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Partnership, former mayor to sparkresearchopportunities

Long considered a research institution, USF, through a new partnership spearheaded by former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker, seeks to enhance its academic reputation even further.

The USF Innovation Partnership, an effort to partner with local research corporations, aims to increase the possibilities for more sponsored research and economic development in the Tampa Bay area, as well as expand on career opportunities for students, said Karen Holbrook, vice president for Research & Innovation.

“Most research offices have this kind of position,” she said. “We have a Research Foundation that serves the purpose of developing partnerships with companies, establishing companies and recruiting companies to the USF Research Park known as USF Connect, but we have only one professional who is managing all of these activities along with many other responsibilities related to business management and economic development.”

Baker’s presence in the partnership, which is funded by the USF Research Foundation, helps to alleviate the workload, she said, by utilizing his relationships with and knowledge of local corporations.

“Mayor Baker is the ideal person for this position, as he is very familiar with leadership of many companies, major leaders in the Tampa Bay region and has extensive experience in dealing with community affairs,” Holbrook said. “It would be very hard to properly value the work Mayor Baker has done since he has been here because his level of activity has been so strong and so incredibly important to USF. He began running the day he was hired!”

Although there are no immediate plans to provide students with jobs or internships, Holbrook said any openings created by the partnership will be available through individual colleges or departments within the University.

The partnership, which was launched several weeks ago, has succeeded in securing funding for the College of Marine Science from the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO) and BP to continue researching the effects of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico after the disastrous explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig in April, Holbrook said.

“Mayor Baker continues to be extremely valuable in connecting Marine Sciences and FIO with our congressional delegation, local political leaders and with academics all across the Gulf states,” she said. “While all of this is going on, he has been working with the CEO of SRI (a non-profit research institute) to forge a very important educational activity to increase the success of younger students in math.”

Other partnerships fostered by the initiative include Draper Laboratories, Progress Energy and USF Health’s hospital affiliates.

“One of Florida’s great challenges, especially in these difficult economic times, is to diversify our economic base,” Baker said in a release. “This becomes more important as we focus on becoming competitive, not just with the rest of the nation, but also with the rest of the world.”