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Urban Conga Transforms Downtown Parking Spaces On National Park(ing) Day

On September 19, a handful of metered parking spaces in downtown Tampa will take on a different purpose.  Instead of cars, you’ll find car parts, art and musicians.

As part of National Park(ing) Day, Urban Conga, a group of local creatives who promote community awareness through the use of play, will be taking over random parking spaces and turning them into parks. The goal is to encourage less driving and more walkability in the downtown area.

National Park(ing) Day is a worldwide event that began in 2005 by Rebar, a San Francisco-based art and design studio. The idea is for artists and activists to create debate about how urban space is allocated by transforming parking spaces into temporary public spaces. The event is now a global movement, with 162 cities in 35 countries expected to participate this year.

Urban Conga collaborated with University of South Florida art student Maeghann Coleman to design the spaces in downtown Tampa. The music-themed area will feature old tires and other car parts that can be used to make music, as well as a musical bench with piano keys. Jazz musicians from USF will also participate.

"It’s the idea of tactical urbanism," says Ryan Swanson, co-founder of Urban Conga. "We want to bring people there, not only to hang out but also to play."  

The Florida chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Florida) recently ran a statewide parklet competition, in which Urban Conga received second place for their design. The $1200 prize will be used to fund the project. The City of Tampa is also supporting the project through the allocation of the parking spaces for the day.

Urban Conga is also promoting collaboration by asking people to send in pictures of what they’re doing in their areas.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Ryan Swanson, Urban Conga

Pecha Kucha V15: Engaging, Enlightening, Inspiring

Creatives, designers, students and community advocates will convene at the Tampa Museum of Art September 5 to hear unique ideas and experiences that make Tampa Bay a better place.

The event is Pecha Kucha, named for a Japanese term for "chit chat."

Speakers will talk for just over six minutes about something they are passionate about. In an effort to keep things interesting and moving, the format is 20 slides, each lasting 20 seconds each. In true "anything goes" style, speakers don’t know much about the participants ahead of time, and vice versa. Speaker names are released, but topics remain unknown until the event.

Pecha Kucha Tampa Bay is held four times a year and begins with an hour of socializing, followed by an hour of presentations.

"As always, there is no theme," says Ken Cowart, the event’s organizer. "It’s a mixed bag of creative people sharing their ideas."

Hope Donnelly, co-owner of 8-Count Studios at the Rialto, plans to speak about her experience as an entrepreneur renovating historic space in downtown Tampa. She first attended Pecha Kucha V13 in November of 2013 and immediately knew it was something she wanted to be a part of.

"It’s a sincere, organic way to connect with interesting people," says Donnelly. "It’s really engaging and human, and I love that!"

Other presenters at Volume 15 include:
  • John Denger. Director and advocate at The Well
  • Marcus DeSieno. USF art student
  • Tony DeSisto. Founder of Citizinvestor, a kick starter for cities and public projects
  • Courtney McCalden. Graphic designer
  • Sarah Ogdie, Community Tampa Bay
  • Jim Reiman. Photographer, art professor and founder of SwedeFest Tampa
  • Mark Weston, Architect and digital fabrication professor at USF

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Ken Cowart, Pecha Kucha; Hope Donnelly, Rialto

Florida Bookstore Day Celebrates Local Bookstores, Authors

Tiffany Razzano was driving down Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg when she spotted a poster in the storefront window at Daddy Cool Records promoting Record Store Day. She then drove past Wilson’s Book World and thought, "Why is there no bookstore day?"

She did some research only to learn that California is the only state that has fully developed the concept of a bookstore day.

So why not Florida? Why not now? she thought. The result?

The inaugural Florida Bookstore Day will take place at independent and used bookstores in cities throughout the state on November 15, concentrating on the Tampa Bay area, where Razzano runs Wordier Than Thou, a group that supports creative writers through open mic events, a literary magazine and a radio show.

"I wanted to do something big," says Razzano. "It’s a celebration of independent bookstores and the writing community. People won’t even know they’re at a literary event."

