Cutting the ribbon at the Jeanne and Bill Heller Scholars’ Lounge are left to right) Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska, Poynter Library Dean Carol Hixson, Jeanne Heller, Campus Board Member Judy Mitchell, Bill Heller, Campus Board Chair Debbie Sembler, Campus Board member Roy Binger and USF System President Judy Genshaft.

Large crowd on hand for dedication of Jeanne and Bill Heller Scholars’ Lounge

College of Education Dean Bill Heller and his wife, Jeanne, love libraries. They also love USF St. Petersburg.

That combination prompted the Hellers to provide support for the new Jeanne and Bill Heller Scholars’ Lounge at the USFSP Nelson Poynter Memorial Library.

More than 100 people turned out Tuesday for a formal dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony at the new study area, where students already were cramming for final presentations and exams.

Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska thanked the Hellers for their dedication to the library and commitment to USFSP. “Bill Heller is beloved in this community,’’ she said. “We are very fortunate to work with him.’’

USF System President Judy Genshaft pointed out that the Scholars’ Lounge is just one of many donations the Hellers have made to USFSP over 21 years, including a scholarship fund for education students. “Giving is just so important,’’ she said. “As the saying goes, first you learn, then you earn and then you return. Thank you for doing all of the above.”

Poynter Library Dean Carol Hixson said the lounge, which looks out over Bayboro Harbor and Poynter Park and features modern furnishings enclosed by glass walls, is “already highly coveted by students.” And that was exactly what the Hellers wanted.

“Bill and Jeanne Heller have lived their lives together in service to others,” Hixson said. The lounge is designed to be an oasis from the busy group study areas of the library’s first floor. An inscription on one glass wall, she said, is so appropriate: “Our gift to students and the USFSP Community. Study, relax and enjoy!”

Dean Heller thanked everyone for attending the ceremony and for all that he and his wife have received from USFSP. “You contributed an awful lot to us,’’ he said. “I love this place.”

He also asked audience members to do their part to support the library. “It has always been the academic heart of the campus and you need to keep that heart healthy by supporting the good work this library is doing,” he said.

Dr. Heller recalls many hours in the college library pursuing his doctorate in special education. “When I wasn’t home,” he says, “I was at the library.”

Mrs. Heller, a retired elementary school librarian, loves modern libraries. “I started going to libraries when I was 6 years old,” Mrs. Heller says. “Back then all you could do was read and borrow books. Nowadays you can do almost anything in a library.”

That is especially true at the USFSP library, which has been reimagined for the digital age by Dean Hixson. Dr. Heller sees the Scholars’ Lounge as another step in the library’s evolution.

“This library has really become a gathering place for students and the university community,” Dr. Heller explains. “They can study, read, work in groups or alone and have access to the latest technology. I just love to see the library buzzing.”

And the place was really buzzing Tuesday during the final run-up to exam week. Senior accounting major Alex Wilson was among a group of students preparing a presentation for a business class. He appreciated all the the new lounge has to offer. “It’s actually pretty quiet in here,” he said. Gesturing toward the waterfront, he added, “And you have the scenery.”

The Hellers, married for 59 years, have given generously to the USF System for over 21

College of Education Dean Bill Heller and Jeanne Heller

College of Education Dean Bill Heller and Jeanne Heller

years, with gifts to the library, athletics, Latino Scholarship and the USF St. Petersburg College of Education.The H. William Heller Scholarship in Special Education is special to them.

“I know how much scholarships meant to me,” says Dr. Heller, whose family could not afford college. “And I know how much it means to students today trying to make ends meet.”

Toi Basso is one who benefited from the Heller Scholarship. “If I had not received this scholarship my education would have stopped,” she said. Instead, she graduated magna cum laude in May of 2013 and begins teaching this fall at Deltona Elementary in Spring Hill. “I am so grateful for that scholarship.”

Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska praised the Hellers for their dedication to USFSP. “Their generosity is inspiring,” she said. “The entire university community, and particularly our students, will benefit for years to come thanks to the contributions they have made.”

