The Manatee Performing Arts Center Reaches Out to the Community

By Ryan G. Van Cleave

“Our goal is not just to entertain you… we want to inspire you.” theater

When The Manatee Players, Inc. was formed in late 1947, it was little more than a community theater group made up of members of the Bradenton Junior Women’s Club. These days, it’s governed by a Board of Directors and is a year-round, professionally-staffed corporation of 10 full-time employees, numerous part-timers, and well more than 75 contracted directors, musicians, and designers. Their website is clear about their ambitious mission: “We are committed to being the community’s premier theater and the region’s center for cultural, education, and artistic expression. Our team works tirelessly to ensure that we deliver engaging excellence for all ages, through the talent we present, the services we offer, and the experiences we create. Our goal is not just to entertain you…we want to inspire you.”

Dedication, education, artistic expression

Part of being a center for cultural and artistic expression means that they have a commitment to education through various programs. One of the most successful of these is DraMature, a senior acting troupe now in its sixth year of operation. About 30 seniors — snowbirds and locals alike — participate in the improv events and actual full performances that go on throughout the year. Next year, they’re planning to tackle a special senior edition of “Guys and Dolls,” which promises to be a can’t-miss affair.

Christine Marie Elan has been an active DraMature member since moving to Bradenton from New York in 2013. “After touring the construction site of the new theater in a hard hat, I was hooked on the vision. I immediately signed up to be a front-of-house volunteer, which I have been dedicated to ever since,” she says, which means she, among other things, sells a lot of raffle tickets to help generate funds for the theater. One of the things she likes most about being so involved is the unexpected friendships that form. She notes that she now has a 96-year-old friend who was a former Broadway actress who “has witnessed a historical age we can only read about.”

When asked to share a favorite experience, Elan has many possible answers. “The CEO and myself standing barefoot atop the credenza in the lobby, mounting a tapestry over the television monitor. Or a teen thanking me — well after midnight — for all I’d done for a celebration that evening.” But the one she latches onto most is this: “I’d been selling raffle tickets for a beautiful necklace donated by Jess Jewelers. A small boy came to me with a dollar for a ticket. I asked him what he wanted to do if he won the prize. His response was ‘I want to give it to my mommy as a s’prise.’ So adorable! So sweet! I was tempted to rig the drawing in his favor!” (She didn’t do so, though, she promises.)

Invigoratingly energetic

Director of Marketing and Outreach Brian Craft has been with the organization for 2 ½ years after getting his BFA in musical theater and then working in the marketing department for a New York fashion firm. He says that he’s constantly re-invigorated by all the energy and excitement of the day-to-day operations. He notes how things that happen here — such as sharing costumes and props with other area theaters — simply doesn’t happen as often in New York. “It’s such a great community here,” Craft explains. “We’re so fortunate. People are willing to go above and beyond to support and sustain the arts in our community.”

…and an expansion

One of the most recent bits of great news is how they acquired land right across the street. It’s going to provide much-needed parking. It also came with eight housing units, which means that guest artists, touring professionals, and even students in their new intern program can live there. Craft says, “Having on-site accommodations like that is a huge plus.” He’s quick to circle back on the idea of interns — something new for The Manatee Performing Arts Center. It’s a fairly recent addition designed to bridge the gap between college and the professional world. The hope is to expand that program such that interns can participate in nearly every aspect of the theater to give them crucial hands-on experiences that will prepare them for their own careers.

Theater programs for all ages

But it’s not just seniors and interns who are enjoying the benefits of The Manatee Performing Arts Center’s education and outreach efforts. The Youth Conservatory Camps are a huge hit. What kid wouldn’t want to be a part of “High School Musical Jr.” or “Shrek: The Musical”? “Seeing them work with pro actors on stage,” Craft says, “is fun to watch. The kids really step up their game. They admire the professional actors and they can learn and grow from these experiences. To see the conservatory students go from being timid and shy on their first day of a summer camp to soaring in their final performance on a professional caliber stage with full lighting and production values? It’s truly incredible.”

The Manatee Performing Arts Center is hugely committed to educating young people. Craft explains that “if we want to build and grow our theater base of both audience members and performers, we need to provide effective education. We need to give them the platform to develop in this safe environment.”

Through all of their programming, they impact over 600 youth per year, and they hope to grow that number through new after-school events such as dance and drama classes.

At the moment, Craft is a one-person marketing department, so it’s admittedly a challenge for him to offer the same level of publicity and attention to all the various programs and events. But it’s a blessing, too, he says, to have so many things worth sharing. “We’ve become an artistic hub for the community, and to be part of it all is incredibly exciting.”

