This is the final part of a three-part series detailing how the USF campus has changed through the eyes of the alumni who were there.
Not too long after Harvey and the class of 1988 left USF, Lt. Col. Ruben Matos of the U.S. Air Force graduated with the class of 1992. He currently serves as the deputy chief of the International Health Specialist Program and is a director on the USF Alumni Association Board of Directors.
He was part of the public health program at USF. Though he was also accepted into the same program at Penn State, USF made more financial sense for him, so he decided to go.
While a student in 1986, he founded the Latin American Student Association (LASA), an organization that is still a part of campus today. From his time at USF, LASA is his most satisfying memory. Seeing the organization still active today he said is important to him.
“This was a group that grew out of a few people getting together at what we used to call the UC, or University Center … and noting the lack of cohesion between Latin American students,” he said. “We just decided to create an organization that we could all get together and help not only ourselves navigate the campus and campus life but also help our freshman when they came in … get oriented into what the university was all about and assist them whatever way we could.”
After graduation, Matos joined the military reserves. He’d always been interested in military service, being from a military family, and had planned to join the reserve. He has been in the military for 23 years.
“One of my plans was to, after getting all my degrees completed, I was going to join the reserves or the (National) Guard, and I did exactly that; But I liked it so much I decided to go on active duty and the rest is history,” he said.
Since his time as a student, Matos has seen a transition from a commuter school to a residential school, as well as the university’s physical plant expand and modernize, with a major contrast existing between the old buildings and the new buildings not only in look but also resources. What used to be open green spaces is now covered in modern construction.
“I think that growth is a good thing when it comes to a university system and the more you can provide your students in terms of the ability to get things done, that’s going to be a positive for the university,” he said.
Matos said he feels the cohesion and small campus feel he felt as a student at USF hasn’t gone away even as the university has grown.
“It’s big enough but small enough,” he said. “… It’s that sense of not only you’re in a cohesive small unit that supports you but also in relationship to Tampa… it’s that same thing. Tampa has that feel of big city and a small footprint. USF has that same family, close-knit family relationship to me.”
The very next year, in 1993, Brian Campbell, Accounting Services Officer for Hillsborough Community College and treasurer of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, graduated after transferring to USF from another institution. To avoid being on a waiting list for the previous institution’s business school, he switched to USF and began a daily commute from St. Petersburg.
He experienced the commuter lifestyle common to them then, labeling USF the “drive-through university”, but also the on-campus residential and the off-campus apartment lifestyles during his three year .
He recalled frequenting the Elm Street market on Wednesdays, a tradition that has evolved into Bull Market. He was also a regular at the Empty Keg, a bar and restaurant that was housed in the old University Center, where he would enjoy a beer, wings or a taco salad.
Since he graduated, he has noticed a lot of infrastructure changes, which he felt is for the better, such as the extension of the business building from which he received his degree in accounting, the renovations to the Sun Dome, the new dormitories and the new university center which students know as the Marshall Student Center.
Campbell said he is also happy to see an increase in school pride from students and alumni, noting donations made to the College of Business over the past few years and in 2012 when students, alumni and others on behalf of the university protested budget cuts from the State Legislature, flooding Tallahassee with emails.
“For us to be a young university, only 60 years old, I was very prideful of being an alum to know that all of these individuals were going to bat for us when these … cuts were being proposed,” he said.
He has seen the football team grow, although when he was at USF it was all about basketball. He said he feels success on the field has helped pride grow as well. Overall, he’s seen less of other university’s promotional materials around campus now than he used to.
“I used to see a lot of FSU and UF t-shirts that students were actually wearing during my days in the 90s,” he said. “So when I do come on campus when it’s a really, really busy time, I see a lot less of that.”
Campbell said he is eagerly awaiting the relocation of the College of Medicine to downtown Tampa, where he works on Davis Island.
Fast forwarding to 2013, half a century after the first graduation, Grunicke and fellow graduates walked out ahead of the 2013 graduates into the USF Sun Dome to graduate a second time as part of the 50 year celebration. This time she was surrounded by lights, music and the people in the venue’s stands.
It would appear the university has come a long way since the wooden stage in the desert wasteland.