University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee Campus



October Campus Insider

Campus Insider October 2021

Alumni Spotlight: Insurance executive Deb Franklin is helping to grow Muma’s School of Risk Management and Insurance

Deb Franklin

Deb Franklin

Deb Franklin, the newest member of the advisory board to the University of South Florida’s School of Risk Management and Insurance (RMI), has come full circle in her relationship with USF.

A Muma College of Business Executive MBA graduate, ’14, Franklin was the lone insurance industry executive during her time in the program and, as such, was subject to playful ribbing from classmates from other professions.

Now, however, Franklin is back where she started – and playing a key role in helping to build up the fledgling RMI School.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Franklin, who was appointed chair of the RMI advisory board soon after joining in August. “There’s an affinity now. I feel like a Floridian giving back to Florida, which is important for me.”

Born and raised in Tampa, Franklin built on the confidence gained from her MBA experience to pursue higher-level executive positions, eventually landing her in New York and Chicago. But she had long set her sights on returning to Florida, and when Chicago-based investment firm PEAK6 presented her with an opportunity to launch her own insurance company in the Sarasota-Manatee area – just a short drive from where she grew up – she jumped at the opportunity.

What’s more, the move presented another tempting option, a chance to tackle an issue that’s long bothered her and other insurance professionals: the lack of young, up-and-coming talent in the industry.

Franklin says that not surprisingly many young professionals regard the insurance business as “old and stodgy,” even though in many respects the profession is as modern as any, with openings ranging from data coding and systems architecture to high-paying analyst and actuarial jobs.

“We don’t attract young talent because we’re not good at telling them about the broad range of jobs that are available,” Franklin said. “All of these positions exist within insurance, and we’re missing the boat in not getting enough young people to know more about our industry.”

As it happened, a former professor of Franklin’s, Irene Hurst of the USF Muma College of Business, knew of someone who felt the same way: Steven Miller, director of the RMI School at Muma. And like Franklin, Miller was committed to drawing young talent to the profession.

After exchanging a few emails, the two met for lunch where Miller laid out his plans for the RMI School. The meeting turned out to be fortuitous in more ways than one. Not only did Miller find a kindred spirit in Franklin, but when an opening arose on the RMI School’s advisory board shortly afterward, Franklin was only too happy to put her name forward. It turned out to be the right move; she was as enthusiastic about building up the RMI School as he was.

“Our RMI program partners with industry to serve USF’s diverse, talented and hard-working students,” Miller said. “Scholarships, mentorships and internships will help our students find RMI career opportunities that fit their interests and goals. It’s so rewarding to connect students with meaningful, high-paying career opportunities. We’re in the business of changing lives.”

Introduced as a minor at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus in 2015, the RMI program was expanded to a bachelor’s degree program in 2017 after employers asked campus leaders to help to address the industry-wide shortage of qualified risk management professionals. The program joined the Muma College of Business as the School of Risk Management and Insurance in 2020.

Miller, who had successfully launched an RMI major at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and had worked for years in the industry as a consultant, was appointed director the program.

Among his many previous assignments were stints at Aon and Marsh, where he helped corporate risk managers leverage data and systems resources to meet their risk-management objectives. During this time, he gained extensive international experience managing consulting engagements worldwide, which is now enabling him to bring a global perspective to his current role at the RMI School.

USF’s RMI initiative represents a new and different challenge, though, as Miller looks to expand the program, create a talent pipeline and forge relationships with companies to generate endowments and internship opportunities, which is why Franklin’s assistance is all the more welcoming.

Miller and Franklin aim to create an RMI program that reflects the diverse nature of USF’s student body. With 40 percent of USF students eligible for Pell Grants, the university has been recognized nationally as a “Top University for Social Mobility” by “U.S. News & World Report” for providing access and enabling success for lower- and middle-income students as they achieve their degrees.

“Deb’s leadership and energy will help us to accelerate the growth and impact of our program,” he said.