Her goal is to showcase local bookstores and the writing community. Soon after she started talking up the concept in social media and elsewhere, Razzano connected with book lovers in Orlando who wanted to be part of the celebration. Bookstores from the Panhandle to the Florida Keys have now signed on to participate. Expect a day of book releases and author signings, open mics and workshops on literary topics

Local participants include: Inkwood Books, Mojo Books and Music, Old Tampa Book Company and Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Standup Librarians, Wilson’s Book World and Wings Bookstore in St. Petersburg, Book Bank in Largo and Back in the Day Books in Dunedin.

An after party will take place at the Venture Compound in St. Petersburg, featuring local authors and literary organizations, the Bluebird Books Bus, raffles and food trucks.

The event is sponsored by Florida Antiquarian Book Fair and also received a grant from Awesome Tampa Bay.
 
Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Tiffany Razzano, Florida Bookstore Day

Programming Academy The Iron Yard Expands To Tampa Bay

A new school for programmers is coming to Tampa Bay this fall. The Iron Yard Academy, an intensive 12-week-long training program, is set to open its doors in downtown St. Petersburg in September 2014.

The programming school will be located "within walking distance of some of the best local spots in town,'' says George Junginger, campus director for the Iron Yard's Tampa Bay location.

Aspiring developers can apply to either Rails or Front End Engineering courses. The cost for each 12-week course is $10,000. Part of this price tag includes mentoring, job placement after course completion and career support.

The Iron Yard Tampa Bay staff has already begun to build partnerships with local software and tech companies, including Collaborative Technologies of Tampa Bay.

"[CToTB] founder and CEO Sylvia Martinez is on our Employer Advisory Board, and will work closely with our staff to help us develop our program in a way that's best for Tampa Bay area companies,'' says Junginger.
  
A full staff, including two Tampa natives, has been hired to run the Tampa Bay branch of the Greenville, S.C.-based startup school. The Iron Yard has 10 other locations scattered through the country, mostly in the southeast. Tampa Bay is the second Florida location for the startup school; the other is in Orlando.

Brian Burridge, a Safety Harbor resident who attended St. Petersburg College, is set to be Rails instructor. Burridge is the CEO and founder of Commendable Kids. Justin Herrick, a Tampa resident who is a self-taught programmer, is Front End instructor.

Students in the Rails program will be taught Ruby on Rails (a popular framework for building servers) and develop skills to manage databases. Front End Engineering students will learn skills to create attractive, functional websites and applications.

The Iron Yard is currently accepting applications for classes, which are slated to begin September 22nd, 2014. Each course will be capped at 15 students per 3-month session.

"We chose to start small, so that we'd maintain the level of quality we know employers are looking for in developers,'' says Junginger, who expects both courses to fill. A few applicants have already been accepted.

The Iron Yard Academy welcomes students from a variety of backgrounds and skill levels.

"We're looking for a pre-existing mindset, not necessarily a pre-existing skill set,'' says Junginger. "The five attributes of the optimal Iron Yard student are: passion for solving problems with technology; genuine enjoyment of the craft of programming; genuine desire to have a career in or related to programming; extremely strong work ethic; and an ability to learn quickly,'' he explains.
 
Before searching for a space, the Iron Yard began conversations with leaders in the local tech community. The feedback is clear, says Junginger: "Everyone has been extremely excited about what we are bringing to the tech economy in the area and sees it as a need.''
 
Free programming classes for kids aged 7-17 will be offered later in 2014.

"There are great resources for startups in Tampa, and we want to support the people doing that work by training great developers,'' says Junginger. "We're privileged to play a part in the growing Tampa Bay tech scene.''
 
Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: George Junginger, The Iron Yard

How To Create A Custom Song For Your Special Event

When a couple wanting to have a baby got the news that they were expecting, the sister of the mother-to-be commemorated the event in a uniquely modern way: by requesting a custom song for the new family.
 
CustomSong, an entrepreneurial startup based in the Tampa Bay region, brings musicians from around the world together on one website. Customers can request an artist or have one assigned to create a personalized piece of music for a special event, from birthdays to baby showers. Choose between a range of styles like acoustic guitar, soft romantic piano and full band.

