This letter was written and signed by 23 full faculty members of USFSP. When asked for her reaction, Sophia Wisniewska responded via text saying “As you may suspect, I was very honored by the professional support that I received from those with whom I worked the closest. Their support means the world to me. It has given me strength during this difficult time. I will forever be grateful.”
Oct 5, 2017
To whom it may concern,
We are writing to express our appreciation and admiration for Sophia Wisniewska, who led the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg as a visionary and humane Chancellor 2013-17. Chancellor Wisniewska’s accomplishments in four years both recognized and expressed USFSP’s distinctive identity as an independently-accredited institution within the USF system.
Sophia impressed the campus before her leadership began. Her credentials were impeccable. Her background and experience made her particularly suited to lead an institution of our size and to work within a public multi-campus system. But, it was her approachability and dynamism during her campus interviews that captivated students, staff and faculty. Here was a person who was genuine, inviting and brimming with possibilities. Sophia was the first choice candidate of many who met her in the public forum, in addition to being at the top of the list for those on the search committee.
Sophia’s comfort with herself was evident from her first day on the job in which she helped create an introductory video. On-campus videographers had gathered hilarious clips of members of the campus community struggling to pronounce our new chancellor’s last name. In Sophia’s tag at the end of the video, in which she correctly pronounced her name, she smiled through the camera to her audience. Her welcome put as at ease.
Sophia hit the ground running. Rather, she hit the ground collaborating. Students, faculty and staff; governmental leaders, local CEOs from industry and business; directors of non-profits; individuals who responded to her personal phone calls: Sophia gathered more than 90 of us to helped (sic) fashion the Vision 20/20 strategic plan. The 9-month process reflected input from more than 600 stakeholders.
The core values that emerged from our strategic planning reflected what we began to call USFSP’s distinctive identity: student-centered success, research and innovation, inclusion of differences, commitment to community, and care for natural environment. Unlike many strategic plans which end up buried deep in the institutional website, Sophia and her carefully chosen leadership team members ensured that the values were operationalized in decisions from the departmental level to the Chancellor’s office. Annual town meetings gave students, staff, faculty and administrators time to consider our progress over the past year and the challenges of the next. Alignment of the USFSP strategic plan with that of the Florida Board of Governors and that of the USF system helped ensure that our institutional measures of success supported system and statewide goals.
Sophia’s success with building community support resulted in unprecedented levels of giving. USFSP received its largest gift to date through her developed relationships: $10 million and the naming of the Kate Tiedemann College of Business. But that was not all. Others included: $5 million and the naming of Lynn Pippenger Hall, $1 million from Ellen Cotton, and a sizable gift from Jim Aresty came in under her leadership. A continual stream of smaller gifts flowed in including an increased number of gifts from alumni. Sophia had a clear vision of our current and future success that she could communicate to donors and other friends in the community.
Sophia was determined that USFSP would shine right along with St. Petersburg, which calls itself the Sunshine City. Sophia worked with city leaders and other constituents to identify multiple ways for our campus to became (sic) more of an intricate part of our city, county and region. A steadily increasing number of students from majors across campus engaged in experiential learning in business, government and non-profits. Community members presences on campus trended up as we invited everyone to attend our events. Sophia built campus identity as the geographical and conceptual link between the urban waterfront arts district and the innovation (science, technology and medical) district that together create St. Petersburg’s unique spark.
The Vision 20/20 mission statement, “Inspire scholars to lead lives of impact,” and our vision statement that begins, “USF St. Petersburg will shine,” have become far more than mottos posted on a wall. Sophia helped us develop, articulate and operationalize what USFSP could become an independently-accredited campus within the USF-system. We recommend her for a leadership position in higher education without reservation.
John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History
(signing on behalf of the full professors whose names follow)
Julie Buckner Armstrong, Karin Braunsberger, Ph.D., ENV SP, Sheramy Bundrick, Thomas Carter, Lyman L. Dukes, III,
V. Mark Durand, Deni Elliott, Michael Francis, Thomas Hallock, Bill Heller, Wei Guan, Ph.D., Cynthia Leung, Dan Marlin,
James McHale, Carl Pacini, Gary Patterson, Tony Silvia, Ph.D., Thomas Smith, Jay Sokolovsky, Lisa S. Starks,
Philip J. Trocchia, Ph.D., Mark J. Walters
Header photo courtesy of USFSP