The two see the RMI program not only as beneficial to employers locally, but also to companies regionally as one of only a handful of university-level RMI programs across the southeastern United States.

Because of this RMI talent pipeline, the USF program is expected to attract more and larger employers to the area, further aiding the local economy. As for students entering the program, they’ll find a robust menu of rigorous and challenging courses to prepare them for many career opportunities available in insurance.

High demand and limited supply have made RMI an exciting option, says Miller. The RMI industry employs more than 2.7 million people nationwide and is steadily growing.

Supply of RMI talent is limited with less than 10 universities in the United States graduating more than 50 RMI students annually, according to a “Business Insurance” magazine 2017 survey. RMI majors are highly prized in an industry facing such a large talent gap. Additionally, the industry generates significant demand for workers with a varied skillsets, including business majors, engineering, computer science, data science, law, criminal justice and health.

Franklin says she’s excited to lend a hand to grow the RMI program. She hopes to attract endowments, create partnerships with other executives and provide jobs and internships at her company, PEAK6 InsurTech, a subsidiary of PEAK6 that includes National Flood Services and Team Focus, and with other insurers locally. She’s also open to mentoring opportunities and even stepping into the classroom occasionally as a guest speaker.

Working again with USF has stirred up memories of her grad school days, she says. Having gone through the university’s Executive MBA program enables her to think about RMI education from the perspective of both a student and as a successful executive.

“This university gave me the foundation and the confidence to know that I can succeed,” Franklin said. “Going through the MBA program and being able to tell these students, ‘Look at me. I’m an example of what you can do after earning your degree,’ gives them a unique perspective of what is possible.

“These students in the RMI program are on the cusp of phenomenal careers,” she said. “We want to catapult them forward and get them there faster.”

USF Sarasota-Manatee campus staff recognized during awards ceremony

Denise Davis-Cotton

Denise Davis-Cotton

The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus was well represented during the recent USF Outstanding Staff Awards ceremony, with Denise Davis-Cotton and Janine Palmer receiving individual honors and Timi Hager and Aaron Reecher achieving recognition in the team categories.

USF Interim President Rhea Law began the ceremony, held virtually on Sept. 23, calling USF staff “the heartbeat of the university.”

“I’ve really come to appreciate all of the work that’s been done and the support given as we’re going through COVID and such difficult times,” Law said. “We have all pulled together as One USF, and I am pleased that these awards today are across the university, that we have great people in all locations.”

Davis-Cotton, program director of the Florida Center for Partnership for Arts Integrated Teaching (PAInT), received individual recognition, representing the Sarasota-Manatee campus. Davis-Cotton was honored for her role helping to advance arts-integrated instruction, both on campus and within the community.

“There is so much to say about Denise, but let me just say that she is a star and our campus is incredibly fortunate that she is with us as a scholar, as a colleague and as a wonderful friend,” campus Regional Chancellor Karen A. Holbrook said during congratulatory remarks.

Also achieving individual honors was Janine Palmer, fiscal and business analyst in the College of Arts & Sciences. Palmer was acknowledged for her “behind-the-scenes” role during the merger and creation of the college.

Hager, associate director of E-Learning Services, and Reecher, an academic advisor, were both honored in team categories. Hager was recognized in the category of “Innovative Education and College of Arts & Sciences,” and Reecher was honored in the “Student Services and Muma College of Business” category.

Jen Fleischman and Gina Marie Lombardi, both of the Tampa campus, were recognized as USF staff employees of the year.

For more about the USF 2021 Outstanding Staff Awards, click here.

Judy Genshaft Honors College at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus holds convocation

Honors College

 Judy Genshaft Honors College

The Judy Genshaft Honors College at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus held a convocation ceremony last week for new and returning students, its first such convocation since the college was introduced to the campus last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we return to a more normal way of doing things at the university, it is especially gratifying to be able to come together in this room, in person, to see each other’s faces and begin to create an honors community on the campus,” said Cayla Lanier, campus director for the Honors College at the Sarasota-Manatee campus.

