Apple of Their Eyes

By Mary Beth Erskine


TAMPA, Fla. (April 14, 2010) – As there is during any awards reception, there was plenty of applause and frequent bursts of laughter, flashing cameras, and heartfelt embraces.


But there were also some tears of gratitude and affection as USF students recognizing faculty and staff at the annual Apple Polishing Awards ceremony expressed their sincere sentiments about the life-changing impact their mentors have had on their lives.


“Dr. Cohen has changed and continues to change my life,” said Tiffany Piquet. “She believes in each student’s potential and has taught me one of life’s biggest lessons – to give of myself. She has been a gift in my life.”


“Amy Russo has been my advisor for three years and she is always welcoming and encouraging. She tells me the truth. I’m so glad to have this opportunity to recognize this amazing person,” said Pedro Henry.


“Every day, I leave Dr. Bagley’s class inspired,” said Jasmine Fowlkes. “I think differently because of him and see the positive in all things.”


“Dr. Johnson is not only a great professor – he taught me physics and actually made it easy to understand – but he truly cares. He spent hours and hours helping me,” said Nerlynne Desravines.


“Dr. Kaywell’s passionate dedication to the use of literature to improve the lives of young people is an inspiration to me,” said Nancy Lewis.


One after another, USF students who had nominated faculty and staff to receive recognition in the form of a USF Ambassador Apple Polishing Award approached the podium. They were eager to share candid stories of how these individuals had made a difference in their academic endeavors and their lives by providing inspiration, offering steadfast support and encouragement, and transforming a large university into a personal experience.


For the past 12 years, the Apple Polishing Awards have been a tradition maintained by the USF Ambassadors – an organization sponsored by the USF Alumni Association of student leaders who serve the university in a variety of capacities. Recognized by their USF green jackets, ambassadors represent the student body at USF Presidential, community and Alumni Association events. The Ambassadors established the Apple Polishing Awards program as a way to recognize members of either USF faculty or staff who have a significant impact on their lives. This year, at the suggestion of Ambassador Kristen Corpion, a senior and awards program chair, the opportunity to nominate faculty and staff was made available to all students campuswide.


“The Apple Polishing Award program has been a great Ambassador Program tradition,” said Corpion. “So we decided to expand it so that a greater pool of faculty and staff who have made a difference could be recognized.”


Corpion, herself, nominated Cindy Visot, chief of staff in the Office of the President where she has been employed as a student worker. “Dr. Visot has known me for three years, and while she certainly hasn’t handed me the answers to life’s most difficult questions, she has been there to guide me while I determine my own road to success. She has supported me while I reach for the stars, and I know she will be there if I stumble along the way.”


According to LaToya Dowdell, advisor to the Ambassadors, what makes the Apple Polishing Awards so special is that they are totally student driven. “These are the faculty and staff whom students, themselves, say have had an impact on their lives. And we usually find that when one student selects someone, there are others who say they were going to nominate that same person. So these faculty and staff are affecting many lives.”


It wasn’t just the students, however, who felt grateful for the special relationship they have developed with USF faculty and staff.


“Tiffany’s testimonial touched my heart and soul,” said Cohen. “She warned me that she would probably cry – and that surprised me – but her tears said more than her words.”


Bagley, who has been teaching at USF for more than 30 years, said that he was “absolutely delighted, pleased and humbled” by the heartfelt talks the students gave. “It made me realize that there is so much that is good taking place on campus that you don’t realize.” He also compared the opportunity the students had to express their appreciation to the planting of seeds.


“It gave me a glimpse of the future,” he said. “I could see these students in mentor roles, themselves, in their various professions. Since these students appreciate what professors have done for them, they will undoubtedly give back many fold, themselves.”


“It is, indeed, touching when a student goes out of his way to recognize one of his professors,” said Bill Baker, chemistry professor, who was nominated for the award by Tony Kurian. “What is perhaps most important is that they recognized the special bond that students and professors sometimes develop, bonds that enrich the educational experience for both.”


According to Baker, the life of a college professor – of teaching and conducting research – is extraordinary. “Who could ask for anything better? Research is superbly rewarding, leading as it can to both scientific advances as well as improvements in health and society. But the rewards of teaching transcend those tangibles, touching the very character that defines humanity.


“Watching one's students progress is not unlike watching your own children grow up. Like my biological child, my ‘academic children’ reward me with their successes."


2010 Apple Polishing Award Recipients

·         Daniel Bagley, associate professor, School of Mass Communications

·         Bill Baker, professor, Department of Chemistry

·         Donna Cohen, professor, Department of Aging and Mental Health Disparities

·         LaToya Dowdell, director of Campus and Student Relations

·         Dale Johnson, professor, Department of Physics

·         Joan Kaywell, professor, Department of Secondary Education

·         Mark Klisch, psychologist, USF Counseling Center

·         Charlie Lippincott, instructor, Childhood Education and Literacy Studies

·         Yicheng Tu, assistant professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering

·         Amy Russo, academic advisor, College of Business

·         Cynthia Visot, chief of staff, Office of the President




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.