The Stavros Center's Rich Legacy

Center marks 30 years of supporting teachers in their endeavors to teach economics and the free enterprise system.


This video is for educational purposes and intended to highlight the academic and scholarly mission of the Stavros Center. 


By Mary Beth Erskine News Writer


TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 29, 2010) – The economy: it’s the single most compelling issue of the day, at the forefront of national and global agendas.


As a result, educators believe that for today’s students, an understanding of economics is more important than ever.


“And not merely because of the current financial situation we face as a nation,” said Mat Kirouac, a social studies teacher at Wesley Chapel High School, “but because international trade and globalization are more and more becoming a concrete part of all of our everyday lives.”


“Political and economic policies affect everyone, every day,” said Jennifer Morley, a curriculum specialist with Hillsborough County Public Schools. “Infusing that knowledge into schooling contexts helps both teachers and students understand the world they live in.”


In November, the Gus A. Stavros Center for Free Enterprise & Economic Education celebrated 30 years of advancing economic literacy in the state of Florida. Established in the University of South Florida’s College of Education as the Center for Economic Education, the center’s name was changed to the Gus A. Stavros Center for Free Enterprise and Economic Education in recognition of the substantial contributions to economic education by successful Florida businessman and noted philanthropist Gus Stavros.


Integrating Economics into the Classroom


A state-of-the-art facility, the center attracts teachers at all grade levels throughout west central Florida to learn how to effectively integrate free enterprise and economic education into their teaching.


“Our work is vital to the future of this nation, and we approach it with dedication, optimism and passion,” said Dick Puglisi, Stavros Center director. “Everything we do at the center, all of our energies, resources and relationships, are designed to make a difference in the classroom. Yet, our vision is even broader than teaching economics. Just as immigrants came to this country seeking to create their lives anew, we want to help teachers pass along that dream – that gift of belief in principles that helped make America great – to the next generation.”


Signature artwork placed near the entrance to the Stavros Center represents that mission. Titled, “In Pursuit of the Dream,” the piece depicts immigrants bound for Ellis Island above the words: “Dedicated to men, women and children whose intellect, creativity and perseverance have built an economic system unparalleled in this history of mankind.”


For Puglisi, the mission of the Stavros Center has always been personal, as well as professional. A graduate of USF’s charter class of 1960, Puglisi says that the university has been part of his life ever since the Ybor City native took his first driving lesson on the abandoned airfield that would become home to the Tampa campus. Puglisi, his brothers, and numerous childhood friends – many, like him, the sons of immigrants and Cuban exiles who worked in the local cigar factories – attended the university and “it changed our lives.”


Empowering Educators, Changing Lives


Changing the lives of Florida’s students is at the heart of every workshop and seminar attended by thousands of educators at the Stavros Center over the last three decades – presentations have covered the gamut of economic topics – from personal financial responsibility, to the stock market, to how the global economy affects the jobs. And since connecting educators, business leaders, and entrepreneurs is integral to the Stavros Center’s mission, the delivery of programs relies heavily on collaboration with local, national and international business leaders who are often the guest speakers. In fact, the center’s list of business partners, benefactors and strategic alliances is a veritable “who’s who” of the corporate community.


Be it after attending the center’s popular “Dinner and a Movie” program – where educators view a student-appropriate movie and discuss how it exhibits economic principles – or a workshop on using digital filmmaking to incorporate economics concepts, teachers return to their classrooms with innovative concepts and practical lesson plans.


But most importantly, educators say they return with a feeling of empowerment.


As a result, the Stavros Center has been recognized continuously throughout the years as a model center for others across the country to emulate, and the teachers the center serves have garnered an impressive number of awards, as well.


Fran Squires, a professional educator for 33 years who currently works with sixth graders in the gifted program with Sarasota County Schools, is just one example. Recipient of numerous national and state awards for excellence in economics education including multiple Governor’s Awards for Economic Excellence, Squires says she has revamped her classroom to become a business model where students serve as the class CEO (chief education officer) and learn to apply the tenets of good business to their daily work.


“The Stavros Center is a place where I feel valued, respected and inspired to continue to make economics in the classroom a primary concern regardless of the academic content that I am required to teach,” she says.


Sara Carroll has been a special education teacher at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Largo for almost three decades and said the Stavros Center has been “a huge part” of her teaching career. In 2006, she received the Economic Educator of the Year Award, a statewide competition recognizing her commitment to economic education and her creativity in the classroom.


“I truly believe I won due to the Stavros Center,” she said. “Whenever I have needed assistance in teaching an economic concept, they are the first people I call. They have given me the training to incorporate economics into my classroom and make learning fun and meaningful to the students. They have guided and encouraged me to make a difference in my students’ lives.”


Leaving a Legacy


Making a difference in student’s lives is the legacy Puglisi said every educator wants to leave, himself included. A social studies teacher at Tampa’s Leto High School before joining USF, he recalls receiving a letter from a student thanking him for the difference he had made in the student’s life, “but I never knew what I had done that impacted him,” he said, “and I always wondered why he wrote that letter.”


Forty years later, due to fortuitous circumstances, Puglisi was able to reconnect with that student: Tom Mendoza, who is now vice chair of the $3.3 billion data storage and management company, NetApp Inc.


“Tom told me that I taught him that it was okay for him to think for himself. To have his own opinion about things. To be independent. That it helped him to achieve the position he has today.


“I want teachers to believe that there a Tom Mendoza in each of their classrooms,” Puglisi said. “And that the Stavros Center is here to help them leave that legacy.”


Mary Beth Erskine can be reached at 813-974-6993.