Songs can be gifted or earmarked for a specific event, like the parent's dance at a wedding or a custom birthday tune. Customers fill in the details for lyrics, communicating directly with the artist via the Custom Song platform. Once lyrics are finalized and approved, the artist will record the song.

"It's a song that is truly original and personal, created just for you,'' says Custom Song cofounder Heather Andrews of Tampa. "It really helps create a special moment.''

Andrews, a graduate of James Madison University in Virginia, and co-Founder Kristina Anderson of Clearwater, a USF grad, operate CustomSong out of their home offices, local co-working spaces and coffee shops.   

If you are making a video or photo montage of the event, says Andrews, your custom song is a natural soundtrack.

CustomSong began in 2013 and launched in summer 2014, but Andrews had the idea in mind for years. The personalized event product concept was inspired by Custom Ink, where Andrews previously worked.

"Working there and making these custom shirts for special events, I saw that customers were so happy with them,'' says Andrews. "Being a part of a business where you can create something specifically for a customer that gets them excited, I was in search of, 'what can I do to be in that area of business?' ''

Despite a self-professed inability to carry a tune, Andrews and Anderson decided to try the world of music-making. They began to notice that while some individual artists were offering custom songs, they were struggling when it came to things like turnaround and customer service.
 
"They just want to create good quality music,'' Andrews says. "We thought there was a good opportunity there to create the platform, be the business side of it, and manage all of the back-end details for a site where artists could offer their services.''
 
The site standardizes things like pricing, quality, song length and turnaround time (two weeks).

"We give both the customer and the artist a guarantee, something to feel confident and comfortable with,'' says Andrews.
 
Sample songs are available on the CustomSong website.
 
From online research to attending Open Mic nights, scouting new talent is an aspect of Custom Song that Andrews and Anderson are discovering takes time.

A small number of musicians from the United States and the UK are currently active on the site. The cofounders plan to expand into other areas and attract more foreign-language speaking artists.
 
"We're trying to grow more artists, but to do it carefully and slowly. We want to make sure the artists also have a great experience,'' says Andrews. "The platform is very targeted to customers, but it's also a channel for artists to earn additional income. We want to find people who have creativity and talent, and work with them one-on-one to make sure that they fit with our model.''

Interested in creating music with Custom Song? Sign up here.

The most rewarding aspect of the process for Andrews is knowing that custom songs are a part of moments like weddings or expecting a new baby.

"I don't know the couple, but just knowing the background story, it touches me,'' she says. "It's amazing to be part of creating these songs for those big events in life.''

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Heather Andrews, CustomSong

Sarasota Welcomes Heated Exchange Art Exhibit, French Connection

Art Center Sarasota hopes to engage locals and tourists alike with its 2014-15 exhibition series.

The series kicks off October 23 with a traveling exhibit titled Heated Exchange, which features encaustic art, or arts made of molten wax using heated tools. This little known art process can be used for painting, sculptures and other mediums.

The biggest exhibition of the season will be unveiled in May. Titled "Confluence France," the display is part of an 8-year series showcasing artwork and artists from regions and countries where Sarasota has a sister city. Sister Cities International pairs cities with those in other countries with whom they share interests, whether it be due to historical connections, a trade relationship, strong expatriate communities or personal experiences. Sarasota has nine sister cities in all, with this exhibit focusing on Perpignon France. The confluence series began in 2013 with a focus on Tel Mond, Israel.

"We’re finding ways to mutually benefit and grow each other’s municipalities," says Emma Thurgood, exhibitions curator for Arts Center Sarasota.

The series is the first international exhibition for the Center.

The Center is also running a community project allowing people to create pieces of paper installation that will be featured in galleries as part of a Collective Paper Aesthetics exhibit in May and June 2015.

The over 20 exhibitions taking place in the next year were funded in part by a Tourist Development Center (TDC) grant awarded by the Sarasota County Commission, designated for tourist development.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Emma Thurgood, Art Center Sarasota

KeriCure Invisible Bandage Expands Product Line, Seeks Capital Funding

A Wesley Chapel based business is expanding its product line and seeking additional funding to increase its sales force and market presence.