For more information and season schedule, go to

The 40th Anniversary of Sarasota Orchestra’s Summer Music Camp

by Ryan G. Van Cleave

Let me say it plainly — my 12-year-old-daughter, Valerie Van Cleave, LOVES the Sarasota Orchestra’s Summer Music Camp.

Here are her Top Five reasons why.

Reason #5: It’s okay to be a beginner.

Reason #4: You learn a lot in such a short period of time.

Reason #3: It’s fun!

Reason #2: Playing with a full band on a professional-level stage is amazing.

Reason #1: Music is awesome.

Surely part of the reason she got interested in music was because Dad and Mom played music all through their middle school, high school, and college careers (my wife played clarinet and I played trumpet). Heck, we even met in marching band at college!

So last summer, I dusted off my old Bach trumpet, gave her a Trumpet 101 crash course, and then let the 3-week Summer Music Camp take it from there. This school year? She’s been asked to switch to baritone since the Pine View 7th grade band needed more low brass players. So that’s the instrument she’ll be working on with the Summer Music Camp from June 24-July 14 of this year. (Actually, she’ll be playing euphonium, which is an instrument so similar to the baritone that many use the terms interchangeably.) Thankfully, the Summer Music Camp is as well-suited to pure beginners as it is with students who have tons of lessons under their belts.

As of this year, the Summer Music Camp has been working wonders with young people like my daughter for 40 years now. Sure, the students learn to play their own instruments through sectional sessions and full-group ensembles. They get exposure to great classical music. And they get to choose electives such as music theory, music history, drumming, dancing, or singing. We all also know how education in the arts generally translates into participating students having better grades and better knowledge/skills retention, and of course it looks great on a college application or resume.

But one of the best takeaways the Summer Music Camp provides, says Director of Education Alyson Rozier, is witnessing how hard work results in a good outcome. Understanding that time plus effort equals something good is a powerful thing to take with them to college and into the workplace. Plus knowing how to work together — to play cooperatively — is also an invaluable skill to develop and nurture. Rozier adds, “Being able to work in a group of 5 — much less a music ensemble of 100 — is a hard skill to learn.”

This past year, the Summer Music Camp had 170 participants in their morning string group, which includes violin, viola, cello, and bass. The afternoon band program has slightly fewer students, although the range of instruments is far greater, including flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, saxophone, horn, trumpet, trombone, euphonium, tuba, and percussion. Do a little math and you see that the impact the program’s had on the lives of young people over 40 years is in the thousands!

Siobhan Rodriguez, Public Relations and Social Media Specialist, adds that they’ve got a firm commitment to the community to provide music education. “Our goal is to assist any family with children interested in learning music.” To that end, they have instruments to loan during the camp period, and if those run out, they have arrangements with local schools and music stores to get low-cost rentals, if needed. If the cost of the program is too much, scholarship money is available thanks to generous community members who believe music matters. Many of these donors are the same ones who donated old instruments or purchased them for student use, too. Rozier says, “We’re so fortunate that we have so many community members who believe in education and support the arts.”

Rozier also wants to dispel two common musical myths. First, music ISN’T for the social elite. It’s something all people can — and should — enjoy. The benefits and the joys are for everyone. Next, it’s not as difficult as many might imagine. Those who fear getting involved in something hard will be pleasantly surprised at the progress they can make with an instrument when being taught by a quality professional like those who work here. “We hire either certified music teachers from the school system — going as far as Tampa and Fort Myers, if we need too — or we use musicians from the Sarasota Orchestra.” Most of the Sarasota Orchestra members aren’t available over the summer, however, since they travel, participate in other summer festivals, and have numerous music and family obligations. Still, 7 of the 27 teachers they had last summer were orchestra members. The other 20? They’re talented local/regional band directors like Victor Mongillo, who runs my daughter’s band program at Pine View.

The retention rate for these young musicians is high, notes Rozier. Over the last few years, nearly 80% of those who participated in the Summer Music Camp went on to eventually join the 30-week academic year Sarasota Youth Orchestra, which is one the most heralded youth music programs in the Southeast. My daughter’s going to help keep that lofty number high — she’s already working on her audition pieces for the SYO this fall.

If you’re interested in being part of the Sarasota Orchestra’s Education programs in general or the Summer Music Camp in specific, there are ways to easily do so. They’re always open to accepting old instruments and music equipment, and no financial donations are refused, regardless of their size. There’s also an active volunteer association too that is open to help in a variety of ways. And perhaps the best way to be part of this is attend the concerts. “You’ll be blown away by quality,” Rozier says. And having heard plenty of them myself, I can confirm the truth of that.