The event, held Oct. 1 in the campus’ Selby Auditorium, served as a formal welcoming to the honors students. It coincided with a larger, virtual ceremony broadcast from the university’s Tampa campus to St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee and featured such distinguished guests as USF Interim President Rhea Law, Provost Ralph Wilcox and President Emeritus Judy Genshaft, who was accompanied by her husband, Steven Greenbaum.

Walking to the podium to rousing applause, Genshaft told the assembled students that, “Your success is our success.”

“We want to do everything that we can to make sure that each and every one of you has the best experience ever and follows the career of your choice, because you have it all open to you right now,” she said from the Tampa campus.

Genshaft and Greenbaum donated $20 million toward construction of the Honors College building, located next to the Muma College of Business in Tampa. The $54 million, 85,000-square-foot facility is expected to open in spring 2023.

In his address, keynote speaker Frederick M. Lawrence, CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s most prestigious honor society, referenced the impressive project. However, the bulk of his remarks was reserved for the college’s students and focused on the importance of engaged citizenship, which is the theme for special events and courses within the Judy Genshaft Honors College this year.

“Protecting the right to vote is essential, but it’s not enough. That right has to be exercised for a democracy to be sustained and flourish,” Lawrence told the group. “An accessible and inclusive liberal arts education allows us to embrace the openness of mind and spirit that are essential for a self-governing people in a democratic society.”

The Judy Genshaft Honors College is home to more than 2,700 students, including 28 honors students on the Sarasota-Manatee campus. Of those, 13 are freshman, or first-time-in-college students, who began their classes at USF this fall. Many attended the in-person ceremony in Selby, saying they wanted to meet other students and hear from the college’s faculty. All of the attendees wore face coverings.

“I’m glad that they presented us with a message to motivate us as much as possible and let us know that they’re there for us,” said first-time-in-college student Angela Perez Cruz, who is considering medical school. “That was very comforting for us to know, especially when we have such big aspirations and dreams, that they’ll be able to guide us.” 

She added: “I want to be able to reach my full potential and I know that the Honors College will help me to reach the highest peak that I can academically, but also in terms of community service and inspiring good citizenship.”

Perez Cruz was joined in Selby by about a dozen students, who watched the interactive program. Also attending, along with Lanier, were deans from the campus’ various colleges and campus Regional Chancellor Karen A. Holbrook, who lauded the Judy Genshaft Honors College and the convocation ceremony, which was cancelled last year due to the pandemic.

“I think it’s important that we recognize the value of this program, not just for the students but for the university as a whole,” Holbrook said. “Having this program in a visible, formalized way makes a big difference. You can see the vibrancy when you bring people together and see how they interact. We’re all wearing masks, but we’re all able to talk to each other and see each other, so I think this is very important and I’m so glad that we did this.”

Student Government coordinates Food for Thought event to gather feedback about health and wellness resources



The USF Sarasota-Manatee campus Student Government hosted a Food for Thought event to engage with students, while gathering relevant information to better serve the campus community. The topic was health and wellness.

“During the climate of COVID-19, we really want to know what students think right now and how we can help them have a better experience here,” said Riffatul Islam, Sarasota-Manatee campus student governor.

Students completed an online survey in exchange for food. The survey will provide student feedback on health and wellness resources USF currently offers, as well as additional resources students would like implemented.

A variety of questions related to physical health, mental health and campus resources were included in the survey. Results showed a high interest in counseling services, stress relief resources and additional self-care events.

The feedback provided by these surveys will help shape Student Government initiatives to support the overall wellbeing of students at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. The findings will also be shared with the St. Petersburg and Tampa student government branches to help serve the whole USF community.

View a recap of the event here. Future Food for Thought events are being planned. Visit the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus student government webpage to learn more about their initiatives, events and activities.

Recent USF hospitality graduate publishes article

Recent USF hospitality graduate Susan Varga is getting an early start to a promising academic career. The summer 2020 graduate of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management in the Muma College of Business had an article featured in the prestigious International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management (Emerald Publishing).

