When Dr. Judy Genshaft arrived as president of the University of South Florida in July 2000, she made no secret about her goal of going toe-to-toe with the nation’s best research universities. Done. USF is one of the nation’s top 73 “very high” public research universities and ranked 43rd for research expenditures among all U.S. universities, public or private. In fiscal year 2013, it was awarded a university-record $413.6 million in research contracts and grants. Additionally, USF is one of only four Florida public universities classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in the top tier of research universities, a distinction attained by only 2.3 percent of all universities. (The other state institutions are University of Florida, University of Central Florida and Florida State University.)
The focus on research hasn’t dimmed. As part of USF’s 2013-2018 Strategic Plan, “advancing research, innovation and sustainability” is high on the agenda. In turn, Genshaft wants USF to help “reignite the economy and provide a workforce that is adaptable, entrepreneurial and resilient.”
She offers explanation:
What is your biggest initiative for 2014?
Actually, we have several major initiatives that are really exciting. We’re putting a major emphasis on the new Florida Center for Cybersecurity that is located at USF, which will very quickly create education and research programs to supply skilled professionals who will fight cybercrime, one of Florida’s biggest problems. We’ve also broken ground on our new USF Health Heart Institute, which combines advanced research and technology with the best cardiovascular care to benefit patients with heart disease, diabetes and stroke. We are hard at work at building a new College of Business at USF-St. Petersburg, and we’ve set a goal for ourselves to become the most veteran-friendly university in the nation. All of these efforts culminate in creating a cutting-edge, metropolitan research university that’s having a real impact on our region.
What role does STEM play in the future of higher education in Florida?
The knowledge economy demands a strong emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, and I believe there should be one more “M”—for medicine. In the same way, the American space race put an emphasis on engineering and math, we should consider the challenges we are facing now or will in the near future. We know for our region to create a sustainable and resilient economy we have to diversify our economy, and that means producing a highly skilled workforce that will allow our tech start-ups to thrive and attract companies to relocate to Florida. Our goal is still to produce a well-rounded student with critical thinking skills, a strong foundation in the humanities and knowledge of other cultures, but we also know that our students want to be competitive in growing fields and that demands world-class “STEMM” programs.
As a research university, we’re putting a strong emphasis on undergraduate research so our students are gaining an edge in the “STEMM” fields through experiential learning, which makes them more competitive for internships, advanced degrees and landing that first job right out of college. We are also very focused on connecting our research and innovation to economic development; USF is in the top 15 in spinoff companies and in the top 25 in licenses and options.
How is your university engaged with your local community to meet its workforce needs?
We are not only one of the largest employers in our region, but we have great partnerships with some of our leading industries, such as Raymond James, TechData, Nielsen, Jabil and in the health-care industry with our strong programs at USF Health. I’ve worked hard since I’ve been at USF for the past 14 years to build bridges with the private sector so we hear what our major employers want in new hires. They’ve told me they want students who have a global perspective and real-world experience, so we’ve emphasized practicums, co-op opportunities, international internships and study abroad programs. Companies such as Nielsen and the Tampa Bay Lightning are involved in our academic programs so that our students are gaining the skills they need to be ready to work the day after graduation. In fact, Nielsen even has an office here on campus where they are interacting with our students throughout their college careers. USF has been one of Nielsen’s deepest hiring pools. In recent years the majority of college-level hires at Nielsen’s Global Technology and Information Center in Tampa Bay—the company’s largest among 800 offices worldwide—have been USF grads. We’re eager to have those kinds of productive partnerships all over the region, which is why we also created a special portal for business to work with USF in meeting workforce needs.