“Quite a few of our members started with us as third graders,” Rozier says, “and now we’re seeing them in our top orchestra. They’re playing real symphonic literature just as the Sarasota Orchestra plays. We’ve seen them grow from true beginners to this. It’s amazing and rewarding to be part of it.”

What makes me proud? Having Valerie tell me again and again that she can’t wait for June because that’s her favorite camp of the summer. “Music camp is the best!” she says with a mile-wide smile.


on Sarasota Orchestra’s Education programs, please visit or call 941.952.3434

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s Educational Programs


by Ryan G. Van Cleave

Everyone knows Mote Marine Laboratory. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, who doesn’t love seeing the manatees and sea turtles, the jellyfish and lobsters, the coral and sea horses? And plenty of people know Mote from their events such as World Oceans Day Family Festival, Shark Days at Mote, and Night of Fish, Fun & Fright. Plus, it’s one of the few places in the country that has a Gills Club, a group for girls 13 and younger that teaches them about sharks, nature, and the environment. The Gills Club meetings always have a female scientist who speaks about her job, shares how she got there, and encourages girls to consider careers in the sciences.

But Mote is more than just an aquarium and a cool venue for events — it’s a laboratory, after all, which means that it has a serious academic and education component built right into the aquatic DNA of the organization. Here’s the good news — the learning isn’t just for grad students and marine biologists. Everyone can find a way to take advantage of their low- and no-cost learning opportunities.

Aly Busse, Mote’s Assistant Vice President of Education, says that Mote believes that conservation begins with education, and the sooner we can educate each other, the better off our oceans and our lives will be. “With our education programs, you can dive in and get your feet wet and your hearts inspired,” she says. “We offer programs for all ages.”

Mote Marine Laboratory’s commitment to supporting a more ocean-literate society begins with children — but it doesn’t stop there. In addition to the many programs they offer that are geared toward today’s youth, they also offer programs that provide adults with lifelong opportunities for public engagement in marine science, like the annual Special Lecture Series and Science Cafés.

The long-running Special Lecture Series, in particular, has been an extremely popular program within Mote’s education and outreach programs. This lecture series, graciously sponsored by local philanthropists, showcases an exciting speaker list of top scientists and explorers each year that draws hundreds of local residents to learn more about ocean-related topics.

For a younger audience, Mote Marine Lab’s high school interns have been running Teen Science Cafés, which are informal (and free!) student-led events geared for 9th-12th grade students. Held monthly during the school year, these events welcome a local scientist to present and discuss their work. The March 1st guest is Mote staff scientist Dr. Katie McHugh who will talk about long-term research monitoring Sarasota dolphins and share simple ways to protect the beautiful creatures we are lucky to call our neighbors. The May 1st guests are Senior Biologists Sheri Barton and Jennifer Johnson — they’ll talk about manatees, their environment, and the many ways in which the Manatee Research Program uses photos to learn more about their life histories.

It’s not all just live speaker events. For example, Mote Marine Laboratory’s digital learning program, SeaTrek.TV Interactive, brings Mote’s research, animals, and exhibits to learners all around the county and even internationally to a variety of audiences from young children all the way to assisted living facilities (“preK to gray,” Busse says). These virtual field trips are an exciting way to engage learners with STEM topics through the marine science perspective using Mote research as the basis. Mote has been delivering digital learning programs for over 20 years and as the technology has evolved, the ability to reach new and expanding audiences has also improved with affordable, easy-to-use distance learning technology.

This program earned the highest award in educational, interactive videoconferencing — the Pinnacle Award — for the 2015-2016 school year from the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC). The Pinnacle Award recognizes remarkable quality of educational content and exceptional skill at program delivery and is given annually by the CILC to organizations that receive outstanding scores on program evaluations submitted by educators.

“I think one thing to always remember,” says Busse, “is that learning never stops and you don’t need to be a scientist to learn and care about our marine environment. With our youth programs, we know not everyone is going to grow up and be a scientist, and that’s ok. Our goal is to stimulate curiosity and provide an environment where people can explore the marine world and excite them to want to become better stewards of the coastal environment, while also showing them that if they want to pursue a career in marine science they can.”

She adds that Mote can play a significant role in helping create the important connections between our marine environment, our community, and the extremely important part that science plays. These connections are valuable regardless of your age or current/future profession.