Susan Varga

Susan Varga

A master’s program graduate, Varga worked with hospitality professors Trishna G. Mistry, Faizan Ali and Cihan Cobanoglu to write the article, Employee Perceptions of Wellness Programs in the Hospitality Industry, published last month.

“I cannot properly express in words the gratitude I have for all the help I received from Dr. Mistry, Dr. Ali and Dr. Cobanoglu in getting this paper from an idea to a semester project to a published article,” said Varga, a PhD student in the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida.

“The business of writing research papers is very different from the business of hospitality, and anyone who has mastered both of those skills is bound to be admirable,” she said. “I’m still getting used to switching between those skills at this point in my career, but it’s wonderful watching how effortless it is for my mentors.”

The article looked at employee wellness programs at hospitality businesses, comparing the companies’ claims about the programs with employees' perceptions of them. The article was inspired partly by Varga’s experiences working in hospitality, which was demanding at times, she said. 

Trishna G. Mistry

Trisha G. Mistry

“One of the key takeaways from this research was that employees generally do have positive opinions of the wellness programs offered at work, and that this positive perception increases when they also have a positive opinion of how supportive their organizations are to them in general,” Varga said.

Mistry, who served as Varga’s thesis chair at the time, said she was impressed by her former student.

“She had such passion for the topic, and because of that passion I became fascinated by the topic as well and suggested she try to have her article published,” Mistry said. “That’s something we encourage in our graduate students, especially those who want to pursue academic careers. I’m extremely proud of Susan.”

LASA celebrates Hispanic culture at USF Sarasota-Manatee campus

Genesis Riveria-Marrero

Genesis Riveria-Marrero

A celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month kicked off this week on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus with Café con LASA, a fun mixer where students, staff and faculty enjoyed Latin-style coffee, pastries, hot chocolate and other sweets while learning more about Hispanic culture and the campus chapter of LASA, the Latin American Student Association.

“In the Hispanic culture, coffee and pastries are in every household, and no matter where you come from, the first thing you will be offered in a Hispanic household is coffee or sweets,” said Genesis Rivera-Marrero, an elementary education major and president of LASA’s campus chapter. “Having an event like this helps us feel more connected to our roots on the campus and connect with other Hispanic students.”

The event, held Monday in the Student Commons, was one of several USF events connected to Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated annually nationwide from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Visit the Office of Multicultural Affairs to learn more about USF events connected to Hispanic Heritage Month.

The LASA chapter, which is comprised of 40 active members, is open to Latino and non-Latino students and meets every other Monday from 5 to 6 p.m. The association is sponsoring several more events in coming weeks, including a salsa class on Oct. 26 from 4 to 6 p.m. and a Nov. 1 celebration of Día de Muertos, traditionally observed Nov. 1-2 in Mexico and other Latin American countries.

As part of Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Rivera-Marrero said organizers are considering a craft table and possibly a small “ofrenda,” where students can leave pictures of deceased loved ones.

To learn more about the USF Sarasota-Manatee student chapter of LASA, visit the group’s Instagram page at @lasausfsm.

USF holds successful fundraising dinner to support hospitality students, next event scheduled for Dec. 1

Hospitality Dinner Series


Supporters of the USF School of Hospitality and Tourism Management in the Muma College of Business filled the Powel Crosley Estate in Sarasota recently as the school held a successful benefit dinner to support student scholarships and the school’s hospitality program.

Taste of the Past – Flavors of Today, held on Sept. 15 at the estate, 8374 N Tamiami Trail, which is next to the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, was the first of three such dinners.

“All of the proceeds that we receive will be used to support our students in their educational experiences and for scholarships,” Cihan Cobanoglu, interim dean of the hospitality school, said. “But these events are not just for fundraising purposes. They provide our students with hands-on experience to help them in their education and later in their careers.”

