USF Experts, Pulitzer Prize Lucky Charm?

By Barbara Melendez


TAMPA, Fla. (April 29, 2010) – If you want to improve your chances of winning a Pulitzer Prize, you might try capitalizing on this combination of factors. For two years in a row, University of South Florida faculty experts were involved in stories that won Pulitzers in feature writing on stories involving neglected children.


In 2010, Washington Post reporter Gene Weingarten took home a Pulitzer for his story about babies mistakenly left in car seats. He consulted USF psychology professor David Diamond for “Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?” Diamond, director of the USF Center for Preclinical and Clinical Research on PTSD, explained how memory works and how the mind prioritizes things – whether items, children or responsibilities.


In 2009, St. Petersburg Times reporter Lane DeGregory won a Pulitzer for her article “The Girl in the Window,” a story about a “feral child” diagnosed by USF pediatric psychologist Kathy Armstrong. As the first psychologist to examine her, Dr. Armstrong was able to postulate on the child’s past circumstances.


Michael Hoad, vice president of USF Communications and Marketing remarked, “It's just cool that two years in a row, USF expertise has featured in Pulitzer prize stories. I think it indicates that what we say is true: Our faculty's expertise has real-world impact.”


“Both faculty members took the opportunity to make big points. Dr. Armstrong says the extreme case is a way to shine the light on abuse by neglect and Dr. Diamond gives other work he's done on the way memory can fail, even in critical situations, and how we have to understand how the brain works. Our other experts throughout the university are called upon every day, for one story or another, so when you think about it, maybe it’s not that big a coincidence. But rather than find an expert to calculate the odds, we’ll just enjoy the fact.”


Not to take anything from the reporters’ excellent writing skills, of course, but maybe USF experts provided the “X” factor.


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.