USF Sarasota-Manatee campus holds celebration of Fall 2021 graduates ahead of commencement ceremonies
Many were young, anticipating their first job out of college. Others were working parents or transfer students from a community college, while still others veterans or international students.
Whatever their background, they shared a common bond as Fall 2021 graduating students of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus.
In recognition of the class, the campus held a special celebration on Tuesday ahead of USF’s formal commencement ceremonies on Friday night and Saturday morning, during which the university will confer more than 4,500 degrees.
USF President Rhea Law joined USF Sarasota-Manatee campus Chancellor Karen Holbrook and other dignitaries – including Brett Kemker, vice chancellor of academic affairs and student success, Anne Dufresne, chair of the USF Sarasota-Manatee Alumni Association, and members of the Campus Board – in saluting the graduating class.
“This is a time for you to celebrate on your home campus with your peers, your family and your friends in advance of your commencement ceremony, and I hope this is a memorable evening,” Holbrook told the graduates during the celebration in the campus courtyard.
“Regardless of the path you took to get here, you have earned the privilege to graduate and begin the next chapters of your lives with expanded knowledge and skills and a broadened perspective of what it means to be an actively engaged leader in our community and a global citizen,” she said.
President Law said she hoped the campus continues to celebrate graduates in this fashion. The celebration represented the first such event since the Sarasota-Manatee and St. Petersburg campuses were consolidated with the main Tampa campus in July 2020. Prior to that – and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic – each campus held separate, formal commencement ceremonies off campus.
“I hope that this becomes a tradition,” Law told attendees of the celebration, which included an opportunity for students and their families to mingle with staff and faculty.
“This is your community,” she said. “This is really your opportunity to celebrate the uniqueness of Sarasota-Manatee. I am so proud that we are consolidated as one university, a Research One University, and that applies to every graduate, and that has value. As you go forward and begin your careers and share what you have accomplished, I am proud to say that USF is one of those pieces of your background that has value and will help you no matter where you go.”
The event included a special recognition of students who will graduate cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude. Among those were two winners of the King O’Neal Award, which is presented on behalf of the USF Alumni Association to recognize students who have achieved a perfect 4.0 GPA: Courtney Welch, a psychology major with a criminology minor, and biology major Gabrielle DeVita, who hopes to attend medical school and become a physician.
“This really is a special place, and I will miss all of my professors and friends on campus, who I hope to continue to see throughout my life, and I’ll miss the small class sizes,” DeVita said. “You really get to know your peers and your professors here, and that makes a real difference.”
Named by the Student Government Association as the semester’s Outstanding Professor was Giti Javidi of the Muma College of Business. Javidi is a professor in the School of Information Systems and Management and serves as program director of the new Information Assurance and Cybersecurity Management program, which is housed on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus.
Elayne Salgado, an accounting student, attended the celebration with her husband, Rubens Santos, and daughters, Alexandra Salgado and Victorya Salgado.
A former phlebotomist at HealthPark Medical Center in South Fort Myers, Salgado worked nights while attending classes during the day. Throughout her studies, she said, her daughters served as an inspiration and encouraged her to continue working toward her degree.
“This is about them,” she said. “This about the next generation and showing them that you can do this, do what you have your heart set on, and to not to give up. I am so proud of everyone who supported me, including my husband, and I am so proud to be a USF Bull.”
One aspires to become a doctor. Another wants to pursue a master’s degree in psychology to help children and families, while a third has her sights set on a career helping to advance sustainable practices. The three are set to graduate this weekend from the University of South Florida. They have something else in common, too: a love of their alma mater, the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus.
Here’s a snapshot of these three exceptional Fall 2021 USF graduates:
Gabrielle DeVita, College of Arts & Sciences
Gabrielle “Gabby” DeVita has excelled in academics since childhood, but the aspiring physician says it was a childhood tragedy that made her think about a career in medicine.
