University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee



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Cayla Lanier pays it forward in the Judy Genshaft Honors College

By Georgia Jackson, University Communications and Marketing

For Cayla Lanier, the assistant dean and campus director for the Judy Genshaft Honors College on the Sarasota-Manatee campus, it’s the depth and breadth of the conversations she sparks with students that makes her work meaningful. A graduate of the college, herself, Lanier’s passion for mentorship and fostering curiosity both in and out of the classroom is what brought her back to USF in 2008 and continues to motivate her to create engaging programs for students at USF and beyond.

"I was the first in my family to go to college and, while I was surrounded with love and support, I relied heavily on my college mentors to guide me through college and into my career,” said Lanier, who has committed herself to paying forward the gift of mentorship in her role in the Judy Genshaft Honors College and in the community, where she supports student success through a variety of programs, including the Mock Trial Intensive, which supports high school students as they learn the step by step process of court proceedings; Camp at College, an arts-integrated literary experience for rising fifth, sixth and seventh graders; and Dive into Reading, an award-winning literacy program.

“I love working with students of all ages,” Lanier said. “I take every chance I can to encourage young people to go to college and pursue their dreams.”

This summer, Lanier accompanied a group of USF students to the Dominican Republic, where they worked with a small team of nurses and doctors to bring health care services to rural communities.

“One of my favorite aspects of teaching in the Judy Genshaft Honors College is the ability to prompt critical thinking about new ideas — or seeing old ideas in new ways — and seeing the way they connect the ideas to their own lives,” Lanier said of her students. "During our 10 days in the Dominican Republic, there are lots of opportunities to connect classroom lessons with real-life observations. But more than that, there are opportunities for personal reflection and one-on-one conversations about the important matters of life — how to pick a career you love, how to navigate relationships, how to integrate your parents’ values with your own.”

Students in the Judy Genshaft Honors College on the Sarasota-Manatee campus speak highly of Lanier’s “welcoming” and “bright” personality and the invaluable support she provides.

“Dr. Lanier’s energy, positivity and engagement is phenomenal,” said Dylan Schmucker, a fourth-year biology major. “She taught us so much about different ways to live your life, and she is open to many different perspectives on the world and society."

Angela Perez Cruz, a third-year student double majoring in biomedical sciences and psychology, cited Lanier’s “excellent” guidance and support as reasons for joining the college.

“The Sarasota-Manatee campus already provides a really intimate environment where friendships between students and even our professors are incomparable,” Perez Cruz said. “And the Honors College strengthens our bonds.” 

Schmucker and Perez Cruz are two of 35 students enrolled in the honors college on the Sarasota-Manatee campus. Lanier hopes to grow that number to 85 over the next five years.

Lanier is also working to expand the offerings  of USF’s Women in Leadership and Philanthropy program and scholarships to ensure young women continue to receive the same support and guidance that was so central to her own USF experience.

“I was blessed with incredible mentors at USF,” Lanier said. “It’s my joy to support the next generation of Bulls.”

Boundless Bulls is a collection of stories about what truly makes USF great — the people. It is a focus on our community footprint, our impact and the trajectory of where we can go together. To nominate a member of the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus community for Boundless Bulls, please fill out the submission form

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