First to Give "Last" Lecture

By Mary Beth Erskine


TAMPA, Fla. (March 19, 2010) – USF biology professor Johnny El-Rady doesn’t want his students to get the wrong idea. He’s not going anywhere. He’s not planning on leaving USF any time soon. In fact, he intends to remain at USF teaching genetics and microbiology for a long time, even if he is about to give his last lecture.


Through nominations and a lengthy selection process, El-Rady was named as the inaugural speaker for the debut of USF’s Last Lecture Series sponsored by Housing and Residential Education. A tradition at universities around the country for several decades, the program gained popularity in 2007 when computer science professor Randy Pausch gave his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University, making news around the world and spawning a widely acclaimed book, The Last Lecture.


Free and open to the public, El-Rady’s lecture will take place on Wednesday, March 24 at 7 p.m. in the Oval Theater in the Marshall Student Center.


“The premise behind the Last Lecture, which is given by a distinguished faculty, administrator or staff is simple,” says Elizabeth Kaplon, assistant director, Academic Initiatives. “If you were to have one last chance to speak to a group, what would your message be? The intention is that a hypothetical ‘last’ lecture will evoke inspirational, engaging and entertaining messages.”


El-Rady says that it is hard to prepare for a ‘last’ lecture when you are only about halfway through your career, yet he is honored to be selected to do so – despite the somewhat ominous designation. While he is keeping the details of his talk a secret, he does say it will highlight the experiences and personalities that have shaped him personally and professionally.


“I have been fortunate to have spent the last 40 years plus on four continents, so there are many stories to tell. I will mention that I did not set out to become a faculty member. I am what you might call ‘the accidental instructor.”


El-Rady is calling his lecture “Thugs, Bugs and Augs: Chasing Ever-Changing Dreams.” The “Thugs, Bugs and Augs” part of the title refers to three major career dreams he has had or decisions he has made. The second part of the title was inspired by Pausch’s, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.”


Kaplon says that there are no bounds to the messages a Last Lecture speaker could convey. “It is the choice of the lecturers to select the theme they hold as a high priority or one that is dear to their heart.” In general, speakers will be encouraged to share “those pearls of wisdom you wish you had known when you were younger.”


While El-Rady is saving the bulk of those “pearls” for March 24th, he does reveal that he will discuss with students the need to set goals and work hard to achieve them, but to enjoy the journey, regardless of where it ultimately leads, as well. In addition, as he does in many of his classes, El-Rady will integrate the use of clickers, an audience response system being made available through Greg Kilkenny of eInstruction, to make the lecture “a little bit more interactive, and hopefully, a little more enjoyable.”


The Last Lecture Series is part of a comprehensive program of academic initiatives within Housing & Residential Education that are focused on engaging students and faculty outside the classroom and contributing to student success. Other initiatives include: “House Calls,” which brings faculty into the residence halls during the fall semester to connect with students; “Achieve-A-Bull,” an academic assistance program that takes place within the residence halls; and opportunities for residents to attend review sessions for final exams conducted by faculty members at the end of each semester.

“As with our other academic initiatives, we want the Last Lecture Series to provide students and faculty with the opportunity to connect in a supportive environment,” says Dorie Paine, director, Housing & Residential Education. “We hope students will reflect on the information shared and how it applies to their own lives, and that they will see the diverse interests and passions that faculty have beyond their individual disciplines. It will also enable faculty to truly understand and strengthen their commitment to their roles as mentors and models for students.”

“I will certainly do my best to jumpstart the program,” says El-Rady. “I am hopeful that my presentation will be well received and that the Last Lecture will, indeed, become a tradition at USF.”



The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.