A Tidal Wave of Transformation

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There’s a quiet transformation happening at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. With key foundational pieces in place, this picturesque campus on the shores of Sarasota Bay already offers robust academic programs in elementary education, business and hospitality. Now, with a new emphasis on STEM curricula – science, technology, engineering and math – and the rollout in August of its College of Science & Mathematics, that quiet transformation is apt to become a tidal wave.

At the crux of this ambitious makeover is a strategic plan that advances a set of transformative initiatives from building projects and new academic programs to the launch of an NCAA Division I women’s rowing team under the auspices of USF Athletics. “We have so much here,” said Dr. Sandra Stone, USFSM’s Regional Chancellor and the driving force behind many of the changes. “There’s nearly something for every student, if they want to stay local.”

That couldn’t be truer, particularly as the campus looks toward its newly evolved mission. USFSM has long focused on the region’s transfer students, and in many ways it remains committed to that loyal slice of its enrollment, but with the admission of freshman and sophomore students in 2013, the campus has expanded into the role of a traditional four-year institution.

Now, with an emphasis on quality, affordability and community engagement, a formula that has served USFSM well, the question isn’t whether the campus is poised to expand, but when, how fast and how that ensuing growth will be managed, Stone said. Over the next few years, at least, that growth will occur incrementally, until its expansion plans become more fully defined. A new STEM building, likely the next addition to the campus, has been added to the state funding list and Stone is hoping the Legislature approves funding this year for design work. Preliminary conceptual designs and renderings are being completed to aid with private fundraising – a prerequisite to receiving state funds – and additional funds are being sought for student programming and new faculty.

To aid its growth plans, USFSM is turning to two new deans. Dr. Paul Kirchman, (left, top) Dean of the College of Science & Mathematics, and Dr. Pat Moreo, (left, bottom) Dean of the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership, joined the campus this summer and both have ambitious plans for their respective programs.
Since joining USFSM in July, Kirchman has focused on the near term–getting classes scheduled and filled for the year–while also casting an eye toward the future.

With fall classes at capacity, the new dean has lately been turning his attention toward hiring additional faculty and working to secure a home for his fledgling college, an aim that hopefully will build off the success of USFSM’s biology program. Launched in fall 2014, the campus’ biology program achieved its five-year goal for student enrollment by its third year.

This year, 100 students are enrolled in the College of Science & Mathematics, which is at capacity, and in order to achieve its five-year goal of 200 to 300 incoming students per year, funding for the new building and additional faculty is imperative, Kirchman said. Those plans, which are still being finalized, call for construction of a 75,000-square-foot building to house the laboratories, staff and faculty offices, a 120-seat stadium-style classroom and space for the Information Technology department from the College of Business.

Labs that are currently held at Mote Marine Laboratory, which enjoys a teaching partnership with USFSM, will remain there so that students can continue to collaborate with Mote’s world-class scientists. However, those labs are filled to capacity and as USFSM looks to expand, it makes the most sense to do so at its existing campus. “We hope to build with room for growth because the interest in coming here is just incredible. What we need now is to come up with funding to prime the pump to obtain state funding,” Kirchman said. “The state wants us to show a local commitment to the project, and we are definitely working on that. If someone wants a naming opportunity for a new building, this is it.”

Academic expansion plans, many of which are tied to the new building, are also underway. They include adding master’s degrees in speech and language sciences, counseling psychology and genetic counseling. A new math minor in statistics is planned as well, along with a collaborative effort with the School of Education to allow students to earn teaching accreditations to address the shortage of science teachers. A new Bridge to Engineering program, which launched this fall, is allowing students to enroll in pre-engineering classes while completing their first two years of study at USFSM. If at end of two years they maintain the required GPA, those students can then enter USF’s mechanical engineering program in Tampa to finish their studies. Additional bridge programs with other engineering disciplines are planned as well.

Kirchman comes to USFSM with plenty of experience in getting new programs off the ground. He was a founding faculty member at Florida Atlantic University’s Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College in Jupiter. In addition to serving as science and mathematics chair at Wilkes, he spent 17 years in the classroom as a biology professor. He plans to continue teaching at USFSM as well. Kirchman earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology at Emory University. He’s a native of St. Petersburg and earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Eckerd College.

Although he assumes leadership of an existing program, Moreo is eyeing similar opportunities for growth and envisions a future that includes a new hospitality building and hundreds of new students. As Dean of the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership, Moreo believes the hospitality program can evolve into a boutique program that draws students nationally as well as regionally, especially given the area’s many and varied lifestyle attractions in addition to year-round sunshine. “After a lot of research, we’ve concluded that our sweet spot is about 500 students. We’re at 210 now,” he said.

Moreo comes to USFSM from the University of Nevada in hospitality-centric Las Vegas, and he sees significant advantages to a boutique-style program. “It is a chance to attend a good program and to work part time,” he says. “Our tourist season coincides with much of the school year, and that creates opportunities.” Those opportunities have arisen because of close relationships with the area’s well-regarded hospitality industry. Moreo intends to develop those relationships further. “It is incumbent for us to do that on several fronts. One is to provide educated talent to meet workforce needs,” he said. “We also want to provide research in tourism and operations along with training they may not be prepared to do in-house.”

