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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.

 

Agata Tuszynska, author of Vera Gran: The Accused. Photo by Patrycja Makowska

Sembler Florida Holocaust Lecture to feature author discussing controversial Polish singer, ‘The Accused’

Vera Gran was one of the most famous singers in Poland when the Nazis invaded and sent her to the Warsaw ghetto and eventually to the Treblinka concentration camp, only to spend the rest of her life fighting accusations that she was a Nazi collaborator.

Gran’s story will be recounted by Polish author Agata Tuszynska on Nov. 18 at 3:30 p.m. in the Debbie and Brent Sembler Florida Holocaust Museum Lecture at the USF St. Petersburg University Student Center Ballroom, 200 6th Ave. S. The lecture, presented by the USFSP Honors Program, is free and open to the public.

During the lecture, Tuszynska will discuss her book, Vera Gran: The Accused, and play recordings of Gran’s musical performances.

The Boston Globe called The Accused “a book of extraordinary depth and power that sets one tormented individual on a lifelong struggle across the moral cloudland.”

Before World War II, Gran performed at theaters and cabarets across Poland. During the war she was forced into the Warsaw Ghetto, where she often performed with Wladyslaw Szpilman, whose memoir was the basis for the film “The Pianist.” Both were eventually sent to Treblinka, the Nazi concentration camp. Szpilman was among those who later accused Gran of being a collaborator, though he later recanted. Two official inquiries cleared Gran, but the stain persisted until her death in 2007.

Tuszynska’s book sheds new light on a neglected chapter in history, said Elizabeth Gelman, executive director of the Florida Holocaust Museum.

“Much research has been done and disseminated on events during the Holocaust, but there is less written about the struggle for reconciliation in the wake of mass violence,’’ said Gelman. “Vera’s story is fascinating, raising philosophical questions about choices and the price of survival. It’s also chock full of intrigue, suspicion and paranoia.”

Vivian Fueyo, Ph.D., Interim Regional Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, said USFSP is proud to partner with the Florida Holocaust Museum for this lecture series. “This promises to be a thoughtful, provocative lecture and we thank Debbie and Brent Sembler for their support,” she said.

Thomas Smith, Ph.D., director of the USFSP Honors Program, said the lecture will benefit both students and the general public. “We are pleased we can present an author with the reputation of Agata Tuszynska,” he said. “Her talk goes to the heart of what the Honors Program is all about – to deepen our understanding of complex issues.”

The Honors Program at USF St. Petersburg is now in its 20th year of offering academically gifted, highly motivated students an exceptional undergraduate education. A distinguished faculty guides special seminars and lectures and provide Honors students with an array of research opportunities culminating in an original senior thesis.

Learn more about the Honors Program.

Thomas Smith, Ph.D.

Political science professor tells human rights conference in Seoul that ending North Korea abuse requires shift in focus

Thomas Smith, Ph.D., USF St. Petersburg associate professor of political science, made a presentation in South Korea last month during an international conference on human rights in North Korea.

Smith, director of the USFSP Honors Program, was invited to the May 20 conference because of his scholarly work on European efforts to improve human rights in Turkey. He taught international relations from 1997 to 2000 at Koç University in Istanbul.

The Seoul conference, “International Solidarity for North Korean Human Rights: Challenges and Opportunities,” included ambassadors and representatives of non-governmental organizations dealing with human rights.

Smith was the only academic invited to make a presentation, an honor that underscores his standing among human rights scholars, said Interim Regional Chancellor Bill Hogarth. “Dr. Smith’s knowledge and efforts to improve an important issue in our society is to be commended,” Hogarth said. “I am proud to have Dr. Smith on our faculty.”

Smith said the world tends to focus on North Korea’s nuclear capability and regional security rather than its horrendous human rights record. That is beginning to change, he said, and the more details about human rights abuses that emerge the more pressure will be brought to bear on the North Korean regime.

But he cautioned that what worked in Turkey may not work as well in North Korea. Turkey’s abysmal human rights record has improved in the past 20 years thanks partly to the pressure European governments exerted. That pressure was effective, he said, because Turkey wants to be part of the European Union.

North Korea, one of the most totalitarian and insular nations in the world, has little interest in being a part of the global community. Still, there is hope, he said, because its current leader, Kim Jong-un, does seem to care about his image.

“We can expect even greater momentum for human rights in North Korea as more details and visuals emerge,’’ Smith said in his presentation. Human rights abuses are widespread, including torture, murder, disappearances, and labor camps.

“Again, it goes back to the power of detail,” Smith said. If the world is to be moved to do something about human rights in North Korea, the abuses must be given a face.

“Regional security is certainly critical,” he said, “….but the turn toward rights focuses attention on those who suffer the most: the people of North Korea.”