KeriCure is a proprietary invisible bandage product that provides a natural, safe, effective way to heal topical wounds. The product uses a unique nanoparticle emulsion technology to mimic the skin’s natural healing properties.

CEO and Founder Kerriann Greenhalgh, PhD an organic chemist and University of South Florida graduate, created the product after being personally affected by inadequate over the counter wound care. Her husband contracted a serious MRSA infection from a small cut on his hand and almost lost the use of his entire hand. Her chemistry background led her to create an innovative solution that is now available for public use.

The company launched in August 2012 and has products for both veterinary and human use available in retail stores such as Amazon, Vitamin Discount Centers, Publix and Earth Origins as well as online.

They recently launched a Series A Fundraise, seeking funding to grow their market presence and expand their product line, with particular focus on the healthcare space. FDA clearance is currently being sought for the advanced liquid bandage, which will be used by physicians to protect surgical incisions.  

"We’re looking to capitalize on the success we had the first two years," says Greenhalgh.

They are also looking to add additives to the natural product line such as vitamin E and tea tree oil.

Kericure was a recent participant in the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s Startup Scholars program, which is cited as a big contributor to success. As a result of that program, Greenhalgh helped start a local networking group called the Consumer Products Club, which supports local businesses with shared resources, services, opportunities and ideas for marketing and distribution channels.  

"We’re all working together and seeing growth across the board for everybody,” says Greenhalgh. “Each person is bringing unique experiences and successes to the table."

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Kerriann Greenhalgh, KeriCure

Health Insurance Innovations Announces Acquisition, Expansion

With the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the demand for information about health insurance products has increased dramatically. Consumers often turn to websites to help them navigate the insurance space and learn about available options.

A recent acquisition by Tampa-based Health Insurance Innovations (HII) aims to capitalize on this need and provide more reliable, easily understood information for consumers.  

HII is a cloud-based technology platform that links health insurance agents with consumers to provide quotes and sell customized, flexible insurance plans. Silicon Valley-based HealthPocket is a data aggregation technology that provides a repository of health insurance information for consumers to view and purchase, including both private and government-funded options. The website allows consumers to rank available plans by price, doctor or other factors such as prescription drug needs.

The merging of the two companies will provide even more customized services for consumers to help navigate often confusing information about health insurance options.

HII plans to use the acquisition to fuel the company’s growth and competitive advantage, including sales and continuing the track record of success. The company is taking over additional office space in their Tampa location and will eventually expand their local employee base.

"Consumers will be engaged with the tools and data to help them make better and more informed decisions which lead to lower annual healthcare costs," says Kevin Coleman, head of research and data for HealthPocket. "We really hope to empower the consumer to make the best decisions."

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Sources: Kevin Coleman, HealthPocket; Mike Kosloske, HII

On Tampa Bay's Radar: A New Exercise App To Help You Get Fit

Do you spend a lot of time traveling for work or constricted in a home office? The new iOS app Fittr could be your fitness solution.

Initially developed as a workout service for people at home with limited equipment, Fittr now features unique workouts suitable for home, the gym, a park or a hotel room.

Fitness is a fast-growing niche market for purveyors of mobile applications. From exercise apps designed for your smartphone or tablet to app-based nutritional databases, there is no shortage of opportunity to exercise with the help of a hand-held device.

The Tampa Bay-based startup team behind Fittr plans to distinguish itself from the competition in a few ways.

"The noticeable difference between our workouts and our competition is that ours is a 1-2-3 punch: It's adaptive on the run, it learns from the user over time, AND learns from the data of the entire group,'' says Fittr's Chief Marketing Technologist Kiki Schirr. "Here's an example: Don't want to do squats today? Swap it. Swap squats a few times and we'll stop suggesting it,'' Schirr explains.

Once the app learns the habits and likes or dislikes of your age group or weight range, it will aim to offer tailored suggestions that take the data into account.

