Silverman's Silver Celebration

Stuart Silverman, dean of the Honors College, marks 25 years as head of the honors programs at USF.

                                                                                                                                                                                   Video: Katy Hennig | USF News


By Vickie Chachere

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (July 24, 2012) - When Stuart Silverman spotted the advertisement in The New York Times for an assistant professor at the University of South Florida, the Bronx-native thought he was applying for a position at a university in Miami.


Instead, he landed at a small airfield – Tampa International Airport was still years away – and drove a rental car to a sprawling but mostly vacant campus. Fowler Avenue was a two-lane road. The year was 1970.


His first week at USF, his wife, Helene, went searching for a local bus schedule and couldn't find one. Efforts to locate a decent bagel were likewise futile. And when the Silvermans showed up at their first anti-war protest in Tampa, they realized they might as easily hosted the few dozen who showed up in their Temple Terrace townhouse.


Forty-two years after he arrived as a professor of educational psychology, Silverman now has attained an important marker at USF: with 25 years of his tenure heading the university's Honors programs, he is the longest continuous serving head of any academic program in the university's history. First as the director of USF's Honors program and then as its first Dean of the Honors College, Silverman has become a part of USF's institutional history as much as he is helping shape its future.


The distinction is only part of the 42 years he has been on campus, but clearly the one that has defined his iconic status in USF history.


In coming weeks, the Honors College will reach its highest enrollment: more than 550 freshmen will join another 1,100 students in the unique educational experience that is more like a small liberal arts college than a part of the nation's 9th largest research university. Under Silverman's leadership, the Honors College has continually raised its admissions standards, but continues to attract students who might as easily been admitted to Ivy League schools.


Silverman has headed the university's Honors program since 1987. In 2002, it was elevated to the Honors College and Silverman became its first and only dean.


Silverman has shaped the Honors College to be more than just an academic experience: it's a learning community the likes of which aren't found often. He said his aim is to provide students with experiences he didn’t have as a college student, especially international travel.


Driven by his love of music, art and exploration, the Honors College has become a place where students bond over creative pursuits, volunteer work and a living-learning community that brings added dimension to their college experience. The walls of Silverman’s office are covered with memorabilia and artifacts offered by students who leave a little bit of their wide-eyed youthful wonder with the dean.


Each student leaves a mark, if not on the dean’s walls then certainly in his heart.


"I go around and try to say hello to each one and at that point they are scared, they are anticipating what college is going to be like. They are learning a new system and they are very, very nervous. And it’s neat to meet them and envision what they are going to be like in a year, in two years and then when they walk across the stage at graduation," Silverman said in a recent interview.


"One of the things I’ve learned is it’s not possible to predict who the stars are going to be. Sometimes a student comes in with a very poor participation record from high school. They didn’t do anything except test well and do very well on SAT or ACT and they come here and somehow they blossom, they shine and they begin to participate and they contribute. Other times we have students that come in with great records of service and activity from high school and their lives change when they get here, family circumstances change, and students who you thought might have been stars, turn out not to be stars."


Silverman's presence on campus is not limited to the Honors College. He shares a bit of history with every USF graduate who walks across the commencement stage. For more than two decades, Silverman has stood at the microphone, triumphantly announcing the name of each student.


"I like to see the face of students as I call their name," Silverman said. "The moment is so great for some of them; they lose the ability to think. Some of them say their name with me. They look at me as if they can't graduate until I say their name."


Silverman has held that responsibility since May 1988, which means there’s one more silver anniversary coming for him next year.


Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.