DeVita was 8 years old when her mother passed away from cancer. Though a youngster, herself, DeVita stepped in to help her father, an endodontist, and other siblings to care for one another, including a younger sister and an older brother with down syndrome.
Those early experiences would coax out her caring side while also prompting questions about the origin and treatment of various illnesses. Combined with a determination to push herself academically, DeVita excelled in school, especially when it came to science.
That same drive carried through to USF where DeVita studied biology on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. She’s on pace to graduate with a 4.0 Grade Point Average, having achieved perfect scores throughout her entire college career.
DeVita said she’s proud to attend USF and hopes to continue at USF Health after graduation to pursue a medical degree, although she might take a year off to study for the MCAT and gain more practical experience.
Currently, she works as a medical scribe at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, updating patient charts and histories and shadowing ER physicians. She said the experience is “exhilarating and fast-paced,” and it’s only confirmed her decision to become a doctor.
In fact, she says, she can’t imagine not becoming one.
“It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” DeVita said. “Growing up with a sibling with special needs, I’ve always been passionate about helping people and providing care and learning more. My whole life has been about helping others and studying. These experiences have definitely set me up for a career in medicine.”
She isn’t the only one in her family to choose a medical career. Her younger sister, currently an emergency medical technician, has expressed interest in becoming a nurse.
The only question now, says DeVita, is what area of medicine to study. Working with her brother has made her curious about pediatrics and children with special needs. But sometimes she wonders about family medicine as well. She isn’t worried, though. Medical school will help her to narrow down her choices.
“I want to go where I can make the most difference,” DeVita said. “That’s my main criteria.”
Brittany Aburto, College of Arts & Sciences
Psychology major Brittany Aburto resembles many other students at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus in one key respect: She has a strong allegiance to the campus.
“I love this campus,” she said. “You can feel the sense of community when you come onto campus. It’s special here.”
Aburto, who will graduate this month with a 3.6 GPA, said she looks forward to the next chapter of her life, but she added she’ll miss the camaraderie of the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus along with the small class sizes that enabled her to know her professors.
Aburto grew up in Bradenton. She said a desire to stay close to home and study psychology led her to the campus.
“I wanted to understand how people think and why they make the decisions they do,” she said.
She also likes the idea of helping people, and that desire was on display throughout her time at USF. Although a top student, Aburto always found time to contribute to campus life.
In addition to serving on the campus’ Book Club and Box Office Bulls, which screens movies to students, Aburto is director of the Campus Activities Board, which organizes student activities around campus.
Recently, she played a leading role in organizing the campus’ Homecoming events and “Friendsgiving” celebration, which provided a catered lunch to students, staff and faculty ahead of Thanksgiving.
For now, Aburto is applying to graduate school at USF in the hope of obtaining a master’s degree in social work. After that, she wants to either focus on helping families and children or pursue a PhD to apply her skills in the classroom. Wherever she lands, she said, she’ll always have a special place in her heart for the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus.
“This is where I got my start,” she said. “The sense of community here is so strong, and it’s from everyone: students, staff and faculty. Everyone here has your back.”
Pauline Stein, College of Arts & Sciences
German-born Pauline Stein was an exchange student when she spent her junior year of high school with a family in Durand, Wisconsin, about an hour southeast of Minneapolis. She returned to the United States a couple of years later to attend college, and now she’s poised to graduate as one of the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus’ top students.
Stein, a biology major, will graduate with a 3.98 GPA, and already she has her sights set on a master’s degree.
Stein started college at the University of Wisconsin but transferred to USF to be closer to Sarasota, where her family vacationed. The move was fortuitous, as Stein ended up falling in love with the culture of USF’s Sarasota-Manatee campus and its smaller class sizes.
“I love the experience of being here on campus and how close I’ve been able to become with my classmates and professors,” she said. “I just really appreciate the connections I’ve made here.”