In addition to adaptive fitness routines, the Fittr app utilizes a motivational point system that rewards users who increase workout difficulty or length over time. Exercises that earn a certain number of points on day one earn less on day four unless you up the intensity or number of reps. To boost your overall Fittr score (and to get a more well-rounded workout), you'll have to change things up. Points are calculated based on a variety of factors, including your personal fitness level as well as data from the overall set.

Once opened, the application prompts you to answer a few questions about your fitness level and workout habits. Choose between goals like Lose Weight, Get Cut and Get Stronger. Track metrics that matter to you, whether it's weight lost or inches gained. Plug in preferences and custom information like the type of equipment you have available on a given day.
Fittr CEO Tyler Perkins, an athlete and ACE-certified personal trainer, designed the foundation of every Fittr workout.

New users can download the app and enjoy a free one-week trial of built-in exercises. After that, it's $11.99 per month to join the workout service. Multi-month packages will be available soon, Schirr says.

Along with Schirr and Perkins, Fittr's team includes Chief Design Officer and Project Manager Nolan Perkins and CTO Seo Townsend.

The first version of Fittr was released during a launch party on July 16 at Tampa Bay WaVE. A Fundable campaign for Fittr also opened that day.

Post-launch plans include adding nutrition content and building an Android-compatible application.

"After nutrition, we'll be adding social aspects. After social aspects, it's device integration. Then social round two, then adding niche exercises, then more devices, and then... we have so many wonderful things planned for this app!'' Schirr says.

The startup team was recently accepted to Tampa Bay WaVe's FirstWAVE accelorator program.

"Fittr is incredibly grateful for all the opportunities that the Tampa Bay area has provided. From the [Hillsborough County] EDI2 initiative, Tampa Bay Innovates, Ignite Tampa Bay, StartupGrind (http://www.83degreesmedia.com/features/grind042214.aspx), TBTF, or Collaborative Technologies of Tampa Bay, everyone has welcomed us with open arms,'' says Schirr. "However, we owe an even deeper debt of gratitude to Tampa Bay WaVE, which has provided us access to amazing mentors and other startups who've been there before.''

"Tampa is full of great opportunities for startups,'' Perkins agrees. "We're grateful for all the support of the Tampa Bay community.''
 
Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Kiki Schirr, Chief Marketing Technologist, Fittr

St. Petersburg Greenhouse Launches Craft Entrepreneurship Program

Etsy, the most popular online marketplace for handmade items, is collaborating with cities across the U.S. to make it easier for crafters to supplement their income through workshops and expert advice. Because of its thriving arts culture, St. Petersburg was recently selected as one of 10 cities to pilot the program this year.

The program started last March in Rockford IL and has since expanded to places like Newark NJ and Santa Cruz County, Dallas TX.  The idea is to create an open source curriculum that can be used by other areas to run their own classes.

Unlike most economic development programs that provide tools to start businesses, Etsy’s goal is to provide supplemental income for people out of work during seasonal periods or perhaps to help a household boost itself over the poverty line.

Local classes will be hosted by the St. Petersburg Greenhouse, a collaborative effort between the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and City of St. Petersburg. Classes are free and available to crafters who have not sold on Etsy in the past.

Classes are taught by local craft sellers who have been successful using Etsy as an outlet. Topics include time management, branding, pricing, shipping and photography. Participants will be able to sell their first 20 items for free on Etsy. The first session begins August 4.

"Here in St. Petersburg, such a large part of our economy and what makes us go is in the arts," says Sean Kennedy, Greenhouse Manager and Economic Development Coordinator for the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce. "We think it’s important to help artists be in the best position to succeed financially as well as develop their craft."

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Sean Kennedy, St. Petersburg Greenhouse

Florida Universities Rank Among Best For Patents, Innovation

Innovation continues to grow among Florida’s top research universities, as indicated by a recent global ranking of universities by the number of patents granted in 2013.

The University of South Florida (USF), University of Florida (UF) and University of Central Florida (UCF) were granted 239 patents all together. This puts the group ahead of other prestigious groups such as the research Triangle in North Carolina (Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill) and the Texas universities (the entire University of Texas system, Rice University and Texas A&M University), all of which have a longstanding tradition of high quality research and technology innovation.