When asked about a Mote education success story, Busse offers Sean Russell, who essentially grew up at Mote in their Education programs. He attended summer camps, participated in Homeschool programs, was a High School Intern, and volunteered with Mote in a variety of capacities. While still a teen, Sean founded the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit, an annual event held at Mote Marine Laboratory that just held its 6th installment in December 2016. Under Sean’s leadership, Youth Ocean Conservation Summit is now modeled in cities across the United States in partnership with conservation organizations. Through this program, Sean works to empower young people with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to address ocean conservation issues in their local communities. The Summit event grew out of Sean’s ongoing work on marine debris prevention and fishing line recycling through the Stow It-Don’t Throw It Project, an initiative he launched as a Mote High School Intern. He has won numerous awards including the Brower Youth Award, Peter Benchley Ocean Award, and Sarasota Bay Estuary Program Blue Dolphin Award for his conservation work. He also serves as a member of the National Marine Educators Association Board of Directors, and a former member of the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, and the Board of Directors of Youth Service America and the Florida 4-H Foundation. He currently works for Mote’s Education Department as a Youth Programs Specialist, overseeing the Research-based Afterschool Program for Students (RAPS), a teen program based in the Florida Keys in partnership with one of Mote’s scientists, Dr. Erinn Muller.

In 2016, Mote had 26 people on its Education staff and 201 college interns who worked together to run 34 Education programs. The reach of their efforts is extensive — in 2015, their education programs reached nearly 28,000 K-12 students. This past year, the Mote Mobile exhibit alone reached 106,000+ people!

At the core of their efforts is Mote’s public outreach to promote conservation and sustainable use of our oceans. Busse explains, “I wouldn’t say one program is more successful than the other, because if even just one person learns something new or feels empowered to get engaged in conservation efforts, then I think that is a success.” With so many passionate people working for Mote and championing what they do, there are many future successes to be had.



on Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, please visit or call 941.381.4441.

Ringling College Graduates Win Big at 2017 Oscars

Ringling College of Art and Design conveyed congratulations to Walt Disney Animation Studios and the 23 Ringling College graduates who worked on ‘Zootopia’ on their Oscar® win for best animated feature film at the 89th Academy Awards®.

Ringling also congratulated graduate Patrick Osborne for his Oscar nomination for best animated short for ‘Pearl’ – the first virtual reality film to ever be nominated for an Academy Award. Patrick won an Oscar in 2014 for his animated short “Feast’.

“We want to thank the Academy for honoring the hard work and passion that each and every artist put into ‘Zootopia’ – the film, and its message of unity in a complex world, has been recognized in ways we couldn’t have possibly imagined,” Zootopia directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore and producer Clark Spencer commented upon Zootopia’s nomination.

The roster of Ringling College of Art and Design graduates who worked on ‘Zootopia’ include:

  • Lauren (Leffingwell) Albers ’09, Illustration
  • Ramya Chidanand ’11, Computer Animation
  • Christopher Cordingley ’03, Computer Animation
  • Ryan DeYoung ’09, Computer Animation
  • Ryan Duncan ’02, Computer Animation
  • Jason Figliozzi ’08, Computer Animation
  • Alex Garcia ’06, Computer Animation
  • Jorge Garcia ’09, Computer Animation
  • Kim Hazel ’08, Computer Animation
  • Bobby Huth ’07, Computer Animation
  • Sarah Kambara ’14, Business of Art & Design
  • Mike Klim ’10, Computer Animation
  • David Lisbe ’09, Computer Animation
  • Chris Nabholz ’07, Computer Animation
  • Katie Reihman ’08, Computer Animation
  • Brian Scott ’04, Computer Animation
  • Justin Sklar ’11, Computer Animation
  • Lindsey St. Pierre ’13, Computer Animation
  • Emily Tse ’09, Computer Animation
  • Kendra Vander Vliet ’09, Computer Animation
  • Dylan VanWormer ’11, Computer Animation
  • Yezi Xue ’10, Computer Animation
  • Nara Youn ’06, Computer Animation

“We are consistently amazed with the creativity and achievements of our graduates,” Ringling College President Dr. Larry R. Thompson said. “We applaud their recognition by the Academy last night and congratulate them and all of our graduates who have been honored through the nomination process by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for their mastery in telling powerful and moving visual stories.”

