Students perform an experiment at USFSM's classrooms at Mote Marine Laboratory.

40th Anniversary in Focus: USFSM-Mote collaboration key to unlocking biology program

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: April 04, 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 usfsm.edu/anniversary.

Before USF Sarasota-Manatee launched a biology degree program and welcomed its first freshman class, the campus was busy sowing seeds.

The first were planted in 2009 when Dr. Jane Rose, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, met Mote Marine Laboratory Research Director Dr. Ernie Estevez at a party to celebrate a collaborative research initiative between the institutions.

Over glasses of wine the two mulled how to build on that initiative to create something grander: A USFSM partnership to bring a high-quality, research-intensive undergraduate biology degree program to Southwest Florida.

Fast-forward to August 2013. After forging a Memorandum of Understanding with Mote and investing $1.5 million, USFSM debuted its state-of-the-art teaching laboratories at Mote’s facility on City Island in Sarasota.

By the fall, the campus had introduced its first science classes and by August 2014 enrolled its inaugural biology majors – a first step toward a robust STEM program.

Former Regional Chancellor Dr. Arthur Guilford said he felt it “essential” to develop a science program because the sciences feed other fields of study, but several obstacles remained.

Dr. Rose, who helped develop the memorandum, remembers pondering a complex question before the labs were constructed: How to build a science program and attract high-quality educators where no program existed before.

“A big problem is that science is done in a community, so we had to figure out how do we attract those first scientists to build a scientific community?” she asked.

The agreement with Mote, a world-renowned research institution, helped because it enabled USFSM to fast-track its building plans while providing a community of scientists with which to collaborate, conduct research and seek grants. That collaboration also helped to attract more faculty to USFSM.

That August, USFSM’s science faculty debuted with two biologists, two chemists and five courtesy faculty members from Mote. Within a year, the college’s “community” had expanded to three biologists, three chemists, a physicist plus more courtesy faculty and post-docs from Mote.

“Our partnership with Mote Marine has been the keystone in our creation of a unique research-intensive undergraduate program,” Dr. Rose said. “In addition to pursuing research with our fulltime biology faculty, USFSM students take classes from fulltime research scientists involved in projects of international significance.

“Further, USFSM students have the opportunity to compete for paid research internships at Mote,” she said. “These are amazing opportunities for undergraduate students that give USFSM graduates a competitive edge as they go forward in pursuit of careers in science.”

“It just made sense for both sides,” former Regional Chancellor Dr. Arthur Guilford said of the agreement. “For them, being affiliated with a state university opened the door to grant possibilities. For us, it made sense to utilize their people to benefit our students and attract new faculty.”

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