Together, the Florida universities head the Florida High Tech Corridor Council,  an economic development initiative whose mission is to grow the state's high tech industry through research, marketing, workforce development and entrepreneurship. The Corridor’s partnership involves over 25 organizations, 14 state and community colleges and 12 workforce boards.

"It’s great to be recognized by the National Academy, which is well more than 100 universities." says Randy Berridge, Florida High Tech Corridor Council President. "The report reflects the strength in our 23-county corridor region."

The report was produced by the Tampa-based National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association and recognizes the role that patents play in university research, innovation, technology and eventually workforce enhancement. The goal is eventually to commercialize the patents, thus creating companies and jobs surrounding the success of the products or services.

Berridge attributes the success to the leadership within each university and the emphasis placed on the importance of high quality research. "It represents not only the university but the professors who are doing the heavy lifting in generating the technologies through their input and that of their top students," says Berridge.

USF was ranked 12 overall, with 95 patents granted – up from 83 in 2012.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Randy Berridge, Florida High Tech Corridor

Crisis Center Asks Youth To 'Drop An F-Bomb' In New Campaign

In a new effort to curb human trafficking in the Tampa Bay region, teens are being asked to drop the f-bomb, the "f" standing for "friend."

The campaign is a grassroots effort led by the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay in partnership with the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking (FCAHT) and Dunn&Co, a Tampa-based advertising agency that took on the project pro bono.

The tagline is designed to immediately grab the attention of teens through social media and events, asking them to stand up for friends touched by human trafficking to get them help. A website and a social media campaign (#fbomb211) list ways a pimp typically targets teens with warning signs such as a young girl dating an older man, buying things she can’t afford, or acting secretive, depressed or afraid. Friends of potential victims are encouraged to talk to their friend and seek help through a confidential call to 2-1-1.

The campaign will also include guerrilla marketing techniques such as hangers placed in dressing rooms of stores where teens frequently shop.

"If we can help to prevent one or more girls from being trafficked, then this campaign will have been a huge success," says Crisis Center CEO David Braughton.

According to the FBI, an estimated 200,000 people in the U.S. are trafficked each year, mostly young girls. The average age a girl enters into prostitution is 12.

Most of the girls entering into trafficking situations had friends at one time who might have noticed they were wearing nicer clothes or jewelry, or spending lots of time with an older man. The campaign is targeted at those friends who can make a difference early on, noting that the victims are often vulnerable and don’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late.

"If we can identify these issues early on and a friend can call, then we can do something about it," says Braughton.

The campaign is already catching on. Braughton’s high school daughter tried it out with stickers on her car, and has received questions about it.

The Crisis Center’s Women in Action group is funding the campaign, along with funds given to FCAHT Founder Anna Rodriguez from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Community Hero award.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: David Braughton, Crisis Center of Tampa Bay

St. Petersburg College's Innovation Lab Offers Free Flow Of Ideas

A new lab at St. Petersburg College (SPC) offers an open, creative learning environment for all ages to play and discover.

The Innovation Lab is now open to the public and located in the Seminole Community Library at SPC. If you have an interest in computers, science or digital arts, you can share new ideas and develop new skills with equipment such as the FreeFab3D Monolith 3D Printer, which was built locally using other 3D printers. Or, discover your inner musician with the littleBits Synth Kit, which allows you to produce music and create your own instruments. Use the MaKey MaKey Original Invention Kit to turn an everyday object into a keyboard and connect it to the Internet.

"I think of it more as a collaborative learning incubator for ideas," says Chad Mairn, Information Services Librarian at SPC and the lab’s creator.

The original premise was to give people an open space where they can be uninhibited and have the freedom to fail, a key aspect of the creative process. With a recent trend in libraries becoming more than simply a source of books and growing into a hub for information, both physical and digital, it was a natural fit.

The lab’s equipment was funded by an Innovation Grant from the SPC Foundation. Knowing the importance of design, Mairn also wanted an environment that is conducive to creativity and innovation, so he approached SPC Provost Jim Oliver and obtained additional funding for interior design work.

Future plans include workshops and other business-oriented thinking in the lab. The main goal is to give people the resources to become successful.

"It’s an invitation to play," says Mairn.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Chad Mairn, St. Petersburg College

USF Encourages STEM Majors With Summer Academy

First-year students at the University of South Florida in Tampa will soon have a way to better integrate into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors early in their studies through a new summer STEM Academy.

The Academy will be offered to incoming freshmen beginning in the summer of 2015. It aims to serve 480 students, who will break into groups of 24 and receive mentoring from seniors and graduate students as well as connect with peers who share their academic interests. They will be able to experience the disciplines first hand through lab exercises that provide a realistic picture of their first year in the courses.

The concept was developed by a team of faculty and administrators at USF who researched student records of incoming students across multiple majors. They learned that four of every 10 of the 1,500 – 1,800 students who enter USF and declares a STEM major each year ultimately graduates with that degree. Their research suggests that a high population of those students are not leaving college all together, but are changing majors. Possible causes for this may be students not feeling connected or engaged with the large cohort of peers in their major, or that the entry level curriculum isn’t what they expected.

 "This particular experience will not only help the students understand what they will experience walking into the university, but more importantly will allow them to truly connect with other students and peers who have been successful to really understand how they can have the greatest student success and also that it’s possible to build relationships with others within the university," says Richard Pollenz, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies and the Director of the Office for Undergraduate Research at USF and member of the team that developed the STEM Academy.

Students participating in the Academy will also have the opportunity to be a part of an innovative Living Learning Community, where they will live on the same floor of a campus residence hall and share experiences with their peers throughout their first year. The community is one of 12 similar concepts on USF campus, where students who share common interests live and study together.

The program recently received a five-year, $1.2 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for the summer enrichment program, one of 37 research universities to receive the grant aimed at bolstering the nation’s STEM capabilities.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Richard Pollenz, USF

Young Chinese Artists Make U.S. Debut At 2 Tampa Bay Area Art Museums

An unprecedented look inside modern Chinese art of will be on display this summer in Tampa and St. Petersburg through a pioneering exhibit featuring 27 emerging artists from China.

"My Generation: Young Chinese Artists'' features work shown for the first time outside of China. The exhibit opens to the public at both the Tampa Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Pete on Saturday, June 7th. The exhibit also features a series of related lectures and performances, such as an exploration of the history of "Red Rock'' -- the Chinese rock scene and corresponding concert, another first to the Tampa Bay region.

Hand-picked and curated by Author Barbara Pollack, one of America's foremost authorities on Chinese art, the young artists have almost all grown up under their nation's one-child policy and tend toward subtlety where politics are concerned. Yet they express issues of alienation, self-definition, cynicism and rebellion though their work in variety of media. The environment, reaction to massive urban areas, the paradoxical market economy, the personal side of growing up as only children and the pressure for marriage and family despite sexual orientation are backdrop themes to much of the work.

The exhibit will ''introduce us to parts of Chinese culture that we know nothing about and I think people will be really surprised,'' says David Connelly, an MFA spokesperson.

"This exhibition represents a milestone in the life of this institution, and our partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg is an important step forward for the nature of regional partnerships,'' says Todd Smith, Executive Director of the Tampa Museum of Art, who originated the project and recently resigned to pursue another museum opportunity in California.

The collaboration between the two museums is an innovative approach that allows more art to be shown. For example, one of the more acclaimed artists in the show, Sun Xun, is creating a large installation specifically for the MFA, utilizing animation and drawings, which will take up an entire gallery.
 
At the same time, the concurrent approach cross-pollinates the region's art lovers. The museums are offering a $20 discounted combination ticket so that visitors can enjoy the full experience.

"We are hoping that with the outstanding innovative work in the show,'' museum patrons and art lovers will cross Tampa Bay to see both exhibits, says Connelly.
 
"My Generation: Young Chinese Artists,'' will be on view June 7 through Sept. 21, 2014. The exhibit will then travel to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art for display later this year.

Writer: Kendra Langlie
Sources: David Connelly, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg
 
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