Poynter Library’s Jim Schnur honored by Society of Florida Archivists

Jim Schnur, associate librarian for Special Collections at the USF St. Petersburg Nelson Poynter Memorial Library, received the 2013 Award of Excellence from the Society of Florida Archivists  May 9 at the organization’s 30th annual meeting in Tallahassee.

Schnur was recognized “for years of dedication to the archival profession in Florida and outstanding contribution to the preservation of Florida’s documentary heritage.”

Schnur, an association member since 1992 and a USFSP faculty member since February 2002, was recognized for his work as a librarian at USFSP, his teaching and mentoring as an adjunct member of the faculty in the School of Information at USF Tampa, and his efforts to promote and preserve local and Florida history. Often, these categories overlapped.

Schnur manages Special Collections and University Archives at the Poynter Library, including signature collections in local history, rare books and the print and digital archives of USFSP. Since the fall 2003 semester, Schnur has supervised more than 25 fieldwork and independent student experiences for graduate students in the USF School of Information as well as USFSP’s Florida Studies Program. He appreciates Dean Carol Hixson’s support for his initiatives and her leadership in establishing the USFSP Digital Archive.

Schnur has taught a graduate-level course in Archival Management in the School of Information since the fall 2008 semester. The course teaches practical methods for preserving and managing archival collections in cultural heritage institutions. Four students have co-presented with him at regional conferences since early 2012, and three of the six poster sessions offered at the Society of Florida Archivists conferences in 2012 and 2013 were presented by students based on projects completed in Schnur’s class.

The official historian for Pinellas County’s centennial (1912-2012), Schnur is actively involved in many local and state cultural organizations, including the Pinellas County Historical Society.  One of his former students, Sandra Varry, is vice president of the Society of Florida Archivists.

Two USF St. Petersburg students win Leland Hawes awards in Florida History

Two USF St. Petersburg students have won prestigious Leland M. Hawes awards in Florida history, adding their names to a string of previous winners from USFSP.

Douglas Ponticos, a graduate student in the Florida Studies Program, received the prize for his paper, “Communities of Stone and Glass: Florida’s Brooksville Ridge.” Ponticos is a Brooksville native who was raised in Homosassa, and a graduate of Lecanto High School and Florida State University. After many summers working on family farms, Ponticos cultivated a passion for gardening and food. He is finishing his thesis, a study of the cultural history of the Brooksville Ridge. He dreams of farming and teaching on the Ridge.

Elizabeth Southard, an Anthropology major, received the prize for the best undergraduate paper, “The Cultural Importance of the Prehistoric and Historic History of Weedon Island.” Southard is a Memphis native who moved to Florida in 2003. While a student at USFSP, she developed a passion for archaeology. She spent the summer of 2012 with Professors John and Kathryn Arthur in Ethiopia studying the Gamo people. She recently helped curate the “Butch” Evans artifact collection at the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library. Evans was a beloved student in the Florida Studies Program and an avid amateur archaeologist.

Both Southard and Ponticos wrote their seminar papers in Emeritus History Professor Gary Mormino’s Florida history seminar. Mormino is a co-founder of the Florida Studies Program.

The Leland Hawes Prize honors the life work of Leland Hawes, who spent six decades as a reporter, editor and history columnist at the Tampa Tribune. Upon his retirement, the Tampa Bay History Center and the Florida Studies Center at USF Tampa inaugurated the prize to recognize student scholarship in Florida history.

Previous USFSP Hawes Prize recipients include Thom Foley, for his 2008 essay, “Taming of the Hillsborough River;” Brad Massey for his 2009 paper, “The Rise and Fall of a Modern Florida Landmark, Tampa’s Floridan Hotel”; and Lois Ricciardi, for her 2010 paper, “Mary Lou Baker and the Women’s Emancipation Bill of 1942.”

Since 2003, USF St. Petersburg’s Florida Studies Program has shined a light on Florida’s history, culture and environment. No other program in the United States explores a state the way this does. The Masters Program brings together faculty from history, economics, geography, political science, anthropology and other disciplines to explain our state’s identity. For more information go to

Graduate student creates documentary on the life and legacy of Nelson Poynter

Walter Gordon knew he faced a monumental task when he decided to create a video documentary of the late Nelson Poynter as his Master’s in Liberal Arts project.