Hospitality students currently gain hands-on learning at two off-campus sites. The Resort at Longboat Key Club works with USFSM as its official “teaching hotel,” where students can watch and participate in resort operations behind the scenes in everything from valet duties and front desk operations to hotel leadership. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the college’s Culinary Innovation Lab (CIL) on Main Street in Lakewood Ranch serves as a testing lab for food and beverage service where students are able to practice the art of culinary preparation, presentation and food safety. Moreo, sensing a public-facing opportunity for students to display their skills, took the additional step of opening a twice-monthly restaurant at the CIL called the Bulls Bistro.

“In this restaurant experience, under faculty supervision, students manage the whole process,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to apply what they’ve learned in their courses.” Starting in the fall semester, the five dining experiences are held on Thursday nights featuring a pairing of specialty hors d’oeuvres with craft beer or wine. So far, the public is embracing the events. The first Bulls Bistro was so successful that a rush on tickets occurred, causing several subsequent events to sell out weeks in advance. Organizers have since expanded the number of tickets and now are considering holding the dinners every Thursday during the spring semester. Stone appears to like what she sees in Moreo’s efforts. “Hospitality is a signature program for us,” she said. “It serves our area so well because of the huge hospitality and tourism industry here. Dr. Moreo wants to grow that program and is looking at the facilities and faculty needed to do that.”

Food and hospitality has figured into Moreo’s life since an early age. His uncle was a cook in the Merchant Marine and his maternal grandparents owned a restaurant and deli where they also sold groceries. He received his bachelor’s degree in business administration and Ph.D. in higher education administration from UNLV after earning a master’s in hotel management from Cornell University. He started as a teaching assistant at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration and went on to teach at Penn State and New Mexico State University. At UNLV, he taught and served as associate dean and chair. Moreo values his Italian-American heritage and aims to outline its culinary history and traditional recipes in a cookbook that he hopes will inspire future generations to connect with their roots.

While USFSM’s two newest deans look toward future growth, the campus’ two other deans remain focused on expanding and enriching existing academic programs. At the College of Business – which has earned accreditation by AACSB International, a prestigious distinction earned by less than 5 percent of the world’s business programs – the focus is squarely on helping students prepare for higher paying jobs.

A minor in risk management was instituted last year to provide students a Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter designation upon completion, giving them a leg up as they seek careers in the insurance industry. Dr. James Curran, Dean of the College of Business, said the college is also exploring how to integrate information technology – one of USFSM’s fastest growing disciplines – into its existing MBA program, as well as pursuing other academic initiatives, including adding a master’s degree in information technology (IT). “One of the things about accounting, finance, IT and insurance is that these are solid career opportunities in better-paying fields,” Curran said.

The college regularly solicits input from local business leaders about employment trends and academic programs that can supplement the local workforce. In turn, many of these same CEOs have entered the classroom to answer students’ questions about jobs, work expectations and the rigors of launching a business.

Research is another strong emphasis – an area in which Curran has participated extensively himself. Research-active faculty members have been published more than 450 times, and others have cited their research nearly 13,800 times. “For a relatively small faculty, that is remarkable,” he said. “These are people producing meaningful research in the field and at the same time are dedicated to working with their students and have a personal interest in these students and their success.”

Research figures prominently at the College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences as well, and under the leadership of its dean, Dr. Jane Rose, the college has pushed past its campus boundaries to bring its expertise into the community. Within the college, students can major in elementary education, criminology, applied science in management and leadership, English, history, interdisciplinary social sciences, and professional and technical communication. “What we are trying to do by a number of strategies is deepen the quality of our learning by giving students the opportunity to engage in learning beyond the classroom,” Rose said.

To that end, students regularly engage in internships at local schools and faculty from the School of Education consult frequently with Sarasota and Manatee educators. Additionally, instructors from the criminology program consult often with local governments, police and public defenders. Perhaps the biggest outreach coup occurred this summer when the Center for Partnerships for Arts-Integrated Teaching (PAInT) became the state’s official resource for arts-integrated instruction. Even in traditional degrees, such as English, students can intern in prospective job fields, which include journalism and law. “We plan to do that with our history degree as well,” Rose said. “Obviously, history majors go on to jobs, and we are trying to help students connect their world of study to what their lives will be after graduation.”

With all that’s going on, USFSM has stepped up its communication outreach to raise community awareness. In collaboration with METV this year, the campus is planning six televised programs that focus on what’s new, from faculty research and student projects to community activities and more. “We would like to make people more aware of the amazing things our wonderful faculty and dedicated students are doing here,” Stone said. “The average GPA of our incoming freshman class is 3.9. We are getting more and stronger students academically, and we are actively looking for key partners with which our faculty, staff and students can be engaged to make a meaningful impact in specific areas. We have a lot of expertise to share.”

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