Dr. Larry R. Thompson, André Holland, Joseph Restaino, Wey Lin and Tony Stopperan

“We are consistently amazed with the creativity and achievements of our graduates” – Dr. Larry R. Thompson, President, Ringling College

Ringling graduates were credited in two of the other Oscar-nominated animated feature films this year including, on ‘Kubo’: Michael Berger, Brett Carville, Katie Knudson, Tarun Lak, Onyee Lo, Jarred Love and Carolyn Vale, and on ‘Moana’: Jason Figliozzzi, Jorge Garcia, Michael Stieber, Kendra Vander Vliet, Nara Youn, Ryan DeYoung, Bryan Locantore, Brian Scott, Chris Nabholz, Lauren Albers, Dylan VanWormer and Reece Porter.

At the 2016 Academy Awards 13 Ringling College graduates worked on Pixar Studios Oscar®-winning animated feature film ‘Inside Out’ and in 2015 29 Ringling Graduates worked on Disney’s Oscar-winning animated feature film ‘Big Hero 6’.

The Oscar winning best picture ‘Moonlight’ also has Sarasota ties, with film producer Adele Romanski, a Pine View High School graduate, accepting the Oscar for best picture. Moonlight actor André Holland recently toured the construction site for Ringling College’s new soundstage and post-production complex, which is slated to begin operations this spring.

Donation allows Mote to expand red tide research in Boca Grande

Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President & CEO of Mote Marine Laboratory, announced that an anonymous challenge donation of $100,000 has been made to support Mote scientists’ efforts to expand their red tide-related research and outreach efforts in Boca Grande.

The donors have challenged the southwest Florida community to match and exceed this philanthropic investment to support Mote’s efforts to address harmful algal bloom impacts in Boca Grande.

“We are grateful for this generous charitable investment and we are excited to move Mote’s red tide research efforts to the next level,” Crosby said. “We expect that a successful match to this challenge grant will significantly advance Mote’s innovative red tide research, monitoring and mitigation program in Boca Grande while directly engaging and benefiting the residents of this community.”

This southwest Florida region is known for its beautiful beaches and coastal culture, fisheries and other ecologically and economically important marine resources. However, harmful algal blooms (HABs) – such as Florida red tides caused by Karenia brevis algae – can deter tourists, kill fish, close shellfish harvest areas and cause respiratory irritation for beachgoers due to airborne toxins.

Today, HABs such as K. brevis red tide in the marine waters off Florida’s Gulf Coast, brown tides of Aureoumbra lagunensis algae like those in the Indian River Lagoon, and blue-green algae blooms such as those in central Florida’s freshwater systems are the focus of successful and emerging research initiatives at Mote.

So far, there is no tried-and-true way to combat some of the most challenging HABs without risk to the Gulf’s sensitive ecosystems. However, Mote and partners have led innovative HAB research for decades, and this new challenge donation will help Mote expand its innovative approaches and technologies to address the critical need for HAB prevention, control and mitigation.

Specifically, the new challenge donation will support:

  • Expansion of local community outreach and engagement to benefit those affected by HABs;
  • Advanced technology such as citizen science apps for mobile devices and field sensors for HAB forecasting support;
  • Improved rapid response strategies for mitigation of HAB impacts on public and ecological health and economics; and
  • Innovative strategies and technologies for HAB control.

Below are examples of exciting, ongoing projects that stand to benefit from new support in the Boca Grande region:

Citizen science for better beach days
Mote’s Beach Conditions Reporting System ( provides twice-daily updates on 31 beaches in the Southwest coast and the panhandle, including two in Boca Grande. It reports conditions like wave height, wind direction, surf conditions, presence of seaweed or potential effects of Florida red tide such as dead fish and respiratory irritation.

Mote’s Environmental Health Research and Phytoplankton Ecology Research programs are working on a citizen science application (app) that will allow residents and visitors along the Gulf Coast of Florida to report geo-located red tide effects including respiratory irritation, dead fish and water discoloration.

Other app users will be able to verify these reports using a “thumbs up” if they are experiencing the same conditions, such as respiratory irritation in a particular area, or a “thumbs down” button if they are not. This will allow the public to be part of research and outreach by providing their subjective data to Mote scientists.

Cutting-edge mitigation strategies
Mote researchers are studying the effect of natural compounds produced by macroalgae that are shown to kill or inhibit the growth of K. brevis algae in laboratory studies. Over time, this could result in development of strategies to help control red tide.

They are also studying the use of ozone to mitigate the effects of HABs in localized areas. Mote has patented an ozone application system, and preliminary research suggests the system may hold promise for use in closed canals, where concentrated red tide can have notable impacts. Now, more research is needed to validate the effectiveness and safety of this method for southwest Florida’s marine waters.

