrument. There was nothing like that at the university, so all of a sudden they’ve got the ability to let people do things like this and that’s going to be a key to moving that college forward.
What is one piece of insight - a book, methodology, practice - that you would share with our readers?
I learned it was very good to listen a lot more and not be quite as judgmental, to let the data speak for themselves – and I’ve enjoyed getting to know people with different viewpoints, taking advantage of those who have wonderful insights and different ways of approaching things.
What is one thing you wish you knew about your work 3 years ago?
I wish I knew the way the world was going to evolve, and it’s surprising when you look back on the evolution of our workforce, and the evolution of the graduate program – and the evolution of our community. I hope it’s becoming more accepting of the diverse people that inhabit it.
Ninety percent of the seafood that we eat is imported, and a very small fraction of that is tested. In many cases, we’re eating things that are very different than what’s being advertised on the package. Aquaculture is a way to overcome this, so we can eat parasite free, essentially fish that are grown in a controlled atmosphere – aquaculture is also a way to create jobs to basically use as a vehicle, the way it was used in Wisconsin to train very young bright people who are interested in following this huge need.
I’m hoping that with all the expertise we have in the marine sciences and fisheries and the state laboratory, we have the perfect environment to grow an aquaculture industry that serves our restaurants, serves our students and serves to basically enrich our economy in an environmentally-friendly way.