Walt Gordon

Walt Gordon

Poynter was a giant in the newspaper industry and a tireless champion of USF St. Petersburg. When he died in 1978, he left behind a 44-foot stack of papers, documents and filmed interviews. They are housed in Special Collections at the USF St. Petersburg library that bears his name.

The Nelson Poynter Memorial Library collection had only occasional interest by researchers until Gordon decided to dig in.

Gordon, a fall 2012 graduate, spent all last summer poring through the collection. The result is a 30-minute documentary about the man who turned the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) into one of the most distinguished newspapers in the country.

“I could have made an hours-long documentary on Poynter,” Gordon said. “He had such an interesting life.”

Born in Indiana on Dec. 5, 1903, Poynter knew at an early age that journalism would be his life-long career. His father bought the St. Petersburg Times in 1912 and Poynter wrote his first story for the Times in 1914. In 1938 he became the general manager of the Times. Before that he was the editor and publisher of the Clearwater Sun and the Kokomo (Ind.) Dispatch . Poynter later acquired the St. Petersburg Evening Independent, which folded in 1986, and founded Congressional Quarterly, an influential legislative news service.

He is perhaps best known for leaving the ownership of the Times to the non-profit Modern Media Institute, now the Poynter Institute, to ensure its independence. The Institute is located across the street from USF St. Petersburg.

Poynter died hours after participating in a groundbreaking at USF St. Petersburg on June 15, 1978, during which he was honored for his efforts to establish it.

James Schnur, Associate Librarian in Special Collections and Archives at the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library, suggested the Poynter documents as a subject of Gordon’s project. Schnur, who first met Gordon while teaching Florida history at Eckerd College, assisted in the documentary process.

As a librarian and graduate of USF St. Petersburg, Schnur understood the impact Poynter had on the development of the university and downtown St. Petersburg. Schnur says Gordon’s documentary is a great way for community members to understand Poynter’s significance.

“He brought Poynter in to the community,” Schnur says.

Making a documentary came naturally to Gordon, who taught TV production at Countryside High School and earned a Bachelor’s degree in history from Eckerd College.

The Poynter Papers include interviews from the 1970s and 1980s that were recorded on film and transferred to video tapes. Because of his experience with TV and film production, Gordon was able to transfer the VHS tapes into digital files in order to make the 35-minute documentary.

Gordon is a staunch advocate for combining the latest technology with other disciplines like the arts and sciences in order to expand educational capabilities.

The documents and videos along with Gordon’s annotations will be available to scholars, researchers, and students interested in learning more about Poynter and St. Petersburg history.

“Altogether, the collection constitutes an amazing amount of data that could still benefit from more research.” Gordon said.

Gordon continues to teach TV production at Countryside High School. He presented his documentary at Heritage Village for its “Speaking of History” lecture series in November. Gordon also presented a 20-minute version of the documentary at USFSP for the 65th Annual Meeting of the Southeast Philosophy of Education Society Feb. 1-2.


New Dali Museum series, The Genius Next Door, to feature USF St. Petersburg professors

The Dalí Museum is hosting a new monthly series of stimulating conversations with USF St. Petersburg professors.

Called The Genius Next Door, the series will give audiences a chance to ask questions, exchange ideas and discuss cutting-edge research with intellectual leaders from USF St. Petersburg. Frank Biafora, dean of the USFSP College of Arts and Sciences, will act as the emcee and facilitator for the monthly series.

The Genius Next Door will be a five-part conversation series featuring three different professors every month. Activities and topics will vary each event based on the speakers.

The next event will be Thursday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Museum Theater, with overflow next door seating in the Raymond James Community Room.

The speakers for Thursday’s event are Daniel James Scott, MS, MBA; Dr. Jill McCracken, College of Arts and Sciences; and Carol Hixson, MS, Dean of the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library.

Scott, an instructor in entrepreneurship, is the Associate Director for the Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Innovation Alliance. McCracken, an assistant professor in the English Department, teaches writing and composition. Hixson, writes a blog on her thoughts and experiences in technology and running a library.

The event is open to the public and admission is free for Dalí members and $5 for non-members. The museum is at One Dalí Blvd. in St. Petersburg.