By Deni Elliott
Special to The Crow’s Nest
Sophia left a legacy of connection and shared governance that Interim Chancellor Martin Tadlock will carry forward and build upon
Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska took St. Petersburg by storm in 2013. She left by storm as well, but I believe that I speak for many within the University of South Florida – St. Petersburg community when I say that Sophia left our campus gleaming from her time with us.
While USFSP was on a trajectory to developing its unique identity when Sophia joined us, she helped us combine strengths to reach new heights. Through her leadership, USFSP continued to rise in regional rankings. Where there had been students coming to USFSP because they couldn’t get into first or second choice schools, we now welcome the brightest and the best first-year students.
They really want to be right here. Where there had been campus units operating at cross-purposes, she united us under the tent of student success. Where there had been apathy for what USFSP had to offer our city and region, Sophia sent and received delegations on “learning journeys” to create new connections. Where USFSP’s unique nature had been hidden, she showed us how to shine.
Sophia led by example. Smart but humble; curious and decisive. She governed by giving stakeholders’ voice and making thoughtful decisions that synthesized the best that campus and community had to offer.
She motivated campus and community to collaborate so that we could create the USFSP we know today. By the end of her first year, Sophia had gathered ideas from more than 600 students, staff members, faculty, administrators, community leaders and friends-not-yet-met into a coherent strategic plan. The plan, Vision 20/20, provided the rudder for our work beginning in 2014.
The plan gave us a common language. Where faculty and staff had previously described our school as “not USF-Tampa” and “not St. Pete College,” we now speak of our distinctive identity. Our core values — student-centered success, research and innovation, inclusion of differences, commitment to community, and care for natural environment – have branded every choice from freshmen orientation to strategic partnerships with business, government, non-profits, and philanthropists. Annual town hall meetings and ice-cream socials gave us the chance to celebrate where Vision 20/20 had led us over the past year and to focus on challenges for the next.
Sophia left a legacy of connection and shared governance that Interim Chancellor Martin Tadlock will carry forward and build upon. We have a strong, shared bond that transcends her departure because she convinced most faculty and staff, as well as administrators, that each of us is an agent of change and a member of the team. We carry in our hearts, if not on signs on our walls, the question, “What have I done for a student today?” USFSP has multiple voices answering that question for many students every day.
Deni Elliott holds the Eleanor Poynter Jamison Chair in Media Ethics and Press Policy at USFSP. She is also Chair of the Department of Journalism and Digital Communication.
Above image: Sophia Wisniewska at USF St. Petersburg community block party to kick off its 50th Anniversary celebration. COURTESY of USF St. Petersburg