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President Rhea Law shares vision for USF’s future in presidential inauguration speech

TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 19, 2023) – University of South Florida President Rhea Law outlined her vision for the university in a speech this afternoon at the Yuengling Center on the Tampa campus, as part of her inauguration as USF’s eighth president.

In her remarks to students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the Tampa Bay community, Law shared plans for taking the university to the next level, including three academic areas of strength to build on, a renewed commitment to community partnerships and a new on-campus stadium.

“USF is a place of progress. And I have no doubt that our next chapter will be our greatest one yet,” Law said.

Law is the first USF alum to serve as president and previously chaired the USF Board of Trustees.  She spoke about her personal connection to the university, which started in a similar way to thousands of USF students, arriving on campus as an 18-year-old who was the first person in her family to attend college. To help pay for her degree, Law worked in USF’s Office of Sponsored Research, which allowed her to take six credits per semester for free. Law’s experience at USF catapulted her to a highly successful legal career and opened possibilities she didn’t know existed.

“It is the privilege of my life to serve as the University of South Florida’s eighth president and to give back to a community that has given so much to me over the years,” she said.

Law reflected on the transformation of the university from a small commuter school into one of the nation’s top research universities.  She highlighted three areas of teaching and research excellence identified in USF’s Strategic Plan that provide a roadmap for USF’s future growth: health sciences, environmental and oceanographic sciences and global and national security.

Health Sciences

On health sciences, Law said: “We are home to the fastest-rising medical school in the country, and our impact is expanding thanks to our strong and growing presence within Downtown Tampa and our invaluable partnerships with healthcare organizations like Tampa General Hospital. Increasing the number of professionals who go on to work in our state’s healthcare system is critical to supporting the growth of our region and state.”

Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences

On environmental and oceanographic sciences, Law said: “Whether our researchers are studying hurricanes, clean energy, or the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, we have proven time and time again that we are committed to protecting our environment.

“Our university’s location and expertise make us the perfect place to host an interdisciplinary center for excellence in environmental and oceanographic sciences. This is an endeavor that will have a life-changing impact on millions of people because the health of our climate and oceans is a crucial factor in the success of our state. I remain committed to working with Florida’s leaders to demonstrate this initiative’s value and ensure its future success.”

Global and National Security

On global and national security, Law said: “With the recent launch of the Global and National Security Institute and our deep connections to Tampa Bay’s strong military community, USF is well-positioned to help address critical issues facing our country in national security.

“Because of our expertise in this area, more resources are being provided to support our efforts. Last year, the Legislature and Governor provided a $20.5 million increase in funding to Cyber Florida, a statewide agency housed at USF that focuses on cybersecurity. This is empowering our university to hire new faculty, expand our program offerings and help prepare more cyber-workforce-ready graduates every year.”

Law’s speech also recognized the value of public art and related arts programming at USF.  In addition to enriching the beauty of all three campuses, public art also provides the broader Tampa Bay community with informal gathering spaces and ways to learn about prominent artists and their work.  To affirm the importance of USF’s Public Art Program, Law announced that a new fund has been launched in support of the university’s public art collection.  More information is available here.

Law renewed USF’s commitment to strengthening and expanding relationships within the community, citing examples such as partnerships within the region’s health care system, United States Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base and local school districts.

“These community partnerships are a two-way street. Our students benefit from the hands-on learning opportunities available through these organizations, and our partners benefit from having access to USF’s research expertise, our state-of-the-art technologies, and our talented graduates who help fill pressing workforce needs,” she explained. “As president, I am committed to strengthening USF’s community partnerships so we can make an even bigger impact. We are a major social and economic engine, and it’s critical that we continue building and nourishing our community partnerships, because we are better together.”

Law noted how new facilities are crucial to the university’s evolution, including a new Student Health and Wellness Center and a new home for the Judy Genshaft Honors College that are both set to open in the coming months on the Tampa campus, as well as the first student housing building and a nursing/STEM building planned on the Sarasota-Manatee campus. Law also emphasized the St. Petersburg campus’ continued exploration of new and creative ways to partner in the city’s growth — providing knowledge and support in areas such as city planning and economic development. She also highlighted the transformational role of a new on-campus stadium that could open in time for the 2026 football season.

“Our intercollegiate athletics programs can serve as the front door to the institution, cultivating a stronger community connection to our university and giving our alumni a renewed sense of pride in being a USF Bull. I want all of our alumni to remain deeply connected to their alma mater, just as I have throughout the years,” she said.

Law was officially confirmed as USF president by the Florida Board of Governors in March 2022, however it’s typical for an inauguration ceremony to be held several months, sometimes close to a full year, after a new president assumes office.


About the University of South Florida

The University of South Florida, a high-impact global research university dedicated to student success, generates an annual economic impact of more than $6 billion.  Over the past 10 years, no other public university in the country has risen faster in U.S. News and World Report’s national university rankings than USF. Serving more than 50,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, USF is designated as a Preeminent State Research University by the Florida Board of Governors, placing it in the most elite category among the state’s 12 public universities. USF has earned widespread national recognition for its success graduating under-represented minority and limited-income students at rates equal to or higher than white and higher income students. USF is a member of the American Athletic Conference. Learn more at www.usf.edu.

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