Encouraging ethnic diversity at the USF College of Marine Science

Dr. Karyna Rosario grew up in the Central Mountains of Puerto Rico and credits a scholarship from the USF College of Marine Science for changing her life.  

“It provided me with financial support, but also highlighted the belief in me, that I had something to contribute, and they were willing to invest in me,” says Rosario. “I’m grateful for all the doors that were opened to me through this program.”

Rosario was on a Zoom call with city, business, and marine science leaders to announce a $125,000 pledge from the City of St. Petersburg to the USF College of Marine Science in support of a “Bridge to the Doctorate Endowed Fellowship.” 

That program, which donors and the St. Petersburg business community helped create in 2004, has helped the college “attract and produce a number of top-flight scientists,” says Dr. Peter Betzer, former dean of the USF College of Marine Science, in an emailed statement. 

Rosario was one of those students. She graduated from the USF College of Marine Science in 2010 and now works as a research scientist in the USF Marine Genomics Lab. 

Her current research focuses on investigating viruses found in aquatic vegetation, including seagrasses and vegetation found within Florida’s freshwater springs. She is also one of the investigators in a Parasite Microbiome Project initiative.

For many students, not having the opportunity to apply for scholarship funding can mean the difference between pursuing a career in marine science or not.  “The fellowship will mean the world to them,” says Rosario. “It changes lives by giving students a whole new opportunity.

St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin was also on the virtual call and agrees. She points out that the city’s donation to the USF College of Marine Science “Bridge to the Doctorate” program was personal for her, as she too benefited from scholarship opportunities.

“I grew up in St. Petersburg and was selected as a Poynter Institute scholar. The Times Publishing Company invested in me and fully funded my undergraduate degree. Then I worked as an intern at the St. Petersburg Times, which changed the trajectory of my life,” Tomalin says.

She adds that the city’s pledge supports St. Petersburg’s commitment to equity. “Our pledge is one more way we are building a city of opportunity that includes advancement for students of all races and backgrounds.”

Over the next five years, the scholarship funds will be directed to underrepresented students of color who are African-American or Black, Hispanic or Latinx, Pacific Islanders, Native American, or Alaska Native to help them pursue careers in marine science.

Kristen Kusek, communications director for the USF College of Marine Science, reports that over the last 15 years, the marine science college has grown its diversity from about 2 percent to an average 15 percent of the student body. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently rated USF as the top institution in the nation in awarding marine science PhD degrees to Hispanic/Latino and African-American/Black students, and number two for master’s degrees. 

Dr. Thomas Frazer was named dean of the marine college this past June, and spoke to the college’s commitment to reaching out to underrepresented students of color.  “The city’s donation is “more than an infusion of cash, it really speaks the value of diversity and inclusion,” says Dr. Frazer.

He adds that ” the city’s gift helps continue USF’s commitment for creating a pipeline for students to pursue science careers. It’s an investment in science, education, and technology for societal benefit.”

It also supports the city’s Grow Smarter Initiative, which lays out a plan for economic growth, especially in five target sectors: marine and life sciences, data analytics, specialized manufacturing, creative arts, and financial services.

The USF College of Marine Science, located on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront in Bayboro Harbor, offers graduate level master’s and doctoral degrees, with concentrations in Biological Oceanography, Physical Oceanography, Chemical Oceanography, Geological Oceanography, Interdisciplinary, and Marine Resource Assessment.

In October, the marine science college and NOAA announced a five-year, $9 million partnership to map the world’s oceans through a new Center for Ocean Mapping and Innovative Technologies to be based in St. Petersburg. 

USF College of Marine Science researchers also played a pivotal role in studying the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the largest accidental marine science oil spill in history.
For more information: USF College of Marine Science
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Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.