The Honors Program at USF St. Petersburg was founded 20 years ago, offering academically gifted, highly motivated students an exceptional experience that broadens and deepens their undergraduate education. A distinguished faculty guides special seminars and lectures and provide Honors students with an array of research opportunities culminating in an original senior thesis. Learn more about the Honors Program.

Marco Padilla-Rodriguez

Honors student heads toward graduation with big goals in sight

Marco Padilla-Rodriguez has known what he wanted to do since he was a teenager.

He wanted to teach.

Then he fell in love with the environment and was determined to combine his two passions.

So when he was accepted into the Honors Program at USF St. Petersburg in 2009, he enrolled in the Environmental Science Program. His goal: to be a researcher and college professor specializing in ecology.

Four years later, he has achieved one of those goals: He has published his research as a first author and published another paper as a second author. And last weekend Marco was the runner-up for the best undergraduate oral presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Florida Branch of the American Society for Microbiology in Islamorada. A third research paper is under consideration for publication.

Now, with his acceptance into the highly competitive five-year Ph.D. program at the University of Arizona, he is one step closer to achieving his second goal. His graduate work will be in Arizona’s Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program. He will receive a stipend and tuition waiver to support the pursuit of his goals

He credits much of his success to the creative, collaborative environment he found at USF St. Petersburg.

“USFSP has been a good institution to foster my growth as a student,” he said. “I really enjoy the small class sizes, the accessibility of faculty members and, of course, the location! St. Pete has so many beautiful areas that set it apart from other universities.”

Marco worked closely with Mya Breitbart, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biological Oceanography and postdoctoral researcher Karyna Rosario, Ph.D, at the USF College of Marine Science, after learning of an undergraduate research opportunity through Thomas Smith, Ph.D., director of the USFSP Honors Program. During this time, Marco worked to characterize novel viruses in previously unrecognized hosts. He hadn’t even taken a basic biology class, “making the learning curve even steeper,” he recalls.

That didn’t stop him.

“I was quickly developing a passion for molecular work, fostering a desire to learn about the biological mechanisms behind the procedures and molecular techniques I was employing,” he says. “This semester-long program turned into an ongoing research partnership with Dr. Breitbart’s lab, and shifted my desire from ecology to molecular biology.”

“Of all the undergraduate students that have worked in my lab, Marco is the one that I am the most proud of,” said Breitbart. “During the past two years, he has completely transformed from a ‘standard’ undergrad without much direction into a highly motivated, budding young scientist who I believe has a very promising future in scientific research.”

Marco is a Florida native who has lived in St. Petersburg for most of his life and has traveled extensively across the country and abroad. He graduated from St. Petersburg Collegiate High School. He is a member of the university’s STREAMS (Supporting Talented and Remarkable Environmental and Marine Science Students) program, which is supported by the National Science Foundation.

“Marco has really thrived at USF St. Petersburg and quickly emerged as one of the stars of the Honors Program,’’ said Smith. “We are very proud of his accomplishments and know he is going to go far.”

Ashraf Khalil

Author to discuss social media and the Egyptian revolution

As part of International Week, the USF St. Petersburg Honors Program presents Ashraf Khalil, author of Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution, who will discuss the role of social media in the 2011 revolution.

Khalil, an Arab-American journalist based in Cairo, will also discuss the recent unrest that rocked the country and what it means for the future of Egyptian democracy.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 28 in the University Student Center Ballroom, 200 6th Ave. S., St. Petersburg. Free parking will be available across the street at the USFSP parking garage. Download the Ashraf Khalil poster.

Ashraf Khalil Poster

Ashraf Khalil Poster

“This is a rare opportunity for our students and the general public to get a firsthand account from an eyewitness to this important chapter in the history of the Middle East,” said Thomas Smith, Ph.D., associate professor of government and international affairs and director of the USFSP Honors Program.

International Week at USF St. Petersburg is Feb. 25 through March 1 and includes myriad public events.

Khalil’s talk is part of a series of Honors Program events with an international focus.

On Feb. 18 at 2 p.m., author and terrorism scholar Mia Bloom will present the Debbie and Brent Sembler Florida Holocaust Museum Lecture. Bloom, associate professor of International Studies and Women’s Studies at Penn State University, will discuss her latest book, Bombshell: Women and Terrorism (2011). It is free and open to the public.

On March 28 and 29, the Honors Program presents the first “St. Petersburg in the World Conference on International Affairs,” featuring U.S. ambassadors, military and intelligence officers, scholars and journalists for a series of 10 panels devoted to contemporary international issues. It is free and open to the public.

The Honors Program at USF St. Petersburg offers academically gifted, highly motivated students an exceptional experience that broadens and deepens their undergraduate education. A distinguished faculty guides special seminars and lectures and provide Honors students with an array of research opportunities culminating in an original senior thesis.

For more information about these events or the Honors Program, please call Thomas Smith at (727) 873-4872.