During the event, the students oversaw the dining room and tended to patrons. Each was enrolled in either the Restaurant Management, Introduction to Food Production Management or Event Management course. The university’s hospitality school is based at the Sarasota-Manatee campus.

“It really is amazing what I’ve been able to learn on the academic side of hospitality and apply that to real-life experiences,” one of the students, senior Patrycja Brylska, said of the event.

Another student, sophomore Paolo Dicanio, said, “The USF Sarasota-Manatee campus gives me the experience and the knowledge that I need to become something great within the industry.”

Sarasota-based Milan Catering and Event Design catered the dinner, which was attended by about 75 patrons. To learn more about the event, a video is available here.

The next benefit dinner is schedule for Dec. 1. Visit for ticket information. Or, to learn more, contact Fran Bryant: or (941) 359-4311.

“These students of hospitality are the future leaders of our industry,” Cobanoglu said.


The USF Enlightenment Workshop Series continues on Tuesday, Oct. 12, from noon to 1 p.m., with a virtual discussion about anti-Blackness in society, including how anti-Blackness relates to systemic racism and how to develop practical strategies to identify and dismantle anti-Blackness and systemic racism.

The discussion, to be held virtually on Microsoft Teams, will feature Theresa Chisolm, vice provost for strategic planning, performance and accountability; Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, senior advisor to the president and provost for diversity and inclusion, associate professor of sociology; Angela Sklenka, chief human resources officer; and Valeria Garcia, associate vice president.

The workshop is free. To register, visit here. For more information about the series, contact Ruthmae Sears at

The Enlightenment Workshop Series, organized by the Black Employee Steering Committee with support from the Institute on Black Life and Black Faculty & Staff Association, presents the discussions, which are designed to foster a culture of inclusive excellence at USF. The sessions began in 2020.

The talks feature a range of speakers from across USF. Upcoming discussions featuring speakers from the Sarasota-Manatee campus include: Denise Davis-Cotton (Jan. 18, 2022), Marie Byrd (March 8, 2022) and Corey Posey (April 12, 2022).

Visit the Enlightenment Workshop Series for more information.

Article by USF Professor Kathy Black published in The Gerontologist

Kathy Black

Dr. Kathy Black

USF Professor Kathy Black examines the advantages of communities working together to help their age-friendly programs grow and become more successful in Theories of Community Collaboration to Advance Age-Friendly Community Change, published in the Sept. 16 issue of “The Gerontologist.”

Co-written by Emily A. Greenfield and Althea Pestine-Stevens, both of the Rutgers University Graduate School of Social Work, and Patricia Oh of the University of Maine Center on Aging, the article explores how communities – members of the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities – can work together to become more age-friendly.

Communities within the WHO network agree to enact policies and practices to help their citizens live healthy, active and engaged lives across their lifespans. Some of these might include removing physical barriers, improving mobility and adding programs to allow for greater social interaction.

In their article, the researchers demonstrate the value of drawing on theories of community collaboration to assist age-friendly community efforts across engagement, planning, implementation and measurement.

In particular, they focus on three theories – Asset-Based Community Development, Strategic Doing™, and Collective Impact – each with principles and strategies for guiding multi-sector group processes toward long-term and systematic community change.

“’While the global model is well-intended to improve community life for people of all life stages and abilities, the model doesn't dictate how communities can or should work together,” said Black, a professor of aging studies and social work at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. “My colleagues and I aimed to provide some guidance on multi-sector collaboration to guide implementation of the model.”

All of the researchers are experienced in age-friendly work on local, state and national levels and used their insights, along with research and collaborative writing, to produce the article for the journal’s special issue.

“It was a pleasure working with my colleagues on this paper,” Black said. “They are leading scholars and practitioners in the field, and we believe our contribution will advance the age-friendly work for communities as well as the broader movement.”

Brunch on the Bay returns to the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus Nov. 7

Brunch on the Bay welcomes the community back to the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus on Sunday, Nov. 7. Attendees will enjoy tastes from some of the area’s best restaurants and live jazz music from USF students – all while supporting student scholarships.