Red tide monitoring 2.0
More than a decade ago, a Mote scientist developed the optical phytoplankton discriminator, nicknamed BreveBuster, to detect K. brevis HABs at sea. This technology has been expanded to identify multiple phytoplankton species (such as nonharmful microscopic algae). By observing changes in phytoplankton community dynamics, researchers better understand the factors influencing red tide blooms, which is important for mitigation and control.

Today Mote’s Ocean Technology Research Program is working on a new tool to detect HAB toxins. This technology, called high-performance liquid chromatography, is already used in the lab, and Mote is redesigning it for deployment at sea – to provide real-time information on the toxicity of HABs.

Mote’s Ecotoxicology Program is also working toward development of a complementary technology: a hand-held HAB toxin detector known as an aptamer based electrochemical sensor.  To better detect HABs from the air, Mote’s Phytoplankton Ecology Program researchers are developing drones equipped with hyperspectral sensing.

Mote conducts HAB monitoring cruises along southwest Florida, providing valuable data through a statewide monitoring partnership. However, funding cuts at the state and national level have made this important work more challenging. Philanthropic support from Florida communities is critical for this necessary monitoring, which supports forecasting and vital public information.

New Mote Research Fund Established in Memory of Trustee Ronald A. Johnson

Generous support will connect Mote’s cancer research with biotech company

Left: Ronald A. Johnson, a former Mote Marine Lab Trustee whose memory is now honored with a new research fund at Mote. Right: Mote Senior Scientists Dr. Carl Luer and Dr. Cathy Walsh use a new fluorescent cell imager in their biomedical research. The imager was purchased with support from the newly established Ronald A. Johnson Memorial Fund.
Credit both: Mote Marine Laboratory 


Thanks to the generous support of the Glaze family and their company, Fort Wayne Metals, Mote is honored to announce a new research fund in memory of Ronald A. Johnson.

Johnson, former mayor of Longboat Key, served as a Mote Trustee from 2002 to 2013, holding multiple leadership positions and making significant contributions to the organization.

“When we moved to the area in 1996, Ron got involved right away as a Mote volunteer,” said Mote President & CEO Dr. Michael P. Crosby. “He was always positive and looking out for the interests of others, and he brought his expertise and dedication to Mote’s mission for more than 20 years. We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to honor him for his tremendous efforts on behalf of Mote and its mission.”

As a Mote Trustee, Johnson chaired multiple committees, notably focusing on development, governance, finance and investment. He remained an Honorary Trustee through his passing in 2016. He also served as Mote’s Volunteer Board President from 2002-2004 and as Interim Vice President of Development from late 2004 through March 2005.

“We are happy to support Mote through the new Ronald A. Johnson Memorial Fund,” said Scott Glaze, Chairman and CEO of Fort Wayne Metals and Ron’s cousin. “Ron was a longtime, ardent supporter of Mote and its scientific endeavors. We believe he would be very proud to support Mote scientists in their vital biomedical research.”

The Ronald A. Johnson Memorial Fund will support Mote’s biomedical research to advance studies on cancer-fighting compounds from sharks. The funding has been matched by several other gifts, including generous support from the Rick and Nancy Moskovitz Foundation.

Over decades of research, Mote scientists in Sarasota, Florida, have found that compounds from the immune systems of bonnethead sharks fight multiple human tumor cell lines. The new donations will help Mote scientists work with the Kansas City-based biotech company Likarda, LLC. Likarda will work toward isolating the cancer-fighting compounds from the mixture of substances derived from shark immune cell cultures that Mote scientists have been studying.

“We are extremely grateful for this new support that will advance our research and facilitate the opportunity to work with Likarda, a company with a strong focus on isolating bioactive compounds — which is just what we need,” said Dr. Carl Luer, manager of the Marine Biomedical Research Program at Mote, who partners in this research with Dr. Cathy Walsh, manager of the Marine Immunology Program.

If the individual cancer-fighting compounds can be isolated successfully, then the researchers will focus on understanding exactly what those compounds are and how they might contribute to inhibiting cancer cells. These basic research steps must occur to move promising compounds toward possible testing and development by the pharmaceutical field.

Ultimately, Mote scientists hope that cancer-inhibiting compounds can be produced from continuous cultures of immune cells instead of relying on natural populations of sharks for fresh immune tissue.

SCF’s Venice Campus Welcomes Ryan Hale as Dean of Academic Affairs

State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota (SCF) has named Ryan Hale its Dean of Academic Affairs at SCF Venice. Hale, a former a mathematics instructor and dean of students at SCF’s Collegiate School, began his new job in July and in his new role, has expanded several SCF programs, including the accelerated dual enrollment program and the honors program.

