First student exchange program is a bridge to Belgium

USF St. Petersburg’s first student exchange program began with an unexpected phone call from Belgium three years ago.

Erika Greenberg-Schneider, a visiting instructor at USF St. Petersburg’s Graphic Design Program who is such a renowned printmaker she was honored by France as a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters, was at her studio in Tampa when the phone rang.

Would she agree to be the keynote speaker at a major art event in Liege, Belgium? The caller was a professor at École Supérieure des Arts Saint-Luc de Liège, so before she said yes she asked if the acclaimed art school would be interested in a student exchange program with USF St. Petersburg.

And so began a long journey that ended last fall with USFSP graphic design seniors Carmela Zabala and Maria Cuahutle living and studying in Belgium for the semester and continues this spring with Belgium student Laurent Baarslag living and studying here.

“I think the students are gaining an immense amount from this,” said Greenberg-Schneider. “This is a real occasion for them to go out and explore. It’s really good for them to experience other countries and cultures.”

Zabala said the semester in Liege had a profound impact. “I learned a lot,” she said. “I became a better designer through it. I’ve seen my work mature. Looking at my work now and looking at it before, it’s just very different.’’ She wrote about her experiences in ‘burg Blogs.

Cuahutle agrees. “It was a growing experience personally,’’ she said. “It made me question what I wanted to do. It was eye opening.” It also gave her a new appreciation for the USFSP Graphic Design Program “The program is really good here,” she said. “It’s top notch.” And it bolstered her confidence and independence.

For Baarslag, the decision to spend this semester at USF St. Petersburg has been one of the best he has made. “It’s a big opportunity to be here,” he said. There is a spirit of teamwork in the program, he says, a lot of energy and focus. “Here it is more intense,” he said. “We work a lot more here.”

Zabala and Cuahutle stayed in private homes and Baarslag is staying with a couple of fellow USFSP graphic design students. The living arrangements are one of the best parts of the exchange program, the students say, because it immerses them in the culture and helps them learn the language and local customs.

While this is the first USFSP’s first student exchange program but likely not the last.

“This inaugural exchange program shows the extraordinary efforts the university is taking to prepare global citizens for the 21st century,’’ said Frank Biafora, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “This is a model for other programs that could develop out of this.”

Nabil Matar (left) and Dennis Thompson.

Honors Program presents lecture series to ‘Celebrate the Liberal Arts’

The USF St. Petersburg Honors Program is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a special lecture series that reflects the theme of the anniversary, “Celebrate the Liberal Arts.”

Dennis Thompson, Ph.D., the Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy Emeritus at Harvard University, will discuss “Science, Ethics and Democracy” on Thursday, Jan. 23, at 4 p.m. at the University Student Center Ballroom. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Nabil Matar, Ph.D., the Presidential Professor of Arts & Humanities at the University of Minnesota, will discuss “The Arabic Legacy in Western Thought” on Monday, March 3 at 3:30 p.m. at the University Student Center Ballroom. The lecture is free and open to the public.

“The liberal arts are at the core of the Honors Program but there is a lot of confusion about what that means,’’ said Thomas Smith, Ph.D., Honors Program director and associate professor of government and international affairs. “The liberal arts are about developing critical thinking and fostering our capacities for reason, judgment and scientific inquiry. They provide the intellectual tools to be engaged citizens.’’

Both speakers will discuss issues that go to the heart of what the liberal arts are all about, Smith said.

Thompson, the author of eight books and founding director of the Harvard University Center for Ethics, will underscore the importance for scientists to understand the ethical implications of their work. Matar will explore the transmission of ideas from the Arab world into western thought.

“This spring lecture series underscores an important part of the mission of the Honors Program at USF St. Petersburg,’’ said Frank Biafora, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “It brings together nationally recognized thought leaders discussing provocative topics that will both challenge and enlighten our students and the public.”

The Honors Program will also present the Second Annual St. Petersburg Conference on International Affairs Feb. 13-15 at the University Student Center Ballroom. The conference, featuring 15 panels of distinguished experts from across the country discussing the critical international issues of the day, is free and open to the public.

Complimentary parking for the Honors Program events will be available at the USFSP parking garage, 260 5th Ave S, St Petersburg. For more information about these events please call (727) 873-4872.

The Honors Program offers academically gifted, highly motivated students an exciting and diverse college experience that enhances their undergraduate education. This year, about 100 students comprise a thriving, close-knit, diverse academic community. Students receive individual attention from a distinguished faculty in small, seminar-style classes. Read more about the Honors Program.


WUSF General Manager JoAnn Urofsky (left to right), Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman cut the ribbon for the WUSF St. Petersburg Studio.

WUSF opens its first St. Petersburg Studio at USFSP

WUSF Public Media, in partnership with USF St. Petersburg, has opened a new broadcast studio at USFSP, providing students a new opportunity to work with award-winning journalists.

A crowd of more than 50 people attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, Jan. 10, including St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, USFSP Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska, WUSF Partners Board members and executives, and local business and community leaders.

The event took place in the Courtyard of the Peter Rudy Wallace Florida Center for Teachers at USF St. Petersburg, home to the Department of Journalism and Media Studies and the new WUSF St. Petersburg Studio.

“Having an award-winning NPR affiliate on our campus is something we should all be proud of. WUSF sets a high standard for journalism in the Tampa Bay area,” said Wisniewska. “It will also be an excellent opportunity for our journalism students, who can gain valuable on-air experience, working closely with seasoned professionals. I particularly look forward to the stories our students produce through the Neighborhood News Bureau in Midtown, an important part of this city where Mayor Kriseman is focusing much needed attention.”

