Written by McKenna Kelley | Photos by Gabriel Burgos
If it seems like you’re hearing the University of South Florida is constantly hitting new milestones and accomplishing bigger and better things, you’re right — and you have President Judy Genshaft to thank.
During Dr. Genshaft’s 17-year tenure, the longest of any USF system president, the university has been named one of the fastest growing research universities in the nation, has ranked among the top 25 American universities for turning research into new technologies and has reached emerging preeminent status in the Florida university system, among many other accomplishments.
“I’m very passionate about seeing USF achieve unprecedented levels of success,” Dr. Genshaft says. “My goal, through focused strategic planning, is to position USF to reach even greater heights in all aspects of the university.”
Dr. Genshaft began her career in mental health and social work, where she conducted research on intellectually gifted students, before transitioning to higher education. Applying that research, she encourages out-of-the-box thinking from USF’s students and faculty to propel the university forward on the national and global levels.
“One advantage to being a relatively young university system is we’re very open to new approaches that shape best practices and new ideas that allow us to further establish our identity,” Dr. Genshaft explains.
One way students are exposed to new ideas is through study abroad experiences. To make a potentially overwhelming expense more feasible, Dr. Genshaft and her husband donated $1 million in 2011 to begin a scholarship to help USF students take their education overseas. She says the importance of giving back was instilled in her as a child and was reinforced by another one of Tampa’s leaders.
“Frank Morsani, a great friend of USF, has shared his personal philosophy — first you learn, next you earn and then you return,” Dr. Genshaft says. “I really believe that captures an important approach to our lives.”
Before entering higher education, you received your degrees in social work and psychology. What appealed to you about those fields?
My early career experiences began with a mental health agency, where I worked with children of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and academic abilities. I assessed different groups of children and determined how they would benefit from various levels of interventions and counseling services. Later, I specifically focused on gifted and talented students, their families, and the learning environments in their schools. I saw the effects firsthand of teachers not possessing the tools needed to assist this unique group of students. This led to me authoring books on high functioning, intellectually advanced children and how the school system can maximize each child’s abilities. It’s been said that gifted children are the largest underachieving group of students across America, and I hope the research I conducted and the three books I wrote and edited on this topic have provided guidance to families and educators on how to best serve these children so they can really soar and achieve their highest potential.
USF has grown and accomplished so much during your tenure as system president. Is there one accomplishment that you are most proud of?
I’m very passionate about seeing USF achieve unprecedented levels of success. We’ve been referred to as one of America’s fastest growing universities, and we’ve recently joined the ranks of the top 25 public research universities in the nation. My goal, through focused strategic planning, is to position USF to reach even greater heights in all aspects of the university, whether it’s in student success, research, innovation, healthcare or athletics. The 300,000 USF System alumni should be very proud because, as we continue to receive more global recognition for our accomplishments, it only adds to the value of the degrees they’ve earned.
USF is already one of the Tampa Bay area’s largest economic engines, thanks in large part to the research done by students and faculty. How do you see USF fitting into the overall picture of the massive growth the city of Tampa is about to undergo?
As one of the region’s major economic engines, the USF System touches all parts of Tampa Bay’s future. If you think about what makes a community thrive — great schools, world-class healthcare, a vibrant arts and culture scene, and good jobs in growing sectors — you will find the USF System as a key asset in each of those area for our region. Talent is the key to economic growth, and our goal as a system is not only to produce graduates who are ready to be successful in the job market the day they earn their degree, but also to grow the economy by being a magnet for major corporations and through creating our own spinoff companies. Every great city has a great public university at its center, and we’re thrilled to be that university for the Tampa Bay region.
As USF’s leader, how do you motivate your faculty and staff to continue working hard to elevate the university’s prominence on both a national and global level?
Across the USF System, we have built a culture of striving for world-class excellence. We are constantly pushing to develop patented technologies, discover new drugs and create innovative solutions to solve complex global problems. Our institutions recruit faculty who are not only smart and accomplished but also strategic and entrepreneurial in their thinking. One advantage to being a relatively young university system is we’re very open to new approaches that shape best practices and new ideas that allow us to further establish our identity. We also value celebrating our students, faculty and staff when they are successful, and that’s a great motivation for people to keep trying to make a difference.
You are one of Tampa Bay’s most well-regarded female leaders as well as a founding member of USF’s Women in Leadership and Philanthropy program. What advice do you give to young women looking to take on leadership roles in the community?
No matter which career path you choose, identify successful role models or mentors in that field and learn how they reached their positions. Regardless of your gender, it’s critical to have the right credentials — education and work experience — to move up the ladder. I advise people all the time to stay highly motivated, show a willingness to work hard, choose activities that add value to your resume and never stop networking with colleagues in your profession. I’m proud of helping to create the Women in Leadership and Philanthropy program at USF, which is based on the idea of strengthening the leadership potential for women. Through the $1 million in scholarships and faculty research awards we’ve granted over the past 10 years, we’re making Tampa Bay an even stronger region.
In 2011, you and your husband, Steven Greenbaum, donated $1 million to create the Genshaft/Greenbaum Passport Scholars Fund to help USF students afford study abroad programs. Why is giving back to students through programs like this so important to you?
From the time I was a child, my family instilled in me the importance of giving back. I’ve always felt a responsibility to help others in any way we can and try to create a better society. Frank Morsani, a great friend of USF, has shared his personal philosophy — “first you learn, next you earn, and then you return.” I really believe that captures an important approach to our lives. At USF, one of our primary strategic goals is to produce globally educated citizens. When someone is accepted to USF, we include a passport application in their packet because we want every student to experience the introduction to new people, ideas and cultures that comes with international travel.
Who in the Tampa Bay community do you admire professionally?
I enjoy and appreciate all those making an impact on the growth and vitality of our communities. There are a countless number of outstanding, talented people contributing in different ways. I feel truly privileged to be a part of so many organizations in the region and to be aligned with these leaders who are dedicated to the Tampa Bay region’s success. I admire and I’m so grateful for the individuals who devote their time, talent and resources to the USF System and to our region. If the region grows and prospers so does USF — and if USF grows and prospers so does our region!