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USFSP seeks to strengthen connectivity with city through new community relations position

Mark Parker

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The University of South Florida St. Petersburg has created a new position in the hopes of strengthening the connection between the city it proudly serves, area businesses, and the university.

USFSP announced this week that Caryn Nesmith would serve as its inaugural director of community relations. Nesmith acted as special assistant for strategic initiatives under Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock for the last four years, a role that has already integrated her into the surrounding area and allowed to her to create valuable business partnerships. Nesmith now relishes the opportunity to immerse herself and the university further into the community.

Tadlock has wanted to create the position for some time now, and Nesmith was one of the people that helped him craft what the role would look like. Nesmith called Tadlock a “servant leader” who has “always looked for our campus to be of service to the community.” Consolidation brought fears that the St. Pete campus would lose some of its ties to the community, something Tadlock takes great pride in and vows not to relinquish.

“Dr. Tadlock has stayed true to those values of wanting to be of service to our region and wants to continue to create those collaborative opportunities with the community,” said Nesmith. “I think this role just enforces that.”

Tadlock said the campus wants Nesmith to be its “front porch on legs” in the city.

“With her deep understanding of St. Petersburg, familiarity with our campus, and network of friends and colleagues, she is the perfect individual for that role,” said Tadlock.

He added that the position will also bring Nesmith into a closer working relationship with people like Jason Mathis, CEO of the Downtown Partnership, and Alison Barlow, Executive Director of the Innovation District. The interconnectivity of the role is highlighted by its funding, which will come from the university, the City of St. Petersburg, the Downtown Partnership, and the Innovation District.

“I love that it’s jointly funded, that it isn’t one entity but rather a collaboration,” said Barlow. “It also shows the campus community how much the greater St. Pete area cares about the campus and wants to see it be extremely successful.”

Nesmith and Barlow have previously collaborated on the highly successful Innovation Scholars Program, which pairs incoming first-year student with prominent professionals in downtown St. Petersburg, so that they can get an early feel for possible career paths. Barlow said that it only took six months from the time the project was conceived to full implementation, and Nesmith was the point person.

“It just makes a lot of sense that Caryn would continue that kind of bridging role that she’s been doing for years,” said Barlow. “Caryn is going to be fantastic.”

“One thing that I hope to do is build on that program with professional development,” said Nesmith. “The next component of that program would be developing those students professionally, and then having more concrete internships to follow.”

Another focus for the university, city, and the Downtown Partnership will be the five academic clusters identified by USFSP last November in order to maintain and strengthen its identity following consolidation. They are environmental, business, STEM education, health sciences and the arts.

“The priority is to keep both our business and community leaders engage and informed about our processes here, and to enhance that identity around those five clusters,” said Nesmith.

Other projects Nesmith has been instrumental in implementing at USFSP are Health Buddies at USF, which connects students with senior citizens to reduce social isolation, and the St. Petersburg Higher Education Consortium for Racial Justice that bring together four colleges and universities in Pinellas County to work towards the goal of dismantling racial hierarchies. 

Nesmith said she will continue to work on the consortium, along with many other initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion. Most of all, she wants to engage the community and make sure the campus is open and accessible to everyone.

She said that a lot of research has shown that just being on a university campus creates the ability to imagine yourself attending that university, and she wants to promote programs aimed at middle school and high school students to get them on the grounds. 

“We need more opportunities to get young people and their families on campus, and their educators,” said Nesmith. “I hope to provide more access and entry points for all of St. Pete.”

Nesmith said that she looks forward to being someone the community can lean on when they have a question or problem. “You can come to me, and I’ll help figure it out,” she said.

“My passion is to be a part of a community and help strengthen the good things about that community. I am honestly over the moon.”

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