USFSM is creating a women's rowing team.

40th Anniversary in Focus: Student clubs create vibrant campus life, active alumni

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: February 22, 2016

Editor’s note: The story here is part of a series of 40 stories commemorating USF Sarasota-Manatee’s 40th anniversary this academic year. For more about USFSM’s history, please visit

With fewer students and a shared campus, it’s hardly surprising that only a handful of student clubs existed 12 years ago when Darren Gambrell was busy taking psych classes at USF Sarasota-Manatee.

Back then, the USFSM Class of ’06 alumnus and other students shared space with New College of Florida and most classes were scheduled at night to accommodate students holding 9-to-5 jobs.

In addition to his studies, Gambrell worked with student government and belonged to Circle K International, a Kiwanis-based service organization. He’s hard-pressed to name other on-campus student organizations, although a few existed.

That’s a far cry from today’s 35 student-centered clubs and societies, including the Rowing Club, Film Society, Matadors co-ed softball team and Sigma Alpha Omega sorority. The proliferation of clubs, mostly over the last five years, has helped create a more robust student life at USFSM.

“One of the biggest contributors to the change is that now we have a space of our own,” said Gambrell, coordinator of student engagement at USFSM. “Before, we had to share space at New College. Now, we have a whole campus we can call our own.”

Also contributing were the additions of sophomore and freshman classes in 2012 and 2013.

With their growth, Gambrell said, the clubs are becoming increasingly important to USFSM student life. In addition to connecting classmates, they offer students opportunities to lead others, initiate new traditions and explore interests outside the classroom, whether academic or athletic – all while building their résumés.

Students can opt for whatever activity is close to their hearts: academic pursuits, cultural identity, athleticism, volunteerism, campus government, civic causes or off-campus community engagement.

Also, students involved in campus clubs are more likely to stay in college and graduate, Gambrell said. “You’re meeting people and doing things you’ll never forget.”

And as these students shift from scholastic to social activities, the clubs promote school pride. In a way, they help to create future boosters.

“These students build strong bonds with USFSM,” said Jay Riley, program director of student alumni engagement. “The ones who are most engaged with USFSM as students end up being active alumni and return not only to connect with fellow alumni, but also to make an impact on the students here. By participating in clubs, these students end up creating lifelong friendships. These Bulls stay together.”

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