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.”

Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska (left) and COQEBS President Ricardo Davis.

USF St. Petersburg hosts breakfast for Concerned Organizations for Quality Education for Black Students

For the fourth year in a row, USF St. Petersburg hosted a breakfast on Wednesday for leaders of the Concerned Organizations for Quality Education for Black Students (COQEBS) to discuss their ongoing collaboration to improve student readiness in Pinellas County schools.

COQEBS is a coalition of community organizations and individuals working to ensure the Pinellas County School District is providing quality education for black students. James McHale, Ph.D., USFSP psychology professor and director of the Family Study Center, is a member of COQEBS and works closely with the group’s School Readiness Committee.

Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska welcomed the group to the breakfast and discussed her commitment to student success and the importance of community partners such as COQEBS. “With a sound education, you can accomplish anything,” she said.

COQEBS President Ricardo Davis thanked Dr. Wisniewska and USFSP for its ongoing support of the coalition’s work and Dr. McHale for the work he has done to promote infant child readiness.

Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska (left), Psychology Department Chairman James McHale and COQEBS President Ricardo Davis.

Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska (left), Psychology Department Chairman James McHale and COQEBS President Ricardo Davis.

Dr. McHale discussed the success of the Baby Talk workshops the Family Study Center has conducted in partnership with the COQEBS School Readiness Committee for the past three years.

Getting children socially and emotionally ready for school starts when the child is an infant, McHale said. He said the aims of the Baby Talk workshops are to help child-care providers make changes in the way they approach and work with infants and toddlers, to help them become “safe, secure and powerful” children ready to learn when they are old enough for school.

He also discussed an innovative prenatal co-parenting program for African-American parents called Figuring It Out for the Child (FIOC), which has to date served two dozen families in south Pinellas County. The program helps moms and dads find ways to work together to raise their child even if they are not married or romantically involved. Every expectant father who has completed the 10-session program so far has remained committed to the baby and mom at post-natal follow-up, he said.

Figuring It Out for the Child is the subject of a new publication by McHale and Vikki Gaskin-Butler, USFSP psychology instructor and Co-Investigator for the FIOC project. The article, in the July issue of the Zero to Three journal, published by the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, details one remarkable family’s successful journey through the FIOC program.

Family Study Center research has been funded since 2003 by a series of grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Development and by the Brady Education Foundation.

Fairmount Park Elementary students peer into a microscope during the Bridge to Success science camp with the help of Dr. Heather Judkins.

First College of Education Bridge to Success science camp a big success

More than 30 students from Fairmount Park Elementary School in St. Petersburg are wrapping up a six-week science camp at USF St. Petersburg this week that grew out of a partnership between the school and the College of Education.

The students peered into microscopes in a biology lab, toured a marine science research vessel, learned about shells during a trip to Fort De Soto Park, went kayaking and sailing from the USFSP Waterfront, snorkeled at Lassing Park and had a close encounter with birds of prey courtesy of the Audubon Society.

They also took swimming lessons, wrote in their journals, spent two hours a day working on math and science lessons and had fun along the way.

Many of them had never been on a boat before and most were not proficient swimmers. “The camp allows these students to have hands-on experiences they wouldn’t get at school or at home,” said Tiffani Vinson, Fairmount Park’s science coach, who earned a master’s degree at USFSP.

Our students doing science in the park

Our students doing science in the park

USFSP students worked as camp counselors and Fairmount Park teachers joined them as coaches.

The goal of the “Bridge to Success” camp is to keep the rising fourth and fifth grade students’ minds engaged with science and math during the long summer break so they will be ready when the fall semester begins next month.

It also showed the students what a university is like, said camp director Fred Bennett.

“It gives them the idea that college is possible, it’s not too far-fetched,” said Bennett.

Many of the students’ families have little experience with higher education. “They’re not necessarily thinking about college,” said Khana Riley, a Fairmount Park fourth-grade teacher. “I think this is doing a real good job of putting it in their minds.”

Fairmount Park Elementary students having fun during the Bridge to Success science camp.

Fairmount Park Elementary students having fun during the Bridge to Success science camp.

It also teaches the students leadership skills, including how to speak in public and behave in ways that set examples for other students, said Casey Maker, a 2012 USFSP graduate and third grade teacher at Fairmount Park. “We hope we are making some academic leaders here,” he said.

The USFSP education students who work as camp counselors also benefit, said Nikita Shivers, a fifth grade teacher at Fairmount who graduated from USFSP in 2008. “I think it’s a great collaboration,” she said.

And the Fairmount Park teachers benefit, too.

“These college students remind me of why I went into teaching in the first place,” said Sam Mincey, a fifth-grade Fairmount teacher. “It re-energizes me.”