View this special message from Richard Skaggs, president and CEO of USF Federal Credit Union, the Brunch on the Bay title sponsor.

This year’s Brunch on the Bay and Badger Bob’s Scholarship recipient is Jennifer Eubanks.

“Scholarships and Brunch on the Bay have been an important part of my success. I couldn’t be where I am today without them,” Eubanks said. “Being able to take the stress of the financial burden away and truly being able to focus on my studies has reaffirmed my decision to go back to school, and it’s made all the difference in the world.”

For Jennifer and numerous other USF students, scholarships have helped turn dreams of a college education and enriching career into a reality. To hear Jennifer’s story,  click on the video link here.

To learn more about Brunch on the Bay, visit or contact Pam Gleason at or 941-359-4603. Limited tickets and sponsorships are available. 

Climate conference set for Nov. 19 at USF Sarasota-Manatee campus

Bob Bunting

Bob Bunting

The Sarasota-based Climate Adaptation Center (CAC), led by noted climate scientist Bob Bunting, will host a daylong conference at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus on Nov. 19, featuring a range of climate experts and a special discussion about climate change on Florida’s West Coast.

The event, the 2021 Florida Climate Forecast Conference, will include several notable speakers including, among others:

  • T.H. Culhane, director of climate change and sustainability, Patel College of Global Sustainability, USF
  • Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, senior resident fellow for climate and energy program, Third Way; former chief economist, U.S. Department of Commerce; former chief economist, Ford Motor Company
  • Robert Corell, director of the CAC and a climate scientist who contributed to the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an organization that was co-awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize 
  • Bob Bunting, a climate scientist and chairman and CEO of the Climate Adaptation Center 
  • Whit Remer, sustainability manager, City of Tampa
  • John Lewis, administrator, Sarasota County
  • Chris Castro, sustainability manager, City of Orlando, among others.
Robert Corell

Robert Corell

Hughes-Cromwick will deliver the keynote address: “Clean Electrification, Getting to Net-Zero and Pitfalls: Why We Are Not Trading One Problem for Another.”

Karen Holbrook, regional chancellor, USF Sarasota-Manatee campus; David Kotok, chairman and chief investment officer, Cumberland Advisors; and William Kennedy, vice chair of programs, Global Interdependence Center, will provide opening remarks.

Among the topics will be a special discussion about climate change on Florida’s West Coast and forecasts for the state for 2030, 2040 and 2050. The sessions also will explore:

  • The frequency of hurricanes, their characteristics including intensity, duration, storm surge and related issues 
  • The outlook for red tide, with more frequent and longer-lasting blooms and their impacts on human health 
  • The magnitude of sea level rise 
  • Seasonal day and night temperatures 
  • The issue of low-probability but high-impact events 
  • Investments and investing in light of these forecasts 

In addition to the discussions about forecasts and their impacts, the panelists will explore the reasons behind the changing climate.

Several more discussions are planned as well, including sessions that examine the economic impact of climate change and possible government responses. The conference will be held at the campus’ Selby Auditorium, 8350 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, starting at 8 a.m. with a continental breakfast. A buffet lunch will be held at noon. The cost of the conference is $65.

Visit here to register and for more information.

Media Links

Survey rates population growth, new development as most important issue facing Sarasota County

How will climate change impact the West Coast of Florida?

Up Close with USF Sarasota-Manatee Regional campus Chancellor Karen Holbrook

Sarasota EDC appoints new board members

Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative receives grant from Gulf Coast Community Foundation for its “Visions in Black” initiative

Tampa Bay area marks 20th anniversary of 9/11

USF Sarasota-Manatee campus planted 2,977 flags to memorialize 9/11 victims

Rents in Bradenton area rank among the nation’s least-affordable, according to study

It looked like a horror movie’: Firefighter recalls chaos of 9/11 attacks

Too young to remember Sept. 11 themselves, students reflect on lives lost

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