JoAnn Urofsky, general manager of WUSF Public Media, expressed pride in the new partnership with USFSP. “The new studio space will provide us with expanded news presence in both St. Petersburg and Pinellas County,” she said, “as well as an opportunity to work with students in the USF St. Petersburg graduate journalism program.”

The studio has working space for WUSF’s reporters, allowing them to file stories on deadline from a Pinellas County location. In addition, reporters will work with USF St. Petersburg students to research articles, publish stories for WUSF’s Health News Florida website and write for print and radio. WUSF reporters already are working with two USFSP students at the new St. Petersburg Studio.

The mayor congratulated USF St. Petersburg on the opening of the studio. “This is a great addition to an already great institution, and a wonderful opportunity for students as well,’’ he said “I look forward to hearing more news and information from WUSF right here in St. Petersburg.”

Journalism Chair Deni Elliott said the studio is an excellent example of collaboration within the USF System and with the community that directly benefits students. “We are excited about the possibilities this new studio offers for our journalism students and faculty,” she said.

Left to right: Premed students Everett Rogers, Keun Young Jo, Jordan McBride and Erik Richardson talk to a patient. Photo courtesy All Children's Hospital.

Premed Club program at All Children’s Hospital provides comfort to cystic fibrosis patients

Erik Richardson had thought about a career in medicine but wasn’t sure until he went on a mission trip to a health clinic in Guatemala three years ago.

“Being able to help a child one on one is really what made me want to be a doctor,’’ said Richardson, a USF St. Petersburg senior majoring in biology who hopes to attend the USF Morsani College of Medicine next year. “Up until then I never had interacted with a patient. I discovered how rewarding it was.”

The experience inspired him to start Premed Pals, a volunteer program of the student Premed Club that sends USFSP students to All Children’s Hospital to work with young cystic fibrosis patients. He had worked as a volunteer in the hospital’s outpatient pharmacy and wanted to create volunteer opportunities for Premed Club members to give them experiences similar to what he had in Guatemala.

The student volunteers, most of whom hope to become doctors, learn how to interact with real patients in a real hospital setting. And the patients, who range in age from infants to teenagers, look forward to the visits. The patients’ families also appreciate getting a break.

Cystic fibrosis is a chronic disease affecting the lungs and digestive system. About 30,000 children and adults in the United States are affected by the inherited disease, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The disease clogs the lungs and can lead to life-threatening infections.

The patients at All Children’s stay in isolation for up to two weeks at a time for treatment a couple of times a year to clear their lungs. “They call it ‘tune-ups,’’ said Richardson, president of the Premed Club. “They get bored sitting in their room.”

The student volunteers will do whatever they can to take a patient’s mind off things, said Everett Rogers, the volunteer coordinator for the Premed club. They play Legos, board games, video games or just watch TV — whatever the patients want to do. “I’ve sat there for an hour watching Dragon Ball Z just to be with them,’’ said Rogers. “We’ll get on the floor and play dolls with them. It’s been pretty incredible for me.’’

Richardson agrees. “To get them up and out of bed and participating in these activities is so rewarding,’’ he said.

Frank Biafora, dean of the USFSP College of Arts and Sciences, praised the volunteer efforts. “These students are great examples of community leadership at its best,’’ he said. “They are not only helping these vulnerable children, they are learning invaluable lessons that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”

Hospital officials say the students have been a great asset for the cystic fibrosis program. “Erik is a person with a lot of passion and compassion, and his dedication in putting this program together with all the demands on his time is very impressive,’’ said Brittany Nelms, All Children’s Hospital Volunteer Services Coordinator. “He started as a volunteer and now he’s coordinating the whole program, so that other USFSP premed students can participate and help give a lift to our CF patients. We really appreciate everything he’s done.”

The program started in June with 16 volunteers working twice a week. It has been so successful Richardson hopes to grow it with more volunteers covering more days of the week.

Because of the risk of infection, each volunteer must be specially trained in sterile techniques before they can begin working with patients. They learn when and where to use surgical masks and what patients can and cannot touch. They must wear sterile gowns when they are with patients. And the patients cannot hang out with each other.

“They’re kids and they don’t like being in a room for two weeks at a time,’’ said Rogers, a junior who started at USF St. Petersburg but transferred to USF Tampa this year to pursue a chemical engineering degree. “It’s kind of rough. They get bored sitting in the room.’’ The patients are always happy to see the USFSP student volunteers.

“They love it and you can see it in their faces,’’ Richardson said. But the premed students also learn a sobering reality: They are not miracle workers. “Some days you feel bad for the kids,’’ he said. “Other times you feel so rewarded.”

“You have to accept that you can’t always do something for somebody,’’ Rogers added. But that’s just part of the learning process, he said. In the end, everyone wins.

“It helps the hospital, it helps us, it helps the kids,’’ Rogers said.

Vision Team members conduct a mind mapping exercise

Strategic planning at USF St. Petersburg moves forward

The strategic planning process at USF St. Petersburg moved forward in earnest Monday night when a diverse team of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members gathered at the University Student Center.

More than 70 members of the Vision Team spent three stimulating hours discussing critical issues facing USF St. Petersburg and higher education. In addition to students, faculty, staff and alumni, the group includes local business leaders, partners, friends, and representatives from local schools and the USF System.

The team is meeting again today for an all-day session and will meet several more times during the coming months.

In addition, open forums for faculty, students, staff and other groups will take place early in the new year to broaden the discussion. To see a roadmap of upcoming events and learn more about the process, please visit

As Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska told the vision team Monday night, the goal of this process is to lay the groundwork for a vision for USFSP that focuses our resources to have a powerful impact in Pinellas County and beyond.