Fairmount Park Elementary is considered one of Pinellas County’s most challenging schools because of high poverty rates and low FCAT scores. The USFSP College of Education worked closely with teachers and administrators at the school this year, sending faculty, staff and students to volunteer as tutors and coaches.

“We have become part of the Fairmount Park Elementary School family and look forward to continuing our collaborative partnership with the school during the forthcoming year as well as subsequent years,” said College of Education Dean Bill Heller “The partnership has really been very beneficial to both sides and it has been particularly great for our teacher education students and other students across the university as well.”

Teacher Leaders Institute to focus on reforming schools from within

Two national leaders in education reform will speak at USF St. Petersburg June 13-14 during the Teacher Leaders Institute, designed to inspire classroom teachers to reform their schools from within.

Alan Sitomer, Ph.D., California’s 2007 Teacher of the Year

Alan Sitomer, Ph.D., California’s 2007 Teacher of the Year

Alan Sitomer was California’s 2007 Teacher of the Year and is author of Teaching Teens and Reaping Results in a Wi-Fi, Hip-Hop, Where-Has-All-the-Sanity-Gone World: Stories, Strategies, Tools and Tips. Sitomer speaks at 9 a.m. June 13. His speech is titled “Better to Light a Candle than to Curse the Darkness: Successful Strategies for Embracing the Changes in Literacy.”

Pedro Noguera, Ph.D., the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University

Pedro Noguera, Ph.D., the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University

Pedro Noguera, Ph.D., the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University and a regular commentator on CNN and National Public Radio, is author of The Trouble with Black Boys…and Other Reflections on Race, Equity and the Future of Public Education. His research focuses on the ways in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions. Noguera speaks at 1 p.m. June 14. His talk is titled, “Creating Conditions for Teaching and Learning: What It Takes to Leave No Child Behind.”

Both talks will be in the ballroom of the University Student Center, 200 6th Ave. S., St. Petersburg, and are free and open to the public. Audience members can ask questions through a Twitter feed projected on a large screen.

“We are excited to present these dynamic speakers and hope they will inspire teachers and the general public to take the lead in transforming public education,” said Bill Heller, Ph.D., dean of the USF St. Petersburg College of Education.

The Teacher Leaders Institute is for teachers interested in collaborating with colleagues in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties to help improve their schools.

Among the highlights of the two-day institute is a June 13 panel discussion titled, “What I Do to Make It Work for Students:  Highly Performing Teachers Share Their Stories. The discussion will be led by Megan Allen of Tampa, the 2010 Florida Teacher of the Year and a graduate of the USFSP College of Education. Panelists include Katherine Basset, the 2000 New Jersey Teacher of the Year and Director of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year; Ryan Kinser of the Center for Teaching  Quality; Claire Riddell, a Duval County first-grade teacher;  and Michael Flynn, the 2007 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and associate director of the Math Leadership Program at Mount Holyoke College.

For more information about the institute, contact Ramona Forbes at (727)-873-4155 or email


Students participating in the 2012 Pinellas County History Fair at USF St. Petersburg.

Pinellas County History Day returning to USF St. Petersburg

Hundreds of students from across Pinellas County will converge on USF St. Petersburg Saturday for the 16th Annual Pinellas County History Day.

This is the fifth year in a row the event has been held at USF St. Petersburg, which co-sponsors the event with Pinellas County Schools.

USFSP professors and graduate students serve as judges, including College of Education Dean Bill Heller, Ph.D.; Visiting Assistant History Professor David McMullen, Ph.D.; Associate Journalism Professor Robert Dardenne, Ph.D; Daun Fletcher, Florida Studies program assistant; and Florida Studies graduate student Karen Rhodes.

Elementary, middle and high school students display their class projects, papers and multi-media presentations in five categories: exhibits, performances, documentaries, research papers and websites.

Heller said the event always renews his faith in public education. “As an educator it really elevates my feeling about how well things are going in the schools,” he said. “There is so much talent and capability in the schools. The general public doesn’t get a sense of what these kids are learning. I just wish these presentations could be televised so the general public can see what these kids are learning.”

It also shows off USF St. Petersburg to hundreds of potential students and their parents, he said. “We can be real ambassadors for the university,” he added.

About 3,000 students participate each year in school-level fairs, and the 600 top performers advance to the countywide event at USFSP. From there, winners advance to the state history fair in Tallahassee. Top winners from the state are then sent to the National History Day competition in Maryland. The theme for 2013 is “Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events.

“Seeing kids running around with shirts that say ‘history geek’ really excites history professors,” said McMullen, the faculty coordinator for the event.

McMullen will present the Florida Studies Prize for the best project dealing with Florida

David Carr

David Carr

history and the David Carr Prize for the project demonstrating the best research. The late David Carr was a longtime member of the USFSP history faculty who was responsible for bringing the history event to the campus.