A long time educator, Hale helped develop two Charter Schools and in his new role is now responsible for the direction and administration of academic programs in Venice, including Language & Literature, Business & Technology, Social & Behavioral Sciences, Mathematics and Natural Sciences.

Hale earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Grand Valley State University in Michigan and a Master of Science in Pharmacy from the University of Florida at Gainesville. He is working on his doctorate in higher education administration, where his research focuses on the factors affecting college readiness in mathematics for students from low-income households.

For more information about SCF, visit

Education Matters
University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee

Last December, Gov. Rick Scott put forth his “Ready, Set, Work” initiative, which challenges all state-funded universities to have 100% of their graduates — save those moving on to graduate school — to have full-time employment within one year of receiving a degree in either of a school’s two most popular areas of study. The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee has accepted that challenge. Since then, the campus has studied how it prepares its students for future success by examining academic advising models at other Florida schools and exploring the latest research in college advising practices. The result is a new career-centric model that utilizes advisors taken from various industries who know the real-world opportunities, needs and challenges.

Regional Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs Dr. Terry Osborn explained, “As the university has moved toward ensuring that our graduates are ready for the careers they will enter, it was clear that we needed to think about academic advising in a new light. Traditionally, academic advising has been centered on a student development model. Though this model serves well in some ways, it became clear that a paradigm shift was in order. In short, to best serve our students today, career planning needs to begin much earlier in the academic experiences of a student.”

Osborn pointed out that the new career advising model incorporates career planning from before college admission through life after graduation. The intent is to ensure that each school experience builds upon and complements the others with the goal of creating career success for each graduate.

It’s more than just making sure that students sign up for the right classes and then apply to the right jobs. It’s an opportunity for industry experts who’ve become USFSM career advisors like Karin Weichlein, who held top sales positions at US and European companies, to inform students about what a specific job looks like five, ten, twenty years out. Weichlein strives to make sure that students know the importance of follow-through, the power of networking, and the impact of first impressions. “I hold them accountable to be timely, have good eye contact and not text during our advising sessions,” she explained. “I explore whether they are currently working and if they’ve started to think about their next professional career step. I work very closely with the local business community, and I’m always looking for outstanding, unique students who could benefit from a business mentoring relationship or from shadowing entrepreneurs to understand how hard it is to run a business successfully and why employers are looking for very specific soft skills as part of a student’s job preparedness.”

It’s easy to see how this kind of informed guidance and support is far better than the typical academic advising that most schools practice, and it helps the school meet Gov. Scott’s challenge. Osborn added that all the new career advisors are on the lookout for student internship opportunities. He explained, “Internships are opportunities for students to build upon the facets of the career success map. Knowledge and skills are applied, mindsets are tested and refined, networks are developed as experiences are gained and a student moves closer to receiving the credentials necessary to advance. These elements are critical to career success for anyone.”

Why would someone with a successful business background like Weichlein choose to work with college students versus remain solely within the workforce? She said that she was curious about millennials, their value system, their definition of success and their aspirations as it pertains to a professional career. She also said, “If we want to attract millennials to the workforce, we need to understand what gets them excited, what they are looking for from a future employer. I own my own company and I face the same issues as my fellow business owners in terms of effective communication, retention, aligning expectations and exciting millennials to take ownership of their professional responsibilities. By joining USFSM on a part-time basis, I work directly with millennials and benefit from their insights. As an example, here’s my most recent insight: millennials obtain information from different sources than we (baby boomers) traditionally use (i.e. Instagram/Snapchat versus local newspapers/TV channels). It’s quite hard to reach somebody if you don’t use the same messaging system. I now have a millennial write job/internship postings for our company to make sure they’re in a language that resonates with the target audience.”

Along with what the career advisors do, there are specialist advisors who can step in as needed to help with financial aid, wellness counseling, tutoring, and other issues students run across. USFSM’s Director of Student Success, Lauren Kurnov, said this is all part of what it takes to be a career-centric school. It means that “we are committed to ensuring that our students not only graduate with a high-quality education, but that they also enter the workforce with a clear understanding of the knowledge, skills and experiences that are essential for career success. Our team of core, career and specialty advisors work together to ensure that our students not only complete their degree requirements but also pursue internship opportunities and networking experiences in the community.”

The average full-time employment rates for state university graduates within their top two degree programs is about 60 percent. But if other Florida schools adopted USFSM’s career success map, that new number is sure to make Gov. Scott proud.

Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School

If you walk down the halls of Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School, you’ll hear a host of different languages being spoken. Sure, there’s Spanish, Mandarin, Latin, and French, which are all taught there, but there’s also Russian, Swedish, Portuguese, Czech and more, thanks to their international student body. In addition to the international community, the ongoing Global Education Program also puts their students in contact with other classes from around the world. “Our school is truly to connect with the world,” says Jennifer Hambrick, an Intermediate School Spanish teacher who serves as the Director of Global Education. “We’re connected with 39 different schools in 20 different countries right now. And each year, we’re adding more to that list.” Then she smiles and says, “The Global Education program has become my baby.”

Hambrick came to Saint Stephens seven years ago and at that point, they already had a strong relationship with the Gulin Dehzi Foreign Language School in Guilin, China and the Iringa International School in Lugalo, Tanzania. These are two of the five schools that Hambrick considers their core connections, calling them “Sister Schools.” The other three Sister Schools are Holy Trinity Episcopal School in La Ceiba, Honduras, Shibuya Junior and Senior High School in Tokyo, Japan, and Colegio Nacional Monseratt in Córdoba, Argentina. Each of these Sister Schools has various teachers and classes interacting with them on a regular basis versus just a single class that partners for only a semester.

The Colegio Nacional Monseratt was a natural partner since one of the teachers there was a Saint Stephen’s exchange student a few decades back. Some of the other partnerships emerged on a project-by-project or class-by-class basis. For example, this semester, an 8th grade technology class is working on a LEGO Mindstorms robot project for a month with a school in Astana, Kazakhstan. “The goal, though,” explains Hambrick, “is to get every teacher, every class, and every student engaged in this program on some level.” And it starts early, too — Saint Stephen’s kindergartners are already connected with schools in Vancouver, Canada and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Most of the exchanges are in English, though what happens in those exchanges varies greatly from class to class. For example, an 8th grade art class took photos of their hometown and sent them to 8th grade art students from a school in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, who sent back photos of their hometown. “They were so beautiful,” Hambrick reports from the Saint Stephen’s art students, “that our students wondered if they were right off Google!” In daily sketches, both groups of students drew in response to the photographic inspiration. In the spring art show, the photos and accompanying sketches will be on display. Even the Saint Stephen’s PE program is seeking international partnerships. Recently, one of their teachers contacted a school in Beijing to discuss sharing PE videos so each knows what type of activities and lessons the other is doing.

Of course, Hambrick herself participates in the program. “Just today, my students wrote in Spanish in an app called Padlet about their own Halloween traditions. Then students from Argentina responded with their own observations and insights about Traditions Day, an Argentinean holiday that takes place on November 10. The goal is to learn from each other. It’s a cultural exchange and an opportunity to learn about the world. It’s also a way to break down some of the walls and misconceptions we might have about others. Through our activities, students realize that students around the world really aren’t that different from them.”

Because of time zone differences, some of the exchanges happen asynchronously where students exchange videos or texts, such as how 5th grade performing arts students sent a video to their Sister School in Tokyo showing a new Japanese hand-clapping game that they learned in class. In response, the students in Tokyo sent a video back with another hand-clapping game for our students to learn. Students from Honduras check in live weekly on Skype or through Google Hangouts. “They talk about life, work collaboratively on a project, discuss a specific academic context area, or share math strategies or an opinion on a novel,” says Hambrick. “Even when the technology doesn’t work as well as we hope, it’s still a learning opportunity. Our students watch how we, as teachers, react to challenges.”

Part of the goal is to move these exchanges from virtual to face-to-face. Interim Quest — the final week of school each year — allows for Saint Stephen’s students to undertake all manner of experiential learning. For some, it’s an international trip to one of the Sister Schools or an annual service learning trip to the Dominican Republic, though Hambrick would like to rotate in even more travel options such as Honduras, Argentina, or Tanzania so students can meet those they’ve been interacting with online. Some students, though, remain closer to home and participate in activities such visiting potential college choices or taking a weeklong class in yoga, cooking, game design, or magic.

The real value of the Global Education Program is to give students the opportunity to learn from and with others. “Limiting our students to the four walls of the classroom is a disservice,” says Hambrick. “Considering how connected the world is, you have to know how to get along with others, how to navigate discussions with people with different cultures, religions, and backgrounds. Having practiced this, it helps our students understand why people do the things they do, and it helps our students know how to respond.”

Ultimately, it makes us all more culturally sensitive and appreciative of our differences. In short, she adds, it’s programs like this that make the world a better place.

For more information on Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School, please visit or call 941.746.2121.

A Tidal Wave of Transformation

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.”