News Channel

USF System Hosts STEM Summit

Preparing students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) was at the center of the first Tampa Bay STEM Summit 2016.


TAMPA, Fla. (March 17, 2016) – Careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are important to the future of the Tampa Bay region and the U.S., said USF System President Judy Genshaft as she welcomed attendees to the first “Tampa Bay STEM Summit” held March 30 in downtown Tampa at USF’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS).

The event was attended by 150 people from such diverse affiliations the Florida Aquarium; Absolute Marketing Solutions; Hillsborough Community College; New College of Florida; VoltAir Consulting Engineers; and the Office of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio as well as USF System staff, faculty and students.

“We have the responsibility to nurture and prepare young people to be successful in STEM careers,” said Genshaft in her welcoming remarks, adding that she likes to put an extra “M” on the world ‘STEM’ to stand for “medical” careers. “The summit’s theme is ‘Better lives through science and technology,’ which speaks directly to the challenge that is before us to build a highly-skilled and diverse workforce to develop treatments and cures for illnesses and diseases, protect our environment, and improve quality of life for our residents.”

Summit keynote speaker, James J. Wynne, PhD, a senior member of IBM’s Research Headquarters, Courtesy Professor at USF’s Institute for Advanced Discovery & Innovation, and member of the National Academy of Inventors, told attendees about his path in science, from the mentoring he received from his high school physics teacher, to getting his PhD in applied physics from Harvard University. Right after earning getting his PhD he landed a job at IBM in 1969 and began working with the earliest lasers. Still at IBM and still working with lasers, Wynne’s efforts in the 1980s helped lead to the development of novel applications for the excimer laser, including for the now familiar and often performed LASIK eye surgery.

He credits his mentor for his decision to study physics. “I had the world’s best high school physics teacher,” said the holder of 12 patents. “There is no one better in the world than a great teacher.”

In his humor-laced talk, he told attendees about first testing the excimer laser’s cutting ability on a left-over Thanksgiving turkey leg, where it made a “clean cut. ” It took some time for him and his colleagues to gather the necessary gumption to test it on their skin. “It felt like a puff of air,” he said. “It was painless, and that was my “Aha!” moment. I knew then that the excimer laser had a future as a scalpel.”

The excimer laser did go on to revolutionize ophthalmology by providing the tool for LASIK surgery for nearsightedness and today continues development as a “smart scalpel.” A recent application is in removing dead tissue while minimizing damage to healthy adjacent tissue.

“USF can be a source of great things,” he said in his concluding remarks.

A five-person panel of experts assembled for the Summit’s discussion format included Marshall Criser III, Chancellor, State University System of Florida; Mindy Grossman, CEO and Director of the Home Shopping Network, Inc.; Rick Homans, President and CEO, Tampa Bay Partnership, Brian D. Lamb, President and CEO of Fifth Third Bank, North Florida; and Steffanie Munguia, a student in the USF Honors College.

“We have an imperative to prepare for normal economic cycles, “ said Criser, a former president of AT&T Florida and an education leader in the state who has served as Chancellor of the State University System since January, 2014. “Technology allows us to do this. And, we can accomplish two things when we do this - provide career pathways for our students and also build the infrastructure and economy necessary to attract business to the State. If we don’t do this, there are 49 other states that will.”

Homans, who spent a number of years in the office and cabinet of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson playing a key role in the state’s economic development, said he has been deeply involved in STEM activities since coming to the Tampa region in 2015. “Biopharma, big data, cyber security, sensors, robotics, the revolution in health care, and material composition -- all provide big opportunities for us, and these are things we do in Tampa Bay second to nowhere else,” said Homans. He outlined a current relationship with MacDill Air Force Base aimed at the development of applications that not only improve life, but save lives on the battlefield. “Cyber security is especially important, and USF has already taken the lead on this. However, to address any of these areas we have to work as one region.”

“This Summit’s theme is a reality we are all living every day,” said Grossman. “STEM is everywhere and shapes all of our experiences, every industry and economy. Now, 50 percent of all transactions are over a digital platform. It’s critical that we educate and invest in STEM, which is the core of the future. All of our lives are better thanks to technology, but technology has also made our lives dramatically more complicated and complex. ”

For Lamb, the Summit was about how to make decisions about STEM today that will have impact for decades. “This is a global, competitive issue – it’s not a Tampa Bay issue,” advised Lamb, who also serves as Vice Chair of the USF Board of Trustees. “Tampa Bay has a chance to get it right and to be a top performer and global competitor. “ For Lamb, the customer has to be put at the center because the customer is the STEM “end user. “ He also noted that we need to think about how to “brand” the Tampa Bay region when we make transformational decisions around science and technology.

Munguia began by noting that as a student her perspective may be different from the other panelists. She also suggested that the cultural diversity and uniqueness of the Tampa bay region needs to be capitalized upon to make the most of our STEM efforts. She cautioned that “the methods that work elsewhere may not work here.” She also challenged students in attendance to “stop thinking about the future and think about the present” and to get involved in important issues now and not wait until after graduation. A STEM Summit organized by a university points to the critical role of universities in molding what the future will look like, she concluded.

In his closing remarks, USF Provost and Executive Vice President Ralph Wilcox said that the USF STEM Summit was about more than collaboration across the USF System. “This is about building a STEM Hub, or a STEM hot spot, not just in Tampa but in the State of Florida,” he told attendees. “We are here to build a bright future that can ensure us a competitive position in the world.”


The STEM Summit also included a research poster competition and subsequent judging and awards. The results of the poster competition in different student categories were:

Grand Prize - Emma V. Lopez, Sarina J. Ergas, & James R. Mihelcic, USF Graduate Student, "Stormwater and Nutrient Management for Urban Communities through a Field Demonstration of Bioretention Systems" (USF Graduate Student)

1st Place USF Graduate Student - Jeffrey Burgess, "Reduction of Acetaminophen-Induced Hepatotoxicity via Combination Tablet Formulation with N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine"

2nd Place USF Graduate Student - A.S. Lowe, S.A. Cresoe, & J.P. Walton, "Modulation of the BK Ion Channel as a Potential Treatment for Tinnitus"

1st Place USF Undergraduate Student - Priyanshi Patel, Jutaro Fukumoto, Ramani Soundararajan, Richard F. Lockey, and Nasrasaiah Kolliputi, "The role of oxidative stress and dysregulation of bronchiolar epithelial cells in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis"

2nd Place USF Undergraduate Student- Sanim Rahman, Venkat R. Bhethanabotla, Robert D. Frisina, & Joseph P. Walton "Controlled Gold Nanoparticle Synthesis: Manipulating Size and Size Dispersion"

1st Place State Colleges - Alisha Jennings & Alexandra Ladyzhensky, "Antibiotic Activity in Marine Bacteria" (State College of Florida)

2nd Place State Colleges - Robert Nemitz, Carissa Santiago, Dr. Koty Sharp, Dr. Kim Ritchie, & Dr. Aparna Telang , "The bugs inside bugs - the microbiota of Culex quinquefasciatus" (USF Sarasota Manatee)

USF News is produced by University Communications and Marketing.

To submit content, please review our Editorial Plans.