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Upping the Ante on Support

USF’s Black Faculty and Staff Association is increasing its support for some of the students who may need them most.

Associate Professor Sylvia Davis, Ph.D. explained the Black Faculty and Staff Association Mentoring Program's requirements at the inaugural Matching Ceremony.  Photos by: Barbara Melendez | USF News

By Barbara Melendez
     USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (Mar.16, 2016) – Members of the Black Faculty and Staff Association (BSFA) at USF always have been interested in finding ways to help students – through the organization. Many come into contact with students and have taken on the role of mentor through other program and also informally (see sidebar). But now BFSA has launched a formal mentoring program of its own in addition to its efforts to endow a scholarship fund – all geared toward leaving a lasting legacy.

“The objective is to provide the students’ access to faculty and staff members who act as mentors and assist students in successfully navigating their academic journey at USF,” said Associate Professor Sylvia Thomas, Ph.D., College of Engineering, who serves as the volunteer co-director of the BFSA Mentoring Program with Nicole Crawford, clinic coordinator and social worker with the USF Memory Disorders Clinic.

There are outstanding examples of generous informal mentors (see sidebar), however, Thomas said, based on documented approaches to mentoring, BFSA anticipates that formalizing the process will broaden the organization’s impact.

“Students now have the opportunity through BFSA to participate in a variety of programs geared towards advancing their academic and professional growth. The program also aims to increase retention rates among students of color at USF by demystifying the higher education experience,” said Thomas.

The program’s organizers are encouraged by the students’ responses.

“They are, without exception, grateful for an opportunity like this and believe that it will be very beneficial,” Thomas said.

The requirements are straight-forward and manageable.

“The mentees are required to attend the fall or spring BFSA seminar/roundtable that explains the program,” she explained. “Then they meet in person with their mentors a minimum of two times a semester, though we recommend at least once a month.”

Furthermore, BFSA is encouraging each student to feel free to contact the mentor for advice and support, embrace academic success and to approach their career progression with a certain amount of maturity.

“We tell them to take responsibility for your academic development by first attempting to obtain help from appropriate sources, such as your department’s student advisers, the Academic Success Center, counseling services, etc.,” Thomas said. “If they run into roadblocks or are dissatisfied, mentors are always available to provide advice on how to proceed.”

The mentors’ responsibilities are equally clear-cut.

They’re expected to contact the mentees at least two additional times via email each semester to maintain contact and also offer support, advice, resources, etc. in the best way they see fit. “BFSA wants mentors to encourage students to use them as a resource,” Thomas explained.

The first gathering of mentees took place at a McKnight Doctoral Fellowship Program event at the Tampa Airport Marriott Hotel in November.

“BFSA desires for its mentees to aspire to become part of the McKnight program which offers opportunities for graduate education, thus a strategic partnership is being pursued,” Thomas said.

“It served as our kick off. We wanted the students exposed to a bigger picture, get them looking beyond undergraduate education and to get a sense of how far they can go,” said Gene Murdock, president of BFSA, who works as faculty services administrator and assistant to Kofi Glover, Ph.D., in the Provost’s Office.

Thomas, herself a mentor and recipient of the USF Faculty Graduate Mentor Award last October, leads the Advanced Material Bio and Integration Research (AMBIR) laboratory at USF. She holds five patents and has more than twenty years of academic and industry experience with such organizations as Agere Systems (formerly Lucent Bell Labs), Howard University, the National GEM Consortium, ITT Technical Institute, Kimberly Clark Corp, IBM and Proctor & Gamble. She also is an Alfred Pl. Sloan Foundation and GEM Fellowship minority Ph.D. mentor.

Getting Started

To formalize the process and convey the depth of BFSA’s commitment, the organization held its first Matching Ceremony at the Patel Center in November. As each mentor/mentee pair was introduced, they headed to the reception area to begin getting acquainted. Before long, in-depth conversations were taking place throughout the various seating arrangements.

“It was truly gratifying to see the young people connecting with some of our most gifted and dedicated faculty and staff members,” Murdock said. “Talk about role models! This is exactly what we had in mind.”

Just two months into the association, progress is being made.

A USF alumna since 2008, Tanika L. Vivien, MS, ARNP, FNP-BC​, CHES, is now a Ph.D. candidate and an instructor in the USF College of Nursing, with a research focus on community-based ovarian cancer awareness interventions for African American women.

“I welcome this opportunity to impact the future generation of professionals,” she said.

And she is no stranger to mentoring.

“Throughout my career I have had and have served as a mentor,” she said. “However, both of these experiences were very informal. I am pleased to be a part of the BFSA program. As a mentor I am learning how to build and sustain a meaningful mentor-mentee relationship. I am looking forward to my future mentor development and mentee relationships.”

From Brandon, Florida, Cortney Alleyne is interacting with a mentor for the very first time.

“I expect this mentoring experience will be very beneficial for me as a nursing and minority student,” Alleyne said. “It will allow for me to have insight into what to expect from nursing school, a nursing career, and also as a traveling nurse. I also expect to build a lifelong friendship with Mrs. Vivien.”

The impact was immediate.

Nursing student Cortney Alleyne with her mentor Tanika L. Vivien.

“Even though we have only met twice so far, she has helped me a lot already.” Alleyne said of Vivien. “She set up a College of Nursing tour for me where I got to see the ins and outs of the nursing labs and classrooms. We’ve also met to go over the nursing application and process. She is very enthusiastic and genuine about my success as a nursing student and I am privileged to have her as my mentor.”

Raising money for scholarships is also a major priority for this employee resource group, one of seven on campus.

“We are working on endowing a scholarship from BFSA that will live in perpetuity,” said Murdock. “We’re encouraging employees to contribute, whatever their background. We know that $5 contributed automatically as a payroll deduction per pay period can get us there. We know paychecks in our community are stretched to the maximum but we know well the generosity of our community. We could not have survived as a people without it.”

The code for the BFSA Scholarship Fund is #660062.

For more information on how to contribute and or participate in the BFSA Mentoring Program, contact Murdock and Thomas through BFSA at

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