She says that knowing her professors and fellow students enabled her to communicate more freely in class and grow as a student. Now, she’s looking forward to the next chapter of her life, attending graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she’ll study life sciences communications.
She said her long-term goal is to work at a university or non-profit agency, conducting research and helping to explain policies that encourage sustainable practices. She hopes to work in the United States, but she may possibly return later to Germany. She grew up in Hamburg and her family is still there.
“I want to do something where I help people and do something for the greater good,” she said.
For now, she’s preparing for graduation and her move northward. She says she’ll miss USF and in particular the Sarasota-Manatee campus.
“I made a lot of friends here, and I felt like professors here were really great,” she said. “It felt like they really care about their students.”
The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus welcomed several new faculty and staff members this past semester, including a new interim Campus Director of the College of Education, Jennifer Jacobs. Also new to the campus were Veteran Success Coordinator Chris Nothdurft and Assistant Director of Student Success Alyssa Burns.
While Burns started in her position just before the fall semester began, Nothdurft joined the campus in late October and Jacobs in November, having relocated from the Tampa campus.
In her new role, Jacobs serves on the College of Education’s leadership team to ensure excellence in teaching, research and service by faculty members on the campus. She reports to both College of Education Dean R. Anthony Rolle and Brett Kemker, regional vice chancellor and vice provost of academic affairs and student success at the Sarasota-Manatee campus.
“Dr. Kemker and I are enthusiastic about Dr. Jacobs’s appointment as interim campus director,” Rolle said. “Her background and qualifications will add unique strengths to the college’s presence on the Sarasota-Manatee campus and to USF as a whole.”
Jacobs is an associate professor of elementary education in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Learning. She joined the College of Education as a faculty member in 2013.
Her research interests focus on teacher education and specifically involve teacher learning for equity. She also serves as editor of the “Journal of Practitioner Research,” an open-access journal in the David C. Anchin Center for the Advancement of Teaching.
“I am so excited to become a part of the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus,” Jacobs said. “The faculty and staff have been so welcoming and collaborative. I look forward to building relationships with the local school districts and the community to prepare the next generation of educational leaders and elementary educators.”
For Nothdurft, joining the Office of Veteran Success represents a homecoming of sorts. The USF alum earned a bachelor’s degree in business management and master’s degree in business administration at the campus while also staying connected to its veteran community. Nothdurft served close to 10 years in the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged as a sergeant first class.
After the service, he enrolled at State College of Florida then transferred to the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus where he earned his degrees and along the way found a calling to help veterans navigate college and transition to post-military life.
But even before his new campus job he was assisting veterans, helping to launch the campus’ student-veteran work-study program and co-founding the Student Veteran Society, now the Student Veteran Association.
Now fulltime on the campus, Nothdurft is quickly making an impact. Last month, he assisted with the Paychecks for Patriots career fair at the Selby Auditorium, the Sarasota Veterans Day Parade and the campus’ Marine Corps birthday event, among others. In addition to these special projects, his daily responsibilities include helping student veterans understand their benefits, apply for college and transition to civilian life.
“A lot of what I do in this role is similar to the work I did before,” he said. “It’s all about providing premier services to students that are both inclusive and add value to the University of South Florida experience.”
Burns, assistant director of student success, comes to USF after having held a similar position at Stony Brook University in New York, where she worked as an accessibility support counselor. Now, she is the Sarasota-Manatee campus’ main point of contact for student accessibility services.
In a way, Burns is following in the footsteps of her parents. Her mother worked as a disability specialis and her father as a social worker. She said her experiences growing up gave her an appreciation for assistive technology and an interest in working with individuals with disabilities.
“Seemingly small changes to an environment can be really impactful,” said Burns, who holds a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Pace University. “It’s my job here to not only assist individuals in navigating the campus but also to help them enjoy a fulfilling experience in their studies at USF.”
Coming to USF represents a big but welcome change in her life, said Burns, who also helps to connect students to mental health services. By working on the Sarasota-Manatee campus she can get to know students on a first-name basis.
“At my previous institution, I had so many students that I had to refer to my notes to clarify which student I was working with,” she said. “But at this level, I can take a more personal approach. Also, the campus is really beautiful, and I love the small campus feel.”
The USF Muma College of Business has launched a mentoring program at the Sarasota-Manatee campus that matches students with business executives.
Called the Muma College of Business Mentor Program hosted by USF Sarasota-Manatee, the effort enables business students on any USF campus to meet and talk with executives about their career choices, industry and hiring trends or simply to seek advice as they prepare for their careers.
The program, which launched on Dec. 1, is based on a pilot project two years ago on the Sarasota-Manatee campus. USF business student Mateo Stacey is coordinating the effort.
“While it’s always important to be successful in your studies and internships, it’s also important to network, learn how to communicate on a professional level and to develop interviewing and other workplace skills,” Stacey said.
Mentors are drawn from the campus’ business partners, USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus Muma College of Business Executive Advisory Council and the Sarasota and Manatee chambers of commerce. Students and mentors can meet in person or virtually on a monthly or weekly basis, depending on the terms of their mentoring relationship.
About a half-dozen students are signed up for the program, though Stacey said he expects that number to increase next semester as more students learn about the program. Mentors will be matched with students based on the student’s area of study. Students must fill out an application, submit a resume and provide a reference letter from a faculty member.
“One of the goals of the Muma College of Business at Sarasota-Manatee for the 2021-2022 academic year is to build strong mentor program,” said Jean Kabongo, campus dean of the Muma College of Business at the Sarasota-Manatee campus. “A strong mentor program will provide our students with an exciting and challenging opportunity to connect with business leaders, increase their knowledge and build underlying skills for their future rewarding careers. The mentor program is a significant part of student success.”
“My hope is to see the program grow and have every student who graduates with a business degree equipped with practical skills and knowledge acquired through the mentor program,” Kabongo said.
For more information about the Muma Mentoring Program, contact Stacey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whether lecturing about information security or organizing a summer camp to encourage girls to explore careers in technology, Professor Giti Javidi finds a way to relate to students and in the process brings clarity to complex subjects.
A professor in the School of Information Systems and Management in the Muma College of Business, Javidi teaches courses in Human Computer Interaction and Information Security and Risk Management. She also directs the college’s Information Assurance and Cybersecurity Management (IACM) program.
But it’s her approach to teaching that stands out most, and it seems the Sarasota-Manatee campus’ students agree. This semester, the Student Government Association has named Javidi the campus’ Outstanding Professor.
Presented on behalf of graduating seniors at USF’s Sarasota-Manatee campus, the Outstanding Professor Award represents the highest campus-level honor for faculty, recognizing exceptional accomplishments, leadership and service to the campus and community.
“This is very surprising, and I am incredibly happy and humbled,” Javidi said of the award. “I consider myself very privileged because I get to do what I love every single day. I think the best reward for any professor is the appreciation of their students.”
In addition to her work at USF, Javidi frequently engages in community outreach and has held several summer camps to help high school girls learn more about technology-based careers. Lately, she’s been focused on building Muma’s new IACM program, which equips students with unique skills to pursue high-paying cybersecurity jobs.
Of her teaching style, Javidi said she seeks to show students “confidence, respect, empathy, kindness and success by example.”
Jean Kabongo, campus dean of the Muma College of Business at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, said of her, “We are grateful to have Dr. Javidi as a colleague. She is a dedicated professor and is clearly able to connect with students across all business majors. She conducts face-to-face classroom sessions, online classes and a hybrid blend to meet our students’ needs.”
A USF alumna, Javidi joined the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus in 2016 after serving as a computer science professor in the College of Engineering at Virginia State University for 12 years. She was named an associate professor at USF in 2018 and full professor in 2020, the same year she was appointed program director of the IACM program, which is hosted at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus.
“I think the most rewarding part of my job is the deep pleasure of leaving a legacy through the students I have influenced,” she said. “The thing I find the most gratifying is getting an unexpected thank-you email from a former student who was grateful for a class I taught or the mentorship I provided many years ago, saying how it changed the trajectory of their careers. There is nothing more rewarding than being appreciated by your students.”
The University of South Florida Trail Blazers Scholarship program is making a difference in the lives of graduate students who work with faculty mentors from the Sarasota-Manatee campus.
A Nov. 29 reception at the Culinary Innovation Lab in Lakewood Ranch was held to celebrate the program’s students – Moez Farokhnia Hamedani, Dhanashree Rawalgaonkar, Amanda Connella, Tram Tran, Cruz Reyes and Mark Lane-Holbert – and to hear about their projects. The students gave an overview and talked about the anticipated impact of their work.
“The Trail Blazer Scholarship Award winners are a group of amazing young scholars, engaging with their faculty mentors in sophisticated and highly impactful research across a variety of disciplines,” said Sandra Stone, assistant dean of graduate studies at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus.
“As we continue to build research capacity on the Sarasota-Manatee campus, it is an honor to support these students in their projects, each of which addresses a significant individual and/or social issue,” Stone said. “We wish them the best and look forward to hearing the results of their projects at the end of the academic year.”
The program, which launched in 2020, provides scholarships of up to $10,000 to master’s degree students and $25,000 to doctoral students. Students can participate from any USF campus, although the program involves Sarasota-Manatee faculty only. This year, students are working with mentors in business, biochemistry, criminology, audiology and education.
“I’m grateful for the Trail Blazer Scholarship, as the program provided financial support and allowed me to work closely with a faculty mentor to conduct my studies,” said Tran Hoang Huyen Tram, a doctoral candidate in behavioral and community sciences. “I utilized this unique opportunity to expand my research and create impact. As my goal is to become an independent researcher who conducts quality research at a global level, the scholarship helped me to gain experiences and improve skills in conducting research through mentorship.”
The year-old scholarship program is funded through the Office of Research on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus.
“A true point of pride is that graduate faculty work closely with their students to encourage the active pursuit of their passions, and we are delighted that so many USF graduate students have chosen a faculty from the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus as a mentor,” said Sandra Justice, associate director, USF Research & Innovation, Sarasota-Manatee campus.
Brunch on the Bay reunites friends, alumni as event sets fundraising record on its return to USF Sarasota-Manatee campus
Brunch on the Bay, one of the most popular social events of the season, made a splash on its return to the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus last month, raising a record $500,000 for student scholarships.
Set on the campus’ scenic grounds, the two-hour gala hosted 600 guests who were free to mingle and enjoy an array of 20 food stations run by the finest local restaurants and caterers in the region. USF Federal Credit Union served as the event’s title sponsor and Elizabeth Moore served as the chairperson.
USF Spirit Squad cheerleaders greeted guests as they entered through the FCCI rotunda, and a jazz band provided entertainment under the main tent. Interim USF President Rhea Law, Campus Board members and numerous state and local legislators were on hand as well. Since the first Brunch in 1994, the event has hosted more than 23,000 attendees whose contributions have provided more than 2,000 scholarships.
“This is such a wonderful event because it really demonstrates the connection this campus has to the Sarasota-Manatee region,” USF Sarasota-Manatee campus Regional Chancellor Karen A. Holbrook said.
However, for many, the event’s most appealing feature is its ability to reunite friends and alumni in a congenial atmosphere while also helping students achieve their dreams of a college education.
“There is really something special about Brunch,” said Campus Board member and alumna Dr. Anila Jain, who was among the first organizers of Brunch and will serve as co-chairperson of next year’s Brunch, along with her mother, Dr. Mona Jain. “I’ve been to many events around the community, but there’s nothing like Brunch on the Bay. It holds a special place in my heart, and I look forward to it every year.”
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