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The Path to Preeminence

During her annual fall address, USF System President Judy Genshaft announced new research record and best freshmen class.

By Sarah Worth

Photo by Eric Younghans

Be bold. 

This is the charge set forth by Judy Genshaft, president of USF and CEO of the USF System, in her annual speech to the USF community Sept. 7. The challenge stems from the university’s current progress across multiple areas, the strongest of which is its recent designation as an Emerging Preeminent State Research University by state leaders and its trajectory for becoming Preeminent. 

"This is the time to be bold and highly visible," Genshaft told those packed into the Oval Theater in the Marshall Student Center and to viewers watching online across the USF System. 

This past June, the Florida Board of Governors formally designated USF as the state’s first "emerging preeminent state research university." The Florida Preeminence program, written into state law three years ago, rewards high-performing state research institutions based on 12 metrics, including a high student admissions profile, at least two top 50 national rankings, at least six national academy members, extensive research expenditures and an endowment of $500 million or more, among others. 

It also supports USF’s ambition to climb in national university rankings and further positions the institution for eventual membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU).

"We are now one of just three universities that are eligible to participate in this program at this time," she said. "And those other institutions are 100 years older than we are!"

Genshaft presented this bold challenge to the entire USF community, urging faculty, staff and students to use the current momentum to propel the university further along the path to preeminence. 

"Preeminence is more than just about metrics," she said. "Preeminence is a mindset. Preeminence is the singular expression of our collective abilities as a community of students, scholars, researchers and innovators. Preeminence should be reflected in how we think, how we act, who we associate with and how we treat on another. Our goal is not only to be the best in Florida, but to be one of the best in the world in areas that distinguish our university.  It is the power of our ideas –rooted in the humanities, the physical and social sciences, mathematics and the arts – that propels us forward and gives meaning to the metrics."

In addition to laying out USF’s new direction, Genshaft shared her traditional unveiling of the newest totals in research funding for the USF System. And once again, those totals are breaking records. 

"In one of my favorite traditions in the Fall Address, I am very pleased to announce that we have set another new record in sponsored research, with $458,506,047," she said. "This research number reinforces our position in the Top 25 American public research universities and is proof that we can deliver on the ambitious goals we set for ourselves. In converting that research into new technologies, medical drugs and products, USF ranks in the top 6 percent nationally in license and option agreements."

Beyond these milestones, several other successes have helped boost its reputation.

"This year’s freshmen make up the most academically accomplished class we’ve ever enrolled, with a fall average SAT score of 1226, an ACT score of 28 and an average GPA of 4.08 for new freshmen on the Tampa campus," she said. "And the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine has just enrolled its largest class with the strongest academic profile in the college’s history. More than 6,000 students competed for 183 spots. This impressive group of first year students averaged a record 34 on the Medical College Admission Test exam, the highest of all Florida institutions, public or private."

Genshaft reflected on her first Fall Address in 2000 when she arrived to lead USF. 

"It was clear to me, on day 1, that this university was capable of harnessing its incredible potential to build a powerhouse of research, innovation and national excellence," she said. "In fact, I mentioned the word, ‘preeminence,’ in that speech several times that day.

"In our relatively short 60 years, we’ve emerged as a leading higher education system that has devoted unprecedented resources to supporting our students so they can graduate on time with high-quality degrees and minimal debt. We’ve eliminated the achievement gap between students based on race or family income. This is a remarkable achievement, and other universities are actually looking to us as a national best practice in this regard. We’ve excelled in research, invention and innovation – producing better treatments for diseases, creating new technologies, and spurring the modernization of our regional economy. We have approximately 300 post-doctoral students on our campus. This is outstanding and sets us apart from most of Florida’s other public institutions."

In closing, Genshaft reinforced her earlier charge to be bold.

"This is only the beginning," she said. "All of the institutions in the USF System, every single faculty member, every single staff member on each of our campuses, and every student – undergraduate and graduate – who comes through our doors, can contribute to this effort. It will take hard work. This is the time for us to dig deeper, work smarter, and go further than ever before.

"I know we are up for the challenge."


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