USF At 50: A Bullish Future Beckons

The year was 1956.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was re-elected president. Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco. The Yankees beat the (Brooklyn) Dodgers in the World Series. Rocky Marciano retired undefeated. “My Fair Lady” debuted on Broadway. “The King and I” was a box office smash. Elvis Presley recorded “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”

And the University of South Florida was born.

For those of us older than USF, was that a fast 50 or what?

For those of you younger, yes, there really were “Sandspur U” sobriquets back in the day. And, indeed, there was a time when athletics maxed out with intramural championships. And any reference to USF seemingly required an almost apologetic “commuter school” qualifier. USF wasn’t Florida; it wasn’t Florida State; it wasn’t even IN South Florida.

Now it’s the second largest public university in the Southeast, with more than 43,000 students. By 2010, 6,000 will be living on the Tampa campus.

USF is a 21st century research university that is a big-time player in a major metro market and anchors one end of the I-4 tech corridor. It is known to the National Science Foundation as one of the two fastest growing research universities in the country. Research funding now totals nearly $350 million.

USF began with three buildings; the current figure, including new student housing, is almost 400 on four campuses. There are more than 200 graduate and undergraduate programs. Its colleges of medicine, public health, engineering and business are key community partners and bay area recruiting assets. USF is the fourth largest employer in the region, with an annual economic impact estimated at more than $3 billion.

And those intramural leagues have morphed into a Big East affiliation, which guarantees exposure in the country’s largest media market (New York). After only nine seasons, USF played in its first bowl game last month.

And, yet, a university is so much more than the sum of its disparate parts. It’s more than bricks and mortar and payrolls and grants and endowments and TV exposure and enrollment explosions. It’s also having half of your (190,000) alumni living and working in the Tampa Bay area. It’s being home to the nationally acclaimed Graphicstudio. It’s being a de facto corporate headquarters – only the implications are as varied as advances in Alzheimer’s research, consultations on urban transportation issues, expertise in marine science or contributions to national security via bio-defense and sonar innovations.

And sometimes, it’s as mundane as a bunch of college kids getting down and dirty to help their community. That’s what happened a couple of weeks ago when USF’sStampede of Service Day drew more than 1,000 students from sororities, fraternities and service clubs to East Tampa to clean up parks and roadways.

One other thing.

Sorry, but I’m still steamed about that Connecticut game.

Go, Bulls.

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