40th Anniversary: USFSM-Mote Marine Partnership

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.

Dr. Rose, who helped develop the Memorandum of Understanding, remembers pondering a complex question in those early years before the labs: How to build a science program and attract high-quality educators where no program existed before?

“As a state university, if we were to build our own labs from the ground up we would have had to go through a whole process of building plans and waiting 10 years to try to secure funding. Another big problem was 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?”

The agreement with Mote, a world-renowned research institution, addressed both issues by allowing USFSM to fast-track its building plans while providing the new science faculty at USFSM a larger community of scientists with whom to collaborate, conduct research and seek grants.

That August, USFSM’s science faculty debuted with two biologists, two chemists and five courtesy faculty members from Mote Marine. But within a year, the college’s “community” was already expanding, growing to three biologists, three chemists, a physicist and several more courtesy faculty, as well as courtesy 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. These are amazing opportunities for undergraduate students that give USFSM graduates a competitive edge as they go forward in pursuit of careers in science.”

Former Regional Chancellor Dr. Arthur Guilford said that early on he felt it was “essential” to develop a science program because the sciences feed numerous other fields of study.

“It just made sense for both sides,” he said of the Mote 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.”

To read more USF Sarasota-Manatee’s 40th Anniversary, visit http://